Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Voter registration...


I'm convinced that we need individual voter registration. So, it's a bit of a pain for my son and other students but that's the price of democracy. A democracy compromised by the explosion of deception, cheating and downright fraud, much of it around registration.

Yet the Labour Party - egged on by MPs for inner city constituencies - are adamant that such an idea is an offence to democracy. We must continue with the situation where one person fills in the registration form for everyone living at an address. Here's one such MP:

However, the evidence is that, without mums, many young people will not register to vote: when ‘individual registration’ was introduced in Northern Ireland, the register collapsed by 11 per cent, and the Electoral Commission says this ‘adversely affected’ disadvantaged groups like the young, the poor, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities.

What is so hard about this? Are Labour voters so unable or unwilling to complete a simple form (and it is simple)?

Or is it really a worry about something else?


Strikes - this comment just about sums it up for me...


From the comments to this piece in the T&A:

The recession forced my company to make redundancies. So I do have to do other peoples work. I have not had a pay rise in 4 years. We were also asked to take a 20% pay reduction every 3rd month to avoid more redundancies (this lasted for 14 months) So I am worse off. A lot of of the Public Sector got a pay rise - even though there was a pay freeze. Because you moved up the scale in your payment band. I know this, because my sister is a teacher.
I took it. Because that is how the world is at the moment. Sure I want 3% pay increase every year, and I don't want to have to work 9 and a half hour days and Saturday mornings when I am contracted to a 39 hour week.
But when my alarm goes off, I wake up in 2011, in England. Not in a Fairy Tale or some make believe land.

Absolutely - in fact read the whole comment thread. Not a lot of support there for the strikes.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

But drink is so cheap?


We hear it all the time - the stuff about alcohol being so cheap that the kiddies can buy gallons with their pocket money. So cheap that the nannying fussbuckets want a minimum price. So cheap that we have a "pandemic" of alcohol problems.

So explain this then?

Trading standards today warned the public that the manufacturers of illegal vodkas have “no consideration for human safety” following reports that a Bradford man nearly lost his sight after drinking the bogus booze. 

OK, so the bloke's an idiot - but someone has gone to the time and trouble (well, not that much time or that much trouble - making alcohol is very easy) to make, bottle and distribute that dodgy vodka.

If legal vodka's so cheap why do this?


Monday, 28 November 2011

One wonders why?


...people in Bradford are using a walk-in service rather than their own GP?

Dr Damian Riley, medical director at NHS Airedale, Bradford and Leeds, said: “This change was needed to make sure the walk-in service is used to its best advantage and continues to provide real value for money.

“More patients than expected, especially those who already have a GP elsewhere in the district, have been using the service, even though their own GP has been available.

Perhaps getting an appointment with their own GP is a living nightmare? Maybe people want a "turn up when you're ill" service from their GP?

So who is the service for then, if not Bradford people? Ah, yes...

The change allows appointments at the walk-in service to be prioritised for patients who are not registered with a GP, and in particular communities such as asylum seekers, homeless people, travellers and refugees. A service will also be offered for people who are temporary residents in the district and not registered at a Bradford and Airedale practice.

So it's back to the same old lousy GP service then folks!


We really don't like shopping do we? Thoughts on the future of town centres...

At the weekend there was consternation at the drop in high street footfall – it would appear that our retail civilization as we know it is collapsing.

Customer numbers fell 3.3pc last week compared with the same time a year ago, according to research undertaken by Experian Footfall and released to The Sunday Telegraph.

The numbers come after two months of almost uniformly poor data from the high street.

The high street is struggling – in some cases the struggle appears to be more or less terminal – yet we remain obsessed with retail as the principle purpose of the town centre. Here’s arch-guardianisto, Peter Preston:

At its root, shopping serves one crucial purpose: it defines communities. Your local shops are where you bump into friends, nip out to buy a toaster or pair of shoes, break up the routine of the day – a routine that is growing ever more tenuous as people spend their lives in front of a screen, stuck inside little office boxes or, increasingly, working from home. What happens when the shops die? Neighbourhoods lose reference points. Areas lose their identities. There's no throb of life to the place where you live. It becomes blank, anonymous, savourless.

This is arrant nonsense – I’m more likely to “bump into my friends” in the cafe or, you never know, in one of the few pubs that the management, the smoking ban and nannying fussbuckets haven’t yet closed. I could add a range of other social environments – the gym, the park, the school gates, the old people’s lunch club, the swimming pool, the bus stop.

Over the past ten years or so there has been a profound shift in our retail habits. The town centre with its expensive car parking, its dirty streets and its inconsistency has been replaced by the shopping mall, the retail park and the giant supermarket. Why is this if shopping is such a wonderful social experience?

The dark truth is that shopping is mostly something we need to do rather than something we want to do. Forget the ‘sex in the city’ imagery of retail therapy and think instead about feeding a family of five on a budget, of having to get the kids new shoes for school, of getting the broken door in the kitchen fixed and a whole host of essentially mundane tasks that make up most people’s retail experience.

We really don’t like shopping. We like having new stuff, we like good food, we like the children to be dressed in clothes with a minimum of holes and tears. But we don’t like the process of getting to that state. And we want to keep the cost down (most of us don’t have Peter Preston’s income) so our limited budget can stretch to some fun – going out for a meal, having a drink, a trip to the pictures and saving for the two week family holiday in Spain, Greece or Florida.

And now there’s a new threat (according to Peter Preston):

But now beware: there's a new kind of threat. That threat is stagnation out of town, and degradation in town. The vans I see day after day – busy delivering vegetables next door, groceries across the road, bringing books, clothes and fridges at the push of a button – are not lifelines but the harbingers of a colder, more lonesome world.

I saw a tweet the other day from someone – I forget who – saying they were surfing Amazon on their phone while in Westfield shopping centre. Which rather makes the point – right now, on-line retailing is cheaper, more convenient and (wait for it) time saving. So we’re buying on-line it and taking the time and money we save to do other things – having a good time doing something other than the tedious chore of shopping.

The idea that shopping is the acme of consumption has always been nonsense – it is the having and using of the stuff we buy that gives the pleasure not the process of obtaining that stuff. To put is simply, shopping is a precursor to consumption not consumption itself. If town centres are to recover then we need to ask more about what I call ‘leisure and pleasure’ and less about retail and commerce.

Think for a second about those places you return to again and again and ask why? Notice that there’s always ‘something on’ – it might be retail, a market of some sort maybe. It might be entertainment, perhaps music or dance? And it might be sport or art or food or drink - just a damn good party.

We are in a phase of denial about town centres – providing incentives to retailers to set up shop, slipping taxpayers’ cash into ‘regeneration’ schemes and saying that it’ll all be fine once the recession’s over and the sun shines again. It may work – I’m happy to be wrong about this – but my fear is that we’re simply filling the cracks in the dyke with tax money (or rather freshly minted notes from the central bank’s ‘quantitative easing’ programme) and in five years time we’ll still be wondering why the shops are closing and the high street is struggling.


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hey Lib Dems, you could try truth and liberalism for a change?


Nick Clegg - I'm guessing the party has a new marketing boss or something - has been told that he needs to "rebrand" the Liberal Democrat Party.

Last week, Liberal Democrat MPs were summoned to a meeting to be told that "external brand experts" had been hired to try to boost the party's standing with the next general election still more than three years away.

In a further internal move, Mr Clegg has recruited a party donor and millionaire accountant, Neil Sherlock, to run his Cabinet Office team with the title of director of government relations.

Aha, not a marketing director - worse, an accountant!

And the strategy appears to be that old Lib Dem stand-by - taking credit for things they didn't do (a sub-set of their usual dissembling and unpleasantness). Starting with the abolition of slavery:

MPs should also, they were told, claim more credit for "Liberal" achievements of the past such as the abolition of slavery - even though the leading abolitionist, William Wilberforce, was an independent MP. 

And let me just correct the Daily Telegraph there - Wilberforce was, of course, a Tory.

However, in the interests of a coalition partner, let me suggest how the Liberal democrats might resolve their problem. It seems to me, a humble observer, that the party might do better if it:

Stopped laying claims - whether locally, nationally or historically - to things it had no hand in (this applies equally to the filling in of potholes, the abolition of slavery and the introduction of universal suffrage)

Started being a liberal party - you know one that actually believes in liberalism rather than the statist, social democratic, nanny state party it is at present


Saturday, 26 November 2011

The right isn't stupid - it just disagrees with your stumbling and mumbling

Apparently “the right” – of which I am a proud member – are stupid:

What interests me here is: why should the standard of rightist argument be so low - almost wilfully ignorant of opposing evidence?

And the reasons – such as they are explained – relate to several specific factors:

  1. The relationship between “employment protection” and levels of employment
  2. How minimum wages – especially for the young – affect the economy
  3. Whether taxes and specifically higher rates of income tax impact negatively on enterprise

We’re told by this (I assume) left-inclined expert that there isn’t any evidence supporting what the right asserts.

So let’s have a look:

Here’s the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the subject of how employment protection legislation (EPL) impacts on the labour market:

EPL is significantly correlated with certain labour market flows across countries, such as labour turnover, inflow into unemployment, duration of unemployment and the share of long-term unemployed. The stricter the EPL is, the lower the labour turnover, the higher the inflow into unemployment, the longer the duration of unemployment and the higher the proportion of long-term unemployment in total joblessness are.

So the ILO says that stricter EPL contributes to higher levels of unemployment and especially long-term unemployment. There are a load of caveats to this but it seems that “the stupid right” do have a point when they suggest that looser employment rights might have a positive impact on employment.

In the case of minimum wages the research is (I’ll be kind) all over the place. Much of this is because of ideological and/or theoretical prejudices – both for and against minimum wages. However, nearly all the research shows a small effect on employment and a bigger effect on levels of long-term unemployment especially among young people.

We find that movements in both French and American real minimum wages are associated with relatively important employment effects in general, and very strong effects on workers employed at the minimum wage. In the French case, albeit imprecisely estimated, a 1% increase in the real minimum wage decreases the employment probability of a young man currently employed at the minimum wage by 2.5%. In the United States, a decrease in the real minimum of 1% increases the probability that a young man employed at the minimum wage came from nonemployment by 2.2%.

The “stupid right” are on pretty sound grounds questioning minimum wages and in suggesting that reducing the level of such wages for young people might stimulate employment. For sure, like changes to employment legislation, it won’t solve the problem but it might help!

And the high marginal tax rates – they don’t helpeconomic growth:

This article explores the impact of tax policy on economic growth in the states within the framework of an endogenous growth model. Regression analysis is used to estimate the impact of taxes on economic growth in the states from 1964 to 2004. The analysis reveals a significant negative impact of higher marginal tax rates on economic growth.

OK it’s just one piece of research – there will be others that suggest different outcomes. Indeed, some studies on entrepreneurship see cuts in personal taxes as a disincentive to self-employment – mostly because it’s a damn sight easier to avoid taxes if you’re self-employed!

But again the research suggests that the “stupid right” have a fair point - lower marginal rates of personal tax ceteris paribus have a positive effect on economic growth. Therefore, cutting the UK’s top rate is a good idea!

None of this suggests that there aren't different policy options, different taxes and alternative appraisals of the effect that such decisions have on the economy. What I am saying is that these suggestions – lower minimum wages, less strict labour laws and low marginal rates of personal taxation – are not “stupid”.

And saying they are is well...pretty dumb, really.


Friday, 25 November 2011

That's what comes of fixing prices - shortages


And it works for life-saving drugs too:

Health minister Simon Burns blamed dwindling stocks of potentially life-saving asthma, cancer and diabetes medication on companies selling to lucrative export markets.

Now I'm guessing that those exported drugs aren't being used to make pasta sauce or children's toys but are used for their life-saving purpose. So the number of people made better by the drugs hasn't changed, just that fewer of them are under the NHS.

That's what comes from fixing prices, Simon. For heaven's sake, you're Tory MP, you should know this stuff!


Do public sector employers "buy" union reps?


Not my usual source for interesting stuff but a very interesting observation from the loonier part of the left here:

My own experience of partnership working has been in the public sector. It was nothing more than a social club, monthly committee meetings, followed by a huge buffet and chit chat. The organisation decided that the senior union committee members did such a good job for the workers, that they would give them all a pay rise of between £10,000 - £15,000, over and above their substantive post and for the duration of their time in a full time union position.

All the facility time was given to reps that the staff side ‘leaders’ wanted, rather than who requested it. This meant that the union leaders would always win the annual election, as most of the reps had their facility time and other perks tied in to certain individuals winning elections.

All very cosy and, for the lefty agitator the result:

Certain individuals saw themselves as part of the board of directors, naively thinking they were part of making decisions, when in actual fact they were ridiculed and laughed at behind their backs. There was actually was ‘partnership’ working that took place. It was the board of directors and the unions working in partnership to try and soften the blow on every bad thing that was handed down to workers.

The union reps behaved like arrogant, pompous, slippery politicians. Never answering the questions of members directly, patronising workers, telling them that they ‘don’t understand’ etc. etc. They also colluded and collaborated with senior management when reps get out of line.

The solution? Stop funding trade unions representatives with tax money and start funding them from union subscriptions. Simple really.


Bradford's planning fiasco - another fine mess!


The Council made a mistake. This happens - sadly too often. And this one is a classic!

Let the City's great legal minds explain:

Further to your request for clarification regarding the council’s legal problems relating to housing sites, I have summarised the position as follows, which I hope that you find to be of use.

Under the old Revised Unitary Development Plan (RUDP), the council allocated development sites to meet future housing needs throughout the district. The council was then required to work with the Government Office for Yorkshire and the Humber, to transfer the allocated housing sites to become an integral element of the new Local Development Framework (LDF).

The council was required to identify which of the policies from the former RUDP it wished to “save” as part of the new LDF and which it would allow to expire.

Policies H1 related to allocated housing sites and H2 to unallocated housing sites, with H2 relating to about 90% of proposed housing development. Policy H4 protected sites for housing use. In 2008 when required to undertake the “saving” and thus transfer of policies, the council interpreted the requirements to mean that it should save policy H4 which protected the housing sites, but not H1 & H2, which the council deemed to be phasing policies and thus redundant. H1 & H2 were subsequently allowed to expire on 31 October 2008.

A resident, who happens to be a planning law solicitor, has now challenged the legal basis of the council saving of unimplemented housing sites, stating that it should have saved policies H1 and H2 and that by failing to do so, the council has allowed its housing allocations to expire.

Legal advice sought by the council concurs with the conclusion and the reasons set out in the letter from the local resident, ie that the lapsed allocations are no longer allocated as part of the council’s statutory development plan.

As they say...ooops!

So the Council is frantically trying to fix the problem (not having any allocated housing sites):

In order to rectify the situation, the council considered an urgent report into the matter at the meeting of its executive Committee on 21 November 2011 at which it resolved that; the “Executive reaffirms that it was council’s intention that the unimplemented Housing sites should be protected to meet the district’s housing needs”, “unimplemented housing sites previously allocated under policies H1 and H2 should be given significant weight when considering their use for residential development” and “any planning applications which related to an unimplemented Housing site and which have been considered but not had a decision notice issued be reconsidered by Regulatory and Appeals in the context of the new legal considerations”.

That should do? Maybe not!

At the meeting, the Chairman of the Menston Community Association stated that he had received legal advice questioning whether the Executive could add weight to expired policies.

Until such time as the matter is tested in court, or the time allowed for a Judicial Review expires, which interpretation is correct cannot be absolutely certain.

I think the phrase: "see you in court" applies here!


So do you want the houses built or not?


The National Housing Federation (Nat Fed) is in a funk about the government's housing strategy - no surprise there. But one of their worries is about the renegotiation of s106 agreements to reduce the proportion of "affordable" houses built as part of individual schemes:

The housing strategy, which Mr Cameron described as a ‘radical’ way to ‘get Britain building again’, estimates that there are 82,000 homes in stalled schemes across England which would benefit from renegotiation with developers.

Of these 82,000 homes, 16,000 would have been affordable, according to the National Housing Federation - the same number of homes the government hopes to see built through a separate £400 million ‘Get Britain building’ investment fund to kick-start frozen developments.

The NHF said the policy, which will undergo consultation, was likely to force councils to scrap affordable housing obligations to get stalled schemes moving.

The question - one that ministers have answered and the Nat fed hasn't - is do we want the stalled schemes unstalling or are we happy to wait until the market recovers enough for developers to recover the margin lost from having to build those "affordable" homes?

The ministers want the houses built. Does the Nat fed?


Thursday, 24 November 2011

...more misleading obesity claims and some outright nonsense from British Heart Foundation


Now I don't want to be boring but you can't make the assumption that the typical diet of a teenager will either remain typical throughout their subsequent life or lead to obesity. Yet that is precisely the scare story that the British Heart Foundation are peddling:

Obesity treatment in the UK could become more widespread in the future due to the unhealthy diet of this generation of children.

This is the main conclusion from new research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which conducted a survey on the eating habits of 2,000 secondary school pupils.

According to the results, the average youngster is consuming one fizzy drink, one chocolate bar, one packet of crisps and one bag of chewy sweets every day.

And of course more and more of these children are now "obese":

Data collected as part of the Health Survey for England shows that in 2008 the rate of child obesity in children aged two to ten was 13.9 per cent -the lowest reported figure since 2001 - compared with 15.5 per cent in 2006 and 2007 and 17.3 per cent in 2005.

Presumably, the kids are stocking up on the fatty stuff only once they pass 10?

Despite the government ignoring the anti-obesity lobby's urgent suggestions for traffic light labelling on food and suchlike, the latest figures show that obesity amongst men has fallen to 22% and the female obesity rate has fallen to 24%.

So we have slightly thinner children and slightly thinner parents - it's just the teenagers who are fat!

Yet the senior dietitian from BHF thinks all these children will die younger than their parents - perhaps the most misleading, disingenuous piece of scaremongering going:

"This generation of children may not live longer than their parents due to the implications of their lifestyle on levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease,"

People like this should be held to account for this sort of statement - they have no evidence at all to support the contention as average lifespans continue to rise year on year.

So there has to be a complete reverse in this trend - as well as a reverse in similar declines in childhood deaths, deaths in young adulthood and deaths in middle age. Or else this "dietitian" is simply trying to scare us (and the government) into handing over lots of cash so she and her fellow new Puritans can have a whole career nannying us about what we eat. 

I think that's about the sum of it really!


Nick Clegg is wrong about black students....


...but sadly he completely misrepresents the educational achievements of Britain's ethnic minorities:

What Mr Clegg is claiming:

Nick Clegg will today warn that hundreds more young black men are in jail than at top universities, in an explosive attack on race relations in Britain.

And what the proper facts say:

Based on detailed analysis of both the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey and the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s ‘HESA Student Record’, the report, ‘Race into Higher Education’, sets out how almost one in six (16.0%) of UK university students are from a Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. This is up from 8.3% in 1995-96, the year in which Business in the Community founded Race for Opportunity. This increase is virtually in line with the growth in the BAME population from 7.7% of 18 to 24 year olds in 1995-96 up to 14% in 2007-08.

Even if we assume that the Russell Group universities do less well - say 10% from BAME communities - that's still 16,000 black students. If they achieve at 16%, that's over 25,000 black students - more that the 22,000 black people in our prisons.  The UK's student population as a whole is well over 2 million - meaning that there are at least 400,000 black students. This is four times the size of the entire prison population.

So Nick's just using carefully crafted statistics to mislead us. Typical Liberal Democrat!


The international market for labour is a fact...


Often - especially when matters of pay and tax are discussed by left-wing political types - the competitive international market for highly skilled labour is dismissed as some sort of figment dreamt up by those with the fat salaries. Well think again folks:

The survey of HR leaders and senior business executives from 140 organisations worldwide found that 88% of respondents believed that global mobility needed to be more integrated into core HR processes - such as the talent agenda - and act as a strategic partner to the business.

Alignment between global mobility functions and talent programmes could become an even more important issue in the near future, with three-quarters (75%) of organisations anticipating that the number of internationally mobile employees in their workforce will increase over the next three to five years.

An international market for labour - and one that's growing.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

No, sir, councillors are not part of the voluntary sector


Mind you it rather explains a lot about the attitude of the civil service to local government. One mostly of ignorance:

Speaking at the local infrastructure body Navca’s annual conference in London yesterday (22 November), David Prout, director-general for localism at the Communities and Local Government department, said there should be greater recognition of the volunteering efforts undertaken by many of the country’s 20,000 councillors. Prout said they deserved to be regarded as part of the voluntary sector.

This is nonsense on stilts - councillors are elected representatives. You know, like MPs and MEPs. We are part of the formal structures of governance in England - there is no objective difference between a humble parish councillors and David Cameron in this respect.

For sure the great majority of councillors in England - all those parish and town councillors - do it for nothing but that does not change their formal position as decision-makers. Undertaking something voluntarily does not, however, make you part of the "voluntary sector". After all most of the work in that sector is actually done by paid workers not by volunteers.

And frankly councillors don't need patronising by self-important, overpaid civil servants.


Monday, 21 November 2011

It's not Unity if you achieve it through bullying....

Raise your banners high
Strength to strength and line by line
Unity must never die
Raise your banners high

Firstly – before I dive into the politics – a plug – folk legend Martin Carthy will be launching Bradford’s celebration of (mostly leftie) political song at the Topic Folk Club on Thursday. Sadly, I won’t be there as I’m already double-booked that evening. All the details of Raise Your Banners can be found here.

Next I shall speak of scabs, blacklegs and the evils of the political bully.

Regardless of the emotion, the history and the passion – the things that are celebrated in these songs. Despite the cry for unity and the desperation of the cause.... have a right to withdraw your labour, to strike. It is a right hard won by men and women in times past. It is a right cherished by everyone – a notion of liberty, if only group liberty.

But you have no right to bully, assault, ostracise, condemn or otherwise mistreat another person because they choose not to go on strike. 

That is their choice – their right - and if you use violence to prevent that choice, to remove that right, you are no better than those you condemn for removing or reducing workers’ rights.  You are no better that the fascist thugs you condemn.

There are no scabs, no blacklegs – just men or women who made a different choice from you. Men or women exercising their rights in a free land.


Saturday, 19 November 2011

Guinness really is good for you!

Not Guinness

The moderate consumption of beer provides a health benefit:

Researchers at Italy's Fondazione di Ricerca e Cura combined several different studies conducted in the last few years that allowed them to explore the possible link between beer drinking and cardiovascular disease, with a data set of over 200,000 people. They found that regular, moderate beer drinking carries almost exactly the same health benefit that has previously been demonstrated for wine consumption, as moderate beer drinkers enjoy a 31% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to non-drinkers. The best combination, they discovered, was drinking slightly more than an English pint's worth of beer containing 5% alcohol each day.

Now when will that be a headline on the BBC? And do note that the level of consumption required is pretty close to those “dangerous” levels warned about by the New Puritans!