Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Is Eric Pickles Rewarding Failure Now?

Eric Pickles, British politician and Chairman ...

Eric Pickles: (make up your own caption)

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has come forward with another potentially popular and localist announcement, pre-conference:

Weekly bins are on the way back!

Minister pledges £250m fund to PAY councils to dump fortnightly rounds

Local authorities will have to guarantee weekly bin rounds for five years to qualify for funding
[…]
In a victory for householders and the Daily Mail, ministers unveiled a £250million fund to restore them.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said councils will now have ‘no excuse’ to maintain hugely unpopular fortnightly schemes. ‘My view has always been that people expect a weekly collection,’ he said.

He cannot force town halls to go back to weekly collections, but made it clear that voters should throw out councils which do not – a provocative suggestion, given that many of those that have gone fortnightly are Conservative controlled.

Mr Pickles told the Daily Mail: ‘I’ve had council leaders sitting at this very table who claim their public like a fortnightly collection and are very supportive. Well, good luck to them. Come the elections, there can be no excuses.’

Well, that’s nice. Nice if you’re the sort of council who simply cut the collections to fortnightly, with the spurious justification of ‘going green’, and faced a revolt from residents who would be equally rebellious (and understandably so) against any increase in council tax to restore what they thought they were already paying for.

In other words, this morning you will be delighted if you are a council that messed up (sorry) and are now being bailed out; rewarded for your failure.

Where I live, however, I’m not so sure they’ll be so pleased. We have fortnightly collections of general waste and non-paper recyclable stuff, and weekly pick-ups of kitchen waste and paper. Complaints have been very few – honestly: in some council areas the local rag’s letter pages would be bulging week after week with angry missives, ours have barely registered one. The reason is that the council has done it properly: still picking up the smelly, rat-friendly organic waste weekly, and thus immediately dealing with the main gripe of ‘fortnightly’ collections. In doing so, they have surely forsaken some of the savings that could have been made by the Foxtrot-Yankee approach adopted elsewhere.

So, screw up and you will now have been saved by our chum Eric. Well run councils, on the other hand, will likely get nothing extra for their efforts of listening to their residents, some of whom will now have their expectations raised unnecessarily.

As one of the latter councils you might also be somewhat miffed that Mr Pickles has ‘found’ £250m but is not just putting it into the local government formula grant for councils to spend according to their local priorities. ‘Localism’ I think it’s called.

(Pic. credit: The Health Hotel)

‘Fessing up: George Monbiot in Receipt of the Proceeds of Tax Dodging.

en: Picture of George Monbiot at the Make Pove...

George Monbiot: Putting his head above the parapet

George Monbiot, hero of the watermelon greens and other trendy lefty causes, has published his ‘registry of interests‘.

Credit to him, as he is seeking to avoid accusations of hypocrisy by doing what so many of those he criticises should do. After all the environmentalist movement, for example, are often quick to discount opinions opposed to their own, on the grounds that such critics are in the pay of ‘big oil’ or ‘big business’ or whoever else is the bogeyman-du-jour. (Conveniently ignoring how many in their own ranks, supporting green taxes and regulation, are often in the pay of ‘big government’.)

Hypocrisy is a dangerous and infectious condition, though. George’s main income, unsurprisingly, is from the Grauniad – £62,007 to be precise, in the year to 30th September 2011. Nothing so remarkable about that. Equally unsurprisingly, a quick trawl even through George’s own archive reveals some very recent attacks on tax avoidance, something that many of his Farringdon Road colleagues also pontificate on.

So what? Well, let’s not forget that the Grauniad itself is something of an authority on the practice of tax avoidance – a.k.a. among the Left as ‘tax dodging’ – having practised it itself.

Nevertheless, one assumes George is happy to take money from this tax-dodging organisation. As the likes of UKUncut and their fellow left-wing travellers would regard this as a moral crime, is George really happy that he is benefiting from the proceeds of such activity?

Are his followers happy that he is in the pay of ‘big tax-dodgers’?

Yet perhaps we are being harsh on George. I’m sure he has levelled his criticisms of tax avoidance at his own newspaper as well, hasn’t he? After all, a man of principle would not be afraid of biting the hand that feeds him, would he? As Geroge himself says:

… I believe that journalists should live by the standards they demand of others

So, if anyone can find links to any relevant article, I’d be happy to append them here, lest it be thought that I’m accusing him of hypocrisy.

Balls To the Bankers

As the currant bun, among many others, reports:

Balls has no regret over UK’s vast debt

[…]

Mr Balls told the Liverpool conference: “Don’t let anyone say it was public spending on public services here in Britain which caused the financial crisis.”

No, it wasn’t public spending that caused the financial crisis, but it is at the heart of the fiscal crisis. The financial crisis was caused by a credit bubble, formed by the bankers irresponsible lenders and borrowers, and which his government encouraged (or at least was happy to allow to continue, while interest rates were too low). Yet when that bubble inevitably burst it was the size of the existing annual deficit and the total public debt that left the country so poorly prepared. That, Ed, is what you should be apologising for.

But Mr Balls did admit to Labour “mistakes”.

They included the 75p pension rise, abolishing the 10p tax rate, weak controls on Eastern European migrants and failing to regulate the banks properly.

Ah, there we are: the banks.

Frankly, Labour blaming the bankers for the deficit is like a drunk driver blaming the tree that stepped out in front of him.

Let me do a picture for you, Ed:

If it wasn't for those pesky bankers ... in their time machines

Tessa Jowell (speaking on LBC radio on Sunday) might call it an underachievement of income (i.e. they didn’t tax us enough), but if I buy that Aston Martin that I cannot afford, it’s not because I’m undercharging my clients.

More pressingly, though, it’s not swivel-eyed right wingers like me you have to win over; it’s the people who put your leader where he is.

This Isn’t Just an M&S Parody …

This wasn’t just a gold sale,
This was gold drizzled away at the bottom of the market.

This wasn’t just a deficit,
This was a wholemeal structural deficit steadily rising over 9 years.

This wasn’t just overspending,
This is an artisan underachievement of income.

This wasn’t just printing money,
This was a jus of quantitative easing supporting a shell of faux growth.

This wasn’t a raid on pensions,
This was a delicate extraction of £5bn a year topped with a liberal portion of chutzpah.

This wasn’t just an end to boom and bust,
This was a conflate of bovine extract on a bed of debt and dodgy accounting.

This wasn’t just an economic balls-up,
This was a Labour economic balls-up.

Some Downtrodden Workers Are More Equal Than Others

Guido has picked up on an example of the Left’s confusion over job losses, when the jobs in question were doing things that are, let’s say, not exactly the sort that dominate the Grauniad sits vac pages.

Yes, Sally, that burly mugger heading towards you is called 'reality'

It’s a shame though that not even this amount of brain-ache was evident when thousands of pubs were closing – with the commensurate losses of jobs and businesses after the smoking ban – or the closure of thousands of post offices, or the strangling to death of so many small businesses by regulation….

It might be the Labour dream to have the entire working population to be on the payroll vote working for the public sector, but all those evil big businesses are still nothing more than a collection of people, all trying to make a living.

You Couldn’t Make It Up, No. 94: Winter Railways Edition

Sometimes little nuggets come your way that you just have to share.

In a general report from South Eastern trains regarding service issues in Kent and South east London (I have it on paper, but it may be online somewhere) mention is made of the disruption during the severe weather last winter. Iced-up third rail issues aside, it is also revealed that the special winter maintenance vehicles that are used for clearing the rails were out of action, being – wait for it – in for maintenance.

Yes, really.

After all, when else would you take them in for maintenance?

Confused Chris Huhne Guilty of Distraction Theft

Chris Huhne, still currently Energy Secretary, is indulging in some distraction theft:

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has said he is determined to “get tough” with the six biggest energy companies, in his speech to the Lib Dem conference.

Chris Huhne, British politician, at the Health...

Chris Huhne, not at the wheel

He said he wanted to help people save money by making it easier to spot cheaper deals and switch providers.
And he denied telling a newspaper that consumers were too lazy to shop around for lower prices.

Ah, yes, because Mr Huhne has never told a lie … just ask the former Mrs. Huhne.

“It is just that consumers still think that they face the same bill whoever they go to.”

We know the feeling, Chris. We seem to face the same watermelon environmental policies whoever we elect.

As well as promising to take action against the “big six” energy companies – British Gas, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern, Npower, E.On and EDF – Mr Huhne said he wanted to encourage new, small firms to enter the energy market.

And he criticised those firms which kept prices high for millions of existing customers while offering cut-price deals online to attract new business and deter potential competitors from setting up.
“That looks to me like predatory pricing. It must and will stop,” he said.

No, it’s called attracting new business, which by definition must mean that those new customers are switching from other suppliers, which is what Huhne is supposed to be wanting, isn’t it?

So, either it’s terrible because all the companies are charging much the same, dissuading people from switching, or they’re adopting policies to encourage people to switch which apparently is, errm, terrible.

Of course, Mr Huhne and his friends in the Lib Dem-led Coalition are already doing their bit to keep energy prices high which, by his own admission it seems, stop smaller suppliers from entering the market and makes ‘predatory pricing’ all the more possible. The pointless ‘climate change’ levies and taxes could well fall into the category of a predatory charge, regressive in its nature as are most fuel taxes, and very difficult to avoid, since switching governments is evidently very difficult these days.

Of course, as many have pointed out (though, naturally, you won’t find it in any of the talking heads carefully selected by the BBC above) it is rather convenient for Huhne to be attacking the energy companies while governments of all colours have been guilty of their own brand of profiteering. It is a form of distraction theft: “see that bloke, he was trying to rob you … oh, you’ve had your pocket picked? No, not me, it was him, I told you….”

And yes, some of us are as livid about that as Mr Huhne is about the behaviour of the energy companies, or others might be about, oh I don’t know, speeding drivers?

(Pic. credit: www.acumenimages.com)

‘Do Nothing’ Should be Osborne’s Plans B to Z

You’re the captain of the super-tanker ‘Tired Metaphor’. You’ve only been there a few hours, taking command with your plan to jettison a modest amount of the unnecessary and badly distributed weight, to allow the vessel to right itself and thus be steered away from the iceberg that those Mediterranean leaky buckets over there have been heading straight for.

But despite having nudged the wheel only minutes ago, you can hear the old captain down in his cabin. He’s been working his way through his drinks cabinet, and is now so blotto that he can’t even see the icebergs anymore and thus thinks there never was any problem, and is saying that you’re doing it wrong anyway because the tanker isn’t turning on a sixpence.

Labour's car scrappage scheme - were you stimulated?

Yes, the Left are whining that the economy isn’t booming yet, and if only George Osborne were to commence another spending splurge – a.k.a. ‘fiscal stimulus*’ everything would be OK. The economy is grinding to a halt and yet Osborne’s doing nothing. After all, the stimulus that Alistair Darling embarked upon was such a success, wasn’t it?

Err, no. Apart from the sickening sight of thousands of perfectly good cars being destroyed as part of the scrappage scheme (a bung for the motor industry dressed up in green clothing to get round EU state aid rules), the extra spending added even more to the public debt total, increased the deficit and yet as soon as the stimulus ended (as it inevitably had to, because there was no money left, remember?) everything drifted back to a near-halt.

This is the fundamental problem with ‘fiscal stimulus’. The ‘multiplier effect’ is a mirage because for every pound spent by the state, a multiple of that pound must first be generated by the private sector. It must be raised through tax, either now or in the future; the latter not only presenting a net drain on the economy, but also adding to upward pressure on interest rates. On top of that, the state pouring money (back) into the economy will be inflationary.

So, the Left seem to think that pushing up taxes, interest rates and inflation is the way to get the economy moving do they? Fiscal ‘stimulus’ may provide some short-term relief, but it doesn’t significantly shorten the time it will take for the economy to recover. The culmination of a twelve month recovery will be two years’ away if we embark on a year of ‘stimulus’.

The problems we have seen in recent years are down to one thing: debt. First, it was business and personal debt – specifically the ‘toxic debt’ – that gave rise to the ‘first’ financial crisis. (And no, its not just ‘the bankers’ to blame: for every irresponsible lender there must, by definition, be an irresponsible borrower.)

The shock of that episode then sent its waves towards the other great indebted institutions: governments.

It is the addiction to debt (and for governments its parents, interventionism and excessive public spending) that is the problem here. Not surprisingly, as with an addict in the early stages of their withdrawal, many people are screaming for more of their drug. Just as with drugs, the comfort that comes with another shot is short term. Just as with an addict, every shot puts off their recovery. “Just one more dose, please”, cry the Left (and, unsurprisingly, some sectors of business), “then we promise we’ll be able to give up”.

George Osborne should stay strong (some would say be stronger and bolder). Do not give in to the debt addicts, you’ll only put off their – and the nation’s – recovery.

Not for the first time, I find myself quoting Reagan: “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

* A caveat for the future: my definition of fiscal stimulus for these purposes is purely one involving increasing public spending: tax cuts are no such thing; they involve leaving money in the economy and thus present a real lasting positive effect.

A £78,000 Sticking Plaster to Hide the Left’s Education Screw-ups

If you want an idea of where your tax is really going (beyond the firemen, schools’n’hospitals, etc. which the unions would have us believe make up the entire public sector) have a peek at the public appointments adverts. If you can’t face handling (or contaminating your browser cache with) the Grauniad, then go to the Cabinet Office website.

There you will find such gems as this:

Vacancy Details
Director of Fair Access to Higher Education
Remuneration     Circa £130,000 pro rata for 3 days a week

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Universities Minister are seeking an outstanding individual to succeed Sir Martin Harris as Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.

The Government’s White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, announced a strengthening of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and the role of the independent Director. The role of the Director is to promote and increase fair access to higher education for lower income and other under-represented groups, a key part of the Government’s social mobility agenda. We are seeking candidates from a wide range of backgrounds to appoint an outstanding individual who can drive rapid progress in meeting these goals.

Candidates will be able to demonstrate from previous experience that they can develop very high level cooperative working relationships with a diverse set of stakeholders.

Ahem, WAKE UP! There’s more …

The essence of the role surrounds negotiating and securing agreement to challenging plans to make progress to significantly increase access to higher education, and taking steps to enforce agreements that are not being fulfilled.

Thank god you’re here, social-engineering-enforcement-man(/woman)!

Now you may vaguely recall the Office for Fair Access. It was the latest result of the tendency for the Left to do the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result.

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We Have the Technology; It’s Time to Kill the BBC Licence Fee

BBC Television Centre

BBC: So good you have to pay for it ... or else

Next year the TV licence fee will become technologically obsolete. The switchover to digital TV will be completed and the final technological barrier to moving the BBC onto a discretionary subscription funding model will be removed. (Whether or not that model should also include advertising is a related but separate debate.)

So why should the licence fee, which has existed for 89 years, be scrapped? Supporters of the ‘BBC tax’ will cite a number of reasons including the low cost, guarantee of independence, freedom to innovate, the enabling of the corporation to produce programming for minority tastes and the provision of public service broadcasting.

So let’s take each of these in turn.

That the BBC is cheaper than, say, a Sky subscription is undoubtedly true. After all, when you are able to charge all customers – including those of your competitors – for your product then the cost of your service can be spread more widely. Whether it provides value for money is a different matter, and is ultimately a subjective one. The acid test of this proposition must be to allow viewers to choose to receive the BBC and pay for it. Here the supporters of the licence fee are faced with a fundamental question that I have not yet heard an answer to; viz. if the BBC is that good, and offers such value for money, there should be nothing to fear from asking people to pay for it. Or, to put it another way:

If the BBC is so good, why do they need to force people to pay for it?

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