Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: February 2008

Unusual Event

An earthquake strikes the U.K., yet no blames this natural occurrence on climate change.

Some mistake surely?

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No good at drawing cartoons? Try accountancy instead

Have a read of this while I get on with some the devil’s work …

A 44 year-old man from Sittingbourne, Kent, has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for urging Moslems to launch terror attacks on accountants.

The Old Bailey heard that Malcolm Hodges, 44, had failed an exam set by the ACCA ten years ago, and had been arguing about it with the Association ever since. The grudge festered over time, and Hodges widened his one-man campaign by writing a series of letters to the royal family, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, outlining the “grave injustice” behind his low marking.

Hodges’ mission changed from farcical to dangerous in November 2006, when he began writing to UK mosques, claiming to be a follower of Osama Bin Laden.

“Brothers, you are right to kill the infidels but you are making a mistake to try and attack planes and other targets,” he wrote. Instead Islamists would be better off declaring a “jihad” against the four accountancy bodies.

“Striking at these targets will be striking at the infidels where it hurts most”, the letter argued.

Earning a living and upsetting Islamofascists? I think my job satisfaction level just received a small boost.

Biofuelled Cynicism

From the BBC:

The first flight by a commercial airline to be powered partly by biofuel is to take off from Heathrow airport.

Kenneth Richter, of Friends of the Earth, said the flight was a “gimmick”, distracting from real solutions to climate change.

(Also trailed by The Register.)

A gimmick? Well, someone probably said that about the first electric car.

Once, not long ago, when Communism fell, there were a good many socialists who recognised that they would have to find another way to advance their cause, destroy capitalism and bring down the rich. Many of them latched onto worthy environmental causes and gave them a distinct statist/leftist hue. Big cars are killing the planet (and are driven by rich people). Globalisation is killing the planet and developing world (and rich people are behind it). Air traffic is killing … you get the idea. The solutions that were often advanced usually involved slowing down economic growth and having everyone living in a pastoral idyll where, coincidentally, everyone was equal and the whole fantasy was underpinned by a benevolent state. A world where, subsidised and regulated by government, the concept of sustainability never seemed to extend to the financial and economic dimensions.

What has actually happened, of course, is that the rest of the world, having largely acknowledged many of the issues that the green lobby has been banging on about for so long, is coming up with solutions that don’t involve cave-dwelling and allow capitalism to continue its good work. Having seen their basic causes taken up by so many people now, the more red-tinted greens have watched aghast as the world moves forward to an environmentally friendly future that doesn’t match the eco-socialist utopia some may have been wishing for.

So, unable to switch out of anti-capitalist anti-Western mode, they are now attacking the more viable solutions which are emerging, like carbon offsetting and, today, efforts to run airliners on bio-fuel.

“You can’t run the entire global air fleet on bio-fuel – you’d use too much of the world’s food supply”, they say, gearing up for an updated take on the rich-West-causes-African-famine meme. Need I point out that (a) African famine often has more to do with too much government and war and not enough free trade and (b) all previous predictions about population outstripping food supplies have proved false, as technology has allowed us to increase agricultural output and productivity.

Today’s trial is a proof of concept – that you can run an airliner on biofuel. No doubt much more work lies ahead, just as it has taken (and will take) a long time to advance from the humble milk float to the widespread use of electric cars on the motorway (assuming that, in the meantime, other technologies don’t achieve the underlying aims more effectively).

Next … greens attack solar panel industry because it discourages people from switching the telly off standby.

Kicking ‘em When They’re Up

A major player in British industry, and more importantly the global energy markets, has done well last year. It has made big profits.

The Beeb reports:

Energy supplier British Gas has reported annual profits of £571m at its residential arm, up from £95m in 2006.

Last month, British Gas said it would raise the amount it charges for gas and electricity by 15%, a move criticised by consumer groups and the Unite union.

Did I say just “profits”? I meant big evil stamp-on-the-workers-and-kick-an-elderly-pensioner-while-you’re-at-it profits.

The announcement followed increases from rivals Npower and EDF Energy, who blamed rising wholesale costs.
The news came as Centrica, British Gas’ parent company, reported a 40% rise in operating profits to £1.95bn.

It has called for a Competition Commission investigation into the way the energy market works.

So the wholesale market prices that all energy companies have to pay go up and … shock horror … the domestic energy suppliers prices go up. Conspiracy!

“Consumers will be shocked at this massive increase in profits,” said Tim Wolfenden from price comparison service Uswitch.
“They will be extremely disappointed and will start voting with their feet.”

Exactly. British Gas no longer has the state-sponsored monopoly it had as a nationalised industry, where it was answerable only to civil servants.

Centrica has increased its full-year dividend to shareholders by 17% to 13 pence a share, a move criticised by consumer group Energywatch.

“It is perfectly true that there is volatility in wholesale energy markets. But it seems equally true that such volatility hits consumers not shareholders,” said Adam Scorer, Energywatch’s director of campaigns.

OK. Let’s take this slowly for the financial newbies at Energywatch. A decent rate of dividend makes it easier to raise finance. When a company can raise finance it can invest in new technology, more efficient processes, expanding the business, and so on.

In fact, I have been beaten to it:

In a BBC interview, Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw said the company would use the profits to reduce the UK’s growing reliance on imported gas.

“We need to earn a return to invest in new sources of energy for the UK. Centrica is investing £1bn a year in new sources of gas and power… and all of that requires a return,” Mr Laidlaw said.

In other words, if you want the UK to be less dependent on Vladimir Putin’s mental state, the major player in the energy market needs to be able to invest. Oh, and need I point out that your pension fund probably has, or has had in the recent past, or soon will have, shares in Centrica?

It genuinely tires me to be doing another “lefty BBC” post, but it has to be done. At the end of the online article, we are asked the question:

Are you a British Gas customer? Do you think they are putting profits before customers?

“Putting profits before customers”. That phrase encapsulates the lefty worldview of how business works. Yet the only business that can sustainably put profits before customers is a monopoly, and most monopolies are kept that way by the state in one form or another. It may be a nationalised monopoly, which has to keep civil servants and ministers happy but not customers. Or, it may be a company protected from new competition by state regulation – which the same company has supported, not surprisingly – the costs of which invariably fall on either the customer, taxpayer or both. Either way, competition – and thus the interests of the customer – is not something the business in question has to worry about.

Most businesses however, and this now includes British Gas/Centrica, cannot make profits without customers, and if they abuse those customers they don’t make the profits? How much clearer can I put that?

Oh but of course, the BBC is one of those nationalised monoliths that generates revenue regardless of how happy its customers are. Takes one to know one, I guess.

In answer to Auntie Beeb’s question, though, surely if you said “yes” to the second question, you cannot have said “yes” to the first?

Oh, and for those who still believe that most taxes go to pay for schoolz’n’ospitals, Centrica’s preliminary results for 2007 (pdf, 0.30Mb) show a corporation tax provision of over £800 million. And that’s ignoring oil duties, VAT, Employer’s NIC on the thousands of employees … need I go on?

Car Rants and Ramblings

Polite disclaimer – beauty is in the eye for the beholder, so owners of Jag estates, E-type 2+2s, VW Passats, etc, should not take this post personally.

It’s time. The old girl has done well for 13 years. Been to every corner of the country (including Ireland), served the cause through numerous election campaigns, but now it’s time for a change. Something bigger, and circumstances demand an estate.

Now estates have been on a rollercoaster of popularity in recent times, with the rise of MPVs and 4x4s, yet seem to be the more civilised of the trio of family-carrying options. Just as with 4x4s, though, the estate versions of popular saloons and hatchbacks don’t always work.

For instance, a Jaguar estate is … wrong. It’s nothing to do with its relative practicality, or the level of equipment or quality of its cabin, or the pros and cons of the fact that it is basically a Mondeo with a Coventry-built bodyshell (are they still Coventry-built?)

No, sorry, the very idea of a Jaguar estate is an affront to nature. It’s a mouse with an ear growing out of its back, or a LibDem with a ministerial red box. The fact that it is “just … no” shouldn’t require any further explanation because it’s plain to see. So, Clarkson-like, I will dismiss the idea with a snort of derision and move on. Next thing you know, Jag will be making 4×4 “off-roaders”. They should stick to making decent saloons and successors to the most beautiful car ever made, the E-type roadster. They should equally try to avoid making another one of the silliest proportioned cars ever made, the E-type 2+2 (fixed head coupe). What a difference putting on the wrong type of roof can make to a car.

Which brings us back to estates. Without boring you with the ins and outs of our decision making process, we’ve narrowed it down to the Audi, VW or … another Volvo.

Yes, yes, a Conservative accountant driving a Volvo. Go on, laugh – I’ve been driving one for the last 13 years, and my father has had his for the last 35 years. From new. Not that Gothenburg’s former ball bearing company hasn’t had its share of clangers, of course. In the 1970’s they had the horrid Volvo 66 – a re-badged Daf from the time the Dutch firm was swallowed up, which visually owed much to the dear old Triumph Herald – after all, both cars shared the same designer in Michelotti. Earlier, there was the P1800, a decent looker made famous by Roger Moore in The Saint, and made infamous for while by the dodgy job that Jensen did in throwing the things together, before production was moved back to Sweden with the P1800S.

As for the Audi or VW – we can’t help but think that no matter how good the thing looks inside or out (well, maybe the “outside bit” won’t apply to the Passat), and how many toys it might have, we already have the essential car (floorpan, running gear, power unit) in our workhorse Skoda Octavia. For goodness sake, look at the engine – it’s got the VW Audi logos stamped on it!

OK, I’ll get me anorak – it’s the one that smells of petrol….

Great Government Website Crashes no. 42

This is getting silly. At this rate I could do a blog dedicated to government websites going down.

National Statistics website

And on the morning the latest (worsening) inflation figures are released. Spin doctoring ain’t what it used to be.

Update: And just like that, it’s back up again. I have the Midas touch!

The Respect Party at Prayer?

The Archbishop has stirred things up, not for the first time. This time it’s on Sharia law.

Dr Williams said an approach to law which simply said “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts – I think that’s a bit of a danger”.

I have often heard that the Church of England used to be referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer. I have never understood this, looking at the Church for as long as I have known it. Remarks like those of the Archbishop of Canterbury are the sort one could use to produce a spoof editorial for the Independent – though it seems that Williams’ remarks have been rejected by all main political parties. For goodness sake, even the LibDems have criticised him. Has the Church turned into the Respect party at prayer?

Dr Williams said the UK had to “face up to the fact” some citizens did not relate to the British legal system.

Nor do some criminals, but I don’t think that’s a defence that would stand up for long in court. Perhaps Dr Williams thinks that Ulster paramilitaries should be free to operate their own style of “baseball bat” justice among their communities? As for Muslims, the fact is that many countries with large Muslim populations do not incorporate Sharia into their national legal systems, so quite how it would achieve anything over here other than ghetto-ising further isolating Muslim communities is unclear.

It is a crying shame when leading clergy come up with this sort of stuff. Far from making the Church appear to be relevant and modern, it just alienates many supporters and potential followers. The Church has a role that cannot (and should not) be fulfilled by the state – that of an institution of moral leadership. (Not that I think that those of faith have the monopoly on the moral compasses, but we’ll leave that hot potato for now.) The more that the Church’s reputation is eroded then there will be a sizeable chunk of the nation that will be left in the cold.

Left-leaning shoe repairers

Those evil rich capitalists have been at it again, brothers!

Tax avoidance by corporations and individuals costs the exchequer £25bn a year, according to the TUC.

The trade union umbrella body said its research found that wealthy individuals had legally avoided £13bn while corporations had avoided £12bn.

Socialist cobblers.

The TUC has found one of the few members of the accountancy profession who thinks tax is good, Richard Murphy, (the one who thinks that accountants who help their clients save tax are acting unethically), to come up with the idea that something you never had somehow equates to a “cost”. No, seriously, this man is an accountant. I feel ashamed for my kind. Look, I don’t have a Bugatti Veyron (yet). That doesn’t mean that someone who does have one has cost me £800,000+.

What these evil tax avoiders are doing is legal. It doesn’t “cost” the Treasury. Me breaking into a cash machine would cost the bank £x,000. The Treasury getting its revenue estimates wrong is not “costing” the Exchequer anything, beyond perhaps the salaries of those who drew up the figures based on the strange assumption hat people actually like to pay more tax than they have to.

If the government is finding its spending not being covered by revenue, then we are back to the debate about higher taxes vs cutting out waste and reducing the size of government. No prizes for guessing which option yours truly would go for. The silver bullet of screwing a tiny minority of individuals and companies has never worked and won’t now. If it’s worth £25bn to them, you can bet they’ll up sticks and move abroad and keep their pips well out of squeaking range.