Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bella Italia

Mr and Mrs T are off to La Bella Italia. No, not the pasta chain, the real one.

According to BBC Thought for the Day with Clifford Longley, Italy has reverted to being a fascist state. Longley reckons Silvio's crime crackdown is barely disguised racism, directed exclusively against Roma gypsies and Albanian migrants.

Is he right? Maybe we'll find out. Bearing in mind of course that Rome is the only West European city centre the Tylers have ever visited where they were constantly plagued by broad-daylight pickpockets. All of whom looked like... er, well... gypsy children.

Of more immediate concern is the rotting rubbish. Where has the padrone taken it? Hope it's not been dumped round the back of the Tylers' hotel.


A Message From The Lizard Man

Last seen in Guildford

You know the lizard man. He's that guy who looks absolutely normal right up to the moment he rips off his face to reveal the giant slavering lizard within.

To be honest, I thought he'd gone to ground. He hadn't been seen round our way since 1994 when one of the junior Tylers managed to photograph him in Guildford High Street. But this morning I'm wondering if he's back among us. In fact, I'm wondering if I am he.

According to Mr Aaronwitz:
"If I was a rank-and-file reactionary Conservative, forced to swallow political failure for more than a decade, and now permitted, lizard-like, to come out of my smelly culvert to claim a place on the sunny rock, I might let the light go to my head too. I might preen my scales and tell tales of the decline - no, the breaking - of Britain under Labour.

It seems impossible to counter the triumphal gloominess of the old Right with anything as feeble, as unconvincing, as facts. The best figures available show crime has gone down, but we know, we know, we know it has gone up! The best figures available suggest improving performance at GCSE and A levels, but we know, we know, we know that this is because of a dilution in standards!"

So just to get this straight, if you think all those performance stats thrown up by the government's tractor production targeting regime are anything other than fact, you're a lizard.

I'd better get out and lie on a sunny rock.

PS We've blogged it before, but it's well worth watching the Pandora's Box TV doc on the failure of Soviet planning. It's full of commissars like Aaronwitz who still believed you could plan and target a better world even after the whole flimsy edifice had crashed in ruins. I especially liked the attempts to plan the deployment of pantyhose by Soviet womanhood. (Unfortunately, the linked YouTube vid has now been taken down, presumably for copyright reasons; you'll have to rent the DVD).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Very Very Scary

Dr Campbell tooled up

I presume you've heard today's interviews with Dr Derrick Campbell, Chief Executive of Race Equality Sandwell, and advisor to the government. Commenting on the latest gruesome batch of black-on-black teenage murders, he blames the rest of us:
"Black youths within this country have been left to die. And that's a very strong statement but it's a statement that seems to be borne out through evidence about black youths who seem to be at the top of the list when it comes to our youngsters being killed.

Now we're asking very serious questions of national government and local government as to why it seems that resources that have been allocated for community cohesion and other activities have not been going to those organisations."

Our immediate thought was that he'd been paid by the BNP as part of a recruitment drive. But when we looked at his biog on Birmingham Black History, we began to think he maybe didn't exist at all - he'd been invented by the BNP:

"Through secondary schooling Derrick was always in the bottom sets as Black pupils were not allowed to be in the top sets at that time. He always wanted to be a male nurse... but he came to realise that he could not cope with the hospital environment... he changed direction and went to University, but he was thrown out after a year and trained as an electrician. In applying for an electrician post with Wolverhampton Borough Council he was offered a job as an officer!"

Of course, once on the council payroll, for reasons we can all easily imagine, he rose rapidly through the ranks to his present elevated position.

But whether he exists or not, as the almost uniformly hostile comments posted today under his biog demonstrate, in terms of BNP recruitment, he's certainly hit the spot.

So why would a "community leader" come out with inflammatory garbage like that in the first place? Yup, because he makes his living in the black victimhood equality industry. For example, writing in Guns Shackles & Chains, Sandwell Council's tax-funded propaganda glossy on the slave trade (no, I'm not making it up), he repeats an old BOM favourite:
"Slavery and the slave trade cemented the relations between Africa, Europe and the Americas into one of inequality. The industrial revolution in England lies at the heart of this change, and places like West Bromwich and Smethwick were an important part of it. Profit made from the enslavement of millions of Africans fuelled the rise of the iron industry, canals and estates like Warley Woods. The fight by black people and other abolitionists against slavery created an important legacy of opposition to racism and inequality."

As regular BOM readers may recall, we've looked at that very issue in some detail (see here and here). And the clear conclusion was that the slave trade did not fund the industrial revolution, in West Brom or anywhere else. Economic historians have shown the profits involved were nowhere near large enough to fund the industrial revolution.

So why is Doctor Campbell continuing to spin the same old propaganda? To be charitable, we might suppose it's because he's a Doctor of Theology, and not an economist or an historian. But come on, this isn't rocket science economics, and if he hasn't bothered to study the facts, WTF is he pontificating about it?

Campbell sounds like the worst kind of self-serving community empowerment bureaucrat. God knows how much we've already pumped into his organisation (it was £1m just between 2004/5 and 2006/7), but he clearly isn't satisfied.

Does he not understand we have no confidence in him or his tax-funded industry to stop black yobs stabbing each other? And does he not understand we're sick and tired of being dealt the guilt card yet again?

Why do we employ such a man? What precisely do we taxpayers get out of it?

PS That pic of Campbell with the shooter was taken at National Shooting Week. He attended in his capacity as chairman of the National Independent Advisory Group on Criminal Use of Firearms, which is an official Home Office advisory group. I have no idea why the HO reckons he's a good person to advise on gun crime. I'd rather have the Major.

A Tragic Mistake. Another One.

Government has been a tragic mistake

You need to sit down for this. You really do.

Out in Beijing, the Dear Leader praised Shanaze Reade, the 19-year-old BMX rider who lost out on an Olympic medal last week after crashing in sight of the winning line:

"She was not happy settling for a silver. She went full throttle for gold.

That is the spirit we want to encourage in our schools, not the medals for all culture we have seen in previous years, but more competition.

It was wrong because it didn't work. It was a tragic mistake in reducing the competitive element in sport. In sport, you get better by challenging yourself against other people. The competitive aspect in sport is crucial for success."

A Tragic Mistake.

You hardly know where to start.

It was socialist commissars just like Brown who forced our state schools to abandon competitive sports back in the sixties and seventies. It was socialist commissars just like him who then denied they'd done so. And it was socialist commissars just like him who ignored the fact that independent schools - which retained competition - have routinely provided around half our medallists, even though they only educate 7% of our children.

When it comes to Tragic Mistakes, you simply can't beat a socialist commissar. From the Great Famines caused by crackpot agricultural policies, to tens of millions of deaths caused by Great Leaps Backwards, to whole generations dragged down by social engineering experiments in schools, the commissars are in a brutal dogmatic incompetent league of their own (see this blog for further discussion).

So having finally confessed the error of his ways* on competitive sport, will Brown now draw the much more general conclusion? Will he now recognise the central importance of competition right across our education system? Will he accept that government has no place in education, other than funding poor kids?

Somehow it seems unlikely. The continuing tragedy of state education looks safe in his hands.

But at least the Tories are now promising real change in schools, with the adoption of the Swedish model. Let's hope they mean what they say.

*Footnote. So does Brown actually accept he's one of the people responsible for the abolition of competition in school sports? We haven't seen his full speech but there's more than a hint that he blames nameless zealots further down the "chain of command" - he and the other top commissars never intended their brilliant ideas for a better world should be interpreted in such a hopeless and destructive manner. Which is of course the David Irving defence - the Fuhrer never ordered the Holocaust, and could hardly be held responsible for the madness of those below him. Cf Tesco government, where the buck always stops with the top guy.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Crime In The Hood

As you may know, the Met Police have just launched their new interactive crime mapping for London. The idea is that you can go online, check out just how crime ridden your hood actually is, and decide where you should move to.

Well, no, actually crime mapping has been copied from the States, where it was a key component in the highly successful policing revolution launched in New York in the early 90s. Over there it proved a vital tool in the direction of police resources to crime hotspots, and in focusing public pressure for action. In other words, it's something we desperately need here.

So congrats to Sir Ian for introducing it.

And in a spirit of thanks and celebration, we asked our man on the Hill to test drive it. Does it correspond to his perception of crime down his own particularly mean streets?

Straightway he was puzzled. On the Met's crime map, Primrose Hill is coloured blue, which means it's a "below average" crime area. But how could that possibly be? Below average crime for an area that's so scary the residents have to hire private security guards?

So he clicked the link to the underlying stats. And here's what he found (the first three columns relate to the 12 months to June 2008, and the second three to the 12 months to June 2007):

Now, can you by any chance spot the jump-off-the-page-and-smack-you-in-the-gob pattern?

Yes, correct. For both 2007 and 2008, his hood (Camden Town with Primrose Hill) had a much higher crime rate than both Camden generally, and the Met as a whole, FOR EVERY SINGLE CATEGORY OF CRIME. Every single one.

So... er... on what basis has the Met categorised the Hill as a below average crime area? And what must the above average crime areas be like?

Sheer blithering incompetence or outright lies?

Frankly, it makes little difference.

But how much longer must we tolerate bungling Blair?

Crock Of Lies

Your taxes still supporting King Kev

Remember all those official assurances about how our £100bn would be safe with the Crock? The huge deluge of "comfort" from our rulers and betters that the guarantees would cost us nothing?


Well, here's a reminder (and see all previous Crock blogs gathered here):

  • FSA - "We believe [Northern Rock] is solvent, meets all capital requirements, and has a good quality loan book." (FSA chairman Callum McCarthy 17.9.07)
  • Darling - "Bank of England lending is secured against Northern Rock's assets such as high quality mortgages, assessed by the Financial Services Authority as being of good quality" (21.01.08)
  • Brown - "Most people agree that Northern Rock has a quite high-quality loan book and I can assure you that our aim in all of this is to secure the best deal for the British taxpayer." (20.01.08)
  • Cooper (Yvette, not Tommy... or was it the other way round?) - the guarantees "have not been called upon, so they've not actually created any cost for the taxpayer"(18.2.08)

Now we hear that their advisors, Goldman Sachs, told them months ago, and well before February's formal nationalisation:

"that in a “base case scenario” the Treasury would be left with a “net subsidy” to the bank of some £1.28 billion."

And from the sound of it, that base case did not envisage a recession - now inevitable - and did not envisage anything like a 25% house price crash - now pretty well the consensus view. So £1.28bn will just be the down-payment.

In truth, nobody sensible ever believed those official assurances in the first place. But we now have confirmation that ministers were not just naive and incompetent - they lied through their teeth.

The wonder is that 25% of voters still seem to think these lying tossers are fit to rule us.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

It's Scotland's Oil Jimmy

BBC Scotland documentary on N Sea oil - hilariously left-wing but still worth watching

As mentioned previously, the Bloke has been working on another report for the TPA, this one on the Barnett Formula.

A key question is why English MPs have for so long tolerated a situation in which Scotland gets 20-25% more per capita funding for public services than their own constituents? That is a substantial differential and it has persisted at least since the mid-70s. You'd kinda think even today's pussycat lobby fodder English MPs might have done something about it by now.

The big picture answer is reckoned to be oil. It's said that the extra spending Scotland gets is roughly funded by Scotland's fair share of North Sea tax revenues (eg see here for a clear summary penned by BBC Evan Davis). English MPs are told to shut their gobs lest they provoke the Scots into UDI under their wily leader, the Thane of Salmond.

But how do the sums actually balance out?

According to the latest HM Treasury analysis, per capita spending on identifiable public services in Scotland was £1644 pa (22%) higher than in England (2007-08). Multiplied up by Scotland's 5.1m population, Scotland is getting c £8.5bn pa additional spending.

On the revenue side, HMT says North Sea revenue this year will be just under £10bn. So how much of that belongs to Scotland?

The ScotNats - who originally came up with the nifty slogan It's Scotland's Oil back in the early 70s - have always reckoned about 95% belongs to them. And it now turns out a top secret government report back in 1974 by economist Gavin McCrone (er... yes... a Scot), supported them.

But it's generally reckoned today's percentage is lower. A couple of years ago, m'learned friend The Devil produced this interesting map, showing how an entirely reasonable extrapolation of the land border would nix a large part of Scotland's claim:

Unfortunately, although that looks entirely reasonable when viewed from oil-poor Surrey, those pesky international lawyers have come up with their own rules. They're based on the median line of equidistance from national shorelines, and they swing the boundary a long way further South (on account of Scotland's grossly unfair sticky-out bit round Aberdeen):

That map is taken from the Scottish Governmnent's own analysis. Drawing on detailed work by Professor Alex Kemp and Linda Stephen from the University of Aberdeen, they reckon that Scotland's share over the last few years has been in the range 82-84% (click on table to enlarge):

Of course, if Scotland did declare UDI, the actual boundary would be "subject to negotiation" (as Kemp and Stephen acknowledge). But if we take their split as the current best guess, then this year an independent Scotland would get around £8-8.5bn of North Sea revenue. In other words, their "share " of the revenue would almost exactly balance the additional public spending they currently receive.

So that's cool then. All we English are doing is returning to the Scots the cash that rightfully belongs to them (after all, God gave them the oil, didn't he?).

Not so fast. Take a closer look at that table. Notice anything?

Yes, that's right. Until recently, North Sea revenues have been much lower. In fact, in the first three years (2002-03 to 2004-05) Scotland's share averaged only £4bn pa - only around half the extra spending they enjoy.

In reality it all comes down to the oil price. At today's extraordinary level, sure, an independent Scotland could continue with its current level of spending. But if prices slipped back closer to long-term averages (as they will - trust me), Scotland would soon need to call the IMF.

Just as a reminder, here's how the price of Brent crude has moved over the last 40 years, in both nominal and real terms (Source: OIL AND GAS. UK Oil & Gas Revenues: Implications for UK & Scottish Public Finances, CPPR 2008)

As we can see, today's price is way higher than the c $30 level suggested by history. Let's see how it looks after a good hard dose of recession.

Bottom line?

In reality, the ScotNat oil story doesn't stack up. An independent Scotland would not be entitled to as much of the revenue as they claim, and the current high level of revenue is almost certainly unsustainable.

On the other hand, if you're an English taxpayer, now might be a very good time to encourage your cousins North of the border to go for it. They can have their share of the oil, but we get to keep our own tax money.

PS That BBC Scotland doc is in seven sections on YouTube. It's called Truth, Lies, Oil and Scotland, which gives you a pretty good idea where it's coming from. As per, the BBC gives a free platform to Viscount Stansgate to explain yet again how, if only he'd been allowed to tell the IMF to bog off in 1976, he could have used the North Sea cash to create a socialist workers paradise. It goes on to explain how Thatcherism was Extremely Evil and how we'd otherwise be living in peace and harmony. But that aside, it's well worth viewing as a Look At Life on the N Sea.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tweety News

Emblematic of a much bigger issue

We've often blogged how many supposed "charities" are so dependent on state funding they are in reality little more than quangos (see previous blogs, eg here and here).

According to the Charities Commission, around two-thirds of the larger charities now get 80% or more of their income from government (eg Barnardos is 78% state funded - and now run by an ex-civil servant to boot - with NCH and Leonard Cheshire both on 88%).

Why does it matter?

As we said previously, for the charities it matters because:
  • Distorts priorities Charities are set up to pursue worthy objectives, which are most unlikely to square with those of our elected politicos. But once they take the Queen's shilling, they have to play the politicos' tune. The Charity Commission survey found that three-quarters of those doing so are put under pressure to do what the politicos want
  • Stifles vitality The closer relationship between charities and the state is still new, and neither side has a clue how to manage it. The inevitable result is that the government bureaucracy's instinct to impose huge new monitoring, reporting, and regulatory burdens runs unchecked. When they examined it, the PAC reckoned that government requires much more information- on for example costs- than they ever demand from private sector counterparties
  • Damages private funding People are already very sceptical about whether their charitable donations actually go to the underlying good cause: a recent MORI poll found that only 10% agree with the statement "when I give money to charity, I feel confident that most of it will go directly to the cause". More state funding is likely to reinforce the view that charities are not in reality what they pretend to be.

But it also matters for taxpayers. As we know, we have little enough control over how our money gets spent inside government. But once we dish it out to outside bodies we have no control at all.

Which brings us to the tweeties. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds now has a chunky £100m pa turnover. But whereas it once depended for its income entirely on bird loving spinsters and Bill Oddie, it now gets over £20m pa from us, the taxpayers.

Did you know that?

No, neither did we.

So what do they spend it on?

Well, one current project is to persuade the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to protect the rare Jerdon’s courser (pic), a project that includes the diversion of a major canal. Ian Barber, the RSPB’s Asia Officer, says:

"It is crucial we find other sites hosting Jerdon’s coursers and encourage both politicians and the people living nearby to support that work."

No problem at all with the RSPB doing that, but is it really "crucial" in the sense of being something we want our taxes spent on? And should British taxpayers ever be in the business of political campaigning inside another sovereign country? How would we react if the situations were reversed? (and see this blog for the cash we spend in India generally).

It turns out the RSPB has a raft of overseas projects, from acquiring the concession licence for 53,000 ha of Sumatran rainforest, to managing aquatic warbler habitat in Poland. All perfectly fine... but not with my money and without my knowledge.

I'm guessing the RSPB would argue it's not using my money to do any of that overseas stuff. That my money is all going to fund projects in this country. But come on guys - even if I agree I want my taxes spent on birds (which BTW I don't), in reality, most of this cash goes into the same big black pot, divvied up according to your own internal accounting rules. Transparency, it ain't.

As we've noted before, getting charities more involved in the delivery of public services is another of everyone's Big Ideas. But doing so via the wholesale provision of tax funding is a recipe for even more opacity and waste than we already suffer. We don't want even more quangos. Much much better to improve the tax incentives for private donations.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Twoks On The Job

Government... that's what we need

Who first came up with the ridiculous idea that governments are better at stuff than we are ourselves?

No, really, I want to know. Was it Napoleon? Or was he just copying Louis XIV? Must have been some French guy, for sure. Or... wait... was it that Roman Emperor bloke? Caesar Augustus, Emperor of the Month, the man who invented modern taxation and bureaucratised the Empire. Yeah, he probably started the rot.

Whoever it was, he owes us a serious apology. Never a day passes without fresh proof of just how disastrously it all turned out. Here's another grim selection picked up by BOM correspondents in just the last few days:

Twoks on the Kango Job

We've blogged NHS dentistry so often our teeth hurt. Today's news confirms the lunacy of the commissars' new contract - the one that pays NHS dentists the same whether they do complex and time-consuming crown work, or simply smash out all your teeth with a Kango.

Guess what. They're taking the Kango option:

"Dentists in England are more likely to extract teeth or fit false ones than fit fillings or crowns under a new contract introduced two years ago.

Treatments that included fitting dentures rose by 10% to 48% between 2003-04 and 2007-08, while extractions rose from 7% to 8%, a report by the NHS Information Centre. By contrast, the number of crowns fitted fell from 48% to 35%, while the number of fillings fell from 28% to 26%.

Susie Sanderson, chair of the British Dental Association's executive board, said "More than a million people have now lost access to NHS dental care. Those that are able to access care are confronted with a system that discourages modern, preventive care by placing targets, rather than patients, at its heart."

Well, who could have predicted that?

(HTP Rory S)

Twoks on the Arthur Daley Job

Psst. Wanna buy some cheap Eurofighters?

No, seriously - straight up. These are kosher Eurofighter Typhoons - as new. Well no, not as new - they are new. Brand new. Never been used - still in the box. It's an overstock - y'know, they need the warehouse space.

Something else we've blogged so many times our extremities hurt - the ludicrously superfluous Cold War* Eurofighter Typhoon (see these blogs). When last sighted, MOD had contracted to buy 232 of them at a total cost of c£20bn, or £80m apiece.

But now we learn:

"Talks have been held with countries including Japan about offloading large numbers of Eurofighter Typhoons that the British Ministry of Defence has ordered but can no longer afford...

...the UK and Italy asked late last year what it would cost to buy fewer aircraft than agreed initially or none at all, but both options were regarded as unworkable because they would incur such a high financial penalty. The Eurofighter contract is written so tightly that it would be almost as cheap to take delivery of the aircraft as to incur the penalties."

Bottom line? We'll be selling them to the Saudis for about 3p apiece.

You'll be paying the difference.

(HTP Jeremy Poynton)

Twoks on the 7/7 Job

As you will know by now, the tax-funded BBC's Children in Need appeal financed the 7/7 bombers:

"Children in Need inadvertently handed £20,000 to the 7/7 London bombers. The BBC charity cash was given to a bookshop run by Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, who spent it on videos glorifying holy war."

Cards on the table - I have never been a fan of Children in Need. Quite apart from the fact that El Tel Wogan charges a fee for fronting it, its mix of cloying sentimentality, self-congratulation, and unabashed self-promotion just doesn't appeal somehow.

And this latest twist doesn't surprise one jot.

Roll on privatisation.

(HTP Dryden T-H)

Twoks on the Fraud Job

Over at Bendy Girl, the girl in question has spotted a problem with Commissar Purnell's Job Brokers - the private sector operators who are supposed to get Benefitsscoungingscum (the girl's words, not mine) back to work. Apparently, the brokers may - only may, mind -have been defrauding the Simple Shopper, and not finding real work for IB recipients after all.

Well, waddya know.

No, that's it - enough Twoks for one day.

*Footnote: Ah yes, hmmm, the Cold War. Maybe not so cold any more? Maybe we will need those Typhoons? But are they any good against Russia's gas supply weapon? Wrap up warm this winter.

Update 22.8.08: Yet another data fiasco - another subcontractor (PA) has lost a datastick containing "personal details and intelligence on 33,000 serious offenders, dossiers on 10,000 “priority criminals” and the names and dates of birth of all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales. There is also information on an unspecified number of people enlisted on drug intervention programmes." PA are clearly at fault, but WTF is the hopeless Home Office doing dishing out this data in the first place? Presumably thousands more villains will now have to be released on the grounds of breached human rights. Words like fiasco and twok seem somehow inadequate.

Adonis Agonistes

Looks like the roof's worked loose again

There's none so blind as he who will not see. And Schools Minister My Lord Adonis is as blind as they come.

Once again it's time for the GCSE tractor production stats, and once again production has broken all records. We haven't got this years' stats yet - as per, they're not released until government ministers have had a free run at spinning them first - but here's the long-term trend:

Percentage given 5 A*-C GCSEs

Out here in the real world everyone knows the trend reflects nothing more than wholesale dumbing down. When it comes to GCSEs, employers can no longer rely on them, top independent schools are abandoning them, and ex-teachers like Mrs T gasp at the GCSE questions they once set for 7-8 year olds.

But My Lord sees none of this. On the contrary, from his lofty vantage as an entirely unelected commissar (in the House of Lords FFS!), he reckons criticism is down to those evil class enemies:

"It is the class-based elitism that instinctively wants to ration success and cap the aspirations of the less advantaged. The underlying premise is that there is a fixed pool of talent in society.

So every August we are told that increased success rates demonstrate declining standards in state schools (increased success in private schools, by contrast, is usually put down to hard work and good teaching).

I reject this ration-book view of talent and opportunity. It was a bad recipe for the 20th century and is a disastrous one for the 21st. Successful societies flourish above all else by mobilising talent and educational potential. There is no genetic or moral reason why the whole of society should not succeed to the degree that the children of the professional classes do today, virtually all getting five or more good GCSEs and staying on in education beyond 16."

Can an allegedly bright man really believe such old-time socialist drivel? Does he really not understand that on average independent schools do deliver better education? Why else does he think parents are prepared to stump up shedloads to buy places? And does he not understand that the only reason virtually all privately schooled kids now get top grade GCSEs is because the exams have been dumbed down to accomodate his shocking state schools?

This man is blinded by class hatred.

Either that or he's yet another failed Big Government politico trotting out the same tired old scape-goating lies of commissars throughout the ages. He'd have been perfectly at home in Cromwell's Commonwealth, or Big Brother's Oceania.

Check out too the parallel he draws with the Olympics. In a laughable attempt to grab some feelgood, he says he applauds our medal success, even though it is elitist: "As Education Minister in a government that funds at record levels elite sports, elite universities, elite music and drama, and gifted and talented programmes in state schools, I am an unabashed elitist."

But My Lord, how does that "elitism" square with your opposition to "rationing success"?

Do you actually understand how the Olympics works? You see, there is only ever one gold medal, no matter how easy you make the qualifying standards, or how well the others do. Success is rationed. Elitism in your terms - elitism for all - doesn't exist. Usain Bolt is the 100m and 200m champ, even though they all did jolly well, and even though he lords it over the losers in a highly unegalitarian manner of which you will certainly not approve.

Most real exams do ration success. Sorry, but they do. Employers need to know that the bit of paper signifies competence, as a minimum. And at the top end, they need to know that an A*, or a first, actually means outstanding achievement, not the unrationing of success.

PS See this blog for a comparison between our dumbed down state exams and a real exam. The Chartered Financial Analyst Institute sets rigorous exams for its CFA qualification, so rigorous that the current pass rate is well under 50%. The result is that the qualification has retained its significant economic value to holders right around the world. Compare and contrast with GCSEs and A levels.
Update: More statistical gobbledigook. I've just taken a look at the Press Notice summarising the results. I grade it borderline D/E. First off, it says in Editor's Notes "This press notice relates to 'England'. Yet in the very next line it says "These results are for England, Wales and Northern Ireland". The candidate is clearly very confused. He goes on: "Overall A*-C pass rate now stands at 65.7 per cent, an increase of 2.4 percentage points". That implies a pass rate of 63.4% last year. Yet in his own continuous assessment project submitted on his own website, last year's pass rate appears as only 60.8%. Are we to believe this year's increase is actually 4.9%? Very muddled, betraying a gross lack of scholarship.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spinning Gold From Money

A black week for taxpayers. As the Beijing medal count rises, any hope of capping the 2012 budget sinks.

The jingoistic media reaction is saying circuses do work. For a paltry few hundred mill we have bought success and feelgood, a flag-draped triumph that has done more to rebuild our fractured nation than any number of Britishness speeches. Etc etc.

Look, let's not be churlish (or Gradgrindish as Lottery founder John Major put it yesterday): it's fantastic to see some British sporting success for a change, and congratulations to the medallists.

  1. We are still underperforming relative to our population and, especially, our economy - according to C4 News, we are 17th relative to population (Slovenia first, Oz 5th, Holland 15th); relative to our economy, we are 43rd (N Korea first, Oz 30th, Holland 42nd).
  2. Our huge improvement - best medal haul since 1908 etc - is less a reflection of wild success in 2008, and more the fact that for the last century we have been totally pants: since WW2 we have only twice before managed to come above 10th overall (and one of those was Moscow in 1980 when the US didn't compete).

And what are we to make of the fact that 8 of our 16 gold medals have come in just one sport, cycling? Or that only three of the golds have come from non-sitting down sports?

The power of clusters? The big sporting powers don't bother with minority sports? Poor countries can't afford the kit? Public schools? Nobody seems to know. But it sure doesn't sound like broadly based success.

Still there's no denying the fact that all of our success sports have had massively increased subsidies. Cycling was given £22m for these games, up from "just" £9m for Athens. Sailing has had also had £22m (up from £8m), and rowing an extraordinary £26m, the same as our chronic underperformer, athletics.

So can you really spin gold from money?

The answer seems to be that in minority sports with high kit costs, you probably can. But in mass participation sports where the kit is cheap, you can't - the majority of the sports we've paid for haven't produced any medals at all (and cf that bunch of money-no-object overpaid losers known as the England football team).

PS One of the pleasures of any Olympics is tracking just how hopeless the professional sports pundits are at predicting the winners. EG here are the BBC predictions from last year on which 10 Brits were "the ones to watch" (pic above). As far as we can see, only two have actually won medals (so far). As for that girl who won two swimming golds, or triple gold cyclist Chris Hoy, not a mention.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Public The Public Don't Want

A nuclear waste dump? No, it's sixty million quid's worth of art

Commenting on our recent post suggesting local authorities should get more power over regeneration cash, Snapper from West Brom reckoned they'd simply waste it: "Witness the nationally lambasted 'arts centre' known as tHE pUBLIC. £50 million so far and rising".

I made a mental note to investigate said arts centre (pic above). But as it happens, the S Times has saved me the trouble:

"AN arts centre nicknamed the “pink elephant” – a black box with curly pink window frames that has already swallowed almost £60m of public money – has admitted no paying visitors since it opened as its main gallery does not work.

The gallery of interactive digital displays that was supposed to attract queues of people to The Public in West Bromwich, has had to be roped off because of electrical problems. Even free concerts and other events held at the centre have attracted few visitors. One performance, by the soul singer Aisha, drew an audience of just 17 people...

With the centre producing almost no income so far, except from hiring out space for business events, Sandwell council, which owns and runs the building has been forced to give it an extra £3m. This comes on top of the £14m already provided and £500,000 a year in running costs.

A further £13m has been provided by the European Development Fund and Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency."

Blimey. This ticks almost all known money wasting boxes - arts hand outs, unfit for purpose, post-modern neo-Stalinist state architecture that will need demolition in 20 years (or earlier), EU hand outs, Regional Development Agency hand outs... the centre only needs an equal opportunities buttock clenching zone and they'll have the full set.

And just check out the attractions posted on its website. For example, this very weekend artist Michael Pinchbeck will present (?) his "four year live art project called The Long and Winding Road. He packed a car with the belongings of his brother and drove to Liverpool where his brother died in 1998. The car tours to galleries and festivals until 2008 when Pinchbeck will drive the car into the River Mersey. Admission will be on a first-come-first-served basis."

Don't all rush at once.

In recent years, these tax-funded art centres/galleries have sprung up all over the country. We've blogged quite a few on BOM, both the huge amounts that have been spent on them, and the ludicrous things they put on (including those outstanding photos of "a man holding his penis" at the Baltic Centre Gateshead - all that was left after the police seized the other exhibits on child porn grounds).

So why've we got to have them? The claim is generally that they help regenerate all those frightful Northern places Policy Exchange wants to close down. But as we blogged here, there is absolutely zip evidence they succeed in that. Plus, many of these centres have been built in places that don't need regeneration - like just down the road from the Major and I.

The truth is that they are the product of the top-down arts and regeneration industries. With Whitehall funding, local councils figure they might as well go along with the whole nonsense - what harm can it do? Only later do they work out they're left holding the maintenance and upkeep baby.

And as for local residents, they don't get any say at all. Often, they have no idea the thing is being built until it starts taking shape. So it's hardly surprising they don't flock to events.

Unwanted, unsupported, and a long-term burden on local council tax payers.

It makes you want to scream.

PS Is Pinchbeck's car journey art? Well, like the man said, if he says it's art, it must be art. I just don't see why I should pay for it, that's all.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fending Off The Bear

We've just watched a TV doc with ex-spychief Stella Rimington reviewing Britain's changing attitude to Russia over the last century. Very interesting, especially since she finished it before the invasion of Georgia.

She ended by asking whether we will ever feel able to trust the Russians? I must say I know very little about Russia other than what I've seen in the news over the years, plus those James Bond instructional vids. But I sure don't trust them. And post-Georgia, I'm guessing fewer of us do than at any time since the Cold War.

Especially since in some ways, we are in worse shape now than we were back then. Sure, in theory, back then they could incinerate us whenever the mood took them. Yet post-Cuba, most of us could see that in practice, MAD did work. And we weren't dependent on them for anything, other than plots for John Le Carre spy novels.

Today, not only can they still incinerate us, we also face that scary energy dependence, with gas imports set to soar as North Sea production falls away.

I've been trying find a simple summary of how this dependence looks, and what the options are. The best I've come up with is this presentation by Jonathan Stern of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. It's an interesting and easy read, with a bunch of nice charts, including this worrisome projection of declining European gas production (billion cubic metres, excluding Russia):

There are obviously no easy answers. But I'd sleep a whole lot easier if we ignored the hippies and the BBC and just cracked on with those new coal-fired power stations and nukes. Being dependent on the bear doesn't appeal somehow.

PS Have you caught any of the BBC's marathon radio season 1968 - Myth or Reality? The BBC reckons 1968 was a seminal year. But hang on, I thought, I was alive in 1968, and I don't recall it being especially seminal. Well, no more seminal than Summer of Love/Six Day War 1967, say. Or Kennedy shot/Beatlemania 1963 (which IIRC was reckoned to be the seminal year of the sixties in a BBC TV doc made sometime in the early 70s). Yes, 1968 did feature the brutal Russian suppression of the Prague Spring and various other stuff. But there are many years with world shaking events. Will this latest Russian brutality mean that in 40 years time, the BBC will be doing 2008 - Myth or Reality? I hope not - it should have been privatised long since.

News From BOM Correspondents- 7

The days of catapults and GP home visits

Latest news and links from BOM correspondents:

Heath Robinson Spy Plane grounded

In yet another MOD procurement disaster, the £227m Phoenix spy drone has been scrapped:

"The biggest problem was landing. The surveillance pod was slung under its belly, so the spy drone had to flip on to its back to avoid damaging the equipment on landing. But too many crash-landed and bits fell off.

The answer, the technical wizards decided, was to fit an airbag on the top of the fuselage to cushion the impact after the flipover process had been completed. The solution worked but the Phoenix began to look like a Heath Robinson contraption, and its reputation as a reliable enemy gun spotter took a hammering when many of them were “lost”, either having been shot down by sharpshooters as they buzzed noisily overhead like a model airplane or having taken off and failed to come back."

Those boffins, eh? What can you do with 'em? You will recall the famous Dambusters scene (above) with Barnes Wallis using a Heath Robinson catapult to fire marbles across an old bathtub set up under his washing line (actually if you're under 40 you probably won't have seen it before because the film is now only available under the counter - its blatant anti-EuroReich attitudes, it's whitism, including unrestricted use of the N word, and its middleclassism, all place it well beyond the human rights pale).

The real problem - as ever - is unlikely to have been the boffins themselves, but crazy specs laid down by MOD. Or more fundamentally, their ridiculous insistence on buying British/European rather than just buying something that works - ie off-the-shelf US drones which work perfectly well (see all previous blogs on MOD procurement cock-ups gathered here).

(HTP Jeremy Poynton)

83% Roads Overspend

We've blogged the useless Highways Agency before (eg here). It routinely gets rock bottom scorecards from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, which recently concluded the Agency "has lost budgetary control".

Its latest fiasco involves the small matter of a £3.7bn cost over-run on its current road building programme:

"41 road projects which had been calculated to cost £4.45bn will now cost taxpayers £8.12bn – a rise of almost 83 per cent.

... one stretch of the A14 between Ellington and Fen Ditton in Cambridgeshire had risen from an estimated £490m in 2003 to £1.2bn... improvements to a stretch of the A46 between Newark and Widmerpool, in Nottinghamshire, will run to more than three times the original costing of £82m...

The Highways Agency is criticised for basing its inflation predictions on the retail price index, which tracks the prices of household items, at a time when high global demand for building materials means inflation in the construction industry is much higher."

Duhhh. How were they s'posed to know?

As we've suggested before, the HA may well be Britain's very worst quango.

Except for all the others of course.

(HTP, again, Jeremy Poynton)

NHS Walk-In Redirect

BOM readers are familiar with NHS Redirect - the phone-in service for scaring the pants off you and advising you to get to hospital immediately (eg see this blog). Apparently, those NHS Walk-In Centres - the ones Labour set up to provide a cheaper alternative to GPs and hospitals - are exactly the same.

The Ferret Fancier highlights a story from Pulse, where their senior reporter sampled one such centre. The reporter had a persistent cough so he dropped into a centre, rather than go through the hassle of making a GP appointment (cf how in the pre-NHS Dambusterworld, he wouldn't have done either - the kindly Doc would have motored over to see him).

Waste of time - the nurse checked his blood pressure and then told him she wasn't qualified to diagnose the problem anyway. Maybe it was TB. TB! He's never even considered that. He should make an appointment to see his GP asap. And try not to panic in the meantime.

What have these centres cost us? Not sure. But we do know that NHS Redirect costs us £150m pa, and according to a stinging NAO report, less than half actually saves costs elsewhere - ie it's costing us around £100m pa net extra pa (eg see this blog).

Buying Gold

We've blogged the government's £800m programme to breed a race of Olympic superathletes many times (eg here). This morning, we learn how it's less a matter of breeding superathletes, than concentrating on sports that require expensive kit:

"Take the Yngling sailing event for women - at which Great Britain won gold in 2004. Only about four crews at present compete in the UK, with fewer than 100 competitive crews on the planet. Why? Because it costs more than £20,000 to buy a decent boat. You may as well include Formula One in the Olympics. In rowing, sailing and equestrianism there were 186 medals on offer at the last Olympics. Not one was won by an athlete from a low-income nation."

And in cycling, those whizzo hi-tech bikes now cost tens of thousands, so again you can buy advantage.

There's one other point, which we've mentioned before:

"58 per cent of Great Britain's gold-medal winners at Athens in 2004 went to independent schools. In the past three Olympics 45 per cent of medal winners went to the non-state sector. Given that only 7 per cent of children attend independent schools, and assuming that sporting talent is spread evenly, this is a striking demonstration of how Olympic success is driven by wealth as well as by ability. Either way, the 93 per cent who attend state schools are chronically under-represented."

Setting on one side the fact that for forty years state schools have nixed competitive sports, the recipe for cost effective medal acquisition is now clear. Forget about spraying around £800m to all and sundry: we should use the cash solely to buy top flight kit/horses for privately educated competitors. Everyone else is on their own.

(HTP gallantloser)

PS According to C4 News, we're currently 7th in the Beijing medals table. Hurrah! Three places higher than Athens. However, on a population adjusted basis we're only 26th. And adjusted for GDP we're 43rd. But the good news is that adjusted for "human rights" we're 5th! Maybe only C4 News would have a medal table adjusted for human rights. Well no - the BBC would have too if they'd thought of it. What about a table adjusted for obesity? We'd probably be second behind only the US.

Friday, August 15, 2008

MadWorld - Into The Abyss

I've already juiced your money, slaughtered your job, and torched your home... now it's your turn

So how's Gordo getting on with that re-re-re-relaunch?

According to the leaks, it comprises just two items: £100m on laptops for poor kids so they can play on pirated copies of MadWorld (pic above), and £600m on fuel vouchers for his chosen clients (ie families on welfare). All the rest of us will get is the bill.

And it looks like this whole shoot-em-up nightmare is rampaging into our homes faster than you can say In the name of God go!

  • Inflation accelerating- CPI currently 4.4% and RPI 5%. The Governor of the Bank of England - the man charged with keeping it at 2% - admits it will go higher still
  • Sterling collapsing - against our trade weighted basket of currencies, sterling is now down 13% over the last year... and the inflation pressure is up even further
  • Unemployment taking off - now up to 5.4%... so just since Tuesday, the Misery Index has pushed up a further 0.2% to 10.4% (compared to just 9.6% in May 1997)
  • Public finances disintegrating - in the first three months of this financial year the government clocked up a £20.4bn deficit, £8bn worse than last year... the collapse in the housing market on its own means a £3-4bn budgetary hole, and this morning's FT brought news that Merrill Lynch is charging $29bn of its global sub-prime losses against UK tax - which means they will pay no UK tax at all for several decades! (HTP Joan W)
  • Home repossessions soaring - despite constant assurances that "it was much worse under the Tories", the latest stats for home repossession orders show they are already running at around 112,000 pa (2008 H1 sa), and climbing fast; that's actually only 30,000 less than the 143,000 recorded at the height of the Tory mess in 1991... so watch this space (and remember the stats next time Yvette Cooper tries to make out the Tories were worse).

So WTF are you going to do?

It's too late to say you're sorry for ever voting in these clotheads, and I'm afraid you've missed the boat on switching everything into gold bars and shipping out. So you're stuck.

I suggest you arm yourself with a big chainsaw.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dumb And Dumber

This exam cheat instructional vid has had 1.6m hits on YouTube: you won't need any of it to sit A Levels

I dunno. Can I really be bothered to blog the dumbed down A Levels again?

Surely everybody already knows we always have another record breaking year - we've now had one every single year since 1427.

And surely everybody knows that improving trend reflects nothing more than the systematic dumbing down of standards.

And surely everybody knows that independent research shows A Levels are on average two whole grades easier than 20 years ago.

So may I simply refer you to last year's post. And also reproduce the chart showing how students with the same independent ability score have improved their grades as the A Levels have got easier:

The moral remains the same: never ever let politicians run your education system.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To Hull And Back

Hull could easily stage the Bullitt remake

As we may have mentioned before, one of the junior Tylers went to Hull University, so Tyler has been there a number of times.

We all know Hull - outright winner of Britain's Crappest Town award, butt of a million cruel jokes, and scratching a jobless joyless life in the grim shadow of Prescott Towers. And yet, as we drove in over Harold Wislon's ginormous white elephant Humber Bridge, Tyler wasn't thinking death and decay at all. He was thinking City by the Bay.

Yeah, of course, Hull is never going to have Californian weather. But it does have San Francisco's fantastic waterfront location, even including a spectacular bridge. And it does face out to the world, especially those massive European markets.

So how come it isn't a booming city of the future?

The collapse of the fishing industry? Less than ideal obviously, but SF faced the same, and it managed to develop replacement industries. Why's Hull been so crap?

Communications? Well, yes, the dual carriageway link between the Bridge and the A1 southbound has never been finished (hence the white elephant tag). But even without that link, Hull is still coupled up to the motorway network.

Well, could it be lack of government support?

Ah yes, government support.

As we blogged here, for 50 years British taxpayers have pumped billions into places like Hull, all in the name of regeneration. And it has been a complete and utter flop. The money has gone in all right, but the regeneration has never materialised.

So what to do? Over the last week, we have had two reports making radical suggestions.

First, the TPA reported on Labour's Regional Devlopment Agencies (RDAs). They've spent £15bn of our cash since 1999 and achieved SFA (other than a few more thousand well paid quangocrat jobs). As the TPA demonstrates, all those billions have failed to lift regional growth rates (they've actually fallen), failed to lift regional employment, and failed to close the gap between the leaders and the laggards.

The TPA's suggestion?

"Abolish the Regional Development Agencies [which] would have no negative impact on the regions, given the RDAs' failure since 1999. Their 2009-10 budget of £2.19 billion could then be used to pay for a 4p cut in the Small Business Rate of Corporation Tax - from 22 per cent to 18 per cent. Reducing tax on small businesses would create new jobs, boost existing businesses, make life easier for people starting business and give the regions an economic leg-up: exactly what the RDAs were meant to do and have failed to achieve."

Excellent idea.

Then today, Policy Exchange came back with its second report on urban regeneration policy (see this blog on its first report). They show that just as with the money spent on RDAs, the money spent on urban regeneration is a massive waste. Worse, under Labour, this spending has gone through the roof:

Why's it gone up so much? Yes, that's right:

"For the last decade British politics has been dominated by ministers who represent poorer urban areas. Of the current Cabinet – Jack Straw represents Blackburn; David Miliband South Shields, Tyne and Wear; Jacqui Smith Redditch; Harriet Harman Camberwell and Peckham; Hazel Blears Salford; Andrew Burnham Leigh; Hilary Benn Leeds Central; Alan Johnson Hull West and Hessle; Ed Balls Normanton, West Yorkshire; and Yvette Cooper Pontefract and Castleford. Inevitably they are committed to urban regeneration and it should come as no surprise that spending on urban renewal has increased in the last few years."

It stinks, and taxpayers should be screaming foul. Especially when they see what little good the cash has done in recipient areas, where it's achieved virtually nothing other than the demolition of many fine Victorian houses, and the building of a few arts centres entirely unwanted by the vast majority of the local population (see previous blog).

So what does Policy Exchange suggest?

Well, sadly, they've gone bonkers. They decided to grab headlines by suggesting we should close down the North altogether. They want all those Northerners moved down South, say to Guildford, where they propose building 10,000 new houses... yes, 10,000 right nextdoor to the Major!!! gah, splutter, nimby, chum, nimby. No wonder Dave has described the report as "insane" (we've always had doubts about Portillista Policy Exchange - eg see here - but until now we'd presumed they were fully onside with Dave - clearly we were wrong).

It's a shame. Because lurking in the report's 63 pages, there are some sensible ideas. In particular, they suggest taking all the money currently spent on these useless top-down regeneration programmes, and giving it to the local authorities directly to spend as they wish - including local council tax cuts.

Now that's more like it. As we've said many times, we desperately need fiscal decentralisation. Divvying up the urban regeneration budget doesn't get us all the way to where we need to be, but it would be a significant move in the right direction.

And think what it could do for Hull. If the city council could get its hands on the cash poured into Labour's top-down regeneration and development programmes, then it would have some real say over its own affairs. Imagine. Imagine further it was allowed to escape the crippling effects of national minimum wage rates and the over-regulation of business. Imagine it could set its own business and council tax rates. Imagine it could choose to cut local public spending to fund tax cuts. What might happen then?

Business taxes could be slashed. Business would look at Hull in a whole different way. Suddenly it's profitable for existing businesses to expand, and new businesses to move in/start up. Maybe not Silicon Valley, and certainly not a magic bullet. But suddenly Hull's destiny is back in its own hands.

And remember something else: location does matter. As the ever excellent John Kay argues here, in economic development terms, geography matters a lot. And while Policy Exchange may reckon Hull's geography is a burdensome leftover from our industrial past, it's actually a huge advantage. Because Hull isn't in the back of beyond - it's well under 200 miles away from Europe's most dynamic growth region. How much better placed it is than the bombed out industrial cities of Eastern Europe.

I promise you, Hull is blessed. And you should use the property crash to snaffle some of the new waterfront apartments they're building. Trust me.

Update Last night Kirsty had Prezza on Newsnight. Well, not "had", perhaps... we wouldn't want to see that... chatted amiably to is more like it. The subject was this Policy Exchange report, and as you'd expect, she allowed the blubberman free rein to lash out at the evil Tories. But we did think she might register some flicker of objection to his ludicrous assertions about the success of his abysmal regional policies (slammed by virtually everyone who's ever looked at them seriously, including the NAO). For example, on Hull, he revealed that he'd given the city £1bn of our money, and the place is transformed - "the skyline is full of cranes... people are moving back into the city centre... etc". What he didn't mention was that since 1997 Hull's GDP per head has fallen even further relative to the UK average (see ONS data here). Needless to say, Kirsty didn't mention it either.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bad Moon Rising

A life more miserable

Last time Labour were in power things got so miserable we had to invent a special index to keep tabs on it. The Misery Index comprised the arithmetic sum of the inflation and unemployment rates, and every month we watched morosely as it climbed ever higher.

Frankly we had hoped never to need it again, but today's disastrous inflation numbers call for its immediate reinstatement. So there it is, in all its miserable glory.

Our calc uses the original unadulterated ingredients - the year-on-year percentage increase in the RPI (now 5%) plus the unemployment rate (now 5.2%). So the Misery Index currently stands at 10.2%.

And as we can see, life has definitely got more miserable under Labour. In May 1997 they inherited an index that was 9.6% and set to fall rapidly; today they've given us an index that's not only higher than they started with, but is also shooting North at an alarming rate. And we haven't even had the inevitable spike in unemployment yet.

By a spooky coincidence, legendary BBC TV exec Bill Cotton died today. His heyday was also the 1970s when as Head of Light Entertainment, he was responsible for a host of legendary BBC progs, like Monty Python and the Two Ronnies (well, no he wasn't really - they both started well before he took over - but that's what today's gushing BBC obit says).

Somehow it feels like there's a bad moon rising.

PS Just for the record, in May 1997, RPI inflation was 2.7% year-on-year, and unemployment was 6.9% seasonally adjusted.

Wages Of Sin

I am sentencing you to £3.3m pa

As you will know, the Major takes a keen interest in the wages of sin. So his eye was naturally drawn to the recent jailing of five members of the traveller community, as the BBC calls them (although you may know them by their more usual sobriquet of thieving pikeys).

Over a lengthy spree, these five members of the notorious - but unjailed - Johnson family, had stolen £80m of antiques from various stately homes, including the televised smash and grab raid at the National Trust's Waddesdon Manor, where they nicked gold boxes worth millions.

Banged to rights.

And their sentence?

A total of 49 years between them, with automatic parole ensuring they will get out after serving just half their sentence. So their annual wage per capita is £80m/24.5 years equals £3.3m pa. Tax free. Way, way, more than most of Pol's overpaid investment bankers will see this year. Luverly jubbly.

£3.3m pa smashes previous records and sets a new highpoint in the Major's wages of sin league table:

  1. The Johnsons - £3.3m pa

  2. Mr Nawaz Sharif - £800K pa

  3. Mr John Kaduwanema - £270K pa

As we've explained before, the Major has developed a straightforward sentencing formula: the prison sentence should be equal to the total amount stolen divided by a minimum wage level annual income. Thus if you nick £100,000, you serve ten years (equals £100K divided by £10K pa). And no parole. It's simple, easily understood by all, and fair- sentences are entirely proportionate to the crime.

So on the Major's reckoning, the Johnsons would be going away for 1600 years each.

Which sounds much more like it.

PS While we're on the subject, can anyone explain why we actually need these Vietnamese drug gangs in the first place? Clearly once you've got them, they are going to carry out punishment beatings and they are going to kill people: that's only to be expected. But why have we got them in the first place? Did you ask for them? Who invited them in? And who thinks it's a good idea to impose sentences of just 7-8 years (half that after parole) for killing someone via said beatings? The Major and I wish to register our strong objection. We'll say no more.

PPS Are we all watching Prof Dawkins C4 prog on Charles Darwin? Riveting, even if you've already read The Selfish Gene (you can watch again at the Dawkins online shop). As you will know, one of Dawkins' great themes is how you explain altruism in the brutal context of Darwinian evolution. His simple answer is the selfish gene, which maximises its own chance of survival by programming us, its carriers, to behave altruistically towards other likely carriers of the same gene - ie our sisters and our cousins and our aunts. But of course that doesn't explain why we should behave altruistically towards complete strangers: surely we should stamp on them as potential competitors. Dawkins says maybe that's because our genetic programming fools us into behaving well towards strangers: we confuse them with our own kith and kin. Or maybe, just maybe, we choose to behave well, despite our genes. Hmm. Georgia, the Balkans, Rwanda etc all say you shouldn't push that too far. Vietnamese drug gangs, Albanian card scammers, and Chinese gang masters could so easily push Britain's genetic envelope to bursting point.

Monday, August 11, 2008

CGI Salvation

Some expenses are still unavoidable

I've always said this - the Chinese are a bunch of geniuses.




Whatever. The main point is that they invented paper, printing, gunpowder, set menu C for two persons, loads of brilliant stuff. And now the CGI Olympics.

It turns out most of the Beijing opening ceremony - the one that blew Ken away - was faked. It was no more than a stunning sequence of computer generated imagery.

Fantastic. We can stop the madness of 2012 right now. All we have to do is order the state broadcaster to produce the CGI Olympics.

The BBC has definitely got the kit - just look how the Daleks have moved on from upturned dustbins and sink plungers. And nobody would know - the only people who actually go to the real games are the athletes themselves and freeloaders like Ken.

Look, we take the athletes to a rec somewhere out of the way - Kettering, say. We rig up large TV screens all around and show a video loop of cheering crowds. The athletes are so focused on doing the biz, they have no idea.

True, we do have to put up all those IOC freeloaders in their usual 5 star hotels, so that's an unavoidable expense. But when they step into their limos to go to the games, we take them to the new Arsenal stadium and do the business with the big screens. Let's face it, they'll have drunk so much free Bolley, how are they going to know?

We'll be quids in. Pixar's latest CGI blockbuster Wall-E cost $180m to make: chickenfeed against the £20bn the 2012 Olympics is currently going to cost us.

My friends, salvation has appeared from the East. Let us embrace it.

Tories Eye Simple Shopper

On the trail of the Shopper

Shadow Chief Secretary Philip Hammond has been talking to the FT about how the Tories will tackle the Simple Shopper.

BOM readers are only too familiar with the Shopper. He's the one who costs taxpayers zillions each year by bungling the government's £160bn annual procurement spend. It's not just a question of getting ripped off by "greedy" private sector suppliers, it's also his chronic inability to spec requirements upfront, and his repeated failure to agree clear enforceable contracts. The Shopper is both naive and incompetent: you wouldn't consider asking him to do your shopping.

So what will the Tories do about him?

Hammond says:

“The first step is to make the public sector a competent partner – that’s a big challenge. The advice from private sector professionals involved in procurement is that the public sector invariably gets poor value for money. That’s because the public sector is very expensive to work with. They often don’t know what they want and are therefore not a competent procurement partner for private-sector providers to work with.

This inability to define what is required imposes huge additional costs on the private-sector providers, all of which ultimately get factored into the price the taxpayer pays.”

Well, yes, yes, we agree with all of that. But what will the Tories actually do about it? Hammond says they will:
“... change the culture in the civil service, so that delivery ranks alongside policy development in importance, just as it already does in the private sector”.

Ah. Well. Hmm. That's kinda what we feared.

You see, the problem you've got there, is that every government since the Court of King Caractacus has tried to change the culture of the civil service, and tried to get Sir Humphrey "delivering". Even old time socialist Gordo has been hot on the case. Why, he even set up the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to "professionalise" government procurement. The trouble is, every government has tried and every government has failed.

In reality, you can't change the culture in the civil service - nobody has the faintest idea how to do it.

So what else?

Hammond's second idea is more promising: devolving purchasing power to the lowest level practicable. He says:
“Where there is an alternative to centralised procurement, we should pursue it. We need to recognise the limitations of central government’s ability to manage these massive projects.”

Now that, we like.

We like that.

Big government types believe that in theory taxpayers should be able to save money by aggregating procurement orders into the biggest possible deals. Indeed, that was a key driver behind the establishment of Gordo's OGC. But of course, bigness brings its own problems which are much more costly than foregoing a few pence on order bulking, and in reality swamp any possible savings.

So Hammond is definitely pointing the right way.

But as we've said many times, the real key to getting better taxpayer value is to reconnect those who use public services with those who pay. That means not simply localising spending powers, but also tax raising powers. We need some real fiscal decentralisation.

Mr and Mrs Tyler are looking forward immensely to the forthcoming Tory victory rally in Birmingham (cf last year). And this morning we hear it will include a session on "preparing for government". Apparently, the session will focus on restructuring Whitehall, and will “set out the framework within which each government department will be expected to operate and deliver our manifesto commitments”.

Sounds like it should be interesting. But Tyler would be much more excited by a session on dismantling Whitehall altogether.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Updates From BOM Correspondents

Poor to uncertain in Lincolnshire

Latest news and links from correspondents:

1. Boston - nul points

The Audit Commission (AC) has been sampling culture in Boston Lincs, and it doesn't like what it found.

More specifically, it's just rated Boston Council's "cultural services" as "poor", with "uncertain" prospects for improvement. And they've published the extremely helpful chart above so we can all understand just what that means: it means the service is "poor" with "uncertain" prospects for improvement. It also means nul points in terms of stars.

AC describes Boston's spend on cultural services as "high", although it conveniently fails to provide the actual numbers.

Question one is WTF the Council spends taxpayers money on such services in the first place? It's not because local residents have asked them to. Indeed, the Commission reports that the Council has virtually no idea what the locals want. Moreover, locals have virtually no idea what's on offer. And even when they do, they aren't interested in it: "participation in sport and recreation are amongst the lowest in the country".

Question two is WTF is it a Whitehall quango passing judgement on Boston's local affairs instead of local Council Tax payers? Especially, when the AC's key criteria comprise the very commissariat catastrophes that are responsible for much of the mess in local councils in the first place: targets, outcome measures, external accreditation, and equality and diversity policy, etc etc. This is dysfunction piled on dysfunction.

One more time: the way to get local services that local people actually want is to make local people pay for them. Fiscal decentralisation so that local councils raise most of their money from local taxes not Whitehall grants, and local taxpayers only paying for the services they actually want, and want enough to keep the council up to the mark.

(HTP Raw Carrot)

2. Husky killers: now there are two

Regular BOM readers will recall the Great Husky Killer, Richard Granger. He was paid a wad of our money to head up the doomed multi-billion NHS Supercomputer project (the NPfIT) - the biggest civilian IT project ever. Dick really loved to swing his dick around, memorably threatening underperforming IT subcontractors with being chopped up like failing huskies, their bits fed to the strong ones.

Unfortunately, Dick turned out to be much better at issuing threats than actually delivering, and he left abruptly last year.

Since then, the £12-20bn project has been leaderless and clueless. So clueless in fact, that the Department of Health has decided it can no longer manage with just one top husky killer but needs two:

"The Department of Health has announced Christine Connelly as the first chief information officer for health and named Martin Bellamy as director of programme and systems delivery, leading NHS Connecting for Health.

The new appointments follow the departure of Richard Granger as director general of NHS IT in January and a review of NHS IT leadership as part of the Health Informatics Review. The DH advertised the new posts on salaries of up to £200,000."

Two new bosses at £200K a pop. As so often with the public sector, even the most catastrophic delivery failure does nothing to the stop the expansion of well paid honcho jobs. And we can only imagine the matrix reporting hell entailed in having two Supercomputer supremos.

(HTP Peter T)

3. £4 grand British Council grant for Pink Yoof Radio

David Blackie highlights this story in Pink News:

"FYI Radio, a LGBT youth user-generated radio station, has been awarded £4,000 from the European Youth in Action programme.The European Youth in Action programme is run in the UK by the British Council as part of its Youth Initiative scheme.

"FYI is a great platform for new artists and we're looking forward to finding out the views and thoughts of young queer Londoners." said FYI radio director Ryan Haynes."

Look, we have absolutely nothing against radio stations for young queer Londoners - good luck to them. Only, WTF should we have to pay? Where's the British Council radio funding for grumpy old straights in the Home Counties? No, forget that - no tax funding for any radio stations.

(HTP David Blackie)

4. Twilight of the Pol

You've almost certainly done so already, but Giles Coran's hilarious savaging of Pol and David Walker really is well worth reading.

As we blogged here, despite all our best intentions, we're actually starting to feel rather sorry for Pol. Yes, she and her pampered chums among the "progressive" elite have caused untold damage to Britain - especially to the poor and disadvantaged she constantly bangs on about. And yes, her corrosive outdated ideas must be exposed as the arrogant patronising nonsense they always were. And yes, she backed Gordo, the destroyer of worlds.

But it's still a bit sad. Her Marianne Faithful tribute act has shrivelled up. No longer will she get our blood pumping round in fury. She looks old and broken. Her day is done.

What a tragic end.

(htp Desperate Housewife)

5. And finally...

Many thanks to readers over at Witanagemot Club for voting BOM one of the top three campaigning blogs (along with CEP and the Taxpayers Alliance), and one of the top three economics blogs (along with Tim Worstall and Capitalists at Work). There's only one way to go from here.