Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: January 2008

Who’d have thought it

It’s almost as if the 31st January has caught the Revenue by surprise…

HM Revenue & Customs 31st January

I mean, it’s not as if it isn’t in the diary, surely?


Doing Your Duty

Croydon Crown CourtIt was ten years ago today that I found myself summoned to Croydon Crown Court and then spent four months under close supervision in a confined space with eleven others. I had spent three days getting to know intimately the jurors’ waiting room, which resembled a provincial airport departure lounge without the retail diversions (unless you counted the canteen).

Like everyone who is called up, I was expecting a two week break from the 9 to 5 routine, replacing it with a 10 to 4 routine, but then on the Wednesday a long string of names were called for a trial that might last up to two months. I somehow ended up in the final twelve. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I had already dodged been excused jury service twice previously: once as a civilian working on police business (at a previous firm where we did a lot of work on mortgage fraud cases for what was then SO6) and again when my next boss wrote a well crafted pleading letter. The drawback, I think, was that this not only put me firmly on their radar for some “payback”, but it also made it clear which profession I was in and so, lo and behold, I got called up to serve on a VAT fraud case.

Looking back it did provide me with some unique CPD* opportunities – poring over accountants’ working files, hearing how Customs & Excise VAT investigations worked, and noting how an innocuous and actually perfectly innocent fact, through the eyes of an inexperienced VAT inspector, led them to uncover a genuine fraud.

As the trial progressed so did the Tramlink works along the 353 bus route every day. The trial lasted nearly four months less a few days. Yes, it was more than two months, yes it went beyond Easter (they like their long Easter breaks), yes it went beyond the date of my election to the Council – the following day I had to stand up and ask the judge for the afternoon off to get myself sworn in at the Council. It was a Friday afternoon so funnily enough there wasn’t much resistance.

Like seniors teasing the new first years, we would enliven the regular treks to and from the jury room by walking past the newbies saying “Good luck. We’re in our third month now. See you after Easter!”. Their faces were a picture … once they realised we weren’t joking.

The Chartered Accountant in the dock was found guilty by a majority (I think we were into our third day of deliberation from memory) and got, I think, three or four years. After the verdict it then emerged he was also facing charges from the Police and Inland Revenue, to which he changed his plea to guilty.

Anyway, here’s hoping that Dizzy has better luck.

*Continuing Professional Development

Shutting the door

Having received both a private and state education, I have long been fascinated by the bile-laden crusade against independent schools that the Left has been leading for some decades now.

The latest chapter opened today:

Independent schools forced to be ‘more open’

Independent schools are to be made to open their doors to more children from poor homes under guidelines announced to stop them being run as “exclusive clubs”.

Schools failing to meet the regulations could have bank accounts frozen, trustees suspended, buildings seized or even be closed down under a range of sanctions.

The recommendations, which come in a landmark document [from the Charity Commission], are designed to ensure independent schools justify their charitable status by meeting a “public benefit” test.

Schools may be subjected to “random” spot checks and inspections to ensure they comply.

Meeting a “public benefit” test? Because educating the next generation isn’t enough? Because having a third of pupils already receiving assistance with fees isn’t enough? Because, therefore, more than two thirds of private school parents already pay twice for education?

If the Government were serious about helping the poor into a private education they wouldn’t have, in a typically misguided bout of envy and spite, abolished the assisted places scheme. Yet after eleven years of “education education education” and pouring money into the state system, haven’t they worked out that it’s not just about money? Or that helping those at the bottom is not about pulling down those nearer the top?

The irony is that some schools may choose to voluntarily relinquish their charitable status, freeing themselves from the attention of the Charity Commission stormtroopers inspectors. One of the first casualties of that, in filling the resultant financial hole, would be the bursaries, thus shutting the door on the very sort of pupils Labour are supposedly trying to help. Nice one, Gordon.

Nationalisation will save us all

So nationalisation of Northern Rock is still on the cards, despite many good reasons not to. Look on the bright side, though – it’ll give us something to sell once we get back in power.

Also interesting and deserving of a proper fisking (if only I had time!) is the BBC’s “Q&A: Nationalisation”. Predictably, coming from a state-owned organisation, much of it seems to have been written with the benefit of rose-tinted glasses. Just as an example:

What is the point [of nationalisation]?
Many of these industries had fallen into a decrepit state by the time they were nationalised. One reason for taking them over was precisely to keep them going rather than see them fold.

Some may have been struggling, because of poor management. Some may have been struggling because the government had already done a fine job of running them into the ground (e.g. the railways during the war). Many, however, were nationalised because of misguided post-war socialist dogma.

And of course, after they were nationalised, they all became shining examples of efficiency and innovation and went on to conquer the world and prove that Britain was still the economic powerhouse …. errrm, nurse!

Yes Minister 2009

Scene: Home Secretary’s office. It’s been six months since the Summer 2008 reshuffle, and the current Home Secretary wants to make his mark.

Permanent Secretary: Well, Home Secretary, we still have a problem with gun crime. It’s up on last year. Most of it is linked to drug gangs it seems.
Home Secretary: Well, we have to be seen to be doing something <cough> I mean, we have to do something.
PS: Hmmm, but I don’t think the Treasury will like anything too … brave. The Chancellor has been quite clear about the need for reining in budgets…
HS: No no. We need to announce that we’re thinking of doing something about it.
PS: Oh, that’s OK.
HS: Now, all this drug fuelled gang violence. They’re using guns, so let’s ban the guns.
PS: Errr, the guns are already illegal. The problem is that the criminals don’t seem to care about the law.
HS: If the guns are illegal then how come they’re still using them?
PS: As I said, Home Secretary, they’re criminals. By definition …
HS: I know! They must be using deactivated weapons and activating them again. We’ll ban deactivated weapons.
PS: Yes, Home Secretary, but the ban on deactivated weapons was already in the Queen’s Speech last November after last year’s Home Secretary decided to ban them. It’s going through the committee stage at the moment, remember?
HS: Right. Well, that’ll sort it then.
PS: Probably not, Home Secretary. You see (sighs wearily) The. Criminals. Don’t. Care. About. The. Law.
HS: What about imitation weapons?
PS: Like children use to play soldiers with?
HS: Play soldiers? That sounds terrible. We must ban imitation weapons to protect the children from becoming violent gunmen.
PS: Errr…
HS: So, that’s the next generation safe. But what about gun crime now? If guns are banned, and deactivated weapons are banned, then … I know! Guns are made of metal aren’t they?
PS: Generally yes, Home Secretary, but …
HS: That’s it then. We’ll ban metal. Draft me a speech for tomorrow will you?
PS: (Mentally weighing up departmental transfer opportunities against early retirement pay-off) Yes, Home Secretary.

Livingstone – Don’t Believe The Hype (no. 42)

Livingstone is at it again. From one month after the election 1st June, 11-18 year olds will have to “touch in” with their Oyster cards when they get on a bus – though they will still be travelling for free. This is apparently to solve the problem of rowdy behaviour by some youths on buses since free travel for under-18s was introduced by El Mayore.

So, yet another token measure to tackle a problem of his own making – in fact, a worse than useless token. The new rules are to prevent youths who are banned from the buses from boarding. Fine, except who’s going to stop them? Without physical tube-style barriers how is a driver supposed to enforce the new rules? The same drivers who cannot deal with the little darlings at the moment without risking either injury or prosecution? Bus drivers, who have enough to deal with as it is, already have access to photos and descriptions of known troublemakers, but their hands are largely tied.

It also emerged, at a recent meeting at Bromley Council, that if a child appears and has lost/forgotten their Oyster, TfL do owe a duty of care and drivers will still be expected to allow them to board rather than leave them stranded. I predict a spate of selective amnesia among the more troublesome element of our teenagers.

Schooling 1958 vs. 2008

This has been doing the rounds recently. It’s clearly from a US perspective, but sadly it’s just as relevant to the UK. (And it means my blog post for the day comes ready-made!)

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fight after school.
1958 – Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up mates.
2008 – Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won’t be still in class, disrupts other students.
1958 – Jeffrey sent to office and given a good caning by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2008 – Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbour’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
1958 – Billy is more careful next time, grows up normally, goes to uni, and becomes a successful businessman.
2008 – Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. Psychologist tells Billy’s sister that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy’s Mum has affair with psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.
1958 – Mark shares aspirin with Principal.
2008 – Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.
1958 – Pedro gets extra tuition, passes English, goes to Uni.
2008 – Pedro’s cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. Class action lawsuit filed by anti discrimination commissioner against Education Dept and Pedro’s English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers, puts them in a model aeroplane paint bottle, blows up an ant bed.
1958 – Ants die.
2008 – Local police & AFP called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, parents investigated, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny’s Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls while running during morning tea and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
1958 – In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2008 – Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in prison while Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

A good day for lefty-baiting

Sometimes you don’t have to comment, just watch and listen as lefties implode in their own mix of indignation, anger and utter stupidity.

First, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who does occasionally come out with some good stuff … though not today. She is fuming at Bishop Nazir Ali’s comments on “no-go areas” and amplified Muslim calls to prayer.

Then we have the LibDem-supporting Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust complaining that Army recruitment adverts “gamourise war” and don’t make it clear that soldiers may, on occasion, be posted somewhere dangerous and face some hairy situations involving flying bullets and things going bang.

Hat-tip to Croydonian for reminding me of the JRCT /Lib Dem funding link.

Paying the (Old) Bill

As my reader may be aware, the Police Federation has reached breaking point and some officers are seriously thinking the unthinkable – strike action – in response to the government’s failure to backdate the police pay rise to September, as has been the routine for over 25 years. Jan Berry, the Federation chairman, has made a canny move with her “olive branch” to the Home Secretary. Jacqui Smith is hung either way – she can dig her heels in, rejecting the perfectly reasonable overture, and try to contain the anger of every copper south of the border (since the Scottish police have had their pay backdated) or retreat to the last refuge of the incompetent minister and blame her civil servants – and hanging your departmental staff out to dry will do your career no good at all – just ask John Reid.

Now normally when workers in the public sector go on strike or take other industrial action, there will always be some who will suggest that no-one would actually notice if a few Whitehall paper shufflers took a Friday off. It is perhaps an indictment of how the police service has been treated in recent times that someone could almost say the same of the police today – though for very different reasons. Yes, too much of police time is spent paper shuffling, but it is also true that, effectively undermanned, seemingly undervalued, and overburdened with politically-inspired cobblers like stop forms, health and safety assessments, central targets and other red tape, the average copper has less and less time to actually be out there, whether on foot or on wheels, keeping the streets safe. Safer Neighbourhood Teams have proved popular with the public in recent times, and a good, well-skippered SN team can make a difference, but many underlying problems remain nationally.

It is a no-brainer that the police should get the full backing of the Party. I’m not saying that we and the police won’t differ on issues like ID cards or DNA databases, or that the police as a collective service should be immune from any criticism (though such criticism when it comes is largely of the management – both political and senior operational). That aside, the many individual officers whose sacrifices can include family, marriages, as well as their lives, must have the support of any who are serious about improving our “quality of life”.

Finally, for now, there is a dull accounting aspect to all this. When the budgets were set for the 2007/08 year, the pay rise would have been factored in. The Home Office wouldn’t have known the precise percentage of course, so a provision would have been made at a realistic rate. Even by the government’s Mickey Mouse CPI inflation measure, something close to 2.5%, pro-rated from September, would have been calculated and included in the budgets.

So either the Home Office is in such a diabolical financial mess that desperate measures are being used to balance the books, or day-to-day financial control at the Home Office is diabolical, or the Home Office is diabolical at setting proper budgets.

Or perhaps the decision not to observe the traditional backdating to September was made a year ago when the budgets were drafted. Hmmmm.

The Home Office has been either incompetent on a number of levels, or the department responsible for fighting crime and other dishonest behaviour has been … dishonest.

Oh, and … Happy New Year!