Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Housing quality vs housing supply?


While part of me welcomes this sort of initiative, it does seem also that it will do precisely nothing to address the housing challenges especially in London:

‘All landlords should be licensed and required to raise the quality of their homes to the decent home standard required by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

‘If they are unable to do so, they should hand over long-term management of their property to a social letting agency in return for a fixed, lower rate of return. The social lettings agency could raise funds on the open market, allocate on the basis of need and have a more supportive, community-based relationship with their tenants.’

We need to decide whether we care more about housing quality or about housing supply. We can't address both at the same time.


Monday, 30 July 2012

How money differs from magic fairy gold

OK so we like money. And we rather understand money. We work at producing stuff and get money in return. We know that is really is as simple as that - the idea of money isn't complicated at all. It is a conduit for turning the added value that our labour or our investment generates into the things we want - houses, cars, food, drink, nice holidays in warmer parts of the Mediterranean, satellite TV and much else besides. It isn't the money we want (unless you're Scrooge McDuck) its the stuff.

But then these people - clever economist types with PhD's and tenured professorships at fine sounding American universities - pop up and tell us that it ain't so. They have discovered a different, previously unknown form of money - let's call it 'fairy gold'. And the people who play with the fairy gold work in banks, in government treasury departments and other grand finance houses.

The first idea behind this fairy gold is simple - the government cannot run out of money so long as it has a central bank and a printing press. Indeed, the government does not need to raise taxes, issue bonds or all the paraphernalia of the news around budget time. All it has to do is run the presses. Those taxes and those bonds are merely useful tools for regulating the economy - stopping inflation running riot, facilitating redistribution and encouraging growth.

The essential premise of this 'modern money theory', this belief in magic fairy gold, is that is accurately describes the system of finance that has existed since the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreements back in the 1970s. Money exists because governments wills it to exist and those governments can will as much (or as little) of the lovely fairy gold into existence as they wish. And - within certain arguments - this is true, the theory does describe the financial system under which we live. Something we should worry about given the complete disaster that it has proven to be over recent years.

However, the second idea behind this 'money as fairy gold' theory is much the more worrying one. Our clever economist types tell us that only governments can create money and that unless they create that money, we cannot capture the value of our labour or investment and buy that good stuff we want. We are but serfs labouring at the (largely metaphorical) coalface depending on the willingness of the government to create money. If that does not happen our labour will be in vain!

Unlike the description of the financial system (and the fact that a government controlling a sovereign currency cannot run out of money) this position is not an accurate description of reality but a deeply disturbing ideological position. It takes as it premise that all the money is the government's and, therefore, that all the value we add by our labour or investment belongs first to that government. Indeed, how much value we add has no bearing on how much fairy gold there is for us to scoop up.

So the government - regardless of value added - can produce as much fairy gold as it wishes and this accumulation can masquerade (indeed has been masquerading) as money. We are afforded the idea that the government, should it wish to build a new railway, increase welfare payments or build a 100ft statue of the central bank governor, has only to magic up enough fairy gold and issue the contract.

The reason why all this is mad, bad and dangerous - however much it may accurately describe the lunatic casino that is our financial system - is that it turns money away from its purpose. Remember back at the start of this piece - how money is a conduit for turning the added value that our labour or our investment generates into the things we want. That is what money is for - by inventing a 'theory' that describes the production of fairy gold, we do not get to an understanding of money. And pretending that you can put the fairy gold production system on steroids so as to solve the problems created by the fairy gold is to destroy entirely the idea of value. Why on earth should anyone work if the government can just summon a bit more fairy gold?

This modern money theory rather reminds me of the labour theory of value and the lump of labour fallacy - superficially appealling, internally consistent but ultimately an ideological fix that places ordinary folk as mere hamsters scampering round the state's wheels and nibbling at the goodies that state allows us to have. If I have learned one thing from 'modern money theory' it is that the system it describes - however accurately - is a kingdom of madness. And the fairy gold turns to fairy dust, useless. Blown away on the wind.


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Today's Nannying Fussbucket - Councillor Thelma Broom


The worst kind of councillor says this sort of thing:

“They just don’t see that it is for their own safety. We need to be very strong about what is right and wrong, not what they want."

 It's enough to make you weep, Really it is...

...and Councillor Mandy Meakin runs Thelma close:

“I know it is a very good policy to teach children horticulture – grow cress in a jar.”


The logic of protecting the deep fried mars bar is unchallengable...


...under the EU's protected food name scheme:

"...the high-calorie snack would become known as the Stonehaven Deep Fried Mars Bar, ensuring its unique heritage is never lost."

If there's logic to protecting the pasty for its unique Cornishness surely there's every justification for this? What is more Scottish than the deep fried Mars bar.

Mind you they'll be trying to protect the parmo in Middlesborough next. That would be a step too far!


Marketing, professionalism and some advice from an "anti-guru"

Markets - go watch some, you'll learn a lot & it's fun

A former advertising colleague of mine was once, for reasons of politeness, introduced as a “marketing professional”. Howard, my colleague, politely and gently put us right:

“I’m a businessman. I happen to be in the business of advising other businesses about marketing and advertising. Doctors and lawyers are professionals. Like the people I work with, I’m a businessman, doing business.”

This may seem a quirky response in these days when ever job role aspires to being ‘professional’. The concept of doing a job and doing it well or of being ‘in business’ appears to have faded. We have instead the triumph of ‘book learning’ and the dominance of the ‘profession’. And because we have taken the bait of “I’m a professional not some nasty rapacious businessman”, there has arisen a vast industry stroking our professional sensibilities.

From out of no-where springs the idea of ‘professional ethics’; as if no-one besides the professional knows how to behave properly. Maybe we’re still worried about being ‘trade’ and having to use the back door? And given the behaviour of all those banking ‘professionals’ perhaps being an honest tradesman (paid in cash, of course) is rather more appealing these days. I note, however, that the bankers we blame are mostly either foreigners or barrow boy traders. The professional bankers, quiet, calm and understated, slip by unnoticed in our blame game.

This brings me, in a round-a-bout kind of way, to my ‘profession’, that profession denied by Howard – marketing. In a free market (or the over-regulated sort of free market we actually have) marketing should be the thing shouldn’t it? After all it has the magic word – ‘market’ – stuck right in the middle of it telling that we’re the ones who get that mystic (and invisible) hand like nobody else. Except we haven’t got a clue and choose instead to clutter round the knees of erudite – often self-appointed gurus – listening to the latest re-hash of old truths.

I’d thought about unpicking one or two of these gurus. Maybe Seth Godin with his repackaging of age-old sales principles as “permission marketing”, and letting others misuse these principles to justify – yet again – the pyramid scheme or the mathematically deranged ‘multi-level marketing’ idea.

Or perhaps I could describe seven principles, five watchwords or 375 “things every marketer should know” – a process involving the collecting of, mostly trite, observations and bundling them into some form of schema. But the thought of this results in the guilt buzzer sounding as I know that none of this actually helps make your business more successful.

Back in my direct marketing agency days, we coined the term “magic wand” to describe what us account planners were to do in the bowels of a mill conversion in Bradford. Businesses would arrive – often businesses doing OK, making money, growing slowly, giving their owners a living – and ask us to reveal the deep occult truth about marketing. To wave the magic wand that would change them from a business turning over £750,000 and making a decent enough profit into the world beating mega-business on the front of the newspaper business section.

And we would have the sorry task of explaining that, despite all the books written, all the gurus, all the conference speech with splendid presentations – despite all this, there is no magic wand. Just as the bearded maharishi doesn’t really offer spiritual enlightenment in exchange for cash, the marketing guru won’t provide (in exchange for cash) the way for your little business to become a big business. Those gurus will tell you this - it’s how they sell their books – remember that Seth Godin didn’t become your friend or even ask your permission before flogging you his book explaining how that’s the way to sell stuff. Mind you we can pretend we’re his friend by following him on twitter and subscribing to his newsletters.

But enough of this – so Seth’s made a load of money from guru-ness, from our desire to find “The Answer”, to locate that magic wand, to reveal the occult truth. And sometimes – gurus are very convincing – we feel we’ve found that truth. Except that it doesn’t seem to make us richer or our marketing more effective. Maybe we’re not following the guru’s strictures correctly? Or, more likely, there simply isn’t a magic wand.

So, in the spirit of the ‘Anti-guru’ here are some things I’ve learned about marketing:

  1. Marketing isn’t about “free markets”. In truth, marketers hate free markets as they make our job harder and our results less good. Us marketers love monopolies.
  2. Strategy is mostly a word used by consultants so they can charge more money. Marketing is almost entirely about tactics. Strategy is the easy bit – what market are we in, what route to market. It’s getting what we actually ‘do’ right that makes the difference.
  3. Marketing is 1% clever brainy stuff and 99% boring routine – indeed this explains most people’s struggles with the stuff and the search for that ‘magic wand’. That dull repetitive routine – capturing and storing information, managing communications channels, monitoring and analysing results, checking timings and all the other tasks that your junior marketing executive is doing – is the meat and drink of effective marketing. Your high level strategy and visioning conference isn’t.

And that’s it really. I could add stuff about product development, about pricing or about the behaviour of that tricksy thing, the human being – all of these things matter to marketing. But in the end the whole point is to look for market advantage (ideally monopoly), decide what & where we’re selling and get on with the daily grind of actually doing that job.

I guess this is why I’m not a marketing guru!


Saturday, 28 July 2012

Cigars, Bubbles and the Sex Pistols - some thoughts on the Olympic Opening ceremony


There has been a predictable set of folk seeking to turn last nights Olympic opening into some sort of political debate. Much of this revolves round the slightly bizarre Mike Oldfield section featuring kids jumping on beds and spooky characters from children's literature. Apparently this is a terrible embarrassment for us Tories because we want to "destroy the NHS".

For some the whole episode - and the fact of some predictable socialists getting overly gleeful about the show - makes it unforgivably left-wing. Funnily enough they seem to be the same "we hate the Olympics because (insert grump of choice)" people we heard so much from before the event.

So maybe we don't all think the NHS is a perfect institution (or even remotely so) but that was but a small part of an event that celebrated the triumph of capitalism. For sure there was a nod or two to protest but the main thrust was the building of British power - the celebration of the market economy that made us rich, that allowed us to create and fund the welfare state.

For me the event was a surprise. I expected a more bucolic evocation of England's past rather than such an overt celebration of urban, industrial, capitalist Britain. I loved the IK Brunel moments - the bit from The Tempest setting the scene for industrial revolution, the top hats, the appreciation of Victorian might and the two-fingers at the nanny state with Brunel standing, cigar in his mouth, directing the show.

I guess the success of this comes from that evocation, that - professional grumps and amateur naysayers aside - we can take from what we saw our own sense of England, something to salve our understanding of the things that built Britain. Including the Sex Pistols.

Plus then - in the middle of a musical history - they play 'Bubbles' and in doing that remembered that this isn't merely London's games but the East End's games. Although not all East End folk are West Ham fans, I'm sure they'll have smiled at a little indulgent reference to East London's biggest sporting institution.

Was the show left-wing? I suspect rather more a reflection of received political wisdom - the Victorian made our nation what it is today, the NHS is a good thing, children are important and music - and media - are now at the heart of what Britain does well. And all this was brilliantly portrayed in a 90 minute show that felt like half that time.


Friday, 27 July 2012

I love the Olympics...


Corruption, favouritism, private roads, brand fascism, a naff logo, oppresive security and bureaucratic incompentance - for the past couple of weeks the news has been filled with the impending disaster that will be the London Olympics.

Ever curmudgeon, cynic and hater of sport has sprung to life selecting his or her special example of the Olympic scandal. It has been a pleasure to read hundreds of blogs and thousands of tweet bemoaning the waste of money, the indulgence and the arrogance of the Olympic organisation.

But for me, all this has to be set against the truth - thousands of athletes who have trained for years for the honour of coming to London, one of the world's greatest cities, to compete in the Olympic Games. Less the big names, the top sprinters, the tennis stars, the football players, and more the lesser sports, the ones that get no attention in a world dominated by football - tae kwan do, archery, shooting, sailing, mucking about in canoes and  swashbuckling with swords.

Every four years we turn away from the normal round of sports and look instead at a difference collection of inspiring athletes, men and women who will do there best - even the ones who know they've no real chance of a medal. We'll see tears, smiles, rage, excitement and sheer exhaustion. And - for all our cynicism - we'll love the spectacle and marvel at the talent displayed. This is what the Olympics are about.

I hate the controlling nature of the organisation, if I never have to see Seb Coe again it may improve my temper. But I don't care. I love the Olympics and relish that these games are in my country - England - and in the city where I was raised - London.

So let the games begin. And I for one intend to enjoy - to savour - every bit that I can of these London Olympics.


Thursday, 26 July 2012

No austerity for Oxfam!


It has been a bumper year for top international aid charity, Oxfam:

The charity's accounts for year end 31 March 2012, published today, show that the overall total combined income rose to £385.5m from £367.5 the previous year. 

Wonderful news - great to discover that, despite trying economic times, the British public continue to dig deep into their pockets to help the third world. Or rather have their pockets dug into by government:

While voluntary income decreased by almost 7 per cent from £138.4m to £129.7m, resources from the government, institutional donors and other public authorities rose by almost 16 per cent from £138.1m to £159.8m. 

You didn't know that over half of Oxfam's income comes from the government did you? Or that this amount has increased year after year? That nice lady in the shop didn't tell you. The chugger didn't tell you. The tear-jerking ads didn't tell you.

And they certainly didn't tell you that much of that increase in Oxfam's funding comes from the EU (the British government cut its funding of the charity) - doubtless in exchange for becoming yet another mindless cheerleader for Euro-babble. And I guess that Oxfam don't care now that the Common Agriculture Programme kills more folk in Africa than the EU saves through its 'generosity' with taxpayers money.


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Nannying Fussbucket of the Week: Cllr Audrey Lewis


The woman who pulled the plug on The Boss rather than give him ten more minutes speaks:

I can understand the disappointment of fans when the Springsteen and McCartney duo came to a rather un rock'n'roll-like end. However the licensing rules are ultimately not there to kill the party, but to go some way to discharge the legal responsibility we also have to consider.

We make up some rules and, by jingo, we're going to enforce those rules - to the second - regardless of how many folk's pleasure we spoil as a result. Those licensing rules really are, absolutely and specifically, design to 'kill the party' and that's just what they did. To no-one's benefit.


I guess most members of the Society of Authors never studied statistics...


A little storm on a bookshelf stirred up by the Society of Authors (an august body that I'd never heard of - can't see why authors need a society but, hey, that's there business) over the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme that gives authors a payment based on how many times their books are borrowed from public libraries.

Last week DCMS confirmed that most community libraries will not be included in the Public Lending Right scheme (PLR) which provides authors with a modest payment...


Taking volunteer libraries out of the scheme will lead to a drop in book loans which may encourage Government to propose cutting the already meagre fund still further.

Essentially, the Society of Authors having had the system explained to them (a sample of libraries is taken - mostly for convenience large central libraries - from which an estimate of borrowing numbers is calculated) have decided to make up a scare story to cover up their embarrassment. There are actually no changes to the scheme and authors will be paid precisely what they would have been paid prior to the arrival of these community (i.e. volunteer run) libraries.

More importantly, the argument that "taking volunteer libraries out of the scheme will lead to a drop in book loans" is patent nonsense. Unless of course the Society of Authors can find some evidence that borrowing rates have some relationship to the amount of PLR paid to authors - which that can't because there isn't any.

And somehow I doubt that authors will suddenly stop writing because that cheque for £270 (roughly the average author payment under the scheme) doesn't land on the mat. Or is a little less - perhaps £220.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Enough of the moralising - people avoid taxes because they are too high.


There is no point at which paying or not paying taxes is a matter of morals. There may be some ethical questions involved – complying with the law, for example – but tax is not a moral issue. Here is the legal bit from Lord Clyde in the 1929 case of Ayrshire v Inland Revenue:

"No man in the country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel in his stores. The Inland Revenue is not slow, and quite rightly, to take every advantage which is open to it under the Taxing Statutes for the purposes of depleting the taxpayer's pocket. And the taxpayer is in like manner entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue"

See folks even lawyers and judge think taxes are about rules not morals. So what frothing demon has possessed the Treasury Minister, David Gauke:

"When a tradesman says, 'Here's a 10%, a 20% discount on your bill if you pay me cash in hand' that is facilitating the hidden economy. That's as big a problem in terms of loss to the Exchequer as tax avoidance. Revenue is not being paid as it should be paid."

Is it? Can Mr Gauke be so sure that receiving cash means avoiding VAT or non-declaration of income? I suspect that he cannot and, more to the point, so what? The rules about taxes are pretty simple – if they are low, easily understood and hard to dodge people pay them. Under every other system people try to avoid them.

More to the point, the reason for the tradesman offering discount for cash isn’t known to me. The plumber or electrician doesn’t say “because that means I won’t put it through the books” or “otherwise you’ll have to pay VAT” – he just says; “I’d prefer cash, guv!”

And what about the sweet shop or the bakers where I always pay cash – “that’ll be £3.47 thanks”, I’m going to pay that by cheque!

Or better still there’s the informal time-banking approach – I do your website/books/leaflets and you fix my boiler. No cash changes hand but everybody receives the service. Perhaps Mr Gauke might like to think about taxing barter.

I am mighty fed up with this newly found penchant for wagging the moral finger – I fear that it is the sign of a government that has rather lost its way. One day we hear ministers threatening to name and same celebrities (however defined) for some presumed moral infraction rather than any actual tax dodging. And the next the idiot minister is telling us we are moral lepers for paying the ironing lady in cash.

All I can say is that I intend to go on paying in cash where the supplier wants cash and especially where I get a lower price. And if that means the government gets a little less income to waste on stupid nuclear missiles, dozens of “special advisors” and a host of grand projects designed merely to make some minister look good then so much the better.


Monday, 23 July 2012

The police, the unions, business and the public think it daft. Can we ditch the idea of plain packs for fags now?

It seems that everyone bar the paid lackeys of The Churchof Public Health is against the idea of plain packaging for cigarettes.

The police:

Health Secretary Andrew ­Lansley’s plans to force ­cigarettes to be sold in plain packets have been blasted by police.

Nearly nine out of 10 officers – 86 per cent – believe the move will lead to a rise in smuggling and sales of fake ­cigarettes, a poll claimed yesterday.

The findings also show that six out of 10 believe that the clampdown would drive teenagers towards illegal ­cigarette suppliers where they could buy counterfeit branded packs.

And senior officers make clear the problem – 24 of them wrote to the Times about it:

Sir, Plain packaging risks fuelling tobacco smuggling. We are concerned at the possibility of the Government introducing standardised packaging of tobacco products. We do not wish to get involved in the public health debate. However, our concern is very much on the impact that it could have on crime and in particular on serious organised criminals who are the target of the major law enforcement agencies.

Tobacco products are relatively small, high-value items and are smuggled in extremely large quantities, depriving the Treasury of billions of pounds in tax revenues. Those who smuggle tobacco products are often involved in other forms of serious criminality. The introduction of standardised packaging would make it even easier for criminals to copy and sell these products to the unsuspecting public, including children. This would place further pressure on already stretched law enforcement agencies and at a time when the Government needs to secure much needed tax revenues.

To my thinking that ought to be enough but we can add trade union opposition – they’re worried about jobs (like I am since 1000 of those jobs are in Bradford):

The FDT National Committee has serious concerns that these measures are ill-thought through and not evidence based, and in some parts of our sector, particularly tobacco and alcohol, could simply make it much easier for criminals to sell (unregulated and untaxed) counterfeit and smuggled goods and thus have flow-on affects such as a significant impact on jobs in our sector.

A considerable amount of the business of both Weidenhammer and Chesapeake involves the printing of cigarette cartons for the export trade. At Wiedenhammer’s Bradford site a large proportion of the work involves the production of drums for loose tobacco and, if this business disappeared, then it is estimated that turnover would decrease by at least a third. The threat to the business is, therefore, very real and...there would be major implications for investment, jobs and the tobacco packaging supply chain across the UK. 

So the police think it will increase crime and make it easier for children to get hold of tobacco; the unions and industry think it will result in job losses and the public? Well they think it’s a daft idea too:

72% of those questioned in Populus poll today say that #plainpacks will cause people to turn to the black market ow.ly/cqEgr

So there you have it folks – the police, the unions, business and the public all think plain packaging for cigarettes is a daft and counterproductive idea. Can we dump the idea now?


Millions invested in Britain...apparently this is a problem


Seriously. Foreign investors are spending millions buying stuff in Britain - millions that flow into the economy. And some chap from The Smith Institute thinks it is a problem:

New research by the Future of London and The Smith Institute warns that unprecedented growth in overseas investment in London’s property market creates the risk of another housing bubble and is pricing out local people.

It seems that these very rich foreigners are buying expensive property in central London (this is apparently news to our authors) - presumably the same cash their stashing away in tax havens. And this (one has to giggle) is risking:

 ...pushing prices up and reducing the availability of homes to buy for local people.

The words 'utter nonsense' spring to mind. Twenty five years ago when I left London prices had already stretched beyond affordability for many folk - they either headed for jobs elsewhere as I did, lived in a grotty flat with six locks on the door or commuted 150 miles a day from North Kent, Bedford, Reading or Peterborough.

And whether some oil sheikh, third word kleptocrat or American film star spends multi-millions on a house in Begravia, Chelsea or Hampstead is really of no consequence at all for London's housing market. It seems to me that these authors are looking for anything to blame rather than the real problem - lack of supply. Stopping (no idea how) rich foreigners buying up expensive houses because London's a great place for the rich and the property holds its value is a daft idea.

If there are too few houses (and this is true in London is a way it isn't true in Leeds or Bradford) then we should be asking why government - local and national - persists in making it harder and harder for people to build new houses especially in places where people actually want to live. It's certainly a much better idea than moaning about millions in foreign investment!


Sunday, 22 July 2012

In defence of tax havens (and why we should be one)


I have this mental image of rich folk in tax havens. It’s the mental image that the people who don’t approve of tax havens want you to have – slightly foreign-looking men hunched over piles of filthy lucre smirking as they count it or slightly overweight blokes in badly co-ordinated clothes lighting cigars with $100 notes. We might summon up a scene by the pool as portly plutocrats frolic with blonde bimbos laughing all the while at their ill-gotten gains.

It is clear that these tax haven denizens are the lowest of the low prepared to leave the ordinary people of their homeland in Dickensian squalor while they live in the lap of (rather poor taste) luxury. And – according to so self-appointed experts – this is $21 trillion’s worth of luxury’s lap. How dare they!

This selfish act – shifting the cash to a place where it’s not a risk of confiscation – is the 21st century’s most monstrous evil. It’s not their money – it is taxes.

These estimates reveal a staggering failure," says John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. "Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people.

"This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich."

Well actually “this data” shows nothing of the sort. What the data shows is threefold:

  1. The people in charge of undemocratic, autocratic regimes in the developing world have shifted their cash (whether or not it is ill-gotten) to places where it’s safe. This isn’t about tax avoidance – one of the features of developing countries is their inability to raise taxes (which, by the way, is why over a third of Uganda’s national budget is overseas aid). It’s about ensuring that most of the cash stays in the family and isn’t lifted by the next generation of kleptocrats. According to the Guardian’s jolly infogram just 20 developing countries account for $7.5 trillion of the stashed cash.
  2. The second problem is that no distinction is made between income and assets. Most places don’t tax assets so it’s perfectly possible for a lot of this cash to have already been taxed. Perhaps not at the confiscatory rates prefers by Guardian readers but taxed nonetheless. And the implication (a pretty daft one if you ask me) is that all this money is held as cash. And that it’s stored in a big vault in the manner of Scrooge McDuck. Forgive me for thinking that most of these bloated capitalist billionaires would prefer that their cash did some work for them while stashed away avoiding tax? Which means it’s generating more wealth and (as a by-product) creating jobs, supporting businesses and generally doing that good stuff that money well-used – note this you wasteful governments – does.
  3.  Finally, no-one spots the other part of the problem – tax rates on income are too high. This isn’t just the moral offence of taking half of what someone works to earn. It’s much more practical than that – if, as a result of our tax regimes or other confiscatory laws, rich people bundle up their cash and stick it somewhere else, then it’s our tax system that is the problem rather than the “ethics” of the rich people.
I like tax havens. They help – or should help – keep governments honest in matters of tax.  More importantly these places attract billions (trillions even) of lovely pounds, dollars, euros and yen. Wouldn’t you rather that all this money was being managed from your country instead of sitting in Switzerland, Jersey or the Seychelles making those places filthy rich?

The solution is really simple – institute privacy protection on personal assets and set the tax rates on income and capital gains at a lower level. Do this and watch the money pour into your coffers where it can be reinvested in new business, creating wealth and, by these acts, jobs and income for the poor in their Dickensian squalor.


Ending up at the Russian Tea Rooms...

The sun was shining. We'd almost forgotten about the bright shiny thing in the sky - weeks of seemingly unremitting rain, grey cloud and general global warming had washed away the best part of the summer.

So we struck out for the hills, heading in the general direction of the Lake District - we'd been there at Christmas and the drive was only a couple of hours which made a day trip feasible. Unless of course every other car owner in West Yorkshire decides exactly the same as us and the roadworks on the A65 aren't tucked away for the weekend.

On the Settle by-pass with the stationery traffic snaking out of sight before us, we opted to take to the tiny little roads on the North East edge of the Forest of Bowland - which means you get to see countryside rather than the back bumper of the car in front. Countryside like this:

Wonderful stuff - little roads where you have to get out of the car to open gates. Slight moments of panic at the apparent absence of passing spaces on the road badged as "one track with passing places". And moments of irritation (sorry Bradley) at road hogging Lycra-bedecked bunches of cyclists.

At the end of this winding - and taking the usually reliable guidance of the Good Pub Guide - we arrived cheery but thirsty at Tunstall in the Northernmost bit of today's Lancashire where we lunched at the Lunesdale Arms. This experience I can recommend - lovely light dining room, decent beer and excellent food. I had a pork and herb sausage roll (a really big one) with piccalilli - home made not mass produced from a jar, some chutney, red cabbage and salad. Kathryn enjoyed a light cheese souffle - equally tasty and served with another interesting, fresh and pleasantly dressed salad.

Fed and beered we pondered on whether to plod on to the Lake District and opted not to but rather to swing over the highest part of the forest, drop down to Slaidburn and from there cross country home. Good choice (cyclists aside) - plenty to explore and a pleasant drive in lovely sunshine. The last part of this drive - having failed to find somewhere to park for tea at Bolton-by-Bowland - was something of a tea shop search that brought us into Skipton for the last scrapings of the market.

If you've never been to Skipton market, you should remedy this soon. It is one of the very best. Not so much a foodie heaven - although there's plenty of great food - but a good old-fashioned, street market selling everything from fine cheese, olives and vegetables to hammers, washing-up powder and fancy shorts. Everything a market should be. And busy:

We bought some cheese (it is a scientific fact that it is impossible to walk past a cheese stall without buying cheese) and, still hankering for a cuppa, considered the little row of tea and coffee shops that the top on of the main street. And there it was - a new shop to us - The Russian Tea Room. With women in traditional Russian dress, samovars, Russian dolls, a glass Kalashnikov design for pouring vodka shots (complete with bullet-shaped shot glasses and a grenade filled with balsam liquer) - we had to go in and try it out!

Upstairs is the tea shop - complete with a six page tea menu and a choice of cake. Tea was ordered - Russian Caravan for me and First Flush Organic Darjeeling for Kathryn. Plus cake - a seed cake (essentially madeira cake with caraway seeds) and a Russian honey cake. The tea arrived in a nice see-through pot (see picture above) accompanied with a little timer to make sure we didn't over or under brew the tea. Lovely touch.

When you visit Skipton Market - and you will I know - give the Russians a call. They make you welcome and serve good teas and fine cake. Could you ask for more?