Saturday, May 31, 2008

In The Shower With Evan


After the shower


There’s nothing like a cold morning shower with Evan Davis to get the old cranial juices flowing.

But of course, there’s always the worry that right there in the shower, you might not be able to summon up the appropriate response until the moment has passed. Thus it was that the Bloke didn’t come up with the right snappy answers to Evan’s Today questions until some time after the programme had ended. Still, for future reference, here they are:

Question: It’s spurious to suggest that we should cut aid to India just because its economy is huge. Yes, it may be the fourth largest economy in the world, 50% larger than the UK’s, and growing by 8-9% pa, but given that it’s got 1.1 billion people to support, isn’t your argument crap?

Answer: No, because even with that population, India is no longer on the world’s breadline. According to the UN, Indian per capita GDP is already above $3,000 pa, which is five to six times higher than in the world’s really poor countries (eg Malawi, Somalia and Ethiopia all have per capita incomes of around $600pa). India is now quite rich enough to provide for its own people.

Question: But if you follow that line of argument, you end up putting all your aid into the very poorest countries, whereas you might be able to achieve a lot more by putting some of it into worthwhile projects in less poor countries.

Answer: Sorry Evan, was that a question or an assertion? First, there is very little evidence that our government aid bureaucrats have the ability to pick winners in that way. From the Groundnuts Scheme on, the history of aid is littered with waste and unintended consequences. The charity Action Aid estimates that half of the aid never reaches the poor.

Second, the taxpayers who are funding Britain’s £5bn pa of aid spending have been led to understand it’s for humanitarian relief in countries that can’t help themselves. In India – which by the way is our largest aid recipient – it turns out the money is being spent on things far removed from straightforward relief. They even include projects aimed at radicalising Indian citizens to stand up for themselves against their own democratically elected government. Is that something we want to be paying our taxes for?

Underlying your argument is the Big Government approach to welfare: the idea that governments know best, and given enough money they can build a better world. Many of us are very sceptical about that line. Even if we accept that it’s appropriate to fund overseas charity from taxation – and not everyone does – it should be no more than a safety net. We should focus our cash on basic humanitarian relief for basket case economies and disasters.

Question: As a member of the TaxPayers Alliance, how can you be in favour of higher taxes in India? Or is it that you only want low taxes here?

Answer: Good question Evan. Now let me see… ah, yes, WTF should we have to pay taxes so that rich Indians don’t have to? WTF don’t they support their own poor?

****

Cards on the table – until Tuesday, I knew virtually nothing of Britain’s aid to India. I only looked into it because I was emailed by a BOM correspondent (Liam H). He highlighted the fact that despite being recipients of large wodges of UK cash for poverty relief (£2bn in 8 years), the Indian government can somehow find plenty of cash to ramp up its own defence spending. So I did some digging and blogged it.

By a very strange coincidence (?), at exactly the same time, Denis MacShane highlighted virtually the same issue in his lower taxes article for the Telegraph. He asked why are we sending all that money to a country with more billionaires and millionaires than we’ve got?

So why are we? Really.

Having had my mind concentrated in the shower, and having also heard from the spokesman for Christian Aid (who BTW, wasn’t asked any hard ball questions), I think I now understand the real reason we’re still sending all this tax money to India: our aid establishment doesn’t trust the Indians. Despite the fact that the Indian government has been democratically elected, and despite the fact that it’s presiding over one of the most spectacular economic booms in history, DfID believes it’s failing. It reckons India still needs help and support from the Mother Country or it won’t run its own internal affairs properly.

What an extraordinarily patronising view. Such attitudes may have been acceptable when we still carried the White Man’s Burden, but it’s been a while since the Raj shuffled off into the sunset. No wonder they’re so mealy mouthed about their real reason behind the aid.

I stick by my original view that this is a poor use of British taxpayers’ money. But more than that, I now think this is not in the long-term interests of India. Nationally, they have the money to feed their own poor, and the longer we collude in their failure to do so, the longer the situation continues. Domestically, we call it welfare dependency.

****

The Bloke can’t say he wasn’t warned. As soon as he was invited onto the Today programme, the Major advised against it:

“Don’t do it old son. Snatching food from the mouths of the poor? They’ll stitch you up like a kipper. You’re on a hiding to nothing. As we always used to say in the Regiment, never fight your battles on the enemy’s terms. That BBC economist chappie is a rabid communist – he’ll eat you for breakfast. They're all communists on the BBC. Take my word for it - you’re the sacrificial middle-age middle-class white bloke, and they’ll burn you at the stake. You’re toast.”

The Bloke looked bemused. “Sorry Major – you’re mixing so many metaphors I can’t quite follow what you’re saying. Anyway, he’s surely not a communist – he’s a seeker after truth, like me.”

The Major sadly shook his head. “Damned fool,” he murmured, diluting his Indian Tonic with another healthy splash of Gordons.

PS Mrs T and I are still in the West Country and for various reasons unable to access BOM comments. I'll respond to them when we return.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Broadband Exclusion


Tyler needs one of these

The Commissars love Exclusion.

Exclusion is Bad.

Exclusion demands Action.

Exclusion needs Big Government.

One of Bliar's very first actions as PM was to establish, amid much spin, a Social Exclusion Unit. But it turned out not to be socially excluded at all, based as it was, inside the Cabinet Office. And apart from providing another slew of comfortable jobs and further giant stacks of unread reports, its only tangible achievement in more than a decade has been to rename itself the Social Exclusion Task Force. Luvly jubbly.

A Reader has just sent us an excellent illustration of how this Exclusion Industry works. It's a bar chart extracted from the latest Ofcom report (Ofcom being the quango charged with regulating the UK's communication industries), and it summarises the reasons people give for not having broadband:


Note the distinction between the green and purple bars. Green bars show "involuntary reasons", the reasons people give when according to Ofcom, they are excluded from broadband.

And what a bunch of reasons they are. A Reader comments:

"Clearly, none of the 24% who ticked the survey's "too expensive" box did so because they'd rather spend the 180 quid per annum on fags, a trip to Spain, a third TV, bingo, beer, Sky, restaurant meals, or whatever discretionary vice you care to think of. No, none of them spend that amount on any of those things - all their expenditure being non-discretionary, they simply don't have 15 quid a month left to get broadband.

Likewise, the 10% who ticked "don't have a computer" are all desperate to have one -- they just don't have the 100 quid that a perfectly functional secondhand computer costs these days.

The 3% who ticked "too much hassle" are likewise victims of societal forces beyond their control -- none of them ticked it because they think "it's a hassle and I've got better things to do with my time".

The poor 3% who ticked "don't know how to use a computer" are also victims. Victims of bad genes. Perhaps gene therapy can help. Or eugenics.

As for the 3% who ticked "too old", well, at least they'll die soon and Ofcom won't have to fret about them anymore."

Well spotted, A Reader.

And we all know the next step: the rest of us will be forced to finance broadband for the digitally excluded. The Commissars will decide it's unfair anyone should be excluded from realtime porn downloads and 24/7 online gambling just because they can't be fagged to get broadband for themselves. And the government will move in.

It's set Tyler thinking about his own exclusion status.

To start with, he has a very ancient mobile phone. He thinks the hundreds of quid it would cost to update to an iPhone is just too expensive. But that means he's totally excluded from Today's Lifestyle. He can't check his stocks and watch Celebrity Breast Enlargement while waiting for the number 11.

And come to that, why does he wait for the number 11 anyway? Just because he balks at £30 cab fares, he's excluded from comfortable travel round London. Why should he have to put up with less than Mrs Speaker takes for granted?

And then there are all those Gieves and Hawkes bespoke suits he doesn't own. And what about that £2m Ferrari Scaglietti that Abramovich just bought Jose? He never bought one for Tyler, and Tyler feels really excluded on that.

We have no idea how big the Exclusion Industry now is. But it gets bigger all the time, and we're guessing it costs us zillions.

Bloke On The Wireless


Up early this am to accompany the Bloke on an outing to the Today prog. Unless he gets canned, he'll be on at 8.45 discussing British government aid to India (see this blog).

How nerve-racking.

Update: Well, the Bloke got out alive, despite Evan's hostile fire ("that's a bogus figure"... "so you are in favour of higher taxes in India!"... "when did you stop beating your wife?" etc). It would be really good to have longer to discuss such issues, but I guess that's not the way Today can work.

PS One interesting thing- the BBC studio in Guildford was locked when we arrived at 8.15, and there was no way of contacting anyone inside- ie the bell didn't work, there was nobody on the reception desk, no phone number displayed, and nobody visible through any of the windows. Eventually we collared a passer by who just happened to be married to a BBC employee and kindly phoned him. Sweat count 123%.

PPS We're off to the West Country for the weekend, so posts may be sporadic.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Looney Tunes Meet The Marx Brothers



The Governance of Britain

The other day we asked why Tim Yeo thinks he's a Tory? Today we ask why Bugs thinks he's a socialist?

Well, no, that's the wrong question. The real question is why a senior Labour MP thinks you can have Big Government without Big Cost?

You will all have seen Denis MacShane's extraordinary article in yesterday's Telegraph. He reckons Labour can become the party of tax cutting, and says it can be funded by - wait for it - cutting spending:

"I do not know of a single minister who privately does not despair at the waste of money on pointless projects, publications, or legions of press officers that add no value. The taxpayer has given more than £1 billion of aid to India, even though that great country has more billionaires and millionaires than Britain and runs its own well-financed development aid programme (well, we certainly agree with that).

I was baffled as Europe minister to be told I had to waste 90 minutes being quizzed by a consultant when the kindly but shrewd tea ladies in King Charles Street knew what needed to be done. How much was paid to the consultant? What happened to his report? No one in Whitehall knows or cares. When I suggested using easyJet to cut flying costs in Europe, fellow ministers and senior officials looked at me as if I had left a nasty mess on their doorstep.

Can I be the only MP outraged that town clerks - even dressed up with fancy titles such as chief executive - can now get paid £200,000?plus for running rubbish collection services in small towns?"

So all you've got to do is cut out the "pointless" stuff. You save a shedload of money and you can cut taxes. Easy.

Indeed, Bugs urges Gordo to make parsimony the cornerstone of his policies, and helpfully suggests "he might care to call it a prudent state which leaves more money with the citizen so that social justice is not confused with state aggrandisement".

What a brilliant idea. A huge breakthough in our thinking about government.

And yet... and yet... cutting out waste... efficiency drives... you know, somehow it all sounds a little familiar.

Wait - surely the Marx Brothers already did it! Yes, I'm sure they did. It was called The Gershon Efficiency Programme.

We've blogged Night At The Opera Gershon many times (see all previous blogs gathered here). As you will recall, it was Brown's 2004 Budget headline to save £20bn pa by improving public sector efficiency by 2007-08.

Most of the subsequent "savings" have been pure fiction. The NAO concluded only one-quarter of the announced savings are "reliable", with the rest comprising deckchair rearrangement or service cuts (many of which- such as kicking patients out of hospital early- have expenditure increasing knock-ons). Worse, the programme has spawned its own Whitehall "Gershon" industry, inflating costs even more.

Clearly Bugs doesn't know about the Marx Brothers. He doesn't know that Big Government programmes for improving public sector efficiency never work. He doesn't know you can only ever play that script for laughs.

But we know.

We know that the reason efficiency programmes work in the private sector is not because the men at the top are more ruthless (as he argues), but because in the private sector the customer is king. Unless firms keep themselves broadly efficient, customers desert them and they go bust.

In the public sector, Whitehall is king. He who pays the piper always calls the tune, and public sector operations have to dance to Whitehall's tortured tunes, be they "efficiency" targets, diversity targets, outreach targets, spending targets, or target targets. The supposed end-customer gets no say, other than every few years possibly replacing Bugs Bunny with Harpo Marx.

What needs to change is not the name of the efficiency drive, but the whole structure of government. It must be broken up, spending power put into the hands of customers, and service suppliers made dependent on them for their survival.

Easy.

PS I know we keep saying it, but boy, hasn't the political cycle turned. I can't tell you how delicious it is watching an EU superstate zealot like Bugs twisting and turning as he tries to leap aboard the lower tax bandwagon. On the doorsteps in 2005 you couldn't give away the case for lower tax. Back then, "informed opinion" held that the Tories had to accept the "Labour settlement" of high tax and spend because anything else was unsaleable to the electorate. Malcontents like your correspondent were told they were living in the past, and that we were all progressives now. We knew that was wrong, but we had no idea things would change so quickly. And even better, the failure of the Tory leadership to keep the Small Government flame alive spawned a raft of campaigning groups outside the party, groups such as the TPA, which are now firmly established for the long-haul. Sweet.

Feeding The Tiger



Aid buys some great grandstanding opportunities


We all know about India. Following its eventual move away from socialist economics in the 90s, the Indian economy has been on fire. India's GDP is growing at 8-9% pa, its industries are booming, its giant companies are gobbling up our companies, and it's threatening us with the dole queue*. Politicos like Gordo routinely warn us that unless we jolly well pull our socks up, we'll be crushed.

And when you look at the long-term GDP projections produced by brainboxes such as Goldman Sachs, our future looks about as bright as a winded gnat trapped under the foot of a bull elephant:


There's only one thing for it - we'd better ask India for economic aid pronto.

But... but... what's this? Far from asking them for aid, we're actually giving it to them. According to the Department for International Development (DfID), India is the top recipent of UK aid: over the last five years we've given them £1o45m, and there'll be a further £825m by 2011.

To which the only response is why?

Why are we supporting a burgeoning economic superpower that will be an increasingly fierce competitor in future?

According to DfID:

"DFID believes that the eradication of poverty in India is central to achieving success in global war against poverty. The purpose of our programme is to support the Government of India achieve its poverty reduction targets and to help India meet the Millennium Development Goals."

Sorry... "the global war against poverty"? What possible link is there between the rural poor in fast-growing futurescope India, and the hopelessness of the Dark Continent? Why are we being taxed to pay for the Indian poor? Why doesn't the Indian government tax its own booming economy? Or why doesn't it, say, use some of the money it currently spends on defence?

Liam H, a BOM correspondent, points out that India is a nuclear power, and its armed forces seem to be better equipped than ours. He notes that while our servicemen are forced to fly those decrepit unsafe Nimrods:

"In 2004, the Indian Air Force ordered the Phalcon Airborne Early Warning radar system from Israel Aerospace Industries, which is considered to be the most advanced AEW&C system in the world. The air force will use newly-acquired Ilyushin Il-76 Phalcon as a platform for these radar.

Also India operates the SU-30 which is probably one of the world's most advanced jet fighters. All in all, India's airforce makes ours look a little puny (check out IAF's Top-Gun style website here)."

Here's how India's defence spending has ramped up:



So why am I paying taxes for health and education services in India, when the Indian government is spending all that dosh on arms? Why aren't we spending the money ensuring our own servicemen are properly equipped?

We've blogged moneypit DfID before (eg see here). This year we British taxpayers will shell out £4.9bn on the government's international aid programme; that's £200 for every British household. And even setting aside the highly contentious issue of whether taxpayers should be forced to contribute to overseas charity in the first place, we get atrocious value for money.

For example, as regular BOM readers will recall, DfID currently spends an extraordinary 12% of its budget on our old friends the consultants. And according to ActionAid, around one third of that £5bn pa goes on "phantom aid", which does not benefit the world's poor at all.

Large amounts of cash spent far from home, well away from taxpayer scrutiny, has always been a surefire recipe for waste. And in the case of India, we're spending it on something that is quite possibly damaging Britain's vital economic interests.

(HTP Liam H)


*Footnote Actually I don't believe that an economically strong India threatens us with the dole queue at all. We should welcome Indian growth, as we should welcome Chinese growth. Yes, India might corner the market in software development, and China might end up producing all the world's electronic goods (although I doubt both). But so what? We'll find other things to earn a crust, things we will be able to sell to them with their new higher incomes. That's been the magic of global trade for half a millenium. Although that doesn't explain why we should be paying tax to fund their health and education services.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

As Mad As Hell!


The last time we felt like this was the late 70s. High taxes, inflation, recession, dysfunctional public services, strikes, freeloaders, street crime, terrorists, the Russians, and a bumbling government that is totally out of touch: yup, the madness is back all right.

There is one difference though: last time, Sunny Jim and the man with the giant eyebrows were lashed to the IMF rescue plan for sterling, which severely limited their scope to offer electoral bribes. This time, all we have are Gordo's ludicrous fiscal rules, which are no constraint at all.

So we can look forward to more desperate moves like the recent £2.7bn tax U-turn. Here's our count so far:

  1. £2.7bn on personal tax allowances
  2. Flip-flop on non-doms taxation: Darling's attempts to squeeze more out of the non-doms largely abandoned in the face of high level squawking
  3. U-turn on CGT allowance for small businesses
  4. Deferral of fuel tax rise until autumn

And today, with mass fuel protests underway and Labour MPs panicking in the streets, we can confidently expect a U-turn on the new retrospective car tax, plus a further deferral of the fuel tax rise.

None of which will save them of course. It will simply mean even higher borrowing and an even bigger fiscal mess for George to clear up post-2010.

What they should be doing is to cut taxes on the back of cuts public spending. But ex-an IMF style disaster, that clearly ain't gonna happen.

As we've said many times, Labour governments always leave an economic nightmare.

Whereas Tory governments only leave one sometimes.

PS Peter Finch won the 1977 Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Howard Beale in Network. Who is our Howard Beale? Surely there's an opening here for Sir Trevor to rescue his faded career.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Treasury Statements


Pick the bit you like...

As the Bloke keeps telling everyone, "his" paper for the TPA on the Great British Taxpayer Rip-Off made the front page lead in the Daily Express, as well as featuring in numerous other organs.

Yes, yes, OK, we're all very impressed, I'm sure. But having now been forced to peruse his wretched press cuttings for about the twentieth time, what really strikes us is the Treasury's dismissive comments on the paper. For example, asked about his calculation that Labour has racked up the real tax burden by 51%, HMT responded:

"Tax as a percentage of GDP is around the same level as it was in 1997 and is well below the peak of the 1980s. As a result of tax and benefit changes since 1997, four in ten families pay no net tax and this year's council tax increase is the lowest for over a decade."

Which is a classic series of non-sequiturs and half-truths that's well worth unpacking:

  1. On their own figures, tax as percentage of GDP is not "about the same level" as in 1997: it's about 1% higher, or about £15bn pa, and while that may be trivial to HMT, it represents £600 pa per household, a considerable burden on the average family.
  2. While it is true that the tax ratio is "well below the peak of the 1980s" (38.7% in 1984), that peak reflected Thatcher clearing up the fiscal mess left by the last Labour government - taxes were hiked in 1981 in order to get the public finances back onto a sustainable long-term footing; however, looking over the whole 18 years of Tory government, the average tax/GDP ratio was 35.9%, a full 1% lower than what Brown grabbed last year (see chart above).
  3. "This year's council tax increase is the lowest for a decade"... hmm yes... but this year's increases in many other taxes, including Business Rates, are among the highest for a decade.

But the real doozy is the claim that "as a result of tax and benefit changes since 1997, four in ten families pay no net tax".

To start with, it's unclear quite what they mean: virtually everybody pays net tax of one kind or another. But let's assume they're basing their claim on the annual ONS analysis entitled The effects of taxes and benefits on household income. The latest one published shows that for 2005-06, the bottom four income deciles of working age households with children (ie four out of every ten "families") paid less in direct tax than they received in cash benefits.

In other words, they got back more in welfare cash from the government than they paid out in income tax, National Insurance, and Council Tax. Which, if you're happy to stretch language like a Treasury spinnner, is sort of equivalent to paying "no net tax" (setting aside all the other indirect taxes people pay, of course).

But, and this is A BIG BUT...

...back in 1997-98, before Gordo's huge and hideously complex tax and benefit changes, the proportion of families paying no net tax on this definition was... er... exactly the same: four out of every ten (see here). In other words, all Brown's costly tinkering has achieved precisely nothing. The exact opposite of what the Treasury implies.

Now, I know I've said it before, but let me assure you, HMT didn't used to be like this. Obviously it was always economical with information, but it never used to mislead on this scale.

Let's hope Osborne really means what he says about that independent fiscal monitoring office. We desperately need some official source we can more or less trust.

PS How come taxes, on 37% of GDP, are so much lower than spending, on 42%+? Come on, you know this. First, borrowing (aka deferred taxation) is now running at nearly 3% of GDP. And second, "other receipts" - not counted as taxes, but including all those ballooning public sector service charges - are now well over 2% of GDP. Taken together, they account for the 5% gap between tax and spend.

Monday, May 26, 2008

News From BOM Correspondents- 6


Almost certainly illegal


Latest links and updates from BOM correspondents:

Crock repayments already slipping

As you will know, the Sandler plan for repaying Northern Rock's £25 gzillion Treasury loans called for us to get our money back by 2010. But just three months in, it's already coming apart.

Last week, Crock Chief Financial Officer Anne Godbehere told the Treasury Select Committee the final repayment date had slipped to 2011. And she also admitted what we already knew: the whole deal is contingent on other mortgage lenders being prepared to refinance Crock mortgages. In current circs, pigs will take wing first.

Taxpayers are stuck on the Crock hook for a very VERY long time (remember also the HMT guarantee on deposits remains in place, with no exit route even slightly visible).

(HTP Joan W)

EU Consumer Re-education Programme

Der Spiegel reports:

"Only a select few VIPs are allowed to park on the paved lot directly next to the entrance to the enormous Berlaymont building in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission. The luxury sedans lined up in the parking lot include Audis, BMWs, Jaguars and Mercedes. The chauffeurs keep the engines running in the winter to stay warm, and in the summer to keep their energy-consuming air-conditioning systems going.

The contents of the Berlaymont's parking lot are especially impressive on Wednesdays, when European Commission President Jos├ę Manuel Barroso and the 26 European Union commissioners gather around the conference table on the 14th floor. They often discuss climate protection, and what ought to be done to promote it."

Now, in furtherance of their selfless eco-crusade, they have decided to impose tough new EU regulations on advertising for gas-guzzling cars. "According to an EU strategy document, the plan is about nothing less than "rebuilding society" and "changing habits in consumption and production."

Indeed, the plans go far beyond car advertising. "From breakfast cereal to Coca-Cola, everything is being classified as being either good or bad for citizens, who apparently have lost the ability to make that judgment on their own. Brussels... is staging "a gigantic reeducation program for consumers and producers."

Did you vote for this?

Well, no, of course you didn't.

Nobody voted for it.

It's just one more example of the fascist superstate doing just what the hell its Obergruppenf├╝hrers decide. Whatever we may think.

(HTP Joan W - again: thanks Joan)

£39m pa on Police PR

The indefatigable Heather Brooke has discovered that our wonderful police are spending £39m pa on spinning us:

"Police forces across the UK are spending £39m each year on press and PR - enough to fund an extra 1,400 full time officers and more than enough to cover the annual police pay rise withheld by the Government. The force at the top of the league (Police Service Northern Ireland) spends eight times more per person on PR than the lowest (Derbyshire). Meanwhile, forces spend nearly ten times more on PR (what police want us to know) than on FOI (what we want to know)."

As we know, the police and the Home Office have a long-running campaign to convince us that crime is mainly in our heads, in spite of the horrific evidence of our own eyes. Now at least we know what the police element of their propaganda campaign costs us.

Green Goddesses

The Purple Scorpion has an excellent post on a couple of Green Eco Goddesses: Alice Farr of the Woodland Trust, and Valerie Elliott of the Times.

On the Woodland Trust, Scorpion points out that although it's supposedly a charity, it's actually funded with £3.8m pa of our tax money. And like so many eco charities, it spends its time campaigning for government to impose even harsher penalties on those that do not subscribe to its medieval religion.

When the Tories return to power, they could find hundreds of millions for tax cuts by terminating all funding for such outrageous nonsense (see previous blogs, eg here).

Both Farr and Elliott are squawking about oil exploration in genteel places like Sussex. But as Scorpion points out, assuming it continues to be done discretely, most local residents have no objection whatsoever. Including - Tyler happens to know - the Village Postmaster...

Curmudgeon Mouths Off

We've linked the Village Postmaster several times, and on Saturday he got picked up by The Telegraph's Vickie Woods. Well, not literally picked up, you understand, but used to highlight how our embattled sub-POs are having to fight oppression from all sides, including the EU.

We particularly enjoyed Wood's description of the Postmaster as "a curmudgeon" who produces "one long enjoyable moan about the somewhat embattled job of keeping a business going in the face of desperate odds".

No wonder he welcomes the oil: a few Dallas types moving into the village would do wonders for his trade in T-Bones and Tacos (he long-since diversified way beyond stamps and Sherbet Dib-Dabs).

Ple'ma an bysva?

You might think Britain already faces a linguistic crisis, with our schools submerged under a tidal wave of foreign tongues. But the EU is about to spend some of our hard-earned dosh on reviving the Cornish language, a tongue that died out in the eighteenth century.

Why stop there?

Why not revive Norse? Or Latin? Or whatever those blokes painted blue used to speak?

(Still, the Cornish do make great pasties. Not those Ginsters ones obviously, but the real League of Gentlemen style local ones. Most cruelly, Mrs T doesn't allow Tyler to eat them, on the flimsy grounds that he's not a tin miner and they contain 18,500 calories apiece. But crafty Tyler sneaks off to score from a local real pasty dealer when she's not looking. In fact, he might need to sneak off right now, to steady his nerves after discovering that the top Google link for pasties isn't the Cornish effort at all, but this.)

(HTP Spokey)

Ration Books Coming Back


Are you sorted for unleaded?

Why does Tim Yeo think he's a Tory? Offhand, we can't recall a single Tory thing he's ever supported, and this morning he's recommending the reintroduction of ration books.

Not content with the egregious taxes on fuel, he wants to force us to use less by rationing the amount of carbon we can have: everyone will get a carbon ration book, which we can either use ourselves, or sell to rich yummy mummies from Chelsea to fuel their 4x4s.

According to Yeo, personal carbon trading has:

"...real potential to engage the population in the fight against climate change and to achieve significant emissions reductions in a progressive way".

He says "green" taxes, such as a petrol tax, cost poor people more because everyone - "billionaires and paupers" - pay the same amount.

"Under the personal carbon trading, someone who perhaps doesn't have an enormous house or swimming pool, someone who doesn't take several holidays in the Caribbean every year, will actually get a cash benefit if they keep a low carbon footprint."

For the Today prog, this is the morning's top story, the only issue being how they can get our clothead government to do it. Monbiot and Hilary Billery have just been on to argue the case. Nobody has been on to explain why it's a crap unworkable idea.

Setting on one side the fact that global warming seems to have stopped, and anyway nobody understands WTF's happening, and all those Doomsday scenarios are based on 50-100 year forecasts that are the worst GIGO crap you can possibly conceive, and anyway we only produce 2% of global emissions so a UK scheme would achieve SFA, and we'd stuff our own prosperity for no significant gain... setting all that on one side, don't these berks understand how rationing works?

As explained on Saturday's Supersizers Go Wartime, the poor sell their ration books to the rich. The rich then dine hugely on champagne and caviar - rendered all the more delicious because nobody else can get it - while the poor live on carrots and black market snoek.

The black market was a major problem during the War, and we were under U-Boat blockade at the time. How much worse it would be in today's globalised open markets: the Bunsfield style consequences of illegal importation of black market petrol can only be guessed at (unless of course Yeo and Monbiot propose a full submarine blockade... you wouldn't put it past them).

The unintended consequences of bonkers eco-policies are amply demonstrated by today's report on the consequences of those Kyoto carbon offset schemes. According to research at Stanford:

"The UN's main offset fund is being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission reduction credits for projects that should not qualify. The result is that no genuine pollution cuts are being made, undermining assurances by the UK government and others that carbon markets are dramatically reducing greenhouse gases.

The criticism centres on the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM), an international system established by the Kyoto process that allows rich countries to meet emissions targets by funding clean energy projects in developing nations. Credits from the project are being bought by European companies and governments who are unable to meet their carbon reduction targets.


The market for CDM credits is growing fast. At present it is worth nearly $20bn a year, but this is expected to grow to over $100bn within four years. More than 1,000 projects have so far been approved, and 2,000 more are making their way through the process.

A working paper from two senior Stanford University academics examined more than 3,000 projects applying for or already granted up to $10bn of credits from the UN's CDM funds over the next four years, and concluded that the majority should not be considered for assistance. "They would be built anyway," says David Victor, law professor at the Californian university. "It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts."

In reality the West is paying a large amount to operators in places like China to subsidise new hydro and gas-fired power stations that would be built anyway. The Stanford researchers say:

"Traders are finding ways of gaining credits that they would never have had before. You will never know accurately, but rich countries are clearly overpaying by a massive amount."

Brilliant.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Marred By Prejudice



Back in the days when trouserless politicos resigned


I've just watched Andrew Marr's History of Britain on the 1950s:

"The programme explodes the popular image of the 1950s as a golden age of order and prosperity, and of lost content. A Conservative government is back in power. The economy appears to be improving. New homes are being built, the age of mass car ownership is dawning, and people have money in their pockets. But 1950s Britain isn't as calm as it looks, or as strong. Etc etc."

Of course, we know all about the Fantastickal World of Andy Marr: the Tories are a bunch of bumbling self-serving toffs, out of touch with the harsh realities of working class Britain, and never more so than in the never-never 1950s.

But... and I'm sorry if you've heard this one before, but my blood is bubbling... Andy being a privately educated toff, probably doesn't understand that the fifties really were the time we working class kids on the estates never had it so good. GDP growth in the thirteen years of Tory misrule from 1951 to 1964 averaged 3% pa, far higher than anything we've achieved in any other 13 year period, and certainly far higher than anything we've ever clocked up under any Labour government.

Prosperity, real education, law and order, the hula hoop, satire, the Beatles (oh yes, they all started under the Tories)... we had it all.

So remind me - just why do these BBC pundits all support Labour? Surely they can't really think Labour politicos are any more "in touch" than the Tories?

Can it simply be the tax-funded BBC pay cheques? And the patronising, totally unfounded belief that the working class can't survive without far-sighted leadership by the Prog Elite?

Nah.

Nobody could be that crass.

PS It's a real shame they've got the Big Eared Leftie Preening Twerp doing this prog. The newsreel clips are brill, and it could have been an excellent series.

Friday, May 23, 2008

GBFL

GBFL - Lindy puts the case

As BOM readers may be aware, back in 2005, Tyler ran a blog with the snappy title of DDFL - David Davis For Leader. Given its stunning success, he's now contemplating a new leadership blog entitled GBFL - Gordon Brown For Leader.

Tyler feels strongly that Gordon Brown is the right man to lead Labour into the next election, and he's dismayed that not everyone agrees. Post the Crazy Result of the Crewe By-election, all kinds of Labour MPs Tyler's never heard of are trawling around the TV pundits saying Gordon should step aside. That's so wrong. Brown is doing more than anyone to ensure A Better Future For Britain.

Consider the Five Facts:

1. Gordon abolished the Economic Cycle!

His far-sighted stewardship of the economy has eliminated the recessions we used to suffer under those hopeless boomandbust Tories. Never again will unemployment stalk the land. (Technical note: the recent uptick in "worklessness" is a statistical aberration that will soon be eliminated).

2. Gordon abolished poverty!

Thanks to Him, eight year old children no longer have to slave 20 hour days in the cotton mills and up chimneys. Fact.

3. Gordon saved Africa!

Well, except for Sudan. And Zimbabwe. And a couple of other places. But come on - he was the one who got Bonio to give that epoch defining press conference in the Four Seasons Hotel.

3. Gordon legalised gay marriage!

Fine, Bliar was PM at the time. But it was definitely Gordon who pushed it home.

4. Gordon gave us great summers!

He was Chancellor during the hottest summers on record. All except for 1976, anyway. And 1757.

5. Gordon made the trains run on time!

Or he would have done, if he hadn't been so badly let down by others.


All in all, that's one helluva record. And those backstabbing Labour MPs should be ashamed of themselves.

They owe it to the country to ensure Gordon has the chance to put his record before the British people in 2010.

GBFL.

PS For reasons that needn't detain us, in 1966 Tyler watched the BBC filming an edition of the shockingly poor White Heather Club at Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran. He was devastated to discover the whole thing was faked. The songs were pre-recorded, and Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor just nonced about miming and trying to get recognised. At that instant, all Tyler's youthful faith in the goodness of man vaporised, and he became the bitter twisted cynic you see before you today. The Golden Age of Telly it was not:

Nimrod Never Airworthy



The Panorama report on the unsafe Nimrod

We've blogged the appalling Nimrod fiasco many times (see all blogs gathered here). Our view is that the current generation of planes should be grounded immediately (see here), and the next generation MRA4 project abandoned forthwith.

Now, at the continuing inquest into the deaths of those 14 servicemen in the 2006 Nimrod explosion:

"Andrew Walker, the assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire, declared that none of the planes have been airworthy since the fleet was introduced into service in 1969.

He called for the fleet to be grounded."


So will MOD do it?

Not a chance. Rather than admit they've been wrong, they'd prefer our servicemen to go on risking their lives.

It's sickening.

Reminder: the replacement Nimrod MRA4 project was originally supposed to cost £2bn for 21 planes- £95m each. But we're currently on £3.5bn for 12 aircraft- £290m each. That's a price increase of 205%. And it's running seven and a half years late, so won't be in service until 2010, at the earliest. And remember - it will still basically be a converted Comet, which first took to the skies in 1949. It is insanity.

Dare To Struggle And Dare To Win!


Turning points of history

Having rediscovered my copy of the Little Red Book (see previous blog), I'm amazed at the Chairman's insight into our struggle against Big Government:

"DARE TO STRUGGLE AND DARE TO WIN! People of the world, unite and defeat the Big Government Commissars and all their running dogs! People of the world, be courageous... " (cont on p94)

What's more, I'm sure someone has slipped a copy to Dave. This morning post-Crewe he came out with all kinds of amazing stuff about how people are fed up with Big Government, fed up with top-down health services, fed up with unaccountable policing, and fed up with high taxes.

Wow!

Is he feeling OK?

Two years to go, and suddenly it seems he's up for the Real Deal.

Let's hope Labour don't dump the grim Scottish Socialist, because he's gifting the Tories the English middle class. And newly confident Small Gov Dave sounds much more like it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chronically Poor Shambles


Justice in action

As BOM readers will know, the Crown Prosecution Service is a total shambles. Two years ago we blogged the National Audit Office's devastating report revealing amateurish working practices, endemic incompetence, and gripless management (see this blog). Incomplete files, unanswered phones, uncontactable lawyers (never heard of Blackberries), and abysmal lack of urgency - they're all taken for granted inside the CPS.

This morning, the CPS Inspectorate (note - it's so bad, it needs its own inspectorate) has issued its own devastating report. They focus on the state of CPS case files, a basic essential of the lawyer's business.

They find that the "majority of files" are incomplete in important respects. Things are not recorded clearly and legibly, and have vital bits missing. Bail records are particularly weak - one-third of bail conditions are not recorded at all - the CPS lawyer just can't be fagged.

As the Inspector says, bad files mean that CPS work often has to be done several times over (for which we pay). Worse, it also undoubtedly means bad guys get off: the Inspector is predictably cagey on the extent of that problem, but admits there are cases.

So what happens now?

CPS head Sir Ken Waccy Baccy MacDonald is just "exiting" after five years "in charge". Totally unconnected with the shambles of course.

Naturally they're looking for a new super-lawyer to take over. But as we've said before, WTF would a successful criminal lawyer want such a job? Not only must you report to a bunch of clothead politicos (who will dump on you at the slightest whiff of trouble), you will have to manage hundreds of second rate timeservers who are only working for the CPS because they can't get a job as a proper lawyer. Who needs it?

The CPS in its current Big Government Blob will never get fixed. What we need to do is break the whole thing up and get in some of those locally elected DAs like they have on US crime shows. Ten to twenty in Sing Sing - take him down.

PS En route to Crete, Tyler found himself sitting next to a man who described himself as a retired criminal lawyer. It turned out he used to work for the CPS. It also turned out he's an evangelical Christian, who believes strongly in the redemption of sinners, and now spends his time touring prisons, trying to put them on the path of righteousness. Of course, we can have no gripe with that per se. But we did wonder if such a man should ever have been employed trying to bang them up in the first place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

DWP Still Losing Billions


Haemorrhage continues

Another update while we were away - the latest estimate on how much DWP is currently losing to fraud and error. Key points:
  • £2.7bn pa total loss - so despite all those promises of serious action, the total has increased again (see this blog); it still represents over 2% of total DWP payments.
  • 60% of losses come on 27% of benefits- as last year, the leakiest benefits are Income Support, JobSeekers Allowance, Pension Credit, and Housing Benefit.
  • Income Support and Pension Credit are worst - Gordo's fearsomely complex credits are notoriously difficult to fathom, even for DWP officials; losses are running in excess of 5%

DWP's accounts have now been qualified for the eighteenth straight year. If it was a business it would have been closed down and the directors jailed.

Instead, as part of our crass bumbling government, it's been set some extraordinarily modest targets for reducing its losses. But guess what - it has completely failed to do so. For example, far from hitting their 15% target reduction for IS and JSA, losses have actually increased.


The only sure way of cutting these losses is to simplify the benefits system massively. There's no way Brown will do that, and Cameron's government will be faced with the tricky issue of losers. Because as we've just seen with the 10p tax rate, absent a big pot of money falling from the sky, any changes to tax and benefit structures is going to mean losers.

You sure wouldn't start from here.

Self-Interest Rules


The Justice Secretary as a wild youth

This morning brings a report from academics at Kings College telling us that Labour's flagship programme to cut youth crime has flopped. Despite costing us £650m pa, it has had zilch effect on offending rates.

Progressive Consensus's Mark Easton (aka the BBC's Home Affairs Editor) tells us that it's failed because "we lock up too many children"- far more than enlightened countries like Finland. If instead we spent the £280m pa that costs on social work, then everything would be so much better (in reality of course - as Shadow Justice Minister Nick Herbert pointed out on Today - Finland doesn't need to lock up so many teenage yobs because it has much less crime than us).

BOM readers are only too familiar with our plague of youth crime. Here are a few nuggets from the recent record:


  • Recorded youth crime increasing - between 2003 and 2006 (most recent figures), total offences rose from 184,474 to 222,750 in 2006 (up 21%).
  • Violent youth crime increasing - between 2003 and 2007, the number of under-18s convicted or cautioned over violent offences rose from 17,590 to 24,102, up 37%.
  • Robberies soaring -up 43% over the same period.
Shockingly, the biggest increases in youth crime have not been in those dark deprived inner city melting pots, but in rural areas, once a haven of calm and relative security. Sunny Sussex by the Sea saw "notifiable" (ie serious) offences by persistent young offenders climb by a staggering 242% during Labour's first decade.

So what to do?

As it happens, last evening Tyler attended a panel discussion at the LSE debating Why Economics Matter. Chaired by Mr TT, the panel included two eminent academic economists and two economic journalists (including the outstanding Martin Wolf).

Needless to say, the panel and the entire audience were fully agreed that economics does matter - oh, yes - but the question is why?

A range of different ideas were kicked around, but Wolf put his finger on it right at the start - economics matters because it shows us how self-interest drives our lives and can underpin stable and mutually beneficial relationships between us all. Sure, there's loads of other stuff - like how the invisible hand of markets is much better at allocating scarce resources than central planning - and loads of complications - like how we may not always be able to identify our own rational self-interest (see behavioural economics or game theory). But in essence, self-interest rules.

The academics on panel also talked proudly of how, armed with that idea and a few other tools, economics is gradually "colonising" vast swathes of the other social sciences, from the study of family relationships to, yes, criminology (we can only imagine how such talk goes down with people like Anthony Third Way Giddens in the Senior Common Room of the LSE).

What economics brings to the table is this: in almost any field you can think of, if you want to change behaviour, you have to change individual incentives. While it might be nice to re-engineer someone's internal cognitive wiring, in most respects, we don't have a clue how to do it. Incentives are the key.

Which of course brings us straight back to teenage yobs. None of us like the idea of locking teenagers up. All of us would prefer we had Finnish levels of crime. But we don't.

So what else are we going to do? Clearly we need real zero tolerance policing soonest (a good start by Boris on that London bus). But beyond that, we can have zero confidence in our hopeless £1bn pa Probation Service to reshape behaviour.

And incentives? As things stand, the chances of a young offender being locked up are small: we lock up less than 5% of the c200,000 dealt with every year, and there are only about 3,500 inside at any one time. That doesn't sound much of a disincentive to crime.

What's that? Many of these hopeless dysfunctional kids are from hopeless dysfunctional families so couldn't manage their own behaviour even if they wanted to?

Two things. First, if they're that incontinent, it's not safe to have them walking among us. And second, we clearly need to remove the incentives for such families to have kids in the first place (see previous blogs).

PS Talking of non-enforced laws (ie the opposite of zero tolerance), Tyler was very struck last night by a young lady gobbling a chicken tikka. She was sitting in the LSE's Old Theatre right under a big sign which said "No food or drink permitted in the Old Theatre". Nobody said a word. It's a slippery slope...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cycling To The Promised Land


Are you sure you can ride that thing?

Hurrah!

For the first time since 1472 the political cycle has turned. Tax and spend is out, and tax cuts are back on the centrist agenda.

Yesterday, Dave finally summoned up the nerve to say taxpayers "can't take any more pain", and that the economy is being frazzled by tax and spend. And today, the Boy Nick will say much the same.

But there are of course a few details to settle. Like the one that Tory Shadow Chief Sec Hammond fell over on last night's Newsnight - what does it actually mean to say that taxes will fall as a share of GDP over an economic cycle?

Pax had great fun with poor Hammond. What is an economic cycle? Where are we in it now? Is the current tax take too high? How low should the percentage be?

Hammond wobbled around all over the road.

Well, the economy is sometimes above trend, and sometimes below...

Yes, but where is it now?

Well, I don't know... that's for the statisticians to tell us...

You don't know?

Well, ahhhhgh...

Hammond's front wheel buckled and he ended in the ditch.

In sharp contrast, Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers Alliance was balanced and assured... although admittedly he was chatting to Crick on a sunny park bench rather than being roasted over a hot griddle by Pax.

But what Newsnight highlights is that much more work needs to be done on this "sharing the proceeds" stuff. As we've blogged many times, it's still no more than a nifty slogan. With Hammond likely to be at HMT within two years, he needs to get some serious content.

We wonder if he has any idea what the job of Chief Secretary to the Treasury actually involves.

Chiefy is the most hated member of the Cabinet. While his boss the Chancellor gets all the plaudits for cutting taxes, Chiefy is the man (or Yvette Cooper) who has to deliver the public expenditure control that funds them. He's the one who has to say no to all his Cabinet colleagues as they attempt to grab more and more for their own departments.

Cam's cabinet will be different, and they'll all commit to slashing departmental waste on their own turf?

Where on earth have you been these last 150 years? Even poor tortured low tax Keith Joseph found himself presenting a departmental brief arguing for more industrial subsidy cash in those bleak early years of Thatcher. It's the nature of the beast, and whatever their best intentions may have been, once spending ministers get their feet under their huge new desks, they get turned (Yes Minister, op cit).

Which is why we need clear upfront rules and quantified commitments. Hammond needs a big visible stick to beat off his colleagues. Discretion and Best Endeavours simply won't work.

It's time to beef up sharing the proceeds with that Third Fiscal Rule - a fixed and quantified target for cutting the share of public spending in GDP over a cycle, now with added endorsement by the OECD (see many previous blogs, eg here).

Come on Dave - you're so nearly en route to the Promised Land. Just one more heave. Or whatever it is you do to ride a bike.

PS The real answer to Pax's cycling questions is surely that the Treasury already publishes estimates of the cyclically adjusted fiscal deficit, and the Tories would merely be adding publication of the adjusted tax and expenditure numbers. Here's HMT's current chart from the Budget, showing we have been in cyclically adjusted deficit every year since 2002-03:




Of course, as we all know, the Treasury numbers are now so massively fiddled, they're not worth the paper they're printed on. But the methodologies used to make such adjustments are broadly understood and agreed. What's more, George has already pledged to establish an independent fiscal monitoring office to do the calcs (modelled on the NAO). So why didn't Hammond say that? They need to be far more specific in their own thinking.

Nice By Luck


Surveying the wreckage of Gordo's economic miracle, it's interesting to ask if the whole thing was pure luck in the first place. Because as Governor King implied while we were away last week, it was a nice decade to be Chancellor.

As always, it's useful to step back and take the long view.

The name of the Big Game is economic growth, and the chart above shows how we fared over the last three-and-a-half decades in terms per capita income, relative to the three other big Western economies (OECD data for incomes converted using Purchasing Power Parity, and in terms of our relative performance on the chart, lower is better).

The first thing to note is that the seventies were indeed dire. All three competitors pulled away. We lost about 15% of our relative income against France and Germany, and even managed to lose against a stumbling US. It was the doomed dismal decade of Heath, Wislon, and Callaghan.

Under Thatcher/Major (blue vertical line) things turned around. We improved against all three overseas economies, although clearly our period of ERM membership represented a huge bump in the road, with crippling interest rates set far too high in order to defend sterling.

And Brown? Well, the thing that jumps off the chart is that the change of government in 1997 (red vertical line) made absolutely no impression on the benign trends that were already firmly in place well before then (if anything, it slowed them down). His great good fortune was to ride a giant wave that had been set in motion by our exit from the ERM.

Sadly, that wave has now expended itself. The chart shows it was already slipping back by 2006, and it will have rolled back a whole lot further by now.

Brown's boom depended on a particular conjunction of events that owed little to him. Apart from the benign long-term post-ERM trend, low global inflation made it easier to accomodate stronger UK growth without jacking up interest rates. And lower interest rates encouraged punters to borrow more, thus pushing up house prices and making home owners feel wealthier.

So did he contribute nothing? Well, he did turn on the public spending taps, which definitely did something. But of course, any fule can spend other people's money: it's a classic straight from the H Wislon Book of Crap Policies. And now as then, the bills are never far behind.

PS Talking of damaging EU policies, the Lisbon Treaty is still heading our way. For obvious reasons, the Commissars don't want ordinary people to have any say in the matter. But in Ireland, for constitutional reasons, it can't be avoided. So Irish voters will have their say on 12 June. The rest of us must hope they veto the whole deal, and to help them decide there's a new site where we can register our encouragement - No To The Lisbon Treaty. Tyler has already posted a comment and may we urge you to do the same. Ireland, you are our only hope - speak for Europe (htp One Man).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Saucy Ladyboy


Any guacamole?

I've just heard ex-Minister Steve Ladyman explaining on the World At One how Labour's crass anti-toff campaign is justified. He reckons it's important to highlight how the Tory candidate in Crewe has no connection with the constituency, and nothing in common with his prospective constituents.

Whah?!!

I waited for Martha to scoff and remind him of the hundreds of similar carpetbagging Labour MPs. But somehow she didn't.

The reality is that most of Labour's heartland Northern constituences are now held by a bunch of Southern nonces, imposed on local voters by NuLab, who have taken their votes entirely for granted.

My favourites are the Brothers Milliband. They are the members for South Shields (Dave) and Doncaster North (Ed). Both replaced long-serving real Labour MPs.

In Dave's case, old Labour sitting MP David Clarke was bought out with a peerage, and Millipede rammed down the throats of the local constituency party against intense opposition. Dave has a house in the constituency (paid for by us), but lives his real life in upmarket Primrose Hill.

Ed's predecessor was communist miner Kevin Hughes (decd), best remembered for his attack on NuLab Guardianistas:

"Does my right hon. Friend find it bizarre—as I do—that the yoghurt and muesli eating, Guardian-reading fraternity are only too happy to protect the human rights of people engaged in terrorist acts, but never once do they talk about the human rights of those who are affected by them?"

Now, that's the authentic voice of Doncaster North. These days locals have to put up with a dollop of warmed over guacamole posing as mushy peas.

Next time, Martha, do try to remember.

Service Cuts


The Victorians used to fill them with water

The Bloke's recent Taxpayer Rip-off report for the TPA tried to pull together some stats on public service cuts. It proved to be quite tricky because for obvious reasons, the government doesn't tend to publish them. But from schools, to healthcare, to policing, to local councils, to Post Offices, services are being slashed via the closure of local facilities and the replacement of full-time qualified staff by cheap part-time dumbed down substitutes.

He unaccountably omitted one cut which has surfaced again this morning - the closure of local council swimming pools. They are reportedly now being closed at the rate of 7 a month.

As always, stats are scarce because the government deliberately conflates the figures for public swimming pools with those for private pools. But survey evidence shows that public provision is collapsing. For example, according to the Amateur Swimming Association, back in the 1980's we had 3000 school pools; today, there are only 2000.

Now, BOM is not saying taxpayers funds should be spent on providing these highly expensive facilities. But against the background of a 50% real-terms increase in taxation since 1997-98, and a near threefold increase in public service charges, service cuts on top are an outrage.

Here's a reminder of some other cuts in local council services (see here for sources):

  • Loss of weekly bin collection – in 1997 virtually all councils provided a weekly bin collection; by 2007, 140 out of 350 English councils had cut the service to a fortnightly collection, with many more set to follow suit; 20 million people now only have their rubbish collected fortnightly, and once again, there are growing concerns about the public health implications.
  • Less road maintenance – there are many more potholes in roads as councils have cut maintenance standards; some have doubled the size of “actionable” potholes, and now only repair holes that are at least 4cms deep; there are growing safety concerns.
  • Library closures – in the ten years to 2005, there were 452 library closures (including mobile libraries), taking the total down to around 4700.
  • Closure of public conveniences – in the seven years to 2005, councils closed nearly 20% of the country’s public conveniences: we’re now down to about 5,000 (England and Wales), with a further 150 closing every year.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Police Federation has confirmed the public are unhappy with the replacement of real coppers by those numpties in yellow jackets: 70% of us would feel safer with real policemen.

PS Tonight at 8.30 BBC Panorama is showing a doc on sickies in Merthyr, the Incapacity Benefit capital of Britain (see Sun report here). Panorama is laughably dumb these days, but it might be worth a look, especially since they apparently tried to get some of the people back to work.

PPS Panorama also reveals that the cost of IB is now running at £16bn pa, which is £4bn over the last official figure. £16bn pa being nearly 5p on the standard rate of income tax. That's one shedload of dosh.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

TPA On Quangos


The government's subsidiaries

Today sees the publication of the TPA's blockbuster guide to quangos (see here for paper, and here for Sunday Times coverage).

As BOM readers will know, despite their firm assurances pre-1997, this government has totally failed to grip the quango problem. Instead, they've tried to cover it up. Their most recent action was to suppress the detailed annual breakdown of some (but only some) quangos previously provided by the Cabinet Office.

So, building on the excellent online quango database maintained by the Economic Research Council, and supplemented by yet another huge bundle of FOI requests, the TPA has made available the facts government doesn't want us to know:
  • In 2006-07, taxpayers funded 1,162 quangos - at a cost of nearly £64 billion, equivalent to £2,550 per household
  • Quangos now employ over 700,000 bureaucrats
  • Even on the Cabinet Office's restricted definition of what constitutes a quango, their cost has increased by 50% in 10 years

The TPA's Ben Farrugia, who laboured day and night for months to produce the report (well done Ben), points out that these unaccountable offshoots hugely increase the complexity of government. Quite apart from their cost, the whole structure is riddled with duplication and conflict.

Indeed, it's quite possible that the reason the government publishes no coherent overall summary is because they can't actually understand it themselves.

What a fiasco.

Sincerest Form Of Waste Watching


Today the Telegraph launches Waste Watch:

"...a new campaign to expose cases of taxpayers' money being wasted by public servants. Each week we will highlight examples of bureaucrats failing to keep a grip on costs, or dipping into the public purse to fund unnecessary projects."

Hurrah!

Its first four stories are:
  • £29 grand on a new logo for Huntingdonshire district council
  • £2.3m for DfID officials to have their Louis Quinze desks and other home comforts air freighted to their postings in poor Third World countries
  • £6 grand for a failed attempt by Devon and Cornwall Police Authority to eject one of its members because he called teenage yobs "yobs"
  • £58 grand pa for Preston Council's new Head of Worklessness ("worklessness" being the new uber-pc term for "unemployed" or "jobseekers")

Well done to the Telegraph - we'll be reading avidly.

PS Yes, the Bloke's Waste Watch© vids for the TPA were called Waste Watch© (eg here), and the Bloke would never ever dream of infringing copyright himself, but in this case, he's delighted to waive all royalties for the title's use by the Telegraph.

PPS The pic of Captain Copyright has been liberated from The Patry Copyright Blog. It's written by William Patry, who describes himself as "Senior Copyright Counsel, Google Inc. Formerly copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, formerly Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights, formerly Law Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; author of numerous treatises and articles (including one on fair use with Judge Richard Posner), including the new 7 volume treatise on "Patry on Copyright". Actually, he sounds somewhat scary, and his blog is pretty heavy duty. Let's hope he doesn't mind our use of his pic.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dragged Under By The Great Helmsman

Going down

Remember the Helmsman's pledge to build 3 million new homes by 2020? It will require the building of c250,000 houses every year, or around 60,000 per quarter.

As we've blogged before, that's much higher than anything ever achieved under NuLab. But even worse, ever since Jonah Brown made the pledge, house building has slumped.

The latest figures for England have just been published, and as expected, they show housing starts in the first quarter of 2008 collapsed. They're down to 32,000, over 10,000 lower than the same quarter last year, and the lowest level of quarterly starts since Labour came to power.

If maintained - and they're clearly trending lower still - quarterly starts of 32,000 imply that the pledge of 3m new homes will not be delivered until 2031. At the agonisingly slow rate of 128,000 new homes pa.

And there's that other slight problemette. According to the latest official projections (see this blog), net immigration over the next 50 years will average 190,000 pa (central projection). Almost all of them will come to England - maybe more than all, if Scotland goes on losing population.

So... er... let's see... 190,000 extra people every year into 128,000 new homes doesn't quite seem to go. To the tune of a cumulative 62,000 pa deficit.

Well, OK, the average household is c 2.4 people, so 128,000 homes might accommodate c 300,000 people. But many of those new homes will be small flats, and we must remember the 4m people already on social housing waiting lists.

There are going to be an awful lot of cardboard boxes underneath the arches. And an awful lot of anger.

PS What to do? First, recognise the mass immigration of the last decade was bonkers and cap it pdq (see this blog for some facts, noting especially that two-thirds - yes, two-thirds - of Labour's 2.2m foreign migrants came from outside the EU, so could have been stopped). Second, free up planning laws... except... NIMBY thank-you very much. OK, what about the Thames Gateway... yeah, right. Or how about we implement some real fiscal decentralisation allowing local authorities in cheaper areas to set their own lower taxes? They'd attract businesses and people there instead of everybody crowding into the South East.

Friday, May 16, 2008

While We Were Away...


Gordo campaigning in Crewe and Nantwich

BOM correspondents have been keeping an eye on things, and draw attention to the following:


No proper business case for ID Cards Scheme

"The government has, for the first time, admitted publicly that it cannot justify its controversial £5.4bn National Identity Scheme in financial terms.

The admission came from James Hall, chief executive of the Identity & Passport Service, in a
response to the report from the scheme's external watchdog, the Independent Scheme Assurance Panel, published this week.

Hall said, "Many of these benefits [of the NIS] may be hard to quantify and potentially harder to articulate in financial terms within the scheme business case."
(Computer Weekly 8.5.08)

Glancing through the ISAP report itself reveals the usual catalogue of disasters waiting to happen:
  • No clear plans for "data governance" - ie sensitive personal data is likely to get lost/left at bus-stops/posted to the mafia, as per

  • No confidence that data can actually be integrated as the scheme demands

  • No clear priorities for tackling the work

  • Scheme driven by technology rather than need

  • No user engagement

  • No business case

  • No statement of how our data will be protected and what redress we have when it's not

We've blogged these half-baked ID cards many times (see BOM's cost primer here and other ID blogs here). And the best independent estimate of its cost is not £5.4bn, but £10-19bn (LSE expert panel).

(HTP Man In A Shed)



£15m for useless NHS survey

"The Department of Health is blowing £15 million on a survey to find out what people think of the NHS - after getting just 1,500 replies to its first questionnaire. The amount being spent would pay for an extra 1,000 nurses for a year.

The Healthcare for London review was supposed to reveal what the capital's 7.5million residents wanted the Health Service to improve on. After getting the funding from the Government, officials sent out surveys and questionnaires, produced CDs and placed adverts in newspapers. But just 0.02 per cent of Londoners bothered to write back with an opinion.

That has cost £1million so far - and officials plan to spend another £14million on further consultations and presentations to put their message across." (Sunday Mirror 24.2.08)

This whole nonsense was dreamed up by Lord Khazi as yet another Big Conversation. But as BOM's correpondent points out, given that it's been a total flop so far, you'd think even our gormless Commissars would pull the plug after the initial mill rather than press on with the other £14m.

Actually, the "conversation" website - Healthcare for London - has some very interesting comments and suggestions posted on it by ordinary punters.

Like the one from a web designer who's disgusted at the waste involved in being paid by the DoH to do four different designs for different NHS trusts. Or Tina, who despairs that nothing's done to stop all the health tourism she routinely sees at the Whittington and the Royal Free. Or Zoe, who suggests all medical staff should be able to speak intelligible English - not currently the situation at the Royal Free. Etc etc.

We suggest you look quickly before all such comments are expunged.

(HTP Nicholas G)



£2.5bn pa shredded on useless business services

"Britain's multibillion-pound system of business support is "out of control" and should be radically reformed... Some 3,000 individual schemes, delivered by 2,000 different agencies and costing more than £2.5bn a year, should have to prove their worth or be closed down.

Doug Richard, the taskforce's chairman, said the system was so "bewildering" that around two-thirds of the money was spent simply telling businesses where to find advice and what grants are available. A third of the money spent on regional support schemes was lost to administration." (Telegraph 13.5.08)

Sure, the taskforce in question is working for the Tories. But as our correspondent notes, nobody who's ever had contact with the We're from the Government and We're Here to Help team will doubt its findings.

Let's just hope the Tories take proper note and wield the Big Axe on Day One.

(HTP HJ)

SOCA not quite FBI

We've blogged the Serious Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA) several times, not least for its ludicrous £164 grand Thundercats logo (eg see here).

Launched by Tone in 2006 in a blaze of publicity as Britain's FBI, it's useless. Many of its 148 hand-picked experienced cops have already given up on it, either retiring or going back to normal policing. And they've been blowing the gaff to the press. "A source" said:

"The experienced police officers are leaving in droves owing to management inefficiencies and incompetence and we are being left with a lot of very clever analysts and the like who wouldn’t know a Mr Big if he pulled out a gun and pointed it at their heads."

SOCA has a chairman, a director-general, a ten-member board of directors, and 31 deputy directors. But now no proper coppers.

And in its two years of existence it's successfully prosecuted a Mrs Trellis for double parking in Oswestry, and almost got a Mr M Mouse for dropping litter in Bexhill.

That's it.

(HTP SJT)


£1m to protect non-existent newts

"A council spent £1 million protecting a colony of rare newts on a building site only to discover that none lived there.

Leicestershire County Council delayed a major road-building scheme for three months after evidence of great crested newts was found on the site. The species is protected by law, but after the authority paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for special newt-fencing and traps, not one of the rare creatures was discovered.

The action was taken on the strength of a report from environmental experts." (Telegraph 16.5.08)

Yup, it's those pesky "environmental experts" again (see previous blogs eg here). Maybe next time they could consult some commonsense experts - Tyler hereby volunteers his own services pro bono.

(HTP Swivel-eyes)

PS The Chairman Mao poster is taken from an excellent site sent us by A Reader. It's called Cultural Revolution Artifacts and it's stuffed with goodies. Among other things, Tyler discovered an original 1964 Little Red Book now retails from $2500. As it happens, Tyler has an original LRB, obtained by writing to the Chinese Embassy back in 1967. Tyler Senior was most concerned when he found out, reckoning his son would henceforth be "on file". Which on reflection, quite possibly explains those Stop and Search incidents (see here and here). Sadly, it turns out Tyler's copy is the worthless 1967 paper tiger edition.