Monthly Archives: January 2011

Strong words from Merkel

It was good to see Angela Merkel today calling on her European counterparts to take serious efforts to cut their national deficits with a stark warning that the biggest threat to the economies of Europe, and specifically those of the crisis-hit eurozone is debt.

In a politically charged statement, Merkel pulled no punches, telling all attending the Davos World Economic Forum that: “Indebtedness is the biggest danger for prosperity on this continent” strong stuff indeed. But nothing compared to the sledge hammer language which she chose to use to cut through the never-ending bullshit with an emphatic statement that there was: “no crisis of the euro as such. This is essentially a debt crisis [which we must now]  overcome” and that “If the euro fails, then Europe fails“. Her comment echoed French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who earlier passionately defended Paris and Berlin saying that they would “never abandon the euro“.

Possibly the strongest words from a European leader yet on the on-going spiral fuelled by an on-going crisis of private banks and markets speculating with public currency on the basis of advice given by almost totally unregulated credit agencies.

Talking about the German economy she said that “sound fiscal policy and growth do not need to be a contradiction in terms“, and it’s a good point; let’s face it Germany’s economy is booming, it’s Europe’s number 1 exporter, even though it’s actively beginning to rebalance it’s trade deficit. It’s got Europe’s most qualified workforce, and unemployment is lower in Germany than Britain even with an additional 15 odd million people more than us.

It’s really is reassuring to see this economic strength emboldening the Germans to push for the reforms of the eurozone that they’ve wanted for some time: Germany will undoubtedly push through reforms which can only be a good thing for the EuroZone – and quite possibly for the UK too – if the coalition is bright enough to engage directly with Berlin now to advocate strong change in Europe to protect the future of the EU.

Rip off Britain.

We live in a country which is notorious for overcharging the tax-payer and under-delivering on quality and quantity: and amidst the cuts it would seem to make sense for the government to examine why Britain consistently pays over the odds for all it’s public infrastrucutre projects.

A good example is the ‘new’ Forth Road Bridge: the current bridge – despite being less than 50 years old it’s now at the end of it’s life – bear in mind the Golden Gate Bridge is now entering it’s 80th decade straddling a fault line, and closer to home the Forth Railway bridge is now 120 years old and still faithfully performing the task for which it was originally built.

Looking at the plans for the replacement bridge a 2.2km long concrete and steel affair with the aesthetic complexity of a cardboard box you do wonder why the original bridge was engineered to be such a short-life structure, especially when you note the estimated cost of it’s replacement which from the government figures presently stands at £4.2 billion.

How on gods great earth can a 2.2km bridge cost £4.2 billion? It’s a farce.

Let’s just look across the North Sea to our European neighbour Denmark, where the completed Fehmarn Belt Bridge which is nearly ten times longer at 19km serving both and rail traffic came in at a cool €4.7 billion (that’s £3.9 billion just in case you can’t be arsed to google it).

Just exactly how can our government continue to accept figures which are clearly more value both for local regions and the greater public purse? The idea of allowing contractors to abuse the public purse either through under-bidding and then over-running on costs or building in margins of up to 80% is ludicrous.

They’re pissing our money up the wall – and we’re allowing them to continue: despite many many ministers and opposition MPs having involvements with construction and infrasturcture companies, despite being the 6th largest economy in the world with all the buying power that brings, despite having lower wages that for instance, Denmark, despite times of austerity where they’re taxing us more and delivering less, despite being told their ‘is no more money’.

This madness must stop. Now.

We are falling behind in Europe because our infrastructure is poor: if we want to change that in an increasingly competitive world we must now demand that our politicians stop treating our money like a teenager treats a parent’s Gold Card.

Told you so…

So there we have it – an answer to my previous post, what was wrong with the press office is that it’s head honcho was resigning… It’s been covered endlessly elsewhere, and to be honest the whole phone-tap marlarky isn’t a topic that I’m all that interested in, so I’m not going to give it any more air here other than to say that the ex-hack in me can’t help but chuckle when the likes of John Prescott, himself of a profession steeped in corruption, lies and thievery, can even begin to keep a straight face saying he thought that hacks might have had ‘higher standards’.

Higher standards? He’s lucky most hacks have any standards at all these days!

Conservative Press Machine in Crisis?

It’s not been a good week for the Conservatives in the press: they’re being slammed over interest rates, job cuts, still-rioting students, and now Baroness Warsi has put her foot in it with a speech which for the most part I think we can agree with, that there is a level of casual discrimination in the UK where all of those who follow Islam as a faith are either moderate and quiet, or extremists with suicide vests.

It could have been dealt with as a quiet matter, a general rebuttal that the PM/ Cabinet/Government agree broadly that all forms of discrimination should be tackled openly – but no. Furious ex-ministers led by the swivel-eyed-past piled into studios up and down the country, a messy operations note came out from No.10 that the speech hadn’t been ‘approved’ – possibly the worst thing that they could have said about it.

So we all looked at this, and we scratched our heads and wondered – just what the hell is going on in the Downing St. press office these days? How did they drop such a clanger in a week of on-going bad news…

This week should have been easy: Miliband is the most ineffective party leader since Iain Duncan Smith, the opposition are in disarray flip flopping, the Shadow Chancellor can’t add up, and today we find out that he’s allegedly (according to the Daily Mail) a cuckold. On top of all of that the golden goose of bad labour press is back: Blair is all over the news dragging the expensive and potentially illegal war back into the public consciousness all over again.

One can only assume that there is something bubbling under the surface about to break miserably all over the Government.

A little story about waste.

It’s the war cry of the left – our public services are underfunded, undermanned and overstretched. Do try not to giggle on the right… it’s a perpetual and entirely circular argument: the more money they get the more people they get, the more people they get, the less hours they work, the less hours they work the less productive they become, the less productive they become the more they moan, the more the moan the more non-jobs are created to keep them happy and overpaid, which eventually someone has to pay for.

And that someone, is you.

So let me tell you a story about a farce I watched unfold today on the streets of the borough which lends its name to the palace that the people that spend your money fill out their expense forms in.

I was perched by a window today, working hard to pay my bills, wages, taxes and so on, looking out over Wardour Street in Soho in the grandly titled City of Westminster, just below my perch is a public bin, next to said bin at some point earlier in the day someone had deposited three white bin bags and some cardboard, neatly propped up against the bin, not spilling out into the road or obscuring the pavement… overall not particularly pleasant to dump your rubbish on the pavement, but in Soho there’s very few other places you can put it and they’d made the best job of wrapping it up and putting it out.

But this breaks several rules – the first being that it’s not using the Westminster business bin bags, these ludicrously thin bags are available in rolls which cost £50 a go, that works out to about £1 per bag – that’s if you can get the bag out of your premises without it splitting requiring yet another. Second even once you’ve paid for your bags you have to put the rubbish out in certain windows, these last for only 90 minutes and on average most streets get two collections a day to cope with the detritus that this tourist hub creates, and failure to observe said rubbish curfew results in fines of several hundred to several thousand pounds.

To police this policy, the council employ enforcement officers, lord knows how many, but there seem to be one for just about everything, noise, sex shops, rubbish, traffic, parking, street works, you name it, there’s a council employee – clip board in hand – waiting to enforce it.

So it came as no surprise that later in the afternoon a portly looking lady came along, said clipboard grasped firmly, kicked the rubbish a bit, took some photos, made some calls then off she went. I thought, well some poor sods going to get a fine and that rubbish will be gone at the next collection… but oh no, the next collection came and went, leaving said rubbish leaking out onto the street now it had been given a bit of a kick. Then along came the same woman to take more photos of it – presumably to ‘prove’ how long it had been sat on the street for making our environment unpleasant. Surely now someone will remove it? Another collection van scoots by, empties the public bin but leaves the rubbish in the now sodden from a downpour street – then along comes a new man, who looks at the rubbish, cocks his head from side to side , scribbles something and wanders off. Then another: this time bolder, accompanied by the woman, this chap is clearly on the look out for evidence, so in he plunges – no gloves, no awareness of sharps, no health and safety – straight into the bin, rummaging he drags out a discarded office catalogue notes the address it’s been sent to and throws it back on the now totally sodden, disheveled leaking rubbish pile – surely now the bin men will remove it? Someone will pop around any minute with a cage van to get rid of it.



In fact it was still there when I left at quarter to seven having been there for the all of the afternoon. I counted no less than 4 people  from the council in one form or another who could have arranged for it to be binned: I saw 5 bin lorries pass by collecting rubbish who all ignored it. And there it sits, probably still – leaking into the street, spilling across the pavement, a health and trip hazard for all.

It’s exactly this sort of waste that has to stop: we don’t need hundreds of enforcement officers, with the money you save sacking them you could afford to just pick up the rubbish to make our streets clean.

For gods sake can someone in our Government both national and local have the balls to take a stand and say that ‘we’ the government are going to spend more of your money on the services you need and less on trying to fine you for every infringement of every rule we care to make up to justify employing hundreds of entirely sundry staff.

Prisk, fisked.

Mark Prisk MP today wrote an article on ConHome about how the government is intending to ‘help’ small businesses, this it turns out comes after focus grouping on linkedin, and no doubt in other places… but in the words of Ronald Reagan: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” and it would seem that Mr Prisk’s words haven’t gone down well.

The comments are viscous, and rightly so – the ideas put forward entirely miss the reasons why British businesses despise interference and non-action by Government; time and time again they’re missing the point that what small businesses want is the freedom to expand and grow without being taxed to death in the dangerous first few years of a business.

You can read the whole post here: Mark Prisk MP: How the Coalition Government will help small businesses to thrive and grow – if you are a business owner, please do comment, I think Mr Prisk needs to feel the full force of the feeling that I know almost every small business owner feels on this subject.

We don’t want ‘mentors’ and grants to get the unemployed to start businesses, we want intelligent management of the economy that allows entrepreneurialism to flourish. In a repost of my comments from the article I responded to yet another new plan for ‘help’ by pointing out that it’s a ludicrous situation that small businesses are being taxed to death in their first 5 years to support “saved” banks which then refuse to lend back to small businesses because it’s ‘too risky’ – until that is sorted, the situation for SMEs is not going to get much better. But with wider scope, the whole SME area needs to be looked into: as it is the engine of growth for UK trade and employment and it’s really being strangled I’m afraid.

Let’s look at a few key areas:

  • Business rates are through the roof and councils are pushing harder to make businesses pay for individual services (recycling, rubbish and so on) on top of the rates (set by Government) . Rates in central london can add a third extra to the rent for a small office before you’ve even started thinking about paying for anything else
  • Employer tax contributions are hurting small businesses – taxing small businesses to employ people: that is what the government is doing, and it hurts SMEs when they’re considering taking on new staff. A tax on jobs is a stupid idea and it should be removed forthwith.
  • Tax red tape – HMRC are slow in the extreme, tax questions take months to resolve, bills arrive late (damaging cash flow management) and the new system for PAYE is a mess… Small businesses are wasting hours every month dealing with a confusing and confused system and millions on professional advice that a simpler system would cut through immediately.
  • LTDs of whatever size are being clobbered for corporation tax right from the start – taxes for businesses should be proportionate to size and turnover. Not levied generally across the whole business world.
  • Our banking culture now doesn’t support entrepreneurism – the government can do what it likes but if it doesn’t provide a kick to the banks to stop penalising those who take risks leaving mainstream employment to set up businesses then we’re always going to lag behind: many SME owners I know have the same story to tell – that of previous ventures, (some many many years long gone) being dragged up by banks using privileged information in applications for credit linking ‘LTDs’ to private accounts and ignoring the whole point of limited liability just because they can link your accounts privately within their own systems.
  • Rather than throwing money at the unemployed to start businesses, there should be a pot available to all to support new business
  • There is no useful crisis service for small businesses, unlike big business most SMEs that get into trouble shut the doors or have the doors shut for them by bailiffs using Mediaeval laws of distraint on goods that ignore due process and result in the complete seizure of the flow of cash into the business.

Basically. Help us, Don’t kill us with taxes, and Let us get on our feet before you start trying to rip your pound of flesh from us.

I do hope Mr Prisk returns to his article, reads the comments, considers talking to the contributors and thinks again about ways his government can help the small businesses that keep our economy fluid, bring invention to Britain and keep us as world leaders in many niche fields.

Facebook & FourSquare.

I’ve been using foursquare for ages: most of you unless we’re friends on foursquare or facebook won’t have noticed as I don’t publish it here or via Twitter – not because I’m fussy about sharing my data – just that I don’t really mind cluttering my facebook wall with checkins, but I think that they’d probably irritate my twitter followers.

I’ve noticed an odd thing though about the connection between FourSquare and Facebook: you see I’ve given FourSquare permission to post updates to my facebook wall. That’s it, at least – as far as I was aware – just to post, but today logging onto facebook I was confronted by a Facebook Places sidebar on my homepage filled with checkins showing two entirely unconnected places, showing all my friends who had checked in there using Facebook places and showing messages and events relating to those places…

These are places that could only reasonably be connected together, and to me by the fact that I’d checked into these totally disparate places within the last week on FourSquare. So does this now mean that Facebook is now specifically capturing incoming FourSquare requests to post on your wall;  parsing them and storing the location data separately?

In a way it’s cool if it is, but my problem is I can’t actually remember giving Facebook the right to do this? I don’t doubt that buried in page 45 of the terms is a clause saying I’ve sold my soul and first born to them, and to be honest it’s not the end of the world if they are parsing my data – I just think there needs to be a little more transparency from Facebook about how data you submit to your wall via third party apps is used, stored, distributed and re-applied by Facebook. I can certainly imagine that if they continue it’s only a matter of time before there’s a clash between what someone thought they were privately posting to their wall (which may only be visible to a select group of contacts) and what Facebook may (or may not) be parsing/scraping then displaying using Facebook Places to all and sundry.

Cathy Ashton’s record.

When she was catapulted into her new position almost all of us scratched our heads at how Cathy Ashton – or should I say Baroness Ashton of Upholland could possibly be qualified to be not only Britain’s European Commissioner but also High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union. I, and it seems most of the rest of the country, seem to have missed her illustrious career in foreign affairs and diplomacy: but it’s probably unfair to say that it was a last ditch attempt by the dying Labour government to ensure some continuance of presence… but then again perhaps not.

Of course, on appointment there was much hullabaloo about how Cathy Ashton was a dedicated public servant who’d serve our requirements in Europe with the ‘upmost dedication’ – a phrase that along with ‘the prime minister has every confidence’ is about as subtle as a bell crashing out of the belfry. So it will come as a surprise to some, and no surprise to others, that the Daily Mail is reporting that our dear commissioner has missed four out of ten “key” meetings in Brussels, essentially leaving us ‘without a voice at the top table’. Digging a little deeper into the statistics and it would appear that the two roles Ms.Ashton currently holds aren’t compatible with further revelations that half the meetings she has attended have been abandoned by her before they ended – and presumably before any conclusions had been reached, and it seems that our European neighbours are getting a little bored of her swanning out of meetings as commissioner to go and act as an ineffective voice on the international stage.

It is about time that Cameron, who claimed he was committed to strengthening our position in Europe look to replace her as commissioner without delay allowing her to concentrate all her efforts on her international role as presently she’s failing to do either role well, and convienently has an excuse for poor performance whichever way she turns.

As a broader point the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union should be thought through more thoroughly – it is, potentially, a really powerful position. An opportunity for the European Union to assert a real international voice for the whole continental union on issues which often affect us not just nationally but as one continent of people. This is especially true when flexing our muscles against China, Russia and America where traditionally individual states might be tempted to scupper European needs for short term national need. Indeed played properly, with full support of the EP and EC the High Representative could be a powerful player in the role of the European Union as a global superpower: by many of the guides to being a super-power the EU already ticks the boxes, it would certainly work in the favour of Britain, Germany and France, so why reign it in?

The door to do this is open now, it won’t stay open – given time China and Russia are going to be real powers, not just in military might, but economically in direct trade, energy and natural resources, and like it or not european nations are going to have to deal with these nations: which individually would definitely be on their terms and not on those of the individual nation states, but supranationally, the EU could really flex it’s muscles and act as a powerful balancing lever in the next 100 years.

A goal for 2011.

I’m not a fan of resolutions, they often seem like a reason to just harp on about things you wish you’d do, rather than real goals set with a thought. But it is new year, and this does seem like as good a time as any to do this.

I’m going to live without supermarkets – or at least, I’m going to try. I’m not going to boycott anything, nor am I going to go out of my way to make my life more difficult than it need to be – but i am going to be making an effort to use the shops that are on my doorstep. I’m hoping this will make me think about what I’m eating, cook more often from scratch and to get to know more people in the community I live in rather than the faceless self-check out machines that are increasingly de jour in my local big brand supermarkets.

I do however live in the real world, I’m not expecting this to be a 100% successful experiment initially, but I am going to be making a real effort, and hopefully saving some money along the way to – indeed I hope to save so much money that on the nights when traditionally a splurge of expensive ‘luxury’ ready meals might have been the order of the day that I instead use that money to wander down to a cafe or restaurant instead – once again, doing my bit for the community that I live in.

iPhone fault.

In a post that’s guaranteed to get a least a few comments asking me to buy a proper alarm clock (which I own but is presently in storage). I must add my voice to the growing number of people complaining about the iPhone alarm bug.  I have many recurring alarms on my iPhone, the idea being that it slowly wakes me up with increasingly irritating sounds groups closer and closer together to guarantee that at least one alarm with irritate me sufficiently to get out of bed… so to have them all fail this morning and yesterday morning wasn’t ideal – both days I’ve overslept massively and I’ve had to have late nights to make up for the late start – just compounding the problem.

So please Apple: some of us have spent a lot of money with you over the years, we’ve stuck by bad products and poor customer services for the times when you get it really properly right, there are many issues with the iPhone that I can overlook for the wider benefits of what’s generally quite a good platform, but for crying out loud, an alarm clock isn’t cutting edge, I think every phone I’ve ever owned has had one, and oddly – failing battery failure – none, NONE, have ever failed me. You’ve promised a fix – but then you’ve done that before. So please sort it out.