Thursday, August 31, 2006

Paying for Babel

In terms of burning our money, the EU is always right up there with the leaders.

Today we hear about the zillions we're spending on interpretation services for all those politicos and bureaucrats. In 2003, the bill reportedly stood at £109m, or 1% of the EU budget. But now, post the Big Bang EU enlargement, it's soared.

We don't know the actual cost because of course EU accounts only appear after a delay of several years. And as we know, they can never be signed off as such because of all those errors and the massive fraud (just as a reminder, Tesco, along with all other successful operations in the real world, publishes its fully audited results just two months after its year-end).

But we do know that "interpretation for a full-day meeting in the parliament, which cost £25,000 before enlargement, now costs £59,000. Three interpreters are needed for each booth, which means the parliament cannot function unless 60 interpreters are on duty every day." That's a grand per interpretor per day. And it implies the post-enlargement cost of interpretation is running at around £250m pa. Or a quarter of a billion!

Even more extraordinary, that's not the end of it. Not only must all meetings be interpreted into 20 "working languages" (previously 11), but all documents must be translated. And adding that lot in brings the total to nearly half a billion quid a year.

20 languages- including Maltese for which the EU apparently haven't been able to find any interpretors.

I can't recall how many tongues were involved in that famous tower, but even the hopeless dysfunctional UN manages to blunder along with just six.

Why don't we standardise on one widely used international language? Like English, say.
PS There is another shocking element to this story. Getting on for 20% of the money spent on interpretors is totally wasted, because MEPs regularly book interpretors for meetings that are subsequently missed. And there is absolutely no consequence.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Paying For Spin

A lot of forked tongues to feed

As we recall, Nu Labour's first action on coming to office was to purge the old system of departmental press officers and install its own party trusties. It was straight out of the Goebbels Book of Governance (ch 1) and they were so chuffed about it they even issued a triumphalist fly on the wall TV doc, featuring Charlie Whelan swaggering into HM Treasury and spinning the awe-struck journos.

We already know we've paid a heavy price for spin-led government, but today we get some more detail:

"Spending on Government spin has trebled under Labour (from £111m to £322m) and taxpayers are now supporting an army of more than 3,200 press officers."

In 1997 there were just over 300 press officers across Whitehall. The Central Office of Newspeak alone now has 249, and extraordinarily, MOD has 229- that's nearly as many as we've got army reserves.

Among the quangos, there are 69 at the Metropolitan Police Service and Authority and 58 at the Health and Safety Executive, two organisations that are deeply dysfunctional and treat customers with utter contempt (eg see here and here).

These numbers have been obtained by the Tories: let's hope they do something about it in 2010.

Day One remember.

PS Tyler knew one of the old guard press officers purged in 1997. Her problem was she actually believed the job was about presenting information. No wonder she got chopped.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Free Circuses

Overtime for 10,000

This year's Notting Hill Carnival once again cost taxpayers millions.

A 2002 study funded by Ken reckoned each one costs £6m in policing (10,000 officers required), plus £0.5m from the LB of Kensington and Chelsea, plus an unknown amount from other councils, plus "over £1m" in direct grants. So by the time you've added the fruitbat, you're probably talking close to £10m. Every single year.

And what do we taxpayers get out of it? Ken's report talks blithely of "economic benefits" of £93m, with 3,000 jobs. But setting aside their wild grossing up for indirect "multiplier" benefits, their own figures show the bulk of the direct spending goes on booze and fast food- the very things our Fitness Minister is trying so desperately to outlaw. And they don't even record the spending on substances.

Unsurprisingly, the organisers have consistently failed to find commercial sponsorship. Western Union are back in, but Lilt- even with that "typically tropical taste"- jacked it in after deciding they didn't actually want their logo caught up in televised street violence.

As we've said before, we have absolutely no problem with circuses like Glasgay or the Notting Hill Carnival.

But wtf should we have to pay for them?

PS Hey, you exclaim, is that Western Union as in aren't-their-200,000-agents-suspected-of-involvement-in-all-kinds-of-dodgy-money-transfers-from-drugs-to-laundering-to-9/11 connections-to-being-investigated-by-US-Federal-authorities-and-the-Israeli-intelligence-services-Western Union? You know, you may be right. Wonder if the Carnival organisers and Ken know that.

Lies, Damned Lies, And Gordo

Treasury official tackles Brown's pants

Gordon Brown has always told the most monstrous statistical porkies, and his article for this morning's FT is no exception.

Let's take the paragraph where he's bragging about how swimmingly things are going, and compare his assertions against the facts- as recorded in the Treasury's own "Pocket Databank":

ASSERTION- "While good figures will never be an excuse for complacency, industrial production is moving upwards..."

FACT- industrial production is down 0.1% month on month, down 0.9% year on year, and down 0.9% since Gordo took over in 1997; only by clocking it over the last eight months can you torture the figures into an increase;

ASSERTION- " investment trends are promising..."

FACT- recent growth has been off a catastrophically low base, and business investment as a percentage of GDP remains well over 3% lower than in 1997;

ASSERTION- "...productivity growth is actually stronger than previously thought..."

FACT- productivity growth over the last five years has averaged 1.4% pa, a full 1% pa slower than the five years before he took over;

ASSERTION- "...employment has risen again to a record high..."

FACT- true, but only because this crackpot government has opened the gates to massive immigration: unemployment among the low-skilled existing existing population is rising;

ASSERTION- "...growth so far this year has defied the pessimists once more."

FACT- it ain't over yet


The main point of the article is to restate his order that public sector pay settlements must not exceed 2% this year. We've blogged this before, and with economy-wide earnings growth running at 6% plus, you have to guess we're in for a pretty discontented winter. We look forward to seeing how Gordo spins that.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mr Osborne Meets TPA Tax Poll

Osborne joining TPA

Mrs T and I were away over the weekend so missed the coverage of the Taxpayers' Alliance tax poll. Many interesting findings, including:

  • people hold the political parties and system in contempt, but they are strongly attracted to messages of real change
  • more than one in five is seriously considering or “planning” emigration; they have no hope that the current system can fix our problems
  • strong opposition to public funding for political parties (65 – 21%)
  • very strong support for the idea of “Executive Government” (or Tesco Government); people agreed (73 – 23) that the constitution should change to allow non-MPs to be brought in as Ministers
  • support for directly elected mayors to be in charge of police (57 – 36)
  • people agree by 56 – 17 that reform of services would allow tax cuts without reducing spending on vital services
  • top three choices for tax cuts are council tax, inheritance tax, and raising the 40% income tax threshold
  • crime is the top priority for all sections of society including Labour voters, next violence in schools; the cost and effects of the benefit system (3rd); and tax rises (4th); not one person in the focus groups mentioned “the environment” or “green issues” once

The poll has received widespread media coverage, including the frontpage lead in the Sunday Times (full poll is here). It's a sharp reminder to Dave's Conservatives that real people out here still think they could spend their own money a lot better than politicians, and are sick to the back wossnames of self-promoting politicos who reckon otherwise.

Coincidentally George Osborne announced his very first proposed tax cut! Given the leadership's previous on any tax-cuts, anything is to be welcomed. But why choose the abolition of Stamp Duty on share trading? It certainly isn't one of the TPA's top three, and to the extent that people have actually heard of it, they imagine it's something that mainly impacts overpaid City share traders and top-hatted plutocrats. It hardly seems like one for the common man.

When last officially sighted Stamp Duty on shares was raising £2.7bn pa, and according to the IFS it is Britain's very cheapest tax in terms of collection costs.

Now £2.7bn may be chickenfeed in terms of our total half-trillion tax burden, but you could still do some useful stuff with it. You could nearly abolish the highly unpopular Inheritance Tax (£3.6bn pa). Or, according HM Treasury's tax ready reckoner, you could increase the equally unpopular and highly distortionary 40% tax threshold from £35,450 to about £42,000 (see here for previous blog).

And if the figure's now £4bn pa, as others suggest, you could abolish IHT completely and still have £400m left over. Or (given the shape of the income distribution) you could probably raise that 40% threshold close to £50,000.

Which really would give our economy an adrenaline rush.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Recent Bonfires- 29

In the news:

Commissars' life coaching at £250 ph- "PATRICIA HEWITT and other cabinet ministers are receiving “life coaching” at taxpayers’ expense to help them cope with the pressures of government... Psychologists are being paid an estimated £250 per hour to act as mentors to the health secretary and her senior civil servants... ministers and their staff are assigned personal coaches, whom they are expected to treat as “critical friends”, using role-playing sessions to prepare for running the country. A string of other government departments, including No 10, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office, the Department for Transport and the Treasury, are also using chartered psychologists, at an annual cost estimated at several million pounds." (Sunday Times 27.8.06)

£11.6bn for surplus fighters- "Defence spending has long been a running sore with many senior officers, who believe that the procurement of main weapons systems are too often made for political reasons rather than their practical use on the battlefield. One senior officer told this newspaper that the Government had wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers money when it decided to buy 232 Eurofighter combat jets at a cost of £50 million each. The officer said: "We have a situation in Afghanistan where the Army does not have enough helicopters, yet it is going to have dozens of squadrons of Eurofighters which will never be used in war. "The problem isn't just a lack of funding, it is also about how the money is spent." (Telegraph 13.8.06)

£4m on toilet sex show- "THE National Theatre of Scotland’s sexually explicit show at the Edinburgh International Festival provoked an immediate controversy. Realism disgusted some theatregoers with its depiction of a woman engaged in a sex act on the lavatory and a chorus of black-and-white minstrels singing a four-letter tirade about a gas company. The theatre company receives £4 million of taxpayers’ money each year." (Times 17.8.06)

Total for week: £11,604,000,250

Friday, August 25, 2006

Supercomputer- Just Do It

Best when we're blowing your money

We've always thought it appalling that the multi-billion NHS Supercomputer was given the go ahead with no proper cost-benefit analysis to support the case (see eg this blog).

We now realise how stupid we've been. The fact is that there was such an analysis. The only reason we've never been told about it is that it didn't support going ahead:

"The Government gave the go-ahead for its controversial NHS IT programme even though costs exceeded known benefits.

Ministers initially "hugely over-estimated" the benefits of the £12.4 billion programme and costs exceeded benefits in eight out of 10 areas. [According to a Freedom of Information release] annual quantified benefits for four out of five regional areas was £438 million set against costs of £604 million.

The electronic "choose and book" part of the National Programme for IT would cost £464 million against a lifetime benefit of £257 million."

We often criticise the incompetence and muddle of our health bureaucrats. But this one's squarely down to the politicos. Remember, the decision to go-ahead was taken at a meeting on 18 February 2002, and chaired by the Beloved Leader himself. At that time the NHS was flush with Gordo's largesse, and five-times-a-night Tone was in the mood for more Just Do It macho initiatives. The next one was Iraq.

PS The bureaucrats themselves are of course not innocent. According to industry insiders, they presented ministers with seriously understated delivery risks for the project, and probably misled ministers into believing the risks were low (eg see this Computer Weekly report). Talk about the egregious leading the egregious.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Flash Bang Wallop

"Does ma heed look big in this?"

A talented photographer called David Partner takes a series of sickeningly flattering portraits of Labour ministers.

They are acquired and exhibited by the publically subsidised National Portrait Gallery.

The acquisition is funded by Deloitte for an unknown sum.

Deloitte is a major supplier of consultancy services to the Labour government (eg see here and here).


PS Yes I know some of the subjects still look fairly grotesque, but there's a limit to what even industrial Polyfilla can do.

Fattening Up The Figures

"If you're going to tell a lie, tell a fat one."

It's almost as if kindly old Doc Goebbels foresaw exactly New Labour's approach to "public service information".

Take their latest campaign against fatties. Fit Minister Caroline Flint says:

"Obesity costs the NHS £1bn a year, and the country £7bn a year."

Now clearly, when hospitals are being "forced to spend tens of thousands of pounds buying reinforced beds and strengthening mortuary slabs" to cope with obese punters, something ain't quite right. But £1bn pa? That's an awful lot of slabs. And where did that £7bn pa figure for economic damage come from?

When the National Audit office looked at this in 2001, they did some detailed calculations on the costs of obesity (see their Report here, Appendix 6). Their conclusion was that it cost the NHS about £0.5bn pa, and the wider economy just over £2bn pa. Which gave them an all-in cost- including direct medical treatment of obesity, treatment of medical consequences like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and economic losses due to sickness and early death- of £2.6bn. Scaling that up pro rata to GDP gives a 2006 figure of about £3.5bn.

Which means that Cara's £7bn figure has been fattened by a factor of two.

But that's nothing compared to the extreme obesity of her boss's figures. Just before he schlepped off to Sir Cliff's villa, the Beloved Leader told us:

"Ten per cent of NHS resources today are used to treat diabetes. By 2010 the estimate is that this could double. That's 20 per cent of the entire resources of the NHS - and it's avoidable. Three quarters of diabetics are Type 2 diabetics, and two thirds of them have a disease which could be preventable with exercise, diet and more healthy choices."

OK right... now let me see... two-thirds of three-quarters of ten per cent equals 5%. He's telling us that 5% of the NHS budget is going on treating fatties who've stuffed themselves so much they've got T2 diabetes. Given that the NHS budget is currently £80bn, that means we're spending £4bn pa on treating self-inflicted T2 diabetes.

Set aside the ludicrous inconsistency with Cara's £1bn figure (which supposedly includes all fatty conditions plus those mortuary slabs as well as the costs of T2 diabetes treatment). How on earth did Tone come up with £4bn? The NAO's detailed cost estimate for treating T2 diabetes was- wait for it- £123.5m. A mere 3% of Tone's figure!

"Plucked out of the air" doesn't really cover this kind of lie. Doc G would have been proud.

PS Why's Tone lying about this? First and foremost so he can shift the blame for his NHS non-delivery onto all those fat chavs who are stuffing themselves to death at our expense. But he also wants to justify Labour's constant attempts to nanny us. The reality is that his last half-baked scheme of "obesity education" and persuasion was a complete flop. That involved five government departments, dozens of quangos, and hundreds of local bodies, and took eighteen months just to produce "a working definition" of obesity. And it cost us a billion friggin' quid (see this blog for more details).

Policing- You're On Your Own

Hard on the heels of yesterday's blog about the non-policing of Primrose Hill, today we get the appalling news from Canning Town of the young father shot dead by a gang of youths who have been terrorising the area.

Peter Woodhams had previously been stabbed by the same gang. But when he reported it to the police, they did absolutely nothing about it. His partner's father says "a gang of up to 20 youths, aged between 13 and 18, had been threatening the family since January when a stone was thrown at Mr Woodham's new Ford Focus:

"He got out to confront them and three of them attacked him. One said, 'Hold him while I do him' then stabbed him in the neck and slashed his face. He needed stitches and he complained to the police but nothing happened. We have been terrorised since then. Every time Peter walked to the shops they would be smirking and shouting. It seems this is the norm these days. These feral gangs are running around and the Government says it will crack down but never does."

The Met's response has been to apologise for "any hurt" caused by their abject failure to protect Mr Woodhams.

On hearing this, Mrs T's urgent advice to our friends in Primrose Hill is for them to get out. But as we said yesterday, at least Primrose Hill's residents are rich enough to afford private security. Those of Canning Town- and most places- are not. In the face of totally unresponsive and inadequate policing, their only realistic option is vigilante action. Which we presume is already in train.

£1bn On Fantasy Transport

"Wow! That's even better than my Hornby Dublo!"

Do you know the one about Stratford International Station in East London? It cost us £210m, was finished in April, but remains closed: not only is its high speed Eurostar line not yet ready, but the regional Eurostar services it was meant to serve may now never happen. And since it's not actually coupled up to the rest of the transport network- Stratford Regional Station is some distance away- it's just sort of standing around.

How about Crossrail? That was the plan to tunnel East-West mainlines under London to relieve congestion, and supposedly to support London's 2012 bid. Since 2001 the government has spent £254m on it, without an inch of tunnel being dug. And given its advertised £16bn pricetag (real world translation £30bn plus), you have to guess a cash-strapped Gordo is not going to press the Go button anytime soon.

And what about trams? When the fatman was "in charge" of Transport one of his fantastickal "promises" was 25 new urban trams systems by 2010. But despite spending £300m, so far we've only got two- and one of them was an extension to an existing system.

The abandoned Stonehenge tunnel, the wildly delayed Thameslink 2000 scheme, the North-South rail project...overall, Labour has spent over £1bn on fantasy transport schemes which have delivered nothing.
PS For a reminder of the costly shambles that ensue when road projects do go ahead, see this blog on the hopeless Highways Agency.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

NHS Supercomputer Hits Soft Spot

As we noted a couple of days ago, the problems at NHS Connecting for Health software supplier iSoft seem to be ballooning. Their 2004 and 2005 accounts have both had to be restated, they've booked pre-payments from the NHS, and their 2006 results are still outstanding. Their questionable software development process is under panicky examination, and now there are calls for a DTI enquiry into directors' share transactions.

The Grauniad today gives us a complete update, including the company's extraordinary attempts at gagging orders.

As we've tediously pointed out many times, fixed price contracts only work if the supplier is capable of actually delivering. We've already seen one high profile contractor go out of business over non-delivery of an unrealistic PFI contract. iSoft is starting to look like it might be next.

And you won't need me to tell you where that would leave the disastrous £20-50bn Supercomputer.

Or the promises of a "fixed price" Olympics.

Down These Mean Streets

"Blimey! Even his beard's been nicked."

Yesterday Tyler met up with a friend who lives in Sir Ian "Bonkers" Blair's crime-free metropolis. The friend confirms that he and his neighbours do indeed routinely leave their frontdoors unlocked, but only because the doors have been jemmied open the previous night and the Polish locksmith hasn't yet got round to fix them.

He and his wife live in Primrose Hill, where crime is rampant, but the Met are "too busy" to do anything about it. Well no, that's not fair: in conjunction with the People's Republic of Camden they have set up a Safer Neighbourhoods policing team, boasting:

"Safer Neighbourhoods is a truly local policing style: local people working with local police and partners to identify and tackle issues of concern in their neighbourhood... Each team has a minimum of six uniformed officers comprising one sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers, dedicated solely to the needs of one specific neighbourhood. "

Except of course, you can never get hold of any of them. The mean streets of Primrose Hill- home to bankers, media types, and David Milliband- are not deemed to need their full complement of police, so they've been redeployed elsewhere. The rest are doing paperwork, or skulking around well out of harms way. But that's OK, because Blair's Met and the People's Republic reckon the crime problem is all in the mind anyway:

"Despite recorded crime falling in Camden and the UK in general, research shows that a third of people believe crime has risen "a lot".

Clearly people like my friend don't need policing, they need counselling. (The real facts are summarised here- Primrose Hill has the fifth highest overall ward crime figures in London).

Anyway, this friend recently intervened in yet another attempted vehicle theft in his road. The young thug involved is notorious locally, and reponded by threatening to burn down my friend's house, with him in it. And since then, he's attempted to assault him while out walking. The police response (after four unanswered phone calls and only because my friend had spotted a rare community policeman hunkered down outside a kebab shop) was:

"I see Sir. Well, there's nothing we can do. But you should get all this down in writing to us, because if... er... anyone gets hurt... we've got a record."


For most people of course, the only option from there is to purchase a baseball bat and a Ninja sword.

But Primrose Hill is different: it's rich. So the residents have another option: private security patrols.

It began after one couple "came home after an evening out to be ambushed by three masked men armed with machetes and clubs. They were forced into their house in Lower Merton Rise with their two children and marched from room to room at knifepoint. They were ordered to hand over money and valuables, an experience which left the family traumatised."

Hardly surprising then that residents realised they could no longer rely on the police to protect them. Instead they clubbed together to pay for a private security firm to patrol the road.

For £1,000 pa each, they get regular visible patrols, and a "meet and greet" service if they come home late. "The guards carry no weapons and have no police-style powers, but can carry out citizens' arrests. A spokesman said: "We have caught car thieves breaking into a vehicle and caused what we know were burglars to leave the area. If criminals see us, hopefully they will move on."

And business is booming. Not only have other roads in Primrose Hill taken up the idea, but from South Kensington to Hampstead Garden Suburb there are now hundreds of similar schemes across London alone.

The police are completely cool with it. A Yard spokesman said: "We recognise the role security firms have to play in reassuring sections of the community." Clearly they see the ex-Israeli, South African, Russian, Ukrainian and British soldiers who man the patrols primarily as outreach counsellors, which saves them the bother.

Less relaxed are other local residents who are not subscribers. That's mainly because they're feeling the brunt of machete gangs displaced from the patrolled roads, although some fret about more Millibandesque issues- the editor of Wallpaper* ("the online resource for international design interiors and lifestyle"), recently moved up to Primrose Hill from downmarket Dalston, and has been driven to some serious handwringing:

"There has been much talk of how to prevent crime in my bijou corner of north London. Half of the residents are keen on an improved neighbourhood watch scheme and, Cameron-like, on cuddling the hoodies who have been causing the problem. The other half want to hire a private security firm to patrol the streets and keep the riff-raff away.

The latter proposal hovers dangerously close to class apartheid: why should the residents of Camden's less photogenic corners be made to feel unwelcome by Primrose Hill residents just because they can't afford to live there?"

Clearly the machete boys haven't visited him yet.

According to the Met's 2006 Policing Plan, their total projected spending in 2006-07 will be £3bn, and total police numbers will be 31,582. Given the Met area population of 7.4m, that means each of us gets £400 pa of policing (equals around £1,000 pa per household). Those are significant sums, and you can bet the residents of Primrose Hill contibute more than their fair share of the costs. They are lucky to be able to afford private policing as well, but many many people cannot.

The lesson should not need repeating, but let's do it anyway. Britain's current policing arrangements cost us plenty, but are totally unresponsive to the paying customers. Roll on elected sheriffs. And Met Commissioners.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lessons From Slough

Slough has always been a town of immigrants. I know because I was one.

In 1960, realising we weren't actually having it quite so good in low wage Devon, we Tylers got on our family bike and pedalled up to high wage "come friendly bombs" Slough. We simply followed the trail blazed by unemployed Welsh miners in the Thirties, blitzed Londoners and dispossessed Poles in the Forties, and dirt-poor Asians in the Fifties and Sixties.

All of us came for one reason, and one reason only. Money.

20 miles from London, and five from Heathrow, Slough was outward looking and the most dynamic economic hub in Britain. Its Trading Estate, built on a WW1 transport dump entirely by private enterprise, always attracted companies and entrepreneurs from right around the world. American Forrest Mars set himself up producing confectionary, Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis established factories for the new man-made textiles, and companies such as Johnson & Johnson (US), Aspro Nicholas (Australian), and High Duty Alloys (UK) made sure Slough was locked into the research driven industries of the future.

Slough became the archetypal opportunity town, where enterprise and application mattered far more than colour, creed, or beard-style. And that wasn't a consequence of government diversity programmes, or "fairness for all" agenda: it was the win-win of the free market.

Made in Slough

OK, cut the commercial. Given this history, what exactly is the deal with Slough Council complaining about their latest wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe? Don't they understand it's those hungry young workers and entrepreneurs who've been the very foundation of Slough's prosperity?

Well, of course, they're not actually complaining about the 10,000-15,000 immigrants per se. The gripe is about the way local authority funding works (see here for the full Council case). An approximate 10% increase in population in two years means much more demand for council services, which costs money. But since 85% of council income is central government grant, and Council Tax is capped, they can only get extra money if Whitehall agrees.

Unfortunately, Whitehall's Revenue Support Grant distribution formula has always been a Morse mystery wrapped inside an enigma variation, and it's particularly bad at accomodating sudden lurches, like Slough's Eastern European population explosion. As of now, the official RSG figures reckon the Borough's population is actually shrinking- despite a host of contrary indicators on the ground, including the fact that the local Job Centre issued 6,000 new National Insurance numbers to foreign nationals in the eighteen months to October 2005. Indeed, ten minutes in Slough's new Tesco superstore (the world's largest) and you could be in Kracow.

Neither is it true- as the head of the Immigration Advisory Service ludicrously asserted- that these new immigrants are all young and single and don't consume services. Just two of Slough's primary schools have taken in 50 Polish children (and 60 Somalians) in one term alone!

So Lesson One is that Slough would be much better off running its own finances, setting its own taxes and managing its own spending. Fiscal centralisation- including central government snuffling those Business Rates- has left Slough's taxpayers, like those in most of the South East, BIG LOSERS.

Lesson Two, sadly, is that these new immigrants are threatening what Slough's Chief Executive describes as "social cohesion issues". Contrary to all that arm-waving government wibble about immigration's economic benefits, she's watching the consequences of the current explosion up close and personal. And her pitch for more money concludes with some chilling bullet points:

  • Possible increased community tensions between different ethnic groups
  • Unemployment and displacement at the low skill end of all communities but particularly in the Pakistani community and skilled tradesman in the white community
  • Employment rate of Pakistani community has dropped from around 71% in 2002 to 53.2% in 2005

An 18% fall in employment rate in three years!

For those who know Slough, that is very worrying. Despite its rainbow ethnic mix, Slough's different groups have always got on pretty well. But as in so many towns and cities, even after nearly half a century, the Pakistani community remains incredibly separate, occupying its own very specific areas (OK, the actual word is ghettos). And as everywhere, they are among the least successful groups in terms of employment.

So ironically, some of the people who are suffering most from these new immigrants are Slough's old immigrants. And unsurprisingly, they don't like it.

Even setting aside the obvious risks of civil commotion, that is likely to get very expensive. For better or worse, Britain's welfare state picks up the tab for citizens who don't make their own way. What Slough is telling us is that it isn't only the direct welfare costs of the new immigrants we need to worry about: it's the costs of supporting those whose jobs the immigrants take. Many of whom will be the low-wage immigrants we've already got.

Mass immigration to bid down wage levels (as promoted by Digby Jones and others) seems pretty attractive to the metro middle class. But they haven't seen the bill yet.

PS Today just carried an interview with Colin Yeo of the Immigration Advisory Service. He repeated his boss's nonsense that there "is no evidence" that Eastern European immigrants place burdens on our welfare services, because they're all young, fit, and childless. Colin, go to Slough and talk to the Council.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Serious Crimes Against Taxpayers

When the "FBI-style" Serious Organised Crimes Agency was launched in April, obviously Job One was to get an impressive new logo. But instead, they somehow came up with the ludicrous Thundercats arrangement above.

The Creative Director of logomeisters Wolff Olins- who clearly didn't get the job- said "It is very much in the manner of what you imagine would be used in a Jackie Chan movie, if they need a logo for some aggressive agency. It's not very sophisticated." Ooh, you bitch.

Anyway, we now discover how much the whole nonsense cost:

"The Home Office commissioned freelance designers to the tune of £67,000 so they could come up with the new motif, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.A further £97,000 was spent on the overall re-branding exercise, which has replaced the logo of badge that showed a police helmet with a red and yellow flower at its centre."

A police helmet with flowers? Why didn't they stick with that? Not only would have been much more sophisticated in a post-modernist sort of way, it would have saved us 164,000 sodding quid.

Money Pits Update

Quick updates on a couple of long-established money pits:

One: Police mergers- "The cost of planning and then aborting the Home Office's proposals for police force mergers could be more than £11.5 million, it has emerged. A survey carried out by The Daily Telegraph has found that an average of £268,668 was spent by each police authority on developing plans to amalgamate with neighbouring forces. It comes on top of the Home Office's own costs, which are reportedly more than £1 million, and which altogether could have been used to pay the wages of 545 constables for a year." (Telegraph 21.8.06)

Two: NHS Supercomputer- "One of the most important pieces of software in the NHS's IT overhaul - which is being developed by iSoft - may miss its already delayed release dates, according to a review by the two consultancies responsible for delivering the systems... The review found "no evidence for the development, nor testing of, technical procedures that would be required for operation and maintenance of the live system ... this is the main risk to the successful delivery of a fit-for-purpose solution... there is no well defined scope and therefore no believable plan for releases." (Guardian 21.8.06)

As we know, what both of these pits have in common is that they are top-down one-size-fits-all megaprojects designed to meet the needs of central government, but unwanted by frontline staff.

PS Software company iSoft must be rueing the day it ever got involved with the Supercomputer. As we've blogged before, the whole project is being run on the basis of fixed price contracts, which means the expense of unanticipated problems falls on the suppliers. That ought to be great for taxpayers. Except of course when the supplier can't take the strain. Goodness knows what's actually going on at iSoft, but we do know that its auditors have now found financial irregularities in both the 2004 and 2005 accounts, that one of its founding directors has had to be suspended, and other employees have had to leave. Worse, Connecting for Health has been forced to make at least one "upfront" payment, which iSoft gratefully booked into its 2005 accounts. Even though, as anyone who's ever made an upfront payment to a builder will know, the universal advice always and everywhere, is never ever ever pay in advance. I have a very bad feeling about this.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Recent Bonfires- 28

The Major would have paid good money for this

In the arts news this week:

£30,000 for dead pig hug art- "Kira O'Reilly will today spend four hours naked, hugging a dead pig - at the taxpayer's expense. The controversial Irish performance artist will invite one person at a time to watch her sit in a specially-constructed set and perform a 'crushing slow dance' with the carcass in her arms. She claims the bizarre exhibition is an attempt to 'identify' with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show. Visitors to the Newlyn Art Gallery in Newlyn, Cornwall - funded by taxpayers and the lottery - will be allowed to watch her for ten minutes." (Mail 18.08.06)

£20m pa blown on BBC cabs- "THE BBC is spending £55,000 a DAY on taxis and car hire. The annual bill is now £20MILLION — as free-spending staff take licence-payers for a ride. The mind-boggling sum, which includes the cost of ferrying employees to and from their jobs, works out at nearly £1,000 for EVERY Beeb worker.... Director of television Jana Bennett got through £13,000 — similar to the amount claimed by the BBC’s internet chief Ashley Highfield." (Sun 17.08.06)

Another £7m for BBC "stars"- "Television presenter Graham Norton has accepted a massive £7million pay deal - paid for by you. The BBC used licence fee cash to double his pay in a desperate bid to stop ITV poaching him. The three-year golden handcuffs deal will keep him with the Corporation until the end of 2009. ITV tried to poach the star but was outbid by the BBC." (Mail 18.08.06)

£150,000 plus on Home Office "art"- "A sculpture announced for the department's Westminster headquarters... will dominate the building's central atrium... seven big interlocking steel triangles hanging overhead... the panel of art experts also approved two relief murals by Toby Paterson and 77 works by prisoners, already installed at the Home Office, at a total cost to taxpayers of £150,000." (Sunday Telegraph 20.08.06)

Total arts waste for the week: £27,180,000

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Prison Arithmetic

HMP Parc- a PFI prison completed in just 22 months

We've just run out of prison places. Again.

Ah, you think, that's easy for me to say. But in reality, it's fiendishly difficult to forecast just how many places you're going to need. And those lead times.... everybody knows it takes.... oooh, well... certainly... quite a while to build new "facilities". How were the Home Office supposed to know how many places to build?


Except that... actually, why didn't they just consult their own friggin' forecasts?

Right now, the Prison Service says the "usable operational capacity" of our prisons is an incredibly precise 79,799 places. And there are just 700 vacancies.

But way back in 1998 the Home Office forecast a need for 82,800 places by last year (central projection). And in 2002 they forecast a range of possible requirements for this year, ranging from 86,700 to 100,700. Yes that's right, somewhere between 7,000 and 21,000 more places than they've actually built. Here's a picture:

Ah, but, you say, if they'd built all those extra places they'd be empty now. Wrong. They'd actually be filled with the bad guys who've had to be left on the streets or released early because there's no space for them inside. With no free capacity, the cart is very definitely driving the horse.

So what's going on? A strong possibility is sheer blithering incompetence, and it's certainly alarming that the HO projections wang around all over the place virtually from one month to the next. But that aside, the likeliest explanation is budget pressure coupled with extreme wishful thinking. Tony and Gordo wanted every last penny for the NHS, and readily convinced themselves they could somehow solve crime by some unspecified means other than banging up villains.

The really scary thing is that there's no sign whatsoever that they've learned the lesson. The Home Office budget has been frozen, and although Reid has announced 8,000 more prison places, it's not clear to anyone where the money's coming from. Meanwhile, the latest projections call for up to another 11,501 places by the end of this decade.

Of course, they could get it done in 22 months. But like we've said before, it might be safer just to arm yourself.

Snakes In The Home Office

And you expect me to care about illegal workers!?!

What's really going on in the hopeless doomed Home Office? Today we blow the lid off the hideous stomach-churning truth. The entire department is infested with giant snakes feasting off its rotting carcase.

Take this week's news that immigration officials have been "turning a blind eye to illegal workers." Employment agencies have been reporting thousands of suspected illegals to the Immigration and Nationalities Directorate, yet absolutely nothing's been done.

So why would that be? John Tincey of the Immigration Service Union reckons "The reason we don't arrest these illegal immigrants is we're told not to by our managers. This has been the situation for a number of years because the priorities set by the Home Office are to arrest failed asylum-seekers, and other offences such as illegal working are very much on the back-burner."

Come off it John. If that's the case, how come IND is just as bad at returning failed asylum seekers? As we learned only yesterday, "hundreds of asylum seekers are escaping deportation because immigration staff lose their passports and travel documents... forcing the cancellation of their flights home at the last minute - even though it has cost £11,000 to round them up and detain them prior to deportation".

You honestly expect us to believe the IND could be that crap? No, the real reason that eyes are blind is because the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is over-run with thousands of spitting cobra. It's the only thing that could explain such truly abysmal performance.

And what about this week's raving plan to solve the shortage of prison places simply by releasing the prisoners? It's impossible not to recognise the hallucinogenic effects of Black Mamba venom.

And the chaotic lack of planning to deal with airport security threats? Australian Death Adder. The total inability of the Home Office to produce proper financial accounts? Listen, would you want to climb down into the dark swampy depths of the accounts department knowing it to be a roiling coiling morass of Green Anaconda?

Believe me my friends, the revolting flesh-crawling facts are only too clear. And if "Doc" Reid really thinks he's going to sort out the Home Office, he's going to need more than a forked stick and a pair of bicycle clips.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Job Seeking Convicts

Old-style Job Seekers

Obviously we've come to expect our convicts to walk out of jail whenever it suits them, and we dare say some are heading for a job- a South London bullion job perhaps.

But I don't know... paying them £13m of Job Seekers Allowances while they're still inside... is that right? It seems a bit unjoined up somehow.

The Grauniad may have put its finger on the problem: "they are not available to work while locked up".

Exactly! Wouldn't it be better if they were let out so they could get a job like anyone else?

As we noted here, on its own admission DWP loses a shocking £3bn pa to fraud and error- almost 1p on the standard rate of income tax. But paying Jobseekers Allowance to banged up bad guys is just about as hopelessly inefficiently crassly stupidly stupid as it's possible to imagine.

Isn't it?

Nobblers Update

The CAG is not for nobbling

In June we blogged the Public Accounts Committee session on the National Audit Office's probe into the NHS supercomputer- the National Programme for IT. As we noted:

"Given the disastrous nature of the whole NPfIT enterprise, it was surprising the NAO report was not more critical. Had the NAO been nobbled by the Department of Health? All NAO reports have to be agreed with the department concerned, and the PAC Chairman said he’d heard this one had been fought over “street by street, block by block”. Another highlighted Nicholas Timmin’s assessment in the FT that it had been “the fiercest Whitehall battle for years".

When MPs grilled him, the head of the NAO- the entirely splendid Comptroller and Auditor General Sir John Bourn- batted away all suggestions of nobbling.

But now the BBC has FOI'd the original draft of his report before the Department of Health got its grubby paws on it. And guess what- it turns out DoH smoothed down all kinds of wrinkles, even managing to get one particularly awkward section (about the NHS lacking the skills to implement the new system) excised altogether.

In some ways it doesn't matter, because despite the smoothing the Report actually remained deeply critical (see previous blog). But we can't help thinking there should be a point at which the NAO says- as it does with dodgy departmental accounts- "here's the report, but we can't sign it off". It would then be in the PAC's hands to extract the truth from the department- under torture as required.

Public Sector Pay: Back To The Seventies

Seventies tribute band: "Remember- I wear the silver loon pants"

Back in the days of purple flares and tanktops, public sector pay disputes routinely brought the country grinding to a halt. And his Golden Inheritance squandered, Gordo's doing his best to get us back there.

The basic problem, now as then, is that after years of plenty the money's run out. So Brown has decreed that future public sector pay settlements must not exceed 2%. At a time when RPI inflation is running at 3.3%, and average earnings at 4.3%, that means we're heading for Big Trouble.

Already prison officers have voted for strike action in contravention of their "legally binding" employment terms. And the good old tube workers are threatening to strike over virtually everything (go on, watch the vid of the superb underground song again here).

Gordo's cunning plan is to take the heat off public sector pay by rebuilding Britain's reserve army of surplus labour through mass immigration. Which is why we now have rising unemployment side by side with rising employment (there's an good article today by David Green giving more details).

But we had a reserve army in the seventies, and as we found then, with heavy unionisation it doesn't actually head off the Trouble. And while the private sector has largely broken free, in the public sector unions are still dominant.

My advice is to start stocking up on emergency supplies now. Candles and nutty slack obviously, but also Smash, Fray Bentos meat pies, and a few Slade LPs. My mum once laid in three hundredweight of granulated during the Great Sugar Scare of 1973-74.

Think on.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Grade Inflation Roars On

Schools Minister Jim Knight launches new A Level in Bananas

Jim says “Record numbers taking and achieving at ‘A’ level is good news. As a nation we should take pride...” OK, enough.

The following chart from the excellent Reform shows the A Level pass rate compared to that of the IB- the International Baccalaureate- which as we know is set and marked by a non-profit organisation in Switzerland, and which is being adopted by increasing numbers of private schools:

And the next chart, also from Reform, shows the results of a detailed academic study tracking A Level grades (measured in UCAS points) achieved by pupils of similar ability (TDA score*) between 1988 and 2004:

As we can see, all lines soar upwards. The researchers conclude "that pupils of the same ability achieved between one-and-a-half grades and three grades higher in 2004 than they would have achieved in 1988".

For taxpayers the lesson is clear: no matter how much of our money they spend on education, politicians cannot be trusted to maintain output standards. And for the kids who are persuaded they're too smart to go plumbing we can only cross our fingers. Maybe they could become Schools Ministers.

*Footnote: the analysis of A Level scores by ability group is taken from "Standards in English schools: changes since 1997 and the impact of government policies and initiatives" by Professor Peter Tymms, Dr Robert Coe and Dr Christine Merrell, CEM Centre, University of Durham, April 2005. Their measure of ability is the Test of Developed Abilities (TDA) which measures the ability and knowledge of A Level students.

Update- useful facts and quotes on 2006 results here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dirty Rotten Business

Public service ethos

A few weeks ago we blogged the outrageous case of DCMS quango Visit Britain, which is using £8m of taxpayers' money to set up in competition against existing businesses in the UK holiday lettings market. A shocking abuse of power which jeopardises one of Tyler's favourite holiday companies.

But of course, Visit Britain is not alone. All over the country government departments and quangos are competing unfairly against private businesses- ie those guys that create the wealth we all live off. And they do so using business practices that would simply not be tolerated in the private sector, including predatory pricing and wholesale theft of intellectual property rights.

The biggest and baddest is the BBC. Its £3bn pa tax subsidy keeps it immune from the market pressures bearing down ever more acutely on its commercial rivals. Not only does it undercut competitors by supplying its product "free", but it also has the funds to expand aggressively into new markets, both overseas and in the new digital media. It routinely outbids all-comers for those "stars", and it routinely rips off programme ideas from all and sundry. No wonder Murdoch is spitting blood (or whatever that stuff he has flowing through his veins is).

Another equally appalling but less well known example is the £0.5bn pa British Council headed by my Lord Kinnockio (see previous BC blogs here and here). David Blackie's excellent blog The Language Business gives chapter and verse on exactly how the BC competes against private sector providers in language training. He quotes a recent Economist article:

“Should tax-favoured charities bid against profit-making firms? The British Council , for example – a quango, and charity, that represents British cultural interests abroad – charges for English language tuition. A recent report for the Foreign Office said that the Council’s business activities required constant monitoring lest they annoy both private providers and foreign tax authorities.”

David- whose own business has been savaged by BC's intellectual piracy- comments:

"I am an annoyed private provider. I am annoyed that the British Council cannot be trusted to keep its subsidised hands off genuine private enterprise, including enterprise that it undertakes to support. I am annoyed that the organisation is completely unaccountable in respect of its commercial activities. I am annoyed that we pay taxes in order that the organisation and its employees should get a subsidy of over half a million pounds a day, plus tax exemptions, early retirement and civil service pensions. I am annoyed that it makes a virtue of promoting British educational institutions, but that it needs to be paid large amounts to do this when all British taxpayers are paying for it anyway. I am annoyed that this shifty, self-serving, self-righteous and parasitical organisation rides roughshod over genuine tax-paying British enterprise and gets away with it."

There's little we can add to that. Other than wishing more power to the Blackie elbow.

Update- see here for another similar situation: the Department of Constitutional Affairs' Statute Law database, which has been in development since 1991 costing taxpayers an unknown amount, and whose contents are being withheld from a private sector information provider who wished to make them accessible to a wider public.

Criminal Records

You sorted for squirrels?

So Blair has created a new criminal offence for every day he's been in office- a record breaking 3,023 since 1997, of which 527 came last year alone.

All the more impressive then that Labour have been so successful in reducing crime. Last night a "Downing Street spokesman" reiterated their familiar headline that "Crime has fallen by 35 per cent since Labour came to power".

But of course, crime has only fallen if you count it using the British Crime Survey- the government's crime opinion poll- rather than the soaring hard stats of crimes actually recorded by the police. And as always, polls schmoles.

For a start, how many people actually realise that "obstructing an inspection by the Adult Learning Inspectorate" is now a criminal offence, under the Learning and Skills Act 2000? Or that selling grey squirrel and Japanese knotweed is now outlawed under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006? And while you might reasonably guess that "causing a nuclear explosion" is illegal (but presumably OK until outlawed in the 1998 Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act), would you guess the same about a "failure to rigorously separate the accounts of ground-handling activities from the accounts of other activities in accordance with current commercial practice" (Vehicle Excise Duty (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) Regulations 1997)?

So when some government pollster asks you how much crime you think is going on, how on earth are you supposed to know? It turns out even the Attorney General's office has no idea how many offences actually exist on that famous statute book, saying only "there are thousands and thousands." Yes, quite. Well thank you for that.

With 3,023 new offences, it's plainly ludicrous to suggest crime is going down. Take all those millions of unprosecuted mobile phone drivers. Prior to 1 December 2003, that was perfectly legal: now it's not, and just because the police ignore it doesn't mean it's not a crime (it will be interesting to see what defence the Hampshire tyre slasher offers if he's caught- Deathwish style, he's clearly been mightily provoked by non-existent policing).

Actually, having glanced through some of Labour's new offences, I'm pretty sure the Tylers have become habitual criminals. I strongly suspect that Mrs T is up to her neck in obstructing the work of the Children's Commissioner for Wales (contrary to the Care Standards Act 2000).

PS If anyone wants a few squirrels or some Class A Japanese knotweed, I might know a man who could point you in the right direction. I'll say no more.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Muslim Council of Britain- Tax Funding

How much do you want?

The murky finances of the many pressure groups and "think tanks" that swarm around our Westminster rulers are fascinating, but shrouded in mystery (see here for the recent Sunday Times expose on IPPR's Cash for Access funding).

Given current events, it's particularly interesting to ask how those high profile but totally ineffective moderate Muslim groups are funded. Take the Muslim Council of Britain, for instance; founded in 1997, the year Labour came to power, it's been a Blairite favourite. But how much are we taxpayers stumping up to fund it?

Let's set on one side the question of whether such organisations actually encourage the cultural separateness that is so damaging to British society, and let's gloss over the worrisome MCB "vision" statement that "we are British citizens with an Islamic heritage who stand by our citizenship responsibilities so long as the cause is just". How much are we actually spending on them?

First stop is their accounts. Since MCB is a charity, they should be lodged with the Charities Commission, right? Well- surprise, surprise- when you look here, you find their accounts are "overdue" and haven't been lodged since... ahh... hey, it seems like they've never been lodged. All we can glean is that their total cumulative income up to 31 March 2004 was £57,209. Since then, silence.

The next stop is the government accounts. Of course, as we explained here, since we don't have a Transparency and Accountability Act, it's very difficult tracking exactly what the government has given them. But here are three snippets which suggest that funding has ballooned:

  • £300,000 from DfID "to work with the UK’s Muslim community to increase awareness of the role that can be played by faith communities in reducing global poverty" (July 2006)
  • £250,000 from DTI "to tell people their rights under a new law to tackle workplace discrimination" (Nov 2004)
  • £150,000 from Home Office: "Letters between the Home Office and MCB reveal that the government has given at least £150,000 to it. MCB, led at the time by Sir Iqbal Sacranie, received the grant after asking the government for £500,000, according to correspondence disclosed under the freedom of information act (FOIA)"

Already we're up to £700,000, and there's almost certainly more.

Now, you may think a few hundred grand is not worth bothering about. But it's amazing how a few hundred grand here and there still adds up. And more fundamentally it highlights the incestuous dysfunction at the heart of so much "public engagement". The MCB held itself up as this great spokesthing for Muslims, and the government has been so delighted to have some clear body with which to "engage"- ie to pass the buck to- that it's handed out wads of our cash and even a knighthood to its leader.

But no amount of funding and general bigging up can disguise the obvious fact that the MCB is unrepresentative and entirely detached from the "disaffected" elements that our threatening our security. And attempting to use it as a government propaganda tool will not work. No end of emergency Ruth Kelly meetings will change that.

So for the life of me, I just don't see what taxpayers are getting for the money. Can anyone explain?

PS If a company failed to file accounts, it would get closed down. So wtf doesn't the Charities Commission apply the same standards?

Monday, August 14, 2006

PFI Stench Vented

Chunk on wheels

Liam Halligan's C4 PFI documentary tonight doesn't seem to be available online, but he summarises its main thrust here. After surveying the outrageous tax-sheltered profits made on some of the deals, and looking at some of the crappy building behind the shiny frontages, he wrings his hands:

"The private sector should be heavily involved in delivering our public services. We need to retreat from the dogma of state provision. But as the PFI stench gets worse, opposition is growing - not only among the usual suspects but among ranks of non-aligned taxpayers too. And that is the tragedy. PFI is giving the private sector a bad name."

We've blogged the high price of PFI many times (eg see here), and both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have regularly slammed the poor terms secured by our naive public sector procurement bureaucrats. So we're glad to see the stench being vented in an hour long primetime documentary (even if the only viewers were me, the Auditor General, and Liam's mum).

And we completely agree with Halligan's conclusion. The private sector has to be a major part of sorting out our underperforming public services, and we must not let the problems with PFI deflect us from that.

A pity then that he didn't highlight the real lesson. It's not that the private sector is an evil money-grabbing abomination, so public provison is to be preferred. No, the real lesson is that half-baked halfway houses like PFI- where the real driver is off-balance sheet financing, and the public sector continues to intermediate itself between customer and supplier- are a sure recipe for getting seriously ripped off.

PS Interesting that Liam begins his article "Back in 2004 I received an invitation to the annual dinner of the Public Private Partnership Forum. A glitzy, black-tie evening was promised, amidst the mock-Gothic splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Given all that - and noticing that the stiff-card dinner invitation said a cabinet minister would be speaking - I decided to attend..." By spooky coincidence Tyler also attended that evening, and while he remembers nothing of the cabinet minister's speech, he vividly recalls encountering Liam en route to the bog. What it is to be a star.

Pants Education Puts Prosperity At Risk

Jim Knight launches new A Level in mud pies

Yes of course, employers have been complaining about the quality of our education system since well before Abraham Darby, but in the dumbed down world of Prizes For All it's hardly surprising that complaints have reached a new pitch. And the CBI's pleas come from big international companies who can make direct comparisons with the situation elsewhere around the world:

The CEO of Siemens UK says of school leavers: "Embarrassingly large numbers of people leave secondary school unable even to read and write properly." Siemens struggles to find well-trained school leavers to work in manufacturing and take up apprenticeships. "We find the quality of people coming out of the secondary education system is pretty dire on the whole."

Of course, the government is spending £9bn pa on its so-called "Skills" industry, desperately trying to patch up the damage after people have left school. But not only is that a huge waste of money, it doesn't work either: employers prefer to manage their own training even though it costs them more.

Things are just as bad at graduate level. The managing director of Sanofi-Aventis UK says: “We employ just over 3,000 people in the UK. It is not the quantity of graduates, it is the quality. We are having to retrain graduates in laboratory skills.”

And it isn't just the obvious science-based firms: any business that needs numerate workers is looking overseas. From IT to investment banking, Labour's social engineering approach to education means high value added, high paid jobs are being forced to emigrate.

The government's response? Schools Minister Jim Knight says "Rising standards are not the symptoms of a flawed system, they are a reflection of success."

Er...rising standards, Jim? Who, apart from you and the producers, thinks that standards are rising?

PS According to DfES, Jim Knight is Minister of State for Schools and 14 - 19 learners. But according to his own website he's the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister for Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity. How very reassuring- maybe that's why he's talking such balls about education.

PPS Multiple unscholarly spelling errors have been corrected on this blog thanks to beady eyed readers: stones and glasshouses spring to mind.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Recent Bonfires- 27

In the news this week:

£44.9bn "largely wasted" on underperforming NHS- "THE extra cash poured into the National Health Service has been “largely wasted”, according to a study by the think tank Civitas... Spending on the NHS has almost doubled from £44.9 billion six years ago, but... while the government has mainly succeeded in meeting its NHS targets, the underlying picture is one of “little or no evidence of improvement in NHS performance, which ranks among the worst in the developed world”. The emphasis on targets has resulted in what the report calls “gaming” — other services being neglected in order to achieve targets. In some NHS trusts patients have been kept waiting in ambulances until managers were confident they could meet the four-hour waiting-time target inside the hospital. The report also highlights the continued poor performance of the NHS compared with other countries. Britain is virtually the only advanced country not to have recorded an improvement in mortality rates from strokes in recent years, and fatalities are twice the level recorded in Australia, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and America." (Sunday Times 13.08.2006)

£500,000 police enquiry into £90 expense claim- "A police force spent £500,000 of taxpayers' money to discover that one of its officers had mistakenly overclaimed £90 on his expenses. PC Jason Lobo was suspended for three years on full pay and taken to court over accusations that he had fiddled his petrol expenses. A criminal investigation was launched, but he was cleared of 12 counts of false accounting and one of attempting to pervert the course of justice when the prosecution offered no evidence two years later. Now he has been told he can return to work after it was found that his overclaim was the result of a genuine mistake. The marathon investigation has been branded 'staggeringly stupid' and a complete waste of taxpayers' money." (Daily Mail 12.08.06)

Another £17m for BBC bonuses- "THE BBC has admitted paying out a total of £17 million in bonuses. The handout, which is equivalent to 130,000 annual licence fees, was revealed after a freedom of information request. It does not include bonuses paid to the Corporation’s top ten executives, whose bonuses, totalling £232,000, were revealed last month in the BBC’s annual report. The BBC is already under fire for huge salaries paid to top BBC presenters, including Jonathan Ross and Terry Wogan." (Times 11.08.06)

Total for week: £44,917,500,000

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Equality Industry Update

Trev in Rising Damp

As we've discussed before, Britain's £70m state equality industry is suffering a nasty bout of consolidation: the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, and the Equal Opportunities Commission are all being banged together to form Labour's new super equality quango- the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). Which is very bad news as regards chiefs' jobs.

The favourite to get the new top job is New Labour's candidate Trevor Phillips, present head of the CRE. Which ought to be surprising, since he's so wildly unpopular among many of the ethnic groups CRE was meant to promote. Black Information Link reckons he's a useless "fat cat" who costs more than the Home Secretary, yet fails to prosecute race cases. And a former Asian CRE commissioner, Dr Raj Chandran, even suggests it would have been better to appoint a whitey, adding 'there are too many racists in the ethnic community'.

But of course, Trev's plugged in where it counts- right down to having Mandelson as best man at his wedding. So you have to guess he's home and dry.

Which leaves us with the question of why we need any of this overblown industry at all. We have the law to safeguard against discrimination. Why do we need all these expensive equality bureaucrats as well?

Pic shows Trev with other Presidents of the NUS, Sue Slipman and David Aaronowitch (in supercool tanktop): see list of NUS Presidents since 1922.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Transparency And Accountability Act

Jeeps! That's much bigger than I thought!

If there's one thing we've learned from Burning Our Money, it's that uncovering exactly how our £500bn taxes get spent is tricky. Sure, the government publishes the Big Numbers, and likes to boast about how much more it's shelling out compared to those meanies who used to be in charge. But when it comes down to the detail of spending, it's a lot harder to unearth the facts. For example:
  • Who exactly gets the c £60bn the government gives away in grants and subsidies each year? We know it includes set-aside farmers, mime artists, and community empowerment facilitation collectives, but for that kind of outlay, we have a right to the names and addresses; and
  • Who exactly gets the c £170bn pa the government spends on procurement and capital projects? The headlining Accentures, BAEs, and GlaxoSmithKlines we know about, but who else, what are they doing, and how much are the contracts worth?

True, some of this you can already discover. But only if you've got a postgrad degree in government accounting, no day job, and you're prepared to spend your days burrowing through mountains of obscure quango reports and accounting appendices. Besides, a lot of the info is missing: the government simply does not feel it necessary to tell taxpayers.

This has to change. If we're to have any hope of putting the brake on government profligacy and waste, we need to know exactly where all the money's going. And at a time when government is subcontracting more and more to the private sector, we need to know who's getting what.

To be precise, what we need is our own Transparency and Accountability Act. This is the bill currently going through the US Senate- with bipartisan support even including Hillary- that will require the Federal Government to establish "a single updated searchable database website accessible by the public at no cost that includes for each entity receiving Federal funding... for the last ten itemized breakdown of each transaction, including funding agency, program source, and a description of the purpose of each funding action".

The National Review comments:

"Staffers on Capitol Hill are calling the proposed database a “Google-like tool for federal accountability.” For the first time, it would shed some light on which companies and organizations are receiving federal money, and how much they are getting.

Louis Brandeis famously observed that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” — and nothing needs disinfecting like the festering federal budget. Many taxpayers would be surprised and disturbed to learn how much of their money drifts quietly away to various questionable causes... Making this information readily available to the public — and especially to the diligent denizens of the blogosphere — would encourage reform."

Yes folks, it's Open Government.

Er...didn't we hear that somewhere else once?

Well, I for one have struggled long enough with the intricacies of Appendix 4a of the Community Empowerment Facilitation Agency's PSA Technical Note "Fairness For All" Draft Protocol Efficiency Programme.

Now I just want to know where the money's going.

PS Hope you're all going to enter Conservative Home's 100 Policies. Sadly, tax cutting policies are unlikely to make much headway with Dave, so it's not really worth trying. But there's no reason why he wouldn't back a Transparency and Accountability Act. Which is why this will be the Tyler contribution.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

VAT Fraud Out Of Control

VAT "Carousel" fraud is ballooning out of control (see here for BOM primer). A few weeks ago we learned that the Office for National Statistics put fraudulent trade at £7bn in the first quarter of this year. Now they say it increased to £10bn in Q2, or £40 bn pa. That's absolutely massive- 3% of GDP. And as the Bank of England says, that size of fraud "makes it extremely difficult to ensure accurate measurement" of what's actually happening in the economy.

But what taxpayers need to know is how much are we losing? With £40bn of fraudulent trade, the baseline estimate is 17.5%, equals £7bn. Which is a huge increase on HMRC's historic loss estimates (see NAO Report here):

But £7bn is just the start. HMRC can lose money at various points in the Carousel chain. As the Guardian points out, that 2004-05 loss of up to £1.9bn was against the ONS estimate of fraudulent trade for that year of only £2.4bn. So scaling pro rata up gives us a new estimate for this year of around £30bn.

A £30bn loss is not some marginal irritation: it is a major crisis for Britain's fiscal probity.

And now there's talk of taxes being increased to compensate.

Following yesterday's revelations that the tidal wave of Eastern European immigration is undermining Council finances, VAT fraud is yet another example of this incompetent government losing control of its supposedly core functions.

And it's costing us a fortune.