Thursday, January 03, 2008

Holiday Round-Up



Quite a few interesting stories over the festive period we never got round to blogging. Here are some of them, just in case we forget:

1 Too many low-grade students

CBI head Richard Lambert says business has "very little interest" in that ludicrous Labour target for 50% of all kids to go through higher education:

"There is a sense, I am afraid, that more means less - that the rapid increase in the number of students graduating from college or university has come at the expense of quality, in terms of knowledge, attitude and employability.

Employers' concerns are primarily focused at the level of basic and intermediate skills. They are much more likely to feel their business is being held back by shortcomings in literacy and numeracy, or by the difficulty of attracting qualified technicians or apprentices, than they are by the quantity of graduates in the workforce."


We've blogged this several times (eg see here). We now spend £11bn pa on higher education, which has 2.3m students, or 4% of the entire population (including 27,000 doing our old favourite, the degree in media studies). Participation is being ramped up, even though according to the OECD, at 39.3%, our graduation rate is already above the 34.8% average, and ahead of both the US (33.6%) and Japan (36.1%).

We're not only wasting taxpayers money, we're also wasting the time and money of many students themselves. It is a classic triumph of quantity over quality (aka Soviet tractor production).

Meanwhile, as Lambert says, far too many kids (c 20%) leave school unable to read and write properly, let alone having a good attitude to work. No wonder his members recruit all those Poles:

"If businesses can't find the skills or work attitudes that they need in the national workplace, they can perfectly well recruit them elsewhere.

They don't have to hire people from the UK system. And they don't have to locate their activities in the UK. That surely has been the big lesson since the EU enlargement."


2. Another useless IT system bites the dust

The Police Portal was one element of the long-term Home Office project to centralise the police and further distance them from the public they "serve" (eg see this blog). It was one of those half-baked e-government projects, whereby the public could report "non-urgent" matters to a website rather than bothering the real police.

Announced in 2000, most unusually the software was delivered (by BT) and launched just one year later. Even more amazingly, so far as anyone can tell, it actually worked. Yet just four years later, the Home Office announced it would be scrapped and replaced by a new system from our old friend QinetiQ.

Now, just two years further on from that, the new contract has been canned by the National Policing Improvement Agency, and the whole service withdrawn. Nobody quite knows why, but the excellent Tony Collins investigates here.

It seems the cash strapped Home Office, which had previously picked up the tab (up to £60m to build and £5m pa to run), went to Chief Constables asking them to pay for use from their own budgets. They refused, apparently on the grounds that the whole idea is a complete and utter waste of time.

Sounds familiar somehow.


3. Immigration has taken jobs and depressed wages

The Ernst & Young Item economists have taken a look at the impact of Labour's mass immigration (see also here). They confirm that it's boosted economic growth, damped down inflation, and helped keep interest rates low. So good news for the nanny and cleaner employing, restaurant dining, classes.

Much less good news for young low-skill Britons. Item Chief Economic Advisor Prof Peter Spencer says:

"What is apparent is that in the last five years while over a million jobs have been created in the UK, over two thirds of them have gone to foreign-born workers.

There is some evidence that the growth of immigrant employment seen in the last few years may have come at the expense of the domestic workforce. Given the age and skill profile of many of the new immigrants, it is possible that 'native' youngsters may have been losing out in the battle for entry-level jobs."

And on that economic growth point, the Item report confirms what we said before: over the last decade, net immigration has increased GDP by about 0.2% pa, but since it's increased the population by roughly the same amount (actually a little more), the impact on GDP per head has been zero.


4. Borrowing blow-out

The latest numbers on public sector borrowing showed the cumulative financial year-to-date total running £10.2bn ahead of last year.

From April to November, net borrowing was £36.2bn compared to £26bn last year. Bottler's original forecast for the whole year was £33.7bn, increased just last month to £38bn. The way things are going, it will end up well in excess of £40bn.


This is nowhere near where we should be coming out of 15 years of growth. Bottler has squandered the family fortune and we're going into a recession with all credit cards maxxed. Brilliant.

Can governments get an IVA?

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