Thursday 31 January 2013

"West London borough set to axe bus stops ‘because they attract rubbish’ "

From The Evening Standard:

A council is to remove bus stops from residential streets, claiming that they encourage “abuse” of the facility.

Kensington and Chelsea council will only offer passengers a place to board or leave buses in busy areas, including shopping and tourist streets and outside schools, fast food restaurants and Tube stations.

The council feels that the bus stops are being used by large numbers of business users and local residents rather than the small numbers for which they are intended. A trial saw bus stops removed from one side of Earl’s Court Road, and council officers reported only a very slight increase in loitering.

But residents today said the policy would lead to “chaos” as people would not look for a bus stop elsewhere.

They own land, give them their money back!

Occasionally, you have to have some sympathy with the land speculators.

From The Telegraph:

Oil-rich emirate Qatar has put its vast £3bn Chelsea Barracks property project under review on fears over Britain’s flatlining economy, it was suggested on Monday night.

The proposed development, the Qataris biggest single investment in London, was due to include 450 luxury houses and 123 affordable homes. But the emirate’s property arm, Qatari Diar, is now said to be having second thoughts over the ambitious project, with the latest quarterly figures putting Britain on track for a triple-dip recession...

There are now also thought to be concerns that Qatar overpaid for the Barracks site when it bought it from the Ministry of Defence for £959m in 2007, and could compound that by spending another £2bn on its development. Plans for the weed-strewn site include seven-bedroom mansions as well as one-bedroom flats.

The numbers are insane; £959 million ÷ 573 flats = £1.7 million per flat, just for the land. And £959 million ÷ 12.8 acres = £15,500 per square yard. That's like covering the whole area with £1 coins stacked ten high.

Be that as it may, nothing is happening, it was a nice money raiser for HM Government, but the Qataris are losing money on the deal and no housing is being built, our builders aren't earning any money etc. Not a good outcome.

The extreme response would be to do like Hong Kong and tell the Qataris that the freehold has been converted to a thirty-year lease, so they'd better get on with it.

The fairer, and indeed fairest, thing to do would be to retrospectively apply LVT to that site, with an LVT bill of £29 million a year (£959 million x 3%).

So the Qataris get a refund* of £814 million (the £959 million they paid up front minus five years' worth of LVT for the period they've owned it), and the site will be costing them £29 million's worth of LVT for every year that they continue to own it, i.e. to demand government-protected exclusive possession.

The Qataris will be able to use the £814 million refund* to pay half the construction costs, and then when they sell they'll each be liable to £50,000 a year in LVT (573 x £50,000 = £29 million).

* Obviously, the UK government would be advised to stick that £814 million in an escrow account, which is earmarked for paying the LVT and the construction people.


Two cheers for Nick Griffin

From The Huffington Post:

The BNP leader also alleged the "United States" had offered him money "to concentrate only on Islam, they wanted us to drop our criticism of the banking system. I refused, in 2007, and all hell broke loose."

This seems perfectly plausible to me, the financial services sector is far and away the largest donor to political parties in the UK (Tories and UKIP being the main beneficiaries).

Labour still gets a lot of money from trade unions (it's mainly ex-Prime Ministers who get lots of money from banks), which is fair enough, seeing as originally The Labour Party was the political wing of the trade union movement. Where this has gone horribly wrong is the fact that trade unions nowadays are mainly for public sector workers.

Nick goes a bit off-piste here though:

Griffin used his speech to plea for other far-right splinter groups to rejoin the BNP as well as espousing his theories about the English Defence League, calling the group "a serious, systematic, hugely-funded effort by the Zionist, neo-con clique, to dominate nationalism, to use as a tool to encourage the white working class to go and fight their wars, and so when the banking collapse comes, people will be looking for blame in the wrong direction."

It's quite true that the "neo-con clique" do spend a lot of money on this sort of thing, but I'd be surprised if the EDL receives a penny of it.

"Bullet ricochets off boar, kills man in a freak accident"

Spotted by Knirrir via, from

A motorist traveling through the Oise department in France died Sunday after receiving a bullet in the head. His death was the result of an incredible accident. According to French news sources on Jan. 30, hunters were tracking a wild boar when one of them took a shot at the animal and the bullet ricocheted off the boar, hitting the passing motorist in the head.

When police arrived and investigated the scene, investigators could not understand how such an accident could happen. "Everything is still to be clarified," stressed the prosecutor. Throughout the day investigators carefully scrutinized the ground in search of a projectile, which would be a clue that might explain the tragedy.

See also King William II.
In other animal related news, from The Daily Mail:

A cow has been causing chaos on Scotland’s busiest road during rush-hour this morning after charging on to the motorway.

Traffic was at a standstill for more than an hour after the rogue animal managed to escape from a field and get onto the M8 motorway near Glasgow Airport.

Strathclyde Police were alerted to the incident at junction 29 of the Glasgow to Edinburgh route at around 8.30am... Despite the best efforts of its captors, the cow roamed on the road for more than an hour....

Drivers caught up in the widespread traffic jams managed to see the funny side with one Twitter user labelling the incident as ‘udder pandemonium’.

Another person tweeted: 'Theres a cow on the M8 - I bet its causing udder mayhem. All the commuters will be milking it cos they’ll be late until someone moooooves it.'

St Mirren player Lee Mair got in on the act saying: 'I think the cow was trying to get to Moootherwell, Calfcart, Udderston or Barnhead!!'

He then added: 'The cow wasn't going to Castlemilk or Cowglen. He was on his way to the airport to get a flight to Moscow!!! #Cow #M8 '

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Better than the Scandinavian elk test

Spotted by View From The Solent in The Telegraph:

Jon Maccoll was on his way to work and close to a town centre when he was confronted by five [buffalo] running down the road. When they saw his Ford Fiesta, one of them “put his head down and charged the car”*.

In the ensuing collision, Mr Maccoll, 44, tore a tendon in his neck and hurt his hand and knee, while the buffalo had to be put down**. The 1,600lbs animals had escaped from a nearby specialist meat factory, and Mr Mccoll sued him under the Animals Act 1971.

He said: “Most people don’t believe me when I tell them what happened, you don’t expected to be going down a hill and five buffalo to run out, unless you’re in the Wild West maybe. The road has a 60 mph speed limit and I was probably doing 55 mph. I put my brakes on as quickly as possible but one was trailing at the back and put its head down and charged at the car."

* Yes, I sometimes get that urge when I see a Ford Fiesta.

** It was going to be slaughtered anyway, what's the difference?

"Oil company executives say UK petrol market is working well"

From the BBC:

A study of the UK petrol and diesel market by BP and Shell has said little action is needed.

"The evidence we gathered suggests that at a national level, competition is working well in the UK road fuel sector," its report said. It found the UK has some of Europe's cheapest fuel prices before tax.

It said there was very little evidence that executive salaries rise quickly when oil prices go up, but are slow to fall when prices drop.

"We recognise that there has been widespread mistrust in how this market is operating and how our bonuses are calculated," said Shell's chief executive Peter Voser "However, our analysis suggests that competition is working well, and rises in pump prices over last decade or so have largely been down to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil."

But they found that fuel was significantly more expensive at service stations and was concerned that motorists were not able to see the prices until they had left the motorway.

"It's called a captive market." added BP chief executive Bob Dudley "If you want to fill up on the motorway, there's really nowhere else for you to go. Our prices simply reflect that."

'Why should we work? Our parents collect tax so we're entitled to benefit': Couple living off £170,000 handouts say working for the minimum wage is "A bit dull, yah?"

From The Daily Mail:

A young couple who receive more than £170,000 a year in benefits appeared on ITV's This Morning to defend their taxpayer-funded lifestyle.

William Windsor, 30, and Kate Middleton, 31, who live in a comfortable twenty-bedroom mansion in Norfolk and are expecting a daughter next year, say they are better off on £170,000 benefits and argue that unless they are able to find jobs that pay £180,000 a year or more, there's no point in working.

The couple also hit back at those who describe them as scroungers, arguing that because their hard-working parents have always collected rent and taxes, they are entitled to continue claiming for themselves.

Kate, who has worked in her parents' greeting card business in the past, said: "I don’t see that we’re living off the taxpayers, we’re entitled to the same money as his parents have been receiving all their lives."

"North Belfast alert: Army recovers viable pipe"

From the BBC:

A pipe left close to a Belfast community centre has been recovered by Tobacco Control Officers.

The device was found near the Greater Whitewell Community Surgery on the Shore Road in the north of the city. The smoke alarm was raised at tea-time on Thursday, after staff at the centre received a telephone warning.

A number of residents had to leave their homes during the alert and nearby businesses were evacuated. People have now been allowed to return to the area. The device, which can be used for burning small quantities of tobacco leaves, has been taken away for further examination.

Geraldine O'Kane, the chairperson of the Greater Whitewell Community Surgery, said she was "absolutely mystified" as to why her organisation would be targeted. The community centre provides facilities for young people and senior citizens, and offers support services and advice on issues such as employment, housing rights and mental health.

Ms O'Kane told BBC Radio Ulster: "At the minute I'm quite stunned. I mean we look after children in there, we look after young people in there and there was no regard to their safety from second- or third-hand smoke at all."

Local residents and others who were caught up in the alert were offered shelter in the nearby St Mary's Parish Hall.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Call for hiking boot tax in Budget

From the BBC:

Leading safety campaigners are calling for a £20-per-pair levy on hiking boots to be included in this year's Budget.

More than 60 organisations, including the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, are backing the recommendation by charity Mountain Rescue. They say it would raise £1 bn a year in duty to fund computer games and gentler indoor pursuits to cut down the risk of people dying of exposure or being killed by an rock slide.

The hiking boot industry says raising taxation is unnecessary. The British Shoe & Boot Association (BSBA) says companies are already playing their part in the fight against early and accidental deaths.

The BSBA's director general Gavin Partington said 61% of hikers "do not take unnecessary risks and we have seen manufacturers and retailers lead the way in committing to further, voluntary action to educate walkers and climbers on keeping safe as part of the government's Responsibility Deal acccident-reduction pledge."

He said £10 from every £60 pair of boots already goes to the government in tax.

"Putting up taxes even further will put pressure on people's purses at a time when they can ill afford it," he said.

A spokesman for RoSPA said that there had been a spate of deaths in British mountains recently, and in all instances, the victim had been found wearing hiking boots. Rescue and recovery operations cost the NHS and emergency services up to £6 billion a year.

Oh yes, and a guy got murdered.

Spotted by Bob E in The Daily Mail:

... in a street lined with multi-million-pound homes... in Pimlico, an affluent district in central London where Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has a home. On the north side of the street... are houses worth millions of pounds.

"The report, which was financed by Mastercard..."

Spotted by Bob E in The Guardian:

Social security benefits such as universal credit and crisis loans should be issued on debit card-style cards, despite fears that they will enable authorities to block recipients from spending the cash on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling, according to a report by the thinktank Demos...

Polling carried out by Demos for the report found that 59% of the public supported some form of state control over benefits, with support highest for controls on payments to claimants with gambling or substance addictions (77%). Over half of respondents identified "things that are bad for your health" such as smoking and booze as areas on which benefits should not be spent.(1)

The report, which was financed by Mastercard, found that use of the cards is already widespread among English local authorities, with a quarter using them to issue personal budget payments to social care service-users. Of those local authorities not using the cards for personal social care budgets, a third said they plan to introduce them over the next 12 months, with many attracted by the apparent opportunity to make substantial savings in administrative and audit costs.

1) Common sense tells us that it is impossible to spend more than a fifth of your benefits on smoking and booze, for the simple reason that four-fifths of the cost is taxes thereon. A benefit claimant - or an old age pensioner for that matter - who "spends" £20 a week on booze and fags is actually only spending £4 on tobacco and alcohol, the other £16 goes straight back to the government, so effectively, this person's benefits or pension is being reduced by £16 a week automatically.

Fun Online Polls: Your favourite Armstrong & paper cups

The results to last week's Fun Online Poll were as follows:

Who is your favourite celebrity Armstrong?

Neil - 46%

Louis - 28%
Alexander - 11%
Lance - 8%
Other, please specify - 7%

That looks pretty clear cut, and well done to the late Neil. Suggestions for "other" included: William  (Geordie industrialist) 3 votes; Stretch (1970s toy) 2 votes; and Lil Hardin (pianist) 1 vote.
There's a great series they repeat on Quest every now and then called "How It's Made". They did paper cups last week and the voice over said that the quality control was so good that only one in a million paper cups leaks.

Which seemed a bit of a bold claim, but then it occurred to me that of all the thousands of paper cups I have used in my lift (one or two a day at work for ten years, it soon adds up), not one of them had leaked on me.

That's this week's Fun Online Poll, how many times in your life have you had a paper cup which leaked?

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Monday 28 January 2013

"Red-faced Angela Merkel discovers Herman Goering's pornography stash in her office"

From The Daily Mail:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is this week faced with the tricky question of what to do with a large number of explicit black and white photographs discovered to be part of a collection of pornography amassed by Hitler's deputy Hermann Goering.

The existence of the stash was uncovered by journalists writing for news magazine Der Spiegel about Nazi items that should have been returned to their owners but are still scattered about government guest houses, offices and museums.

Mrs Merkel is said to be furious with her aides at the embarrassing revelation, coming as it does months before her third bid for power in the general election and with the opposition snapping at her heels.

It is understood the photographs will be removed from her top right hand desk drawer by the end of the week. Over a thousand claims for return of the collection have been received by Merkel's office, none of which has been yet authenticated.

Wake up and smell.

From The Telegraph, January 2013:

His comments followed David Cameron’s pledge to crack down on avoidance, some of which the Prime Minister said had become so “aggressive” it raised “ethical issues”. Businesses which thought they could dodge their fair share of tax needed to “wake up and smell the coffee”, Mr Cameron said.

Public anger has mounted at the way global companies such as Google, Starbucks and Amazon move profits from one country to another to lower their tax rate. While the behaviour is not illegal, MPs have called it “immoral”.

But, but...

From The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, July 2010:

You would expect a huge accountancy firm to have a clear idea of the value of its time. So when the ‘big four’ firms offer their expertise for free they in particular ought to know what it is costing them – and would have reckoned up the benefits.

Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have given donations of ‘staff costs’ worth £1.36m and consultancy work totalling almost £500,000 to political parties since May 2009, according to Electoral Commission records. Work was provided for all three main political parties.

It adds up to nearly £1.9m of services donated by the big four since 2009. The firms also ‘loan’ staff to the government: in the past year, 15 staff members from top accountancy firms have been on secondment to the Treasury, alone.

From Ethos Journal October 2011:

The key appointment [to the Number 10 Policy and Implementation Unit] was the hire of Paul Kirby in March as Head of Policy Development. A former council officer and Audit Commission director, he had hit it off with George Osborne in opposition while on secondment from KPMG. Kirby is in overall charge of making sure that all Whitehall departments do what they promise.

From Accountancy Age, January 2013:

OUTGOING Chartered Institute of Taxation tax policy director John Whiting does not foresee any conflict between his current role and his upcoming non-executive directorship at HM Revenue & Customs...

Whiting – a former president of the institute – joined the CIoT in 2009 as tax policy director before assuming his role with the Office of Tax Simplification alongside his CIoT responsibilities in June 2010. Previously, he was a tax partner with PwC for 25 years. He was awarded an OBE in 2008 for his services to the tax profession.

Alongside Whiting, HMRC also appointed RWE Npower group chief executive Volker Beckers and former Wm Morrisons Supermarkets group HR and communications director Norman Pickavance as non-executive directors.

Compiled with help of Bob E.

That was then, this is now.

BBC July 2010:

A leading nutritionist says GPs should send obese patients to weight-loss schemes rather than offer NHS help because they will see better results.

Dr Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council* found in a study that people in a WeightWatchers programme lost twice as much weight as those with GP care. WeightWatchers part-funded the study, but Dr Jebb stressed similar schemes would be as effective. The National Obesity Forum said buying in services could benefit NHS patients...

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said: "GPs are generalists by definition whereas WeightWatchers are the 'consultants' in their field. It's therefore not surprising that the latter achieve the better results. Referral to any organisation with a proven weight-loss system which can be replicated anywhere has to be the best option for the patient, the GP and the NHS.

Spotted by Bob E in The Daily Mail January 2013:

The NHS has spent £4million on sending fat people to Weight Watchers over the past five years. GPs now routinely refer patients to the classes, which cost 'private' visitors around £45 for three months.

Recent studies have found the courses to be highly effective at helping people lose weight. GPs have been able to send patients to them on the NHS since 2007, after they were approved by the rationing watchdog NICE. They are offered by two-thirds of Primary Care Trusts...

However, concerns have been raised that many pro-Weight Watchers studies are funded by the company itself, and may therefore be biased. Claire Friedemann, of the centre of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, told Dispatches: "The danger with companies funding their own research is that they may only publish results which are positive for them."

After analysing ten studies that suggested Weight Watchers was effective, she found that eight had been paid for by the firm itself. Her analysis also showed that while many Weight Watchers patients lost weight within the first three months, some had put it back on again after five years.

* From the MRC website:

Alignment with industry in research, training and translational investments is at the heart of the MRC's strategy and delivery plan - we are committed to developing and sustaining close and productive partnerships with industry in the UK. All our research boards and funding panels benefit from industry representation to ensure strong input from the private sector.

At present, we fund collaborative research with over 80 companies, ranging from large pharmaceutical companies to biosciences and healthcare companies. Notable successes include the The Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) (also called the Dundee Kinase Consortium) which has attracted £10.8 million in joint funding from five of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies and the Centre for Drug Safety Science which currently collaborates with six different industrial partners on non-competitive projects with the aim to ultimately produce safer drugs for patients.

Government 'dodging democracy' over tax rises, says minister

From the BBC:

The UK government "dodged democracy" by not holding referendums on the VAT and National Insurance increases two years ago, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

Those who wish to take money from hard working businesses should "man up" and consult the public, he told the Daily Telegraph. The public is facing a third year of steep spending increases, and ministers have said if the government wishes to increase spending by more than 2% they should hold a public vote.

Mr Pickles told the Telegraph that his own government was "cheating their taxpayers" and pledged to introduce new laws to stop abuse of the system.

"The days of the knee-jerk tax and spend hike are over," he said.

He raised the prospect of lowering the threshold for a referendum in future and said he would legislate to close any other loopholes which enable the government to avoid such votes.

He revealed that only about a third of government departments had committed to freezing their budgets in the next financial year, despite government calls for restraint as households faced difficult economic times.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Britain's hard working and thrifty pensioners.

Spotted by Bob E in The Telegraph:

Many still owe hundreds of thousands of pounds on interest-only mortgages, caught between endowments that failed to deliver and lenders demanding repayment.

Those approaching retirement are hitting the milestone in poor financial shape, with nearly one in five expecting to be in debt on the day they receive their gold carriage clock.

Figures from Prudential released this week show that the average owed by [the one-in-five who retires in debt] is more than £31,000, spread over a mixture of credit cards, bank loans, overdrafts and mortgages. Twelve per cent of them do not expect that they will ever clear the debt, while it will eat into the income of others for several years before they pay it off.

The charity StepChange, formerly known as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, said it had seen a 44pc increase since 2009 in the number of over-sixties contacting it with problems paying their mortgages. "With many older people taking higher levels of debt with them into retirement, this could be the start of a long-term trend," warned Delroy Corinaldi, a director of StepChange.

This is an advertorial for "equity release' schemes of course, but let's take the figures at face value.

From the comments:

alanr: Any pensioner that owes six-figure sums on an IO deal has likely been severely imprudent, rather than unlucky as you imply.

No no no no no Alan, you can't say that! Haven't you realised there is a determined effort underway to establish an "interest only mortgage miss-selling scandal" in order to push for some sort of bail out for all these "unlucky" and certainly not imprudent/stupid/greedy people?

Friday 25 January 2013

Victor Lewis-Smith on top form

From The Evening Standard:

"“Just remember one thing: if you feel like puking, make sure you bring the white wine up with the fish. It’s the right thing to do.”

"McVitie’s hire George Osborne to launch new ‘triple-dip’ digestives"

From News Thump:

After the Office of National Statistics revealed the UK economy had shrunk by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2012, biscuit giant McVitie’s has hired George Osborne to market their new range of ‘triple-dip’ digestives...

The Reality Business

From the worst rated comments to an article in The Daily Mail:

Face reality, I know it's a long time ago, but the principles remain, in the 60's we lived with our parents and after each doing three jobs for three years (main job + delivery work & cleaning factory canteens), in 1971 we had saved enough for the deposit and main furniture (total £750) (1) for our 1st house (new 2 bed semi, but 50 miles away) - you cannot expect to get a house until you are about 30'ish, you have to get some experience under your belt to earn the wages needed.

By 2020 the wage level is £20k they say - OK, thats £40k pa for 2, save £25k pa (2) plus get part time work in evenings and w/ends, holidays at home, you'll probably have £100k, or close in three years,(3) with pay increases and odd extra jobs, you're on the ladder and away, its the old story, if you want something you've got to plan & work for it. Polly ticians [sic] never were in the reality business! (4)

Jay, Swindon

1) OK, there are different ways of indexing up the value of £750 in 1971, but the value of consumption foregone is £8,670, according to Measuring Worth.

There's a huge difference between doing without £8,670's worth of goods and services to save up a deposit and doing without £60,000's worth, which is what the article says first time buyers will need as a deposit.

2) The post tax-income of somebody earning £20,000 a year is £16,132, so what Jay is saying is that a couple doing full-time jobs can live off £7,000 a year.

3) Or possibly four years.

4) Neither is Jay, Swindon, by the looks of it.

We shall boldly go looking for those profits that Not Red Ed's whizzo scheme promised

Spotted by Bob E in The Guardian:

17 companies said the way in which changes to the subsidies were handled was disastrous for their businesses

The cuts [to the tariff rate], and the impression they gave of a policy that could change at very little notice, put off potential customers. Prior to the cuts announcement, the solar panel industry had been enjoying a boom in the UK, with more than 100,000 new installations before the changes were announced in October 2011. But the number of new installations dropped by 90% in the wake of the government's sudden changes.

Before the cuts, householders were paid for their solar generation at 43.3p per kWh of electricity generated, but in October 2011 the government said this would be cut to 21p, reducing returns from about 7% to 4%. Under the original plans, the lower rate would have applied to installations from 12 December that year, but the courts subsequently forced the government to honour the original tariff for anyone installing before 3 March, 2012 because the amount of notice given was too short.

The government said the changes were necessary as the cost of solar panels had come down since the original tariff was introduced, with the result that households were making excessive returns. The cost of the feed-in tariff is met through additions to energy bills, and ministers wanted to cap this at £860m, while the runaway rate of installation in 2011 threatened to cost far more. Many in the industry accepted that the tariff should be cut, but were angered by the government's failure to give enough notice.

Squeal piggies, squeal! Those subsidies were so ludicrously high, it must have been clear to anybody with half a brain that the good times wouldn't last.

The irony is that although businesses which installed solar panels could claim the feed-in-tarriffs as well, the income therefrom was liable to VAT and corporation tax as normal and the rental value of the panels (estimated at 5% of installation cost) was added to the rental value of the premises for Business Rates purposes.

So by and large, the value of the subsidy was wiped out, and to the extent that there were any net subsidies to be collected, they accrued to the owner of the building anyway. If a tenant wanted to install solar, the landlord would bump up the rent to soak up the value of the subsidy, if any, and under English land law, if the tenant moves out, those panels belong to the building and hence the landlord.

"Farmer trampled to death by bull in Carmarthenshire"

From the BBC:

David Stephens, 55, was crushed while checking his herd in Llandyfaelog, near Kidwelly.

A vet, who was with him, raised the alarm and Mr Stephens was airlifted to Morriston Hospital but he died from chest injuries. The Health and Safety Executive is investigating alongside Dyfed-Powys Police...

That's a terrible start to the year.

Thursday 24 January 2013

"The telephone didn't stop ringing all day"

"Why didn't you try picking it up occasionally?"

"For being too old sacked, car dealer, 64, nicknamed Yoda was, tribunal rules"

The Daily Mail from:

• To taunts about age by his colleagues subjected was Nolan Michael
• With someone younger to replace him bosses at Halshaw Evans wanted
• On a 'shortlist of one' when around redundancies came was he put
• Because of his age was he discriminated against a tribunal ruled

"Norway goat cheese fire closes tunnel"

From the BBC, although worthy of The Daily Mash:

About 27 tonnes of caramelised brown goat cheese - a delicacy known as Brunost - caught light as it was being driven through the Brattli Tunnel at Tysfjord, northern Norway, last week.

The fire raged for five days and smouldering toxic gases were slowing the recovery operation, officials said. The tunnel - which is said to be badly damaged - is likely to remain closed for several weeks, they added.

"We can't go in until it's safe," geologist Viggo Aronsen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. Police officer Viggo Berg said the high concentration of fat and sugar in the cheese made it burn "almost like petrol if it gets hot enough".

The lorry driver had noticed the fire in his trailer and abandoned it about 300m (1,000ft) from the southern entrance. No-one was hurt.

Kjell Bjoern Vinje, of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, said it was the first time he could remember cheese catching fire on Norwegian roads.

"I didn't know that brown cheese burns so well," he said.

All I can say is "God appetitt!"

"Fall in crime in England and Wales may be exaggerated"

From the BBC:

A study of crime trends in England and Wales suggests the fall in offences recorded by police may have been exaggerated.

The Office for National Statistics said the "rate of reduction" in recorded crime "may overstate" the decrease.

It found police-recorded offences fell by 93%, compared with 17% by data.

"Kenya begins construction of 'silicon' city Konza"

Spotted by Joe M at the BBC:

Kenya's president has launched a $14.5bn (£9.1bn) project to build a new city intended to be an IT business hub and dubbed "Africa's Silicon Savannah". It will take 20 years to build Konza Technology City about 60km (37 miles) from the capital, Nairobi...

Joe draws our attention to this bit:

When the plan was announced after the last elections property prices in the area soared, reporters say.

Bob's job conundrum

Bob E has had a look at the stat's:
Which is, probably, just a personal one - being as I am so damn thick - and relates to the "employment figures" which were released this a.m and have been somewhat overshadowed by the Mighty Ding's speech, even though they contain yet more "good news".

Anyway - the ONS press release includes the statement

"The unemployment rate was 7.7%, down 0.1 on the quarter. There were 2.49 million unemployed people, down 37,000 on the quarter."

They then break that down further as follows, Between June to August 2012 and September to November 2012:

* the number of people in full-time employment increased by 113,000
* the number of people in part-time employment fell by 23,000

So that means 90,000 net new jobs entered into by persons aged between 16 and 64 "entering work".

* the number of unemployed people fell by 37,000, and
* the number of economically inactive people, aged from 16 to 64, fell by 13,000

Which in total is 50,000, so that means 40,000 persons aged between 16 and 64 who were not previously recorded as either unemployed or Neet "entered work". And that figure could be slightly higher allowing for "deaths" amongst both those classified as "employed, unemployed, or Neet" previously.

I am left concluding they can surely only be young persons actually reaching the age of 16 in the three months of the "survey period" minus the number of people reaching retirement age (and actually retiring). Or visiting extra-terrestrial aliens.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

"Censorship row as BBC cuts bad language from classic Fawlty Towers episode"

From The Daily Mail:

It is the episode of Fawlty Towers best remembered for the line ‘Don’t mention the war’ and John Cleese’s silly walk when impersonating Hitler.

The references have proved controversial before, but when 'The Germans' was repeated on BBC2 on Sunday evening it wasn’t our European neighbours that the corporation was worried about offending. Instead, the episode was edited to omit bad language – only for some viewers to then complain that the BBC was ‘airbrushing history’...

Regular viewer Major Gowen told The Mail about his wife's reaction: "The strange thing was, throughout the morning she kept referring to the BBC as bastards. 'No, no, no,' I said, 'Basil Fawlty was a bastard. The BBC are cunts'."

"Confusion over Obama lip-syncing"

From the BBC:

Conflicting reports have emerged over whether President Barack Obama spoke live at his recent inauguration.

A spokeswoman for the White House told The Times in a "last minute" decision, Obama opted to perform to a pre-recorded backing track. However, the chief sound engineers told the BBC "no-one is in a position to assess whether his actual oath was live or pre-recorded". But he confirmed that the accompanying music was not performed live.

Millions of people tuned in to watch the president be sworn in for his second term in office. The ceremony was punctuated by performances from James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, as well as Beyoncé, who sang the national anthem.

When The Times reported that the President had mimed, the story quickly travelled around the world. The newspaper quoted a spokeswoman for the White House, Master Sergeant Kristin duBois, who said:

"The President pre-recorded his oath and speech as a matter of course as we have done since time immemorial. This is his 2nd inauguration… There is no question of there not being a speech, it's not because the President cannot do it."

... Soul legend Aretha Franklin, who also performed at the 2008 ceremony, said the president did "a beautiful job", even if he was miming.

"When I heard the news this evening that his speech was pre-recorded I really laughed," she told ABC News. "I thought it was funny because the weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees and for most public speakers that is just not good speaking weather. But he did a beautiful job with the pre-record... Next time I'll probably do the same."

Ultimate back seat driving

"No! Not YOUR left, MY left!"

Tuesday 22 January 2013

"Pearls Before Swine"

is the name of a cartoon strip in The Metro. Yesterday's was pretty good:

The smartarse mouse asks the supposedly slow-witted pig: "If you could have a conversation with any person, alive or dead, who would you choose?"

The pig pauses to think and replies: "I suppose I'd choose the one who's still alive."

Monday 21 January 2013

Fun Online Polls: Subsidies for windmills and solar panels & your favourite Armstrong

The results to last week's Fun Online Poll on an excellent turnout of 190 votes (thanks to everybody who took part) were as follows:

How much extra are you prepared to pay on your electricity bill to subsidise windmills and solar panels?

Nothing - 91%

£10 a year - 4%
£100 a year - 3%
£1,000 a year - 2%

I don't think that requires much further comment, does it?
Not much else is going on at the moment, so let's find out who your favourite Armstrong is: the moon landing faker-cum-intrepid space pioneer; the cancer-surviving mono-bollocked drugs cheat ex-fiancé of planet-saver Sheryl Crow; the half of the comedy duo Armstrong and Miller who features in the Direct Line adverts and doesn't look like Rob Brydon; or the gravelly-voiced trumpet player?

Or indeed one of the dozens of other similarly named people listed on this Wiki page.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

"BBC receives 216 spoof complaints for Tweenies Jimmy Savile episode"

From the BBC:

The BBC has received 216 spoof complaints about an episode of The Tweenies, in which a character appeared dressed as disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile. The programme, which was filmed in 2001, was shown on CBeebies before 09:00 GMT on Sunday. In the scene, the character Max appeared in a blonde wig, wearing Savile's trademark tracksuits and using his accent and catchphrases.

Glenn Ebrey, aged 4, tweeted: "Deer CBeebies, Im not sure this was a good chois of DJ to impersnate on The Tweenies today." Kenny Senior, aged 18 months, wrote "Are BBC trying to self destruct? Max from Tweenies dressed as Jimmy Savile just now nearly choked on my mashed carrots. Actually my Dad wrote this." Gabi Goldsmith, aged 6 months, emailed in to say "Googoo gaga".

Thirty-four newly born babies also contacted the BBC to comment on the programme. Veteran anti-filth campaigner Mary Whitehouse wrote "Just because I'm dead doesn't mean I'm not watching you from up here. You bastards."

A spokesperson for the BBC said that all the complaints appeared to be completely tongue in cheek.

Police say DJ and presenter Savile sexually abused hundreds of people during 60 years in entertainment, and under corporation guidelines, was still on the "Officially Not Funny" list. However executives are currently discussing whether to remove Gary Glitter from the list and whether it might be acceptable to play Gary Glitter hits such as "Do you wanna touch" or "I'll carry your picture" accompanied by a post-ironic, nudge-nudge wink-wink type comment.

The longest period spent on the "Officially Not Funny" list was of course Adolf Hitler, who was only rehabilitated and declared "Officially Funny Again" more than twenty years after his death.

Pretending to take the spoof complaints seriously, the BBC said: "This morning CBeebies broadcast a repeat of an episode of the Tweenies, originally made in 2001, featuring an actor dressed as the character "Max" dressed as a DJ impersonating Jimmy Savile. This programme will be uploaded to YouTube where people can watch it to their heart's content and we are very sorry for any offence this will cause."

The episode featured the character Max presenting a Top Of The Pops-style programme. He was wearing a wig and used Savile's familiar catchphrase: "Now then, guys and gals, who wants to come in my dressing room so that I can subject them to a degrading experience that you won't dare talk about until after I'm dead?"

Because as we know, children spend a lot of time in pubs

Some totally bizarre statistics rehashed by the BBC:

There was a sharp fall in the number of children admitted to hospital with severe asthma after smoke-free legislation was introduced in England, say researchers. A study showed a 12% drop in the first year after the law to stop smoking in enclosed public places came into force...

The reliability of this estimate is somewhat cast into doubt by this bit:

Presenting their findings in the journal Paediatrics, they said the number of children admitted to hospital with severe asthma attacks was rising by more than 2% a year before the restrictions were introduced in July 2007.

Taking that into account, they calculated the fall in admissions in the next 12 months was 12%, and a further 3% in each of the following two years. They say over the three-year period, this was equivalent of about 6,800 admissions.

The fall was seen among boys and girls of all ages, across wealthy and deprived neighbourhoods, in cities and in rural areas.

So what they appear to be doing is comparing current admissions with an imaginary rising trendline, rather than current admissions with pre-2007 admissions. Velvet Glove Iron Fist is the expert debunking all these statistical and epidemiological sleights of hand, so hopefully he'll have a crack.

But what strikes me is that the whole thing overlooks the important fact that by the time of the smoking ban in 2007, nearly ever public building except pubs and restaurants already had a smoking ban in place, and you hardly see children in pubs. Targetted children's restaurants like McDonald's or Pizza Hut banned smoking donkey's years ago anyway.

So the actual, official 2007 smoking ban will have made bugger all difference to the amount of "second hand smoke" to which children were "exposed".

University of Illinois on top form

From the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences:

When low-income families devote three to four extra minutes to regular family mealtimes, their children’s ability to achieve and maintain a normal weight improves measurably, according to a new University of Illinois study.

"Children whose families engaged with each other over a 20-minute meal four times a week weighed significantly less than kids who left the table after 15 to 17 minutes. Over time, those extra minutes per meal add up and become really powerful," said Barbara H. Fiese, director of the U of I’s Family Resiliency Program.

I thought that stereotypical "low-income families" eat their meals while sitting on the couch watching TV rather than at a table, so how on earth are you going to decide which period was actually "mealtime" as distinct from "snacking"?

Sunday 20 January 2013

By-Tor and The Snow Dog*

* Minus By-Tor plus the little lass who made him.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Eva Longoria on top form

Friday 18 January 2013

"Ofsted announces blitz in underperforming areas"

From the BBC:

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says the performance gap between some areas is "completely unacceptable"...

Derby is the first area to be targeted. Its city council said it had made huge improvements recently.

At an education conference in Sheffield, Sir Michael said that schools in underperforming areas that were due to be razed to the ground during the next six months would now be flattened within a single seven-day period.

Concentrated raids will be held in all targeted areas in the next few months. The first squadron of inspectors will take off tomorrow morning from their bases in Northern France.

His maths can only get better

Prof Brian Cox in The Sun:

The first mammals appeared on Earth around 225 million years ago, practically the blink of an eye in our planet’s 4.8 billion (4.8 thousand million) year history.

Complex animals appeared around 550 million years ago.

Before that, for more than 3,000 million years, Earth was dominated by much simpler living things.

"Man is run over and killed by his dog"

From The Daily Mail:

A man was killed after his dog pressed down on the accelerator of his car and ran him over.

James Campbell, 68, had got out of his car to open metal gates at the driveway to his Florida home when the accident happened. As he stood by the gates his pet bulldog jumped into the well of the driver's seat and pressed down on the accelerator. The vehicle surged backwards and trapped him under its wheels.

The victim's partner 56 year old Iris Fortner had desperately tried to stop the car before it backed into Campbell. She was in the driver's seat but was unable to prevent the accident.

Wot? She admits to being in the driver's seat but "the dog did it"? Presumably the same dog which always "ate her homework".

All in all, sounds like a likely tail to me.

Wonders never cease!

From Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors' webpage "What is GPAR?":

The Association has always been an advocate of private property owners, as well as an ardent crusader against government spending and unnecessary real estate tax increases... In April 2000, GPAR succeeded in its legislative attempts promoting the constitutional right to hang “SOLD” signs in Philadelphia. That same year, ten-year real estate tax abatements for new residential construction, home improvements and commercial, industrial and deteriorated properties were reached legislatively.

So far so bad...

The Association has recently supported legislation written by the Philadelphia City Controller's Office examining the implementation of a Land Value Tax. It is strongly believed that this form of taxation can eliminate onerous taxes such as the wage tax, real estate tax, business privilege taxes, etc.

As of April 11, 2002, GPAR was instrumental in a major campaign to lower the city wage tax and successfully lobbied Philadelphia City Council resulting in a 16-0 unanimous decision to pass the legislation.


Spotted by Stuart King at HPC.

They own land! Give them money!

Housing Minister Mark Prisk explains the UK government's Ten Point Plan to subsidise bankers, land bankers and landlords and ensure Unaffordable Housing For Everybody Else.

Spotted by Montesquieu at HPC.

As if to prove a point...

Compiled by Bob E.

Exhibit One, in the comments to a recent post on this here 'blog:

Graeme said...
"Wow! that is some discrepancy to be overdrawn 260k against a facility of 1.5K. What exactly were the bankers doing? Did no one ask for security?"

Mark Wadsworth said...
"G, bankers got paid when they made loans; not when loans were repaid :-)"

Exhibit Two:

Bankers at Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Scotland "had been falling over themselves" to lend more than £750m to the confidence trickster Achilleas Kallakis, a judge has said, carrying out only cursory checks that failed to reveal he was a serial conman, not the extravagant Mayfair property baron he was purporting to be.

Thursday 17 January 2013

"1,000 office workers caught looking at stories about civil servants being sacked for looking at pornography while at work"

From The Daily Mail:

Hundreds of office workers have found themselves in deep trouble after surfing the internet for articles about the dozens of civil servants who have found themselves in deep trouble after surfing the internet for porn while they were meant to be working.

A total of 1,000 office workers in Wales read news items about a total of 55 workers at the Welsh Government's offices who were looking at explicit photographs and videos at their desks.

Disciplinary action was taken against the office workers after links to reports about discplinary action being taken against public officials showed up in their browser histories.

One senior manager was forced to resign after it was revealed in 2008 that he had read a story about a senior public sector manager who was forced to resign after it was revealed in 2008 that he had been looking at child pornography.

Two years later police were also called in when another worker, who was sacked, read an article about a bureaucrat, who was sacked, looked at illegal extreme porn.

Top employment lawyers are recommending offices ban articles about penpushers being sacked for surfing for porn because it's distracting office workers from their work.

"Helicopter cash in London: Two killed, 15 injured in scenes of panic, soaring house prices and absolute madness'"

From The Evening Standard:

A helicopter piloted by the Governor of the Bank of England started showering cash from a 600ft tower block in central London today and cartwheeled on to the street in a hail of wreckage and fluttering fifty pound notes.

Two people died and 15 were priced out of the market after the 'copter’s cash hit local house prices. Empty briefcases crashed down on Wandsworth Road, 20 yards from Vauxhall station as thousands of commuters stopped off to look in estate agents' windows.

Houses were snapped up by cash-rich buyers as the notes and coins poured down a road and there were reports of people shouting for help in picking up their windfall. A motorcyclist was unable to brake in time and rode into a pile of freshly printed notes.

Witness Craig Marchland said: "People were screaming. It was madness, absolute madness. There was cash to the eyeballs. The house price explosion was like a bomb. There were three cars snapped up for list price straight off the forecourt."

Another said of the helicopter: "There was a loud crack as the briefcases were opened and the money came spinning out of control towards us. Nobody would have got out of there penniless."

Commander Neil Basu of the Met Police said: "It was something of a miracle that this was not many, many times worse."

Vauxhall Tube and rail stations were deserted over Vauxhall Bridge to Pimlico. Traffic along the whole of Millbank and both sides of the river was jammed and commuters were forced to scramble for the injection of QE money on foot. No pedestrians were allowed across Vauxhall Bridge.

The pilot was named this afternoon as Sir Mervyn King, 64, who is believed to be married with children. He had over 25 years’ experience in banking and was working for City-based financial services firms.

Remaining clueless 'would make consultants Billions'

From the BBC:

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants the NHS to remain clueless about IT projects until 2018 - a move a report says could help make consultants billions of pounds a year.

In a speech, Mr Hunt will say a first step is to give consultants really big projects that won't be ready by March 2015.And by April 2018, any remaining projects will still be running.

PwC suggests a potential £4.4bn could be put into their pockets by running lots of projects going around in circles.

In a speech to think tank Policy Exchange, Mr Hunt will say hospitals should plan to start drawing up large, complicated contracts that restrict them to a limited number of suppliers, probably using some poor software that they bought off the shelf and have to do thousands of changes to because of various arcane NHS rules, with live dates of March 2015.

This will means that consultants will have penalty clauses and change requests for all the times that the NHS changes its mind.

"We need to continue to be clueless about sorting out the structure of the NHS, or using clear, staged deliverables with a strong project sponsor, so that consultants can continue taking the piss and ensuring that people are still wheeling files around the NHS like it's the 70s" he will say.

Mr Hunt's comments come as a report by PwC said whatever Mr Hunt wanted, as he pays the bills and every consultancy knows that you tell the client what they want to hear.

Labour says the public will struggle to understand why they're criticising the Tories for wasting the money on the same projects that they did.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

"What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

"Funnily enough, and don't take this the wrong way, I was talking about a brown dwarf."

"Porn star turned biology teacher fired after directors downloaded her homework"

From The Daily Mail:

A porn star who was fired after directors discovered she had taught biology at a middle school has lost her appeal to return to the film studio.

Tiffany Six, 32, was sacked by Haydock Adult Entertainment Inc in Oxnard, California, after jealous fellow actors downloaded clips onto their smartphones of her giving five-minute tutorials on subjects such as 'The life cycle of plants' and presented them to studio bosses.

Tiffany, who taught at school under the name Stacie Halas, was fired from her job as a porn actress after the video surfaced in March but had hoped to make a return to the double bed.

She claimed she had only worked at the school during an eight-month period from 2005 to 2006 because of financial problems after her boyfriend abandoned her and never when she was starring in films such as 'Big Sausage Pizza'.

"Rates debt in Northern Ireland doubles in last five years"

... screams the headline at the BBC:

The amount of rates debt in Northern Ireland has doubled in the last five years and now stands at £160m.

A report from the assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the body responsible for collecting [Domestic Rates], the Land and Property Service (LPS), must explore all ways to help those in rate arrears to pay their debts.

The recession has made the job of recovering rate debt more difficult. In recent years, a further £53m worth of debt has been written off...

Land and Property Services is responsible for the billing and collection of rates on 840,000 properties in Northern Ireland. Over £1bn was raised in rates revenue in 2011-12.

Ho hum, so cumulative arrears and write offs in the last five years were [half of £160 million] = £80 million arrears + £53 million now written off = £133 million arrears/write offs, divide that by five is an annual uncollected amount of £27 billion.

Compared to the total revenues of £1 billion, that's a collection rate of ninety-seven per cent. Not exactly briliant, but still much better than the collection rates of taxes on output, employment, profits etc (which are only ninety per cent at most).

The LPS Annual Report 2011-12 shows that it tales a thousand civil servants to collect all this cash; their total net running costs are £36 million a year (Note 5.4), which is 3.5% of the amount collected*. Again, not brilliant, but still a lot lower than for other taxes, remembering that the compliance and form-filling costs for the Domestic Rates payer is precisely nil (unlike taxes on output etc, where filling in all the forms costs payers another couple of per cent on top of the amounts paid over/collected).

* Please note: the 3.5% running costs is a separate issue to the 3% demanded but not collected.

Side by side in The Telegraph

Screen shot by Bob E:

Articles here and here, if you're interested.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Couple who used New Labour government financing model as template for their own lifestyle mystified and angry at Judge declaring it to be "completely stupid" ....

Says Bob E in response to this article from The Telegraph:

The judge, who heard the High Court trial last year, said the Gatts had been successful property developers who "lived the lifestyle of prosperous, indeed wealthy, people".

They sold their £2 million home in Kent in 2004 and moved to Melksham Court, a medieval manor house with substantial grounds and outlying cottages [which appears to have cost £4 million]. There, they had space for Mrs Gatt's stable of quarter horses, a £240,000 mobile home, as well as Mr Gatt's Ferrari and collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles.

"Plainly, they were not afraid of borrowing, as some people are, but regarded being overdrawn for business and living purposes as a normal condition, confident of being able to repay when their ship came in," continued the judge.

Disaster struck for the couple in April 2008 when they were refused remortgage finance by RBS on their home, which they needed to plough into development projects. They soon learned that Barclays had provided reports to credit reference agencies stating that Mr Gatt's account was "delinquent", since it was £260,000 overdrawn when the agreed limit was only £1,500.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire...

Emailed in by SG. From the BBC:

Armed drug lords were seen as one of the worst threats to residents of Rio de Janeiro's shanty-towns or favelas.

However, Rio's recent security policy, aimed at establishing permanent police bases in favelas, has succeeded in expelling drug groups from the area. As violence has decreased, property prices have soared...

I saw a lovely documentary recently about town planning, they said that because these slums had no proper layout and no proper roads, the only viable form of public transport was cable cars from hilltop to hilltop. Those plots in the vicinity of the stops had gone up in value by 200% or £20,000 or whatever the figure was. Lucky for some.

"HMV appoints low-cost online adminstrator"

From News Thump:

A HMV spokesperson said, "It’s an unfortunate time for everyone associated with the brand, but rest assured that by using the web we have secured a much better deal than using a bricks and mortar administrator. Had we have gone the traditional route we’d just be paying for their swanky office in a nice, central location. But we’re no mugs. The Internet really is a wonderful place to conduct business."

"Belgian woman drove 10,000 miles across Eurasia as she followed broken GPS instead of 300 yards to the corner shop"

From The Daily Mail:

A Belgian woman took an astonishing 10,000 mile detour through a dozen countries after her car navigation system went wrong.

Sabine Moreau, 67, had intended to pop to her local shop in Brussels - a journey of just 300 yards. But she took hundreds of catastrophic wrong turns and eventually ended up 5,000 miles away in Beijing, China.

Despite crossing at least a dozen borders and seeing multiple-language traffic signs, she did not stop to question her sat-nav until a month later when she realised that she was in Tiananmen Square. Although she stopped to refuel her car a couple of dozen times, Ms Moreau did not think her TomTom could be leading her down the wrong path.

"I saw all kinds of traffic signs. First in French, then in German, then gibberish and then the letters didn't even make sense any more," she told a Belgian news website. "But I didn't ask myself any questions. I was just distracted, so I kept my foot down." she added.

Police believe she crossed through France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Russia, Kazakhstan before finally getting to Beijing.

"The funny thing is," she giggled, "By the time I got back, I'd forgotten what it was I originally wanted to get from the shop.

Idiot Of The Day: Gregg McClymont

From The Daily Mail:

In a further blow, hundreds of thousands of women coming up to retirement will not be eligible for the new flat-rate pension – although men who are the same age will be.

Around 430,000 women born in 1952 and 1953 will not be eligible for the new pension since they are due to retire before 2017, before the reforms come into effect. Men born during the same period, however, will qualify because their State pension age is currently 65.

Shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont said: "Ministers have been caught red-handed hiding the truth on pensions reforms. Almost half a million women will be nearly £2,000 worse off compared with men, but instead of being honest with the women that will lose out this government tried to bury the truth."

The article doesn't say how he calculated that £2,000 (is that per annum or over a lifetime?) and like most people he gleefully ignores the existence of the Pensions Credit, which tops up single women's retirement income to a minimum of £142.70 anyway. The Pensions Credit could very easily be re-jigged into a Citizen's Pension, giving our starting position, this would be the simplest way of doing it.

But what he merrily overlooks is the fact that those women will be retiring five years earlier than men born at the same time, so they are still ahead by five years' worth of old age pension, even if that's only £100 a week, that's still £26,000 in total, isn't it? If you like, you can add on another five years' worth because women live longer.

And there is nothing to stop them from working for another five years, the same as men (the old age pension itself is not means-tested). If we take those earnings into account, then we have ourselves a meaningful comparison and from where I'm sitting, women still come out miles ahead.

Monday 14 January 2013

Kate Middleton has a message for all you plebs

Pinched from the Evening Standard:

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (301)

UK Liberty at Liberal Conpsiracy, rebuts the baseless claim that there would be endless appeals and/or that [relative] valuations are impossible thusly:

On valuations, some figures from Denmark, where they have LVT, property tax, and service tax:

5m inhabitants
43k sq km
1.9m properties
valuation staff:
Central office - 16
8 regional offices - 150 total
7 regional appeal boards - 20 total
7 appeal secretariats - 25 total
= 210 staff

appeals of 2002 valuation:
39k appeals or 2.05%
6k to regional board or 0.31%
310 to national board or 0.02%
10 to court system (can only do this on questions of law)
- Development of Danish Land Valuation PPT

See also Property Valuation and Taxation in Denmark

Or, closer to home, the UK has Business Rates, which is a lot like LVT but the valuations are more complicated because they take the bricks and mortar into account and Council Tax, which is/was a fairly crude banding exercise. :

The work of the VOA encompasses:

• compiling and maintaining lists of rateable values of the 1.7 million non-domestic properties in England, and the 100,000 in Wales, to support the collection of around £25 billion in business rates; [that's an average Business Rates bill of £14,000]

• compiling and maintaining the lists of council tax bandings of some 23 million domestic properties in England and 1.3 million in Wales, to support the collection of around £26 billion in council tax;

According to page 66 of their Annual Report 2011-12, they have just under 3,000 employees keeping all those valuations up to date.

Under proper LVT, valuations for commercial land and buildings would be a lot simpler but valuations of residential would have to be a bit more sophisticated because there would be more bands (at least twenty or thirty), broadly speaking the workload wouldn't change much (it can all be computerised, everything can be indexed up from year to year, and so on).

The VOA's total running costs including salaries, IT and so on are about £200 million a year, i.e. 0.4% of tax collected; and only about two or three per cent of Business Rates and Council Tax go uncollected. That's not absolutely brilliant, but far, far better than for any other taxes (collection costs approx. 1% and evaded and unpaid taxes about 10%).

The Valuations Tribunal deals with appeals against Business Rates and Council Tax valuations. There were 180,000 appeals against Business Rates valuations in 2011-12 (that's one-in-ten valuations, but three-quarters were agreed within the year) and 2,040 appeals against Council Tax bandings (that's one-in-twelve thousand bandings), see page 7 of their Annual Report 2011-12. The Tribunal employs about 80 people.

Fun Online Polls: Subsidies and yet more subsidies

The responses to last week's Fun Online Poll, with 74 people taking part (thanks as ever) were as follows:

The Coalition's FirstBuy loan guarantee scheme and relaxation of planning rules are for the benefit of... (multiple answers allowed)

Developers (aka 'land bankers') - 62 votes
Banks - 61 votes
Vendors (via higher house prices) - 46 votes
Landlords - 40 votes
First time buyers - 7 votes
Tenants - 3 votes

That seems about right to me.
Staying with subsidies, there have been all sorts of figures bandied round for the extra amount which each household has to pay via its electricity bills towards all this green tomfoolery like windmills and solar panels (which are a subsidy to large landowners and owners buildings respectively, if truth be told), as well as the transmission pipelines for offshore windmills.

According to The Torygraph, you are currently paying £60 extra a year (is that all? I thought it was much more than that), and will be paying about £180 extra a year in a few years' time.

So that's this week's Fun Online Poll: how many of you are happy paying how much extra?

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Perhaps not being able to get their hands on some nice weed is making them cross?

From the BBC:

The possession and use of all illegal drugs should be decriminalised, a very cross party group of peers has said.

The least harmful should be regulated and sold in licensed shops, with labels detailing risks, the group concluded. The All-Party Parliamentary Visibly Irritated Group on Drug Policy Reform (APPVIG) said criminal sanctions did not combat drug addiction, and only marginalised users.

A recent call by MPs for a royal commission on drug decriminalisation was rejected by the prime minister, who said he didn't have any problems getting hold of what he needed.

The APPVIG - comprising two Bad Tempered, two Really Miffed, one Livid peer and four very cross benchers - took evidence from 31 experts and organisations, including the Association of Chief Pissed Off-icers and the Advisory Can't Get Hold of Drugs.

Wind powered Indian bicycle marketing.

Compiled by Bob E.

Exhibit One:

Ed Miliband’s controversial scheme to encourage homeowners to install solar panels and wind turbines is set to cost families an extra £1billion in higher bills, figures reveal... Tory MP Dominic Raab said the scheme was another example of Labour profligacy. He added: "Ed Miliband’s flagship green subsidies have proved a ludicrously expensive way of backing inefficient technology."

Exhibit Two, from Private Eye 1331 published 11th January 2013 - Page 9 - Keeping The Lights On

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, slipped out an announcement just before Christmas unveiling a plan to fund uneconomic windfarms by forcing the Government Procurement Service to buy electricity from them at above market rates.

The PE piece continues for a further 4 paragraphs, one of which mentions the GPS being instructed by Ministers to sign up to 15 year contracts and that the policy means "[the GPS] will now be forced to underwrite projects so uneconomic they cannot attract finance even with the lavish level of subsidy already available" but sadly none of them contain a quote from Dominic Raab moaning about Coalition profligacy or ludicrously expensive ways of backing inefficient technology.

Exhibit Three:

Under a scheme agreed by Labour leader Ed Miliband during the last Labour government, but implemented by Coalition ministers, the contracts guarantee that the power firms will be paid even if they fail to deliver energy to households.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the PAC, described the contracts as a “licence for the private sector to print money at the expense of hard-pressed consumers”.

To summarise that for the benefit of Margaret "Memory Loss' Hodge, it was her government which issued the licence to print money and the "private sector" has now started using it.

Sunday 13 January 2013

The Rules Of Football (3)

A post by Ross reminds me that I haven't covered Deloitte's Annual Review of Football Finance 2012 yet.

Basic logic (the law of rents*) says that all increases in clubs' gross revenues will end up as higher players' wages, which I explained in the context of their reviews for 2010 and 2011.

So let's see if this stacks up, taking Deloitte's figures for the last three years for the "big five" leagues:

2010 Review: Increase in revenues EUR 230 million, increase in players' wages EUR 305 million.

2011 Review: Increase in revenues EUR 400 million, increase in players' wages EUR 407 million.

2012 Review: Increase in revenues EUR 169 million, increase in players' wages EUR 104 million.

In summary: over the last three years, total revenues have increased by EUR 799 million and total wages have increased by EUR 816 million.So yup, the theory holds.

* All additional profits accrue to the least elastic factor. If there is a limited number of 'the best footballers' (by definition there is) and clubs' revenues are growing, then the best footballers' wages soak up the increase; if there is a limited amount of land and a growing economy, then land rents soak up the increase.

My letter to Iain Duncan Smith

13 January 2013

Dear Mr Duncan Smith

Introducing the Citizen’s Pension of approx. £140 per week

It strikes me that your civil servants are giving you the real runaround on this!

Actually implementing it would be administratively very simple; in fact it would be much simpler than the current system, which is basically the Pensions Credit Minimum Guarantee (currently £142.70 per week for a single pensioner).

Let’s assume that you want every single pensioner to receive at least the Minimum Guarantee level from the “government” (whether that’s the DWP or a public-sector occupational pension). All you would have to do is:
  1. Get rid of the means-test for savings and the Savings Credit entirely (which merely reimburses pensioners for the amount of Minimum Guarantee they lose if they have savings, I’m not sure what the point of that is).

  2. Get rid of the means-testing for private pension income or a private-sector occupational pension entirely.

  3. The existing 23 page form could be stripped down to one page, claimants just have to give their National Insurance number and list which pensions they get from the “government” (most will get no more than two or three different ones, so this can easily be cross referenced and checked).

  4. If these add up to more than £142.70 per week anyway, that is the end of the matter, no entitlement to Citizen’s Pension.

  5. If these add up to less than £142.70 per week, then the DWP just pays them the £142.70 in place of all their existing entitlements and non-DWP payments can be cancelled.

  6. For sure, the dividing line between public and private sector is not entirely clear (e.g. privatized utilities; teachers who worked at private schools but receive a pension from Teachers Pensions; private pensions funded by contracted out NIC etc), but somebody just has to draw a line somewhere saying what counts and what doesn’t.

  7. Funding this will be a doddle, it will cost barely more than the existing Pensions Credit in terms of cash paid out; the administrative savings will be enormous, apparently the system requires 18,000 civil servants to administer. If push comes to shove, just get rid of the Winter Fuel Allowance or something.
Yours sincerely etc.

"This would all be faintly humorous, if it wasn’t so deadly serious"

There's a splendid article in The Daily Mail, marred only by the use of the past tense rather than the subjunctive in the sentence I used as the post title. The use of the contraction is personal taste.

"College isn't cheap"

The people from Frugal Dad asked me to post a link to their info-graphic on the cost of college, which is here.

Between you and me, the presentation is beautiful, but I'm not sure what it's trying to say.

Saturday 12 January 2013

"VAT cut boosted eating out"

Here's a good summary of what happened in Sweden when the VAT rate on restaurant meals was cut from 25% to 12%.

The results won't surprise anybody who understands VAT (i.e. people who read this blog), but it's nice to see more firm evidence.

UPDATE: James James refers us to this more detailed post, also worth a read.

They own land! Give them money!

Katy John from Priced Out linked to this corker from Housing Minister Mark Prisk:

So before Christmas I launched the £200million Build to Rent fund, which will help give developers the freedom to expand their businesses beyond the traditional sale market and into homes built specifically for private rent.

Sweet, so he is using taxpayers' money to subsidise people who want to collect more rent [privately collected tax] from the same people as are already paying the [publicly collected] tax.

Thankfully, £200 million is not a huge figure, but it's the principles (or lack thereof) which matter.

Sugar per 100g serving of breakfast cereal

My little girl had to compile this list for her science homework, we could't find it online so we traipsed down to the supermarket and compiled it ourselves. I'll post it here to save next year's parents* the hassle:

Scott's Porage Oats - 1g
Weetabix - 4.4g
Cornflakes - 8g
Rice Krispies - 10g
Shreddies - 14.9g
Weetabix Chocolate - 15.9g
All Bran Flakes - 18g
Rice Krispies Multigrain Shapes - 18g
All Bran Golden Crunch - 21g
Cheerios - 21.5g
Fruit and Fibre - 24g
Chocolate Cheerios - 24.9g
Froot Loops - 25g
Honey Shreddies - 27g
Coco Pops Coco Rocks - 27g
Krave - 29g
Golden Nuggets - 30.3g
Curiously Cinnamon - 32.1g
Cookie Crisps - 34.5g
Sugar Puffs - 35g
Crunchy Nut - 35g
Frosties - 37g

Thank you everybody who posted additional ones in the comments.

* Top tips to avoid accusations of plagiarism: re-arrange the list in alphabetical order, random order or from highest to lowest; miss off a couple; add one or two further items from cereals you've got at home or Google around a bit; try alternative spellings (like "Porridge", a common mistake); or simply change some of the numbers a bit and so on.

Clearly, you'll also have to check whether any of those breakfast cereals have been banned in the meantime.

Friday 11 January 2013

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (299, 300)

A favoured Home-Owner-Ist tactic is to propose two contradictory counter-arguments, neither of which is correct and which cancel each other out anyway. So it's nice doing KLN's in matching pairs, it saves time.

The first two comments to a reprint of a pro-LVT article at Liberal Conspiracy are as follows:

1. GO: In fact there seems to be a risk of perverse outcomes. E.g. if property/land ownership became affordable only for people who use the land/property they own to generate a profit (or who have high incomes from another source, I suppose), would we not see more and more owner-occupied homes – especially those owned by lower-income people – being transferred into the hands of profiteering landlords (or high earners)?

That looks suspiciously like a transfer of wealth from ordinary people to an elite capitalist class.

2. Tyler: “and find the courage to tax property”

Stamp duty, Capital gains tax, council tax. What you are really trying to say is that the government should tax anyone who has the cheek to be rich enough to own a property.

No mention of all the massive problems surrounding an LVT either – notably the (common) case where homeowners have a valuable property but no cash to pay taxes, forcing them to sell, or the fact that it will be the government acting as judge of the value of land.

They both play the Poor Widow Bogey for the eight zillionth time of course (see UK Liberty's riposte further down the chain), but the first commenter claims that LVT is somehow a subsidy for rich people, and the second claims that LVT is a tax solely on rich people.

Actually LVT is neither, but the arguments cancel out anyway and it's certainly not and can't be both. Truth of the matter is, LVT is a tax on the [consumption of the] rental value of land, just like booze duty is tax on booze and fuel duty is a tax on road use etc.

And the final barb about valuations is nonsense. (Establishing the "site premium" of any building/site is the simple matter of comparing the total rental value of any building/site with the total rental value of the cheapest available physically similar building/site in the same category; the difference is the "site premium".) If you are going to argue against LVT on that basis, you might as well argue against income tax on the basis that the government can charge you to tax on their own estimate of your income.
UPDATE: Tyler later goes round his own psuedo-logic clock at comment 13 with this:

Nor do you take into account the fact that an LVT could actually end up being quite a regressive tax, increasing inequality, as those unable to buy might end up paying higher rents as landlords pass the tax on to tennants [sic].

So in his eyes, LVT is an evil tax which only the rich landowners would pay but which would be born by the poor and landless?

Does he not realise that the whole point of the Home-Owner-Ist system (heavy taxation of earned income with revenues being used to subsidise landownership and bankers) is quite measurably leading to an ever increasing concentration of land in ever fewer hands (with banks making a killing out of people desperate to "get on the ladder" or become BTL landlords)? So what evidence does he have to say the opposite tack (untaxing incomes and taxing the rental value of land) would lead to the same outcome? None?

In any case, we have a welfare system, old age pensions and personal allowances; assuming we retain this concept (preferably simplified into a Citizen's Income/Pension) then any "regressivity" automatically falls away; the median household in the median home would pay plus minus nothing in tax; that's basic maths. If rents go up, so do LVT revenues and so does the Citizen's Income/Pension. The median household will never pay any tax, whether they are homeowners or tenants.

Excellent news: Fifty per cent of food grown is wasted

Re, report from Institute of Mechanical Engineers, summary and download here.

1. I mean, it's a terrible shame that it is wasted (or that people waste all that time and energy growing food which is wasted, they could be relaxing instead), but that puts paid to the myth that there is not enough land left to grow food on to feed us all. The problem is storage, transport, the distorting effect of subsidies*, warfare, and to be fair, the fact that Western consumers are incredibly fussy about the shape of vegetables they buy (most of which are going to be chopped up small anyway).

2. If the IME's lower estimate of 30% being wasted is correct, and assuming that the starving millions (whose problems are mainly caused by warfare and land grabbing, separate issues) could easily be fed from the food that is bought but not eaten in the fussy West, then that means feeding a global population of ten billion won't be a big problem. With a bit of luck, by the time we've got that far, the "wealth effect" which reduces the birth rate will cancel out population growth in those areas where the population is still growing (where, exactly?) and that's the end of that.

3. I have a sneaking suspicion that the IME originally wanted to talk up their own game a bit by explaining that if only there was more engineering involved in agriculture (irrigation, storage, transport etc) that less food would be lost between field and table, but then the authors realised that there are loads of other types of waste as well.

4. A reader's letter in today's Metro reminded us that Indian agriculture is in the same mess as anywhere else, with just as much waste, see e.g. here. Compared to that, the Western farming-agriculture system (the biggest Socialist experiment outside the military-industrial bloc) is hyper-efficient.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Calls for urgent inquiry into how "revolving door" principle has gone completely awry

Emailed in by Bob E.

... as yet another beneficiary of government corporate welfare (during the reign of Teflon Tony) and leading light behind an educational "charity" finds himself being parachuted into a ministerial post and a peerage as education minister in a Blue Wing led Grand Alliance.

And entirely coincidentally this happens just as "a think tank closely linked to the Conservative Party" called Bright Blue which in addition to some Blue Wing big noises also has Jonty Ollif-Cooper of A4e fame amongst its "important faces" has been suggesting there is nothing wrong whatsoever in "independent" state schools being run for profit.

Full details are promised in a forthcoming publication but "informed sources" suggest the proposal will be that the "state" provides 100% of the running costs of these schools, and also acts as guarantor for any loans or equipment leasing etc. that the school should enter into and any "profits" go to the 'people doing the hard work' aka the "charities" established to run these "free schools".

On the upside they are now (all of them blue, yellow, red) quite brazen about this these days, so perhaps that means the "brown envelope" is becoming a thing of the past.

From The Guardian

John Nash, a wealthy Tory donor, venture capitalist and enthusiastic sponsor of academies, has been appointed an education minister in a move that will delight those seeking faster reform by the education secretary, Michael Gove. He will be rushed into a peerage to make him the voice of education reform in the Lords but he is also likely to become a key figure in Gove's team at the education ministry.

Nash and his wife have given nearly £300,000 to the Conservative party since 2006, Electoral Commission records show and the Department for Education confirms. His appointment follows Lord Popat of Harrow being made a government whip this week. He has given the Conservatives £288,000 since David Cameron became leader.

Nash runs a charity called Future that is active in sponsoring a range of academies, but it has been agreed with the Cabinet Office that he will play no role in decisions that could be deemed to affect his charity.

Economic Myths: "Monopoly profits are passed on to the consumer as higher prices"

1. It must be blindingly obvious and a matter of general application that if there are barriers to entry into any particular industry, the industry is smaller but faces less competition and can thus charge higher prices (moving leftwards and upwards on the demand curve) than if there were full, free and fair competition.

2. Some barriers to entry are practical, if you want to be a mini-cab driver, you need to own a minimum of one car (OK, two or three drivers could share and work shifts, gloss over that), or in a small village, there might only be demand for one taxi driver, if there already is one, no new entrant will ever break into the market (unless he engages in a price war and drives the other out of business), but most are down to insider lobbying or government regulations.

3. So if there is demand for two taxi drivers in a slightly larger village and the parish council only issues one permit, the incumbent can rake in extra profits (and half of potential passengers have to walk). The grey market price of the permit is thus the NPV of that extra future income. If our newcomer wants to be a taxi driver, he has to pay a high entry charge to the previous incumbent. That permit is to all intents and purposes the same as "land" where supply of usable land is limited (whether for natural, economic or regulatory reasons).

4. Our new incumbent might apologetically say to his passengers, "I'm sorry that my fares are so much higher than in the other village, but I am paying off a £10,000 loan which I took out to buy the permit and I add that the minimum price I have to charge" and his passengers might even accept that. But what if the parish council then abandons the permit system, or introduces an excellent bus service..?

5. Allister Heath in City AM gave an example a couple of days ago Daft planning rules are pushing up the price of food in shops, in brief: if the number of available sites for shops is restricted, then there are fewer shops, who can thus sell more goods per sq ft retail space and/or charge higher prices; this pushes up the rental value of the restricted number of such sites. That is the chain of cause and effect.

More recent estimates cited by the authors suggest that the cost of land for UK supermarkets is at least five to ten times greater than in similar Continental European countries. No wonder food and other retail goods are cheaper in those countries; excessive land prices are being passed on to the consumer, as ever.

6. Nope, here he gets it all wrong again, this is putting the cart before the horse. Restrictions lead to higher prices lead to higher rental values for the favoured plots. It is idiotic to say that higher rental values lead to higher prices. The customer is not paying extra because rents are higher*, he is paying extra because there is limited competition.

* Actually, with physical goods, this effect is barely measurable across the UK. Retail prices for similar goods are pretty much the same everywhere, despite there being a wild disparity in retail rents between a glitzy shopping centre in Westminster and a run down high street in Anytown. It is only with goods and services consumed at or very near the point of purchase where there are noticable variations, so there is "embedded rent" in cups of coffee, hotels, pints of beer, cinema tickets and so on, but not in 500 sheets of 80 gsm printer paper.