Tuesday 30 April 2013

"The Search for the Pilot Claimant Open Day 2 was so very nearly a success"

Says a clearly exasperated Iain Duncan Smith. “We thought we had found our man,” said the Works and Pensions Secretary “Thanks to some help from my former Trusty Right Hand Chris Grayling, who had even gone to the trouble of laying on special transport to get him to the Town Hall in Tameside, where we could sit him in front of the terminal and really get cracking on testing the system when, well as you all now know, that happened and it just goes to show the lengths some people, and we know who they are, will go to to try and have Universal Credit fail.”

Mr Duncan Smith continued: “But these things happen I suppose, maybe we’ll have better luck tomorrow.”

"The 10 stupidest Islamic terrorists"

Spotted by MBK at The Telegraph.

It's a great list and everything (maybe there's a tie-on with the fact that only two people from an Islamic or even a Muslim country have ever won a Nobel Prize for Physics or Chemistry?) but he doesn't seem mention this week's Islamic heroes:

Omar Mohammed Khan, Mohammed Hasseen, Anzal Hussain, Mohammed Saud, Zohaib Ahmed and Jewel Uddin admitted preparing an act of terrorism. All six will be sentenced on 6 June.

Five of them took a homemade bomb to an EDL rally in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, last June but arrived after it ended. They were caught after their car was stopped and found to have no insurance*.

Police and security services** had no intelligence*** about the planned attack, although one of the would-be killers, Jewel Uddin, was under surveillance in relation to another terror plan.

* Top tips for criminals: keep you car insured, MOT'd and the licence up to date. It is quite surprising how many criminals get caught out during routine traffic stops.

** WTF does "security services" actually mean? I really don't like the vagueness of that expression, nor what it might signify. It does smack rather of police state.

*** Luckily for the long-suffering EDL, not only did the "police and security services" have no intelligence but the Mohammeds didn't have any either.

"South Africa's direct aid from UK to end"

From the BBC:

International Development Secretary Justine Greening is to announce that the UK will stop giving direct aid to South Africa in 2015.

The UK government's aid programme to South Africa is currently worth £19 million a year. This funding has focused on reducing the mortality rate among women giving birth, as well as supporting businesses. The UK's relationship with South Africa should now be based on trade and not development, Ms Greening will say.

"Let's get real here. They've a population of 50 million so our £19 million a year is less than one penny per person per week. 'Reducing child mortality'? Who are we kidding. They've got nearly a million births every year, even if they spent the whole of our £19 million on that, it's still only £20 per baby," Ms Greening will continue.

"And if they want £19 million a year off us, they could try sending us a couple of hundred thousand tons of coal every year or something.

"OK, maybe not coal because those buggers in the EU won't let us burn that any more. Does anybody know how many oranges we can get for £19 million a year?" she will ask the conference of African ministers and business leaders in London on Tuesday, while staring wildly around the room. "Oh come on, somebody must know.."

It's an old joke but it's still funny

From The Daily Mail:

You think that's bad. At my local coffee shop they asked me my name. "Keith", says I. What do I get instead? A cup which has the word 'F#cknut' written on it. Now that's just sloppy.

- Actually Is Dolan , Eamon-Holmes-Basement, United Kingdom, 30/4/2013 14:13

And I'll wager that a fair few of those hilariously misspelled names in the pictures were scrawled on by the customers themselves just for the fun of posting the resulting hilarious picture on t'interweb.

"Ibis hotel inmates must work harder for privileges"

Ibis CEO Simon Williams said, "I want a regime that sends the right messages – turn your life around and there'll be some incentives, but if you come back pissed at 3am and wake up other 'guests', then you'll lose certain privileges.

"But the word 'privileges' is misleading and it implies there is a lot of luxury in Ibis hotels, which really is not the case."

For rest of the article, go to Newsthump.

Another "car attacks house" story

From The Daily Mail:

A grandmother has had an 'incredible escape' after a driver passed out at the wheel of his car and crashed through the living room of her bungalow, partially demolishing it.

Marianne Heath was just metres away in her bedroom when the £25,000 Audi convertible veered off the road and smashed through her wooden gate, down her drive and through the living room wall of her home.

Mrs Heath, 72, said: 'I had an incredible escape. A few minutes later I would have been right there - but now there's a huge hole in my house.' The 60-year-old driver is recovering in hospital after the crash in Gowerton, Swansea, with his new car a write-off. His injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Sadly, the article only says how much such cars cost and not what the house is worth, but as I don't wish to leave you on tenterhooks I've looked it up for you on Zoopla. The average selling price of a detached bungalow over the past year is probably about £160,000, something like that.

"For a truer picture..."

Woodsy42  left a comment on "Huge families on benefits are no myth... oh, hang...":

"There are 160 families on out-of-work benefits with ten or more children."

I find this very difficult to believe. It's less than one per town. For a truer picture, how about looking at the number of large families that require benefits because, even if someone works, they could not have afforded those children without benefits?

I've linked to my data sources, if anybody wants to have a crack at the numbers, feel free to do so.

But the cost-benefit calculations are all very marginal and there are so many judgment calls to be made that you could come up with pretty much any answer you want, you could come up with a reasonably plausible answer anywhere between "a third of all children" and "hardly any".

And this cuts both ways, I could just as well ask:

For a truer picture, how about looking at the number of retired people (especially early retirees) claiming taxpayer funded pensions (state or public sector) who would still be working and contributing if those pensions weren't on offer?


For a truer picture, how about looking at the number of buy-to-let landlords collecting national wealth privately who would still be working and contributing if we taxed land rents instead of taxing earned incomes?

"Huge families on benefits are no myth... oh, hang on..."

From The Daily Mail

CLAIM: Only a tiny number of jobless families have large numbers of children reliant on the State for support.

REALITY: There are 160 families on out-of-work benefits with ten or more children. This figure was cited by the Left during the debate over the case of Mick Philpott from Derby, who killed six of his 17 children in a house fire and whose lifestyle was subsidised by taxpayers.

However, closer scrutiny of official figures shows that there are huge numbers of large workless households reliant on welfare.

There are 194,000 homes with three children; 76,310 with four; 25,980 with five; 8,760 with six; 3,200 with seven; 1,080 with eight; and 360 with nine.

Some 419,370 workless families have two children — which is the average number of offspring for all homes in the UK.

Yes, this is all very naughty of them, and if it were up to me I'd roll Child Tax Credits (awful, awful, awful) into a more generous Child Benefit (non-means tested, non-conditional, non-taxable) but pay that only for the first three children which a woman has (but not pay any for fourth and subsequent children) as a quick and simple way of eliminating the "mothers-versus-everybody else pay gap".

But let's look at the bigger picture:

In April to June 2012 there were 3.7 million UK households with at least one member aged 16 to 64 where no-one was currently working. This represented 17.9 per cent of households and was a fall of 0.8 percentage points, or 153,000 households, on a year earlier, the second consecutive fall. In all, 1.8 million children lived in these households, as did 5.0 million people aged 16-64.

So on average, there are 0.36 children for each workless adult.

How does this compare to the population as a whole?

In England & Wales there are 10.5 million children aged 0 to 15 and 36 million people aged 16 to 64. Add on 11% for whole of UK and knock off the ones from workless households and we end up with 35 million 'working' adults and 9.9 million children, which means 0.3 children per 'working' adult.

So yes, it would appear that workless adults do have slightly more children than their working counterparts. If they had children at the same rate, they would have 1.5 million children instead of 1.8 million. Only half of those are "extra" children (fourth and subsequent children), or put it this way, out of those 3.7 million workless households, only 116,000 have more than three children.

Let's assume that they receive about £60 a week for each child (CTC and CB) that means the total amount redistributed from working adults to non-working adults to pay for these extra children is a shade under £1 billion, i.e. 0.5% of the total welfare budget, and if you capped CTC and CB at three children, the "saving" would only be half that.

Big deal, is all I can say. By all means "do something" about this out of principle (there are social costs to take into account as well, but those are difficult to quantify), but don't pretend it's a cost-saving measure.

"Never mind living on £53 a week. How would IDS cope with the system?"

Over at systemthinkingforgirls.com:

Now that the petition calling for Iain Duncan Smith to prove he can live on £53 a week has been handed in to the Department of Work and Pensions by Change.org, we should start planning his experience of claiming benefits in more detail. Because it’s not just about the amount of money, is it? It’s also the absurd, unfair and unpredictable bureaucracy that goes with it at a time when you are least able to cope with it.

What follows is the experience I think the Jobcentre should arrange for him.

Day 1

• His benefits should be stopped suddenly for no reason...

Monday 29 April 2013

Fun Online Polls: R-Patz, K-Stew & Universal Credit

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

R-Patz and K-Stew...

On - 1%
Off - 7%
On - 4%
Off - 5%
On - 3%
Who or what are you talking about? - 80%

Well, we were all wrong.

As it turns out, the R-Patz/K-Stew saga took another interesting twist a couple of days after I launched the poll, so maybe they are still on their third "off" or maybe they are already on their fourth "on".

Who knows? Who cares? Kids, bless 'em, is all I can say. The whole thing would be even funnier if turned out that Saunders is actually a werewolf.
And lo, the ground breaking roll-out of the massive shake-up etc (TM New Labour) of the Coalition's flagship policy started today, which applies initially only to non-disabled childless single people living in Ashton-under-Lyme who start claiming unemployment benefit in future. I admit that BobE and I invented the bit about it only applying to people who like listening to King Crimson, flower arranging and home baking.

IDS keeps saying that the glorious new system "will mean people are always better off in work than on benefits" which might or might not be true, and it is probably slightly less untrue than under the current welfare system, which will continue for claimants everywhere else in the country (or to existing claimants in Ashton-under-Lyme who are either in a couple, have children or are disabled) for the next few years.

But how much better off will UC claimants be if they manage to find a job? Will they have a marginal withdrawal rate of 65%, 76%, 79% or 85%? In other words, will they keep 35p for every £1 they earn, 24p, 21p or 15p? A couple of clues here.

Place your bets here or use the widget in the sidebar.

A "funny" that just might have passed you by ..

Not everyone spends their waking hours with their ears glued to the speaking word box, and those that do may not necessarily be permanently tuned in to one of the BBC's serious news stations 4 or 5 live.  Which means that quite a lot of people missed out on a splendid funny peddled by an BBC person discussing, as the BBC is prone to do, an issue affecting the BBC that was "in the news".

The issue was the "agreed by both sides resignation" last month of former head of BBC Worldwide John Smith, who happily did not have to wait long after his "resignation" to take a short walk to go work for Burberry as their chief operating officer.  

News of Smith's leaving package broke over the weekend, when it became known that he was to receive a payment of £447,000 - a years salary - as compensation for "loss of notice" as well as a possible profit-related bonus payment of up to £386,000, together with £4 million in his pension pot.

This, the BBC was keen to stress to anyone listening, was all a matter of "contract", reiterating the line it had given to the Sunday Times which first broke the story.

"A BBC source told the Sunday Times that the corporation had paid his year's notice because Smith's successor was ready to take over, saying: "John made the decision to step down from BBC Worldwide. However, he was entitled to any outstanding notice and bonus entitlement owed under his contract."

Fair enough. Contracts should be respected. Now comes the funnyNo doubt seeking to reassure listeners, in the item that I heard, an person was also at pains to explain that "because John worked for the Worldwide arm of the BBC, which is a business, this money will not be coming from licence fee payers"

Well maybe not, if it is a business.  And doing what, aside from  ventures into travel guide publishing that cannot be considered a roaring success?   Not "reselling BBC product produced courtesy of the licence fee?" It would appear so from their Website. 
BBC Worldwide Limited is the main commercial arm and a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which operates in the UK and over 200 countries around the world. The company is self-funded and exists to exploit the value of the BBC's assets for the benefit of the licence fee payer and invest in public service programming in return for rights.

We acquire the commercial rights to great programmes such as Doctor Who, Top Gear and Dancing with the Stars and find ways of earning money from these rights across different media and markets. In 2011/12, BBC Worldwide generated headline profits of £155 million on headline sales of £1085 million and returned £216 million to the BBC. For more detailed performance information please see our Annual Review website.

"Food and drink display ban in large shops comes into force"

From the BBC:

A ban on the display of food and drink in large shops in Scotland has come into force.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said the move will help prevent young people from becoming obese. Under the Food and Drink Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010, the sale of snacks from vending machines is also banned.

Stores that do not comply could be convicted of a criminal offence or receive a fixed penalty fine. England, Wales and Northern Ireland plan to bring in similar bans to prevent large stores from displaying groceries and soft drinks. The Scottish government's Obesity Control Strategy also supports the introduction of standardised packaging.

Mr Matheson said: "These bans are the right step to prevent young people in Scotland from becoming obese or succumbing to a range of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes. It is well known that eating is associated with a range of illnesses from kidney failure to heart attacks and is the primary preventable cause of ill health and premature death. Each year, malnutrition and over-eating is associated with over 13,000 deaths and 56,000 hospital admissions in Scotland.

"That is why it is so important that this government works to improve health by reducing the number of people who choose to eat food or consume drinks containing potentially harmful additives such as sugar and salt. Evidence shows that young people exposed to the promotion of fast food are more likely to pop out for an artery-hardening burger and chips."

Fruitcakes and loonies, bunch of clowns, BNP in blazers, can't be bothered to vet their candidates etc etc.

From The New Statesman:

John Cherry, Conservative county councillor for Midhurst, told the MoS:

"Ninety-seven per cent of pupils [at the new school in West Sussex] will be black or Asian. It depends what type of Asian. If they're Chinese they'll rise to the top. If they're Indian they'll rise to the top. If they're Pakistani they won't.

"There are certain nationalities where hard work is highly valued. There are certain nationalities where they are uncertain what this hard work is all about. If the children are not allowed out of the site then it will make them want to escape into the forest – it will be a sexual volcano. Stockwell is a coloured area – I have no problem with that. To be honest, I would far rather Durand took over a secondary school in London rather than shoving everybody here."

Like a proper political party then...

From the BBC:

UKIP has also dismissed claims in The Observer that the party's policy-making process in chaos.

The newspaper published leaked e-mails between party treasurer Stuart Wheeler and MEP Godfrey Bloom, in which Mr Bloom advises UKIP to adopt policies "off the shelf" from right-wing think tanks, because trying to reach agreement on where it stood on issues was like "herding cats".

A UKIP spokesman said: "I am glad they are discussing policies. So they should be."

UKIP actually did have a set of reasonably coherent policies for the 2010 General Election, but they binned them all in a fit of pique when they fell out with policy-overseer David Campbell Bannerman (who then defected back to the Tories anyway).

But why should UKIP bother with specific policies, let alone reasonably coherent ones? It's far easier just making vague promises to all sorts of special interest groups and hoping that none of them notices that the same party has also made equal and opposite promises to all the other special interest groups. Failing that, you just go for lowest common denominator stuff, like opposing the EU, immigration, new housing and windmills and hope for the best. Sound economic thinking goes straight out of the window of course (they have long said that they prefer "local sales tax" to "council tax" which is massively regressive and economically damaging, of course).

Simple fact is, political parties tend to do much better without troublesome baggage like "detailed and coherent policies", which only end up being misinterpreted by opponents anyway (wilfully or otherwise). The Labour Party has adopted the same strategy and it's not doing them any harm in the opinion polls either, is it?

"Sorry! It was just a joke that appears to have backfired slightly.."

Using a cheery grin to try and disguise his embarrassment Iain Duncan Smith apologised to Sunday Telegraph reading 3rd Agers over comments he had made during an interview with the newspaper, which he said had been wildly misinterpreted.  "I was just having a bit of a laugh after a particularly boisterous Saturday night out with the boys" he said "and unfortunately my remarks were taken as being a serious threat of an intended government crackdown on a section of society which was and is wholly undeserving of it".  He added "Obviously I am a more convincing joker than I had ever given myself credit for being, and I apologise fulsomely for any distress I may have caused by my remarks" continuing " I have promised the Prime Minister I will not do it again, and will concentrate my energies on attacking those that deserve it; which is a long list indeed, but pensioners certainly aren't on it, as as since yesterday I have crossed them off it."   

Daily Mail on top form

Compare and contrast pair of headlines #1

Now we CAN bash a burglar... but not in our gardens: Law to allow homeowners to defend their property comes into force

You can't bash a burglar after all: Government's tough rhetoric branded a farce as it's revealed homeowners are barred from fighting raiders in garden or chasing them outside

Compare and contrast pair of headlines #2 (emailed in by BobE)

Fizzy drinks 'should carry cigarette-style health warnings', say experts as study shows diabetes danger in just ONE sugary drink a day

The jambusters: Now the sugar police want to turn Britain's favourite preserves into 'thin German gloop'... The traditional taste and look of British jam is under threat from Government plans to allow makers to reduce its sugar content.

Sunday 28 April 2013

"We'll stick to my plan, which I fully expect Jon Cruddas to let me know what it is by 2015" Not Red Ed warns shadow cabinet

Blue One Nation Labour leader Not Red Ed Miliband has put his shadow cabinet on guard for a possible autumn reshuffle and clear out with a strong warning that he cannot afford any further ill-discipline in the run up to the 2015 general election.

Sources close to the leader say  that Not Red Ed is already minded to make significant changes to his frontbench team after the autumn party conference in Brighton in September,  and said how sweeping these might be is very much dependent on whether his shadow team take the hint and avoid grandstanding at or in the run up to the Conference by making statements and apparent promises about “policies”.

Michael Dugher, the party vice-chairman who has Miliband's ear, with various union’s apparently having other parts of Miliband’s anatomy in a small bag kept in a safe at TUC HQ,  addressed Labour parliamentary private secretaries last week, telling them they would all be under intense scrutiny from the Tories for the next 18 months to two years, and that Conservative officials are already scouring opposition MPs' Twitter accounts, web pages and the media in general in the hope of unearthing damaging or embarrassing material relating to what might be interpreted as “policy statements”.

A source said: "The message from Ed was that whilst we might not be in government now any slip, such as suggesting the party had a firm and agreed policy on something, can do huge damage to the party's chances of actually getting into government because people will expect to see it in the manifesto and if we react to this expectation and include it, then secondly when the party gets back into government the electorate expect you to follow it.  And that has worked really well for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, hasn’t it?   So the next 18 months are  crucial.  And the next few weeks are crucial ahead of the June spending review.  In fact every day is crucial. We must say "nothing” about what we would or might do, and just focus on how badly the present government is operating and implementing policies we devised”.

With Labour's poll lead showing signs of decreasing in recent weeks, some at the top of the party have told Ed there is also a need for the leadership to "crack the whip" and use the prospect of a reshuffle to ensure loyalty and encourage frontbenchers to strictly avoid trying to “make their mark”. 
Pressed to name names the spokesperson remained guarded, simply saying "There are too many people in frontbench positions who are very visible and sometimes vocal.  Ed, Yvette and Liam know who they are” adding  "We don't know why they do what they do, going around suggesting we might do something different. We want our people to be inactive and disciplined,  and to stop frightening or misleading the electorate into thinking we are contemplating being different to the present government, and indeed the government before it, should we get back into office.  The electorate don’t believe it, as evidenced by the reduction in our poll ratings. The prospect of a reshuffle should focus these idiots minds right through the summer and during conference."

"We are coming for you next" Iain Duncan Smith warns Sunday Telegraph reading 3rd Agers ...

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Telegraph the Work and Pensions Secretary informed its elderly readers that if they could afford to pay for the Sunday Telegraph they obviously had far too much money and should not expect to receive "something for nothing handouts from the state" for much longer. 

"It's all very well these people claiming that without Winter Fuel Payments, and free Bus passes and TV licences, they wouldn't have the money to afford to buy the Telegraph" he said "but why should the state be subsidising this stay at home, cosy chair by the fireside reading what is undoubtedly the finest newspaper in the land as a prelude to watching Countdown lifestyle ?", adding "and why should the state provide the means whereby they are able to indulge in reckless gambling by giving them free bus passes to take them to and from Bingo? It's madness."   

In a further indication of how serious a problem he regards it as Duncan Smith also said "Poor Widows in Mansions, I have had them up to here.  I'm going to means test them all in respect of everything until the pips squeak.  Thanks to UC I've now got all the technology to do it you know."

The interview came to an abrupt and unscheduled end when Mr Duncan Smith was suddenly collected by some rather burly gentlemen who said they had been sent from Number 10 to escort him to an urgent meeting with the PM.  Mr Duncan Smith was heard to be muttering something about "pensions triple lock, my arse" as they led him away.

Saturday 27 April 2013

George Jones 1931 - 2013

As requested by DBC Reed, "He stopped loving her today" (which features a tasty semi-tone gearchange after 56 seconds):

"Gaza's Property Ladder"

S G emailed in this article from Channel 4, worth reading in full, but just to whet your appetite...

In war-torn Gaza, 'Location, Location, Location' means finding an apartment in one of the highly sought-after areas that are usually not shelled or hit by missiles.

Reporter Seyi Rhodes and producer Daniel Bogado... meet Essam Mortja, an estate agent and property developer who says his property business is booming. He shows them some of the glitzy properties he's helped sell at prices of up to US $3 million.

Property prices for luxury villas and apartments in elite areas like El Remal are on par with London and New York. The area is right by the sea and has stunning views, but there's one other reason why the prices are so high. It's where the UN building is located, which means Israeli planes are less likely to bomb the area.

Life copies satire

From Hot Fuzz:

Spotted by VFTS in The Telegraph:

Three officers and a riot van tackle a roaming swan

A police force condemned as heavy handed for shooting dead an escaped cow is facing criticism again, after sending three officers, a patrol car and a riot van to tackle a lost swan.

Police rushed to the scene to deal with the errant swan, which was spotted wandering along a road near student accomodation in Lincoln. Fearing it may disrupt traffic, two PCSOs in a patrol car and an officer in a riot van attended the scene to find the bird wandering in the car park.

Witnesses reported seeing them attempt to coax the swan to a more appropriate home for around half an hour, before eventually snaring it with a sheet and bundling it carefully into the back of the van. It has since been returned to a nearby river, where it is said to be unharmed.

Baffled bystanders have now said they had "no idea" why police became involved in the operation, claiming the bird seemed "perfectly happy" where it was.

Short lists

1. Titles of songs by the Velvet Underground which were later used by Led Zeppelin for completely different songs.

2. Heads of state/governments of "allied" European countries who were not in London during the Second World War.

This is a Public Information posting - Product Withdrawal : The withdrawn product is Booths Whole Hearted Roasted Monkey Nuts, 350g, best before July 12, 2013.

‘Customers with an allergy to peanuts are advised not to eat this product but to return it to the nearest EH Booths store for a full refund.

 'The reason for the withdrawal is that the packaging does not state the product contains peanuts, which is a specific allergen that’s listed in legislation.'

'The product’s packaging is transparent, but the nuts are still in the shells i.e. sold as monkey nuts rather than specifically as peanuts.'

Supermarket forced to pull packets of Whole Hearted Roasted Monkey Nuts from the shelves...because nuts aren't listed as ingredient

With variants on that headline appearing across the UK MSM - and overseas - we must surely conclude that notwithstanding the potential seriousness it is also considered pretty damn funny.  Or a cause to cry.  If only I knew how to run a "poll".

Friday 26 April 2013

"... and caused serious damage to the lounge"

Spotted by JuliaM in The Daily Mail:

Armed police were involved in a tense stand-off after cornering a rampaging bullock that smashed its way into a house.

Firearms officers dashed to the scene to tackle a herd of cattle that went on the run after escaping from a field in Heacham, Norfolk. During the mayhem, one of the animals crashed through the glass patio doors of a house and caused serious damage to the lounge.*

At one point, police with automatic weapons looked like they were preparing to shoot the intruder, but the bull eventually surrendered peacefully.

Says our spotter: "Automatic weapons??"

* As you would expect of a bull in a china shop lounge.

DWP issues “simple rules” for Universal Credit launch

“I really wouldn’t bother applying, if I were you” says DWP spokesperson, adding “as so few of you are likely to qualify

The new information on the stringent qualifying criteria for Universal Credit (UC) came as the DWP confirmed that it was about to run the first stringent pilot test of the new systems that have been introduced in the DWP and HMRC to manage “many benefits under one label” UC, which will replace a number of currently separate benefits. 

Setting out the new criteria in detail the spokesperson explained that "UC will only go to single people; with no disabilities and no children, who are fit and able to work" quickly continuing “Who are not entitled to Housing Benefit or mortgage interest support, have been unemployed for no more than six months, do not have parents or siblings or partners with whom they are living in sin for whom they exercise any form of caring responsibility, and who were born in the Tameside area, preferably on a Tuesday in a year the digits of which are exactly divisible by 4 and who like listening to King Crimson and home baking and flower arranging"

This radical redefining of who can qualify for UC is fully expected to deliver the immense savings in welfare expenditure Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has constantly been assuring Chancellor George Osborne UC would deliver, ever since the Chancellor agreed to provide the DWP with the countless hundreds of £millions extra funding required to deliver the IT hardware and software which UC required.

The DWP spokesperson also stressed that the pilot exercise would start shortly, as soon as “the pilot claimant” had been identified, adding that after several weeks work by a crack DWP investigative team bolstered by support from Tameside CID the department felt it was “close to identifying our man”.

The “pilot test” is likely to involve a “parallel running” exercise involving processing the pilot claim on both the new IT systems and manually, to see which works and which is quickest.  The DWP spokesperson said that should it prove in both cases to be the manual system that should not be regarded as “bad news” because it meant the full national roll out of UC could proceed whilst the Department concentrated on getting that new IT system up and running, without its unavailability hindering the garnering of the massive savings that UC will deliver, whilst adding that the DWP might have to run a swift recruitment exercise to ensure sufficient “paper and pen familiar” staff were on-hand to “process the claims from people who had given up trying to actually lodge an on-line claim, and simply printed the screen details out and walked them into their nearest JCP+”

(with thanks to MW for the steer)

It's what the fridge is for, innit ...

Yesterday, keen readers will recall, we had Anna Soubry sounding off about "Coffee shops" and the failings of modern day parents,  both for allowing their offspring to even enter such places and for the failure to properly inculcate a firm "I shall not eat between meals" understanding in their offspring.  Which however irritating is undoubtedly the accepted role of "Health Minister's" these days and probably helps raise or maintain their public profile.

Today, another Minister, not in the Department of Health, is having his public profile raised for allegedly having taken us all - but specifically "Mums" - to task for "wasting food" - the Minister in question being Environment Minister Richard Benyon.

Shadow Environment Minister Mary Creagh has launched an outraged attack on Richard  for allegedly accusing the nation's Mum's of lacking "careful fridge management capabilities" meaning that too often mealtime leftovers were being thrown away, rather than stuck in the 'fridge for consumption later.

The really funny things about this are, in no particular order (1) how little of Mary's "outrage press release" deals with the issue allegedly under discussion before morphing into the present standard Not Red Ed Labour hammer into every subject/repeat at every opportunity soundbite and (2) that no less a personage than the Mighty Ding has leapt in to defend Richard from the accusation being leveled at him ..

 ... the Prime Minister warned that newspaper reports about Mr Benyon's remarks might not have been correct.

“Obviously, that does not look good, but what you’ve done is take a newspaper article, assume that everything in it is right and repeat it," David Cameron told BBC News.

"What happened yesterday was there was a debate in Westminster on the issue of food waste and as the minister responsible he was responsible for giving an answer on issues to do with food waste and supermarket packaging ... But, you know, it is frustrating when newspapers, you know, write things up in a way that I think is, you know, quite wrong.”
Any way, at least we all now know who in government holds the "'fridge management capabilities" brief, and, given the nation is failing in this area, at minimum a public awareness campaign must be on the cards ...  

Turner Prize Art Gallery 'Targetted for crap artwork"

From the BBC:

An art gallery hosting paintings by Turner Prize nominees has been vandalised.
Threats were made against the Tate Modern, in London, if it did not remove the artwork, staff have confirmed.
Black paint was smeared over the shop window early on Tuesday morning, Metropolitan Police said.
The artists involved had been accused of being 'crap' by the public.
A police spokeswoman confirmed officers were called to reports of criminal damage at the gallery where it is suspected a man smeared paint on the window with his hands. She added that the gallery were now considering hanging the work as symbolic of the rage caused by incredulity, and will probably flog it to Maurice Saatchi for a few grand.
The force said it did not know the motive behind the vandalism and that millions of possible suspects are being considered.
Gallery staff confirmed it would continue to hang their paintings.

"Tony Blair and George W. Bush are reunited at the opening of former President's library"

From The Daily Mail:

Ten years after embarking on the bloody Iraq War with bosom buddy and former American president George W. Bush, ex prime minister Tony Blair cut a lonely figure at a presidential reunion yesterday.

As he sat surrounded by empty chairs the former Labour leader, whose government went to war claiming Iraq had 'weapons of mass destruction', Blair looked on as the five living American presidents gathered in Dallas to honor the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The tanned former prime minister, who George Bush famously called out to as 'Yo, Blair!' at a G8 meeting in 2006, soon cheered up once seats were filled by other past and present world leaders at the ceremony in Texas...

Speaking to the press after the event, the multi-milionaire warmonger Blair revealed that the Bush Library contains the copy of "The Pet Goat" which George Bush was reading to school children on 9/11, as well as the finest and most extensive collecton of Peanuts annuals and colouring books "this side of Alexandria".

Cat now firmly out of bag -

although that City AM article link is still returning a firm "access denied" - but never mind, you can go read, in the G, about  how "Accountancy firms 'use knowledge of Treasury to help rich avoid tax' – MPs" and how this "Experts offering advice on legislation they helped to create is 'ridiculous conflict of interest', says select committee chair" .. 

Margaret Hodge, the PAC's chair, said the actions of the accountancy firms were tantamount to a scam and represented a "ridiculous conflict of interest" which must be stopped. "The large accountancy firms are in a powerful position in the tax world and have an unhealthily cosy relationship with government," she said, calling for the Treasury to stop accepting* their staff to draw up new tax laws.
* presumably she also wants the Treasury to stop placing advertisements inviting said firms (oh and others who feel they can spare the staff concerned and wish to fulfill some public service obligation) to encourage their staff to nominate themselves for seconding to the Treasury, in fact we can probably take that as read.  

Only kidding ! Despite that "which must be stopped" they don't actually go as far as making one of their recommendations "It must stop".  However, as explained in the Report's Recommendation 3 they do want the Treasury to ensure that 
the code of conduct we have proposed for tax advisors sets out how conflicts of interest should be managed when a firm advises government on the formulation of tax law and subsequently provides tax advice to clients in related areas.
For those of you who are particularly keen to see what the PAC thinks, and what other recommendations it has made in detail 44st Report - Tax avoidance: the role of large accountancy firms

or PDF version 44st Report - Tax avoidance: the role of large accountancy firms (PDF)

Update : According to the Beeb no less It is a recommendation in the report ...

Ban 'insider' tax accountants - MPs

A ban on external accountants working inside government, to stop them telling clients about tax loopholes they have found, has been urged by MPs.

The recommendation is in a report on tax avoidance by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

However, in its report  Tax avoidance: HMRC ‘too cosy’ with accountancy giants the Indie says that 

 "There is a conflict of interest because the top firms of accountants use inside knowledge gained from seconding employees to the Treasury to “sell clients advice” on how to pay less tax, warns Margaret Hodge" and later quote her as saying "“They second staff to the Treasury to advise on formulating tax legislation. When those staff return to their firms, they have the very inside knowledge and insight to be able to identify loopholes in the new legislation and advise their clients on how to take advantage of them. The poacher, turned gamekeeper for a time, returns to poaching. This is a ridiculous conflict of interest which should be banned in a code of conduct for tax advisers.”

Which, I suggest, is not the same as having published a recommendation saying the practice whereby HM Treasury takes staff on secondment from the Big 4 or any other accountancy firm should be banned.   But there you go ... 
Update Update : The G have just (11:40 am) placed an updated piece on line Margaret Hodge urges accountancy code of practice over role in tax laws in which they quote from Ms Hodge's interview on the BBC Today programme :
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday, Hodge called for the introduction of a tax-planning code of practice to ensure that accountancy firms brought in by the government to "transfer intelligence and innovation" did not use their position to their clients' advantage.
"Tax reliefs are one of the great areas where the accountancy firms and the lawyers and the companies themselves do take advantage of these perfectly legitimate intentions of government and use them to avoid tax, and I just think it's not on," she said.  "There's a perfectly simple way around this. There should be a code of practice whereby the accountancy firms who do come in and give that technical advice … can't then go off and flog the schemes."
The G also preface that quote with "The large accountancy firms are in a powerful position in the tax world and have an unhealthily cosy relationship with government," she said, calling for the Treasury to stop accepting their staff to draw up new tax laws.

So, according to Ms Hodge herself, she is suggesting that H M Treasury should stop taking staff on secondment from the large accountancy firms to draw up new tax laws but, not having made that a specific recommendation in the report, and perhaps also assuming that the secondments are going to continue - as indeed Treasury Minister David Gauke implied when he was interviewed by the Beeb this morning** - has recommended the perfectly simple solution of "a code of practice, etc. etc." 

**  as had previously been strongly implied by "an Spokesperson", as the G reports
An HMRC spokesman said: "HMRC gives careful consideration to the potential risks, as well as how to mitigate any potential conflicts of interest, before any such secondments are agreed. On balance, the carefully targeted use of secondees is beneficial for the development of tax policy and improving the effectiveness of the tax system."
We can only conclude that the mystery of the recommendation that wasn't made, and why it wasn't, and the fall out from that, is obviously going to run and run...  

Thursday 25 April 2013

If only every child was brung up proper to always be a good boy or girl like Anna

Plain-speaking Anna Soubry accused them of tempting children with large syrup-laden coffees topped with marshmallows and cream – followed by an enormous muffin

Who "them" ?

She said the proliferation of coffee shops such as Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero on Britain’s high streets were making the problem worse, because they were popular with young people.
The minister has previously attacked bakeries for selling cakes and croissants which were too large, and has called for supermarkets and restaurants to do more to reduce portion sizes.

OK, so “they” are the guilty … anyone else at fault ?

During a Parliamentary debate, Miss Soubry also turned her fire on today’s parents who she accused of no longer bringing up their children not to eat between meals.  She recalled that the concept of ‘snacking’ simply did not exist when she was young, and that she was told in no uncertain terms by her mother and father that she should only eat at mealtimes. Miss Soubry said child obesity was such a problem because youngsters were much more likely to eat between meals than those of her own generation.

 ‘Let us talk about something that did not exist when I was young—the concept of snacking,’ she said.  ‘I was positively told not to eat between meals. If we now look in the real world at how young people live and at what they feel is acceptable, it includes going into the many coffee shops that exist'.

Now that is odd, because I am older than good girl Anna and I distinctly remember from my childhood a certain product that promoted itself as "the sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite" - thus ensuring the possibility of being so stuffed on "snacks" that you couldn't "finish everything on your plate”  and the consequences of that wouldn't arise, and given that the word "snack" is reckoned to have been in common parlance since the 14th century that does tend to suggest “snacking” clearly was a concept that existed when Anna was a young, but obviously good girl, who wouldn't have dreamt of doing it;  any way .....

‘I have no problem with coffee shops,
(here comes the "but"
but young people go in and have a large coffee—not a small one—which has syrup in it. It might have marshmallows on top, and then perhaps another little dollop of cream, because it is just a snack, a treat or elevenses. “And by the way”, they say, “I think I’ll have one of those very nice muffins.” They do not know how many calories that is.’

Pretty familiar then with the menu in these terrible places, our Anna; sort of makes you wonder if she has finally stopped being "a good girl" 

MPs let cat out of bag. Cat stuffed back into bag.

There was an interesting snippet in this morning's paper version of CityAM, for which there is a corresponding link:


but which now just says "Access denied".

I'd put it down to a glitch but I've noticed this happen a couple of times with similar revelations in the City AM. Gotta keep the advertisers happy, I guess. Why they leave the empty URL dangling there for all to see instead of deleting it is unclear to me.

Anyways, the final paragraph of the article mentioned something which BobE pointed to me out a while ago...

The MPs [on the Public Accounts Select Committee] also attacked the practice of seconding staff from the Big Four accountancy firms to the Treasury to help draft tax law.

"We are concerned that the very people who provide this advice then go on to advise their clients how to use those laws to avoid tax," they said.

UPDATE: It would appear that CityAM had to withdraw the article because it was based on a pre-released press release embargoed until midnight tonight.

They own land! Give them money!

From the FT:

Buy-to-let landlords could be the biggest beneficiaries of the Bank of England's expanded Funding for Lending Scheme, providing another state-backed fillip to the property market. The BoE gave the go-ahead on Wednesday for banks tapping its new funding mechanism for small- and medium-sized businesses to be allowed to lend the money on to property investors...

Landlords have already benefited under the existing FLS as banks and building societies have passed on lower borrowing costs. The average buy-to-let rate has fallen from 5.09 per cent in August, when the FLS was launched, to 4.28 per cent today, according to figures from Moneyfacts, the financial data provider. This helped push buy-to-let lending up 19 per cent [of all new lending] last year, with the number of buy-to-let mortgages reaching its highest level in four years.

So that's the landlords sorted, and how much interest are the banks paying for the benefit of these taxpayer-backed loans?

From City AM:


■ Banks and building societies can now access ultra-cheap funds from the Bank of England until January 2015 – an extra year on the previous setup

■ For institutions expanding their lending, the funds cost just 0.25 percentage points per year

■ Those reducing lending have to pay more, on a sliding scale up to a maximum of 1.5 percentage points per year

■ Funds provided under the scheme then last for four years.

"This is not like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis"

From The Daily Mail:

The 11th-century minaret of a little known mosque that towered over Aleppo's old quarter was destroyed yesterday as fighting raged in the ancient Syrian city.

President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels trying to overthrow him accused each other of being to blame for the destruction to the Umayyad Mosque, inexplicably classified as a UNESCO world heritage site and the only structure of note in Aleppo's walled Old City.

"This is not like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens. This was just one pretty indifferent mosque among thousands," said Helga Seeden, a professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut. "This is not a disaster like the recent earthquakes in Iran or China or that building collapsing in Dhaka. In terms of heritage, this is pretty much par for the course in Syria. I'm ever so slightly peeved but I think I'll get over it.

"Oh, I just did."

Wednesday 24 April 2013

"David Cameron to look at crack-down on envelopes after nasty spate of paper cuts"

Spotted by Graeme in The Telegraph:

The Prime Minister said he would "look carefully" at how the trade in non-self adhesive envelopes still sold over the counter can be stopped.

His intervention comes after Sarah Houston, a 23-year-old who was working as an intern at the Number 10 policy unit, was found in the ladies' toilets bleeding from her tongue after trying to moisten an envelope without using the office-approved moistening pad, last week. The parents of the Leeds University student have called for an end to the "morally repugnant" practice of selling sharp-edged envelopes and more regulation.

Their case was raised in the House of Commons by Caroline Nokes, who called for the Prime Minister to stop envelopes being sold after several of her constituents reported similar injuries to their fingers and one of her researchers suffered a nasty gash at the corner of her mouth while attempting to lick an A4 envelope all the way across in one go.

She said 62 people had to attend A&E in the past year after sliding their fingers under the flaps of envelopes, which are "easily available on the high street alongside other dangerous stationery products such as staple guns".

Take the bureaucrat middlemen out of the equation and let the industry do the selling AND the buying ....

MoD poised to privatise part of troubled defence procurement process

Announcement expected to say that everyday management of Defence Equipment & Support will be handed to private sector

Ministers are poised to announce the next stage of controversial reforms that will give private firms a chance to run the organisation that buys and supplies billions of pounds' worth of defence equipment to the British military.

The Treasury has given the green light to proposals that will open up the possibility of part-privatising Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the body within the Ministry of Defence in charge of procuring everything from new warships to lightbulbs.

Despite concern from union leaders, experts and former military personnel, the plan has been under consideration for almost a year as ministers and senior civil servants grapple with ways of saving money within defence.

With an annual budget of £15bn and 15,000 staff, DE&S plays a crucial role for the MoD, and no other nation has ever privatised such an integral part of the military machine.

But DE&S has been criticised for allowing expensive projects to run out of control, partly because of too much meddling from military commanders, prompting defence secretary Philip Hammond to consider private sector involvement.

In an announcement expected on Thursday, ministers will say they are pursuing reforms in which DE&S will remain government owned, but not government run. Day-to-day management would be undertaken by a private company, possibly from abroad.

"Labour to introduce compulsory but entirely notional National Insurance hypothecation scheme to fund "out of work" salary insurance loan fund for normally hard working families only"

Or “Crisis Loan Scheme for those with ‘the right sort of NI history’”

As they see it “"In other words, the social security system would add a new function: smoothing household income to help people to cope with the loss of a wage, keeping them out of the hands of payday lenders and loan sharks, while reclaiming the money once they are back on their feet."

What it will be in practice

“called "national salary insurance" and developed by the IPPR thinktank – people with sufficient national insurance contributions would be entitled to receive up to 70% of their previous income, capped at £200 a week [nb that £200 including any other “out of work benefits” being received], for a period of up to six months, to help prevent them falling off a financial "cliff edge".

More details here Labour plans student-style 'salary loans' for the unemployed   and here Why Labour is right to consider a salary insurance scheme  for anyone who wants to see how many words you can expend describing “a crisis loans scheme” as if it was something entirely new and exciting and different.

Economic Myths: The UK economy is "reliant on trade"

From the City AM editorial:

ONE should never read too much into any one set of numbers, but yesterday's batch of global economic indicators was grim. America, China and Germany are all slowing sharply, suggesting that world growth is dipping again. For economies such as Britain's, which are reliant on trade, this isn't good news...

Good grief.

a) All economies are reliant on "trade", it's the only way of measuring it and "economy" and "trade" are more or less the same thing anyway. The bulk of wealth is created by specialisation, the flip side of which is that there has to be more exchange (or "trade") between specialists. Work you do for yourself is difficult to measure or value, as is barter (even though all "trade" is ultimately barter, "money" is just a unit very handy unit of measurement).

b) Whole countries don't export to or import from each other. Some people make stuff and other people consume it. If you buy oranges in the UK, then they are "imported", if you buy oranges in Israel, they are "domestic"*. And if an Israeli tourist in London buys an orange then the Israeli farmer counts it as export and the UK wholesaler counts it as import, but spending by Israeli tourists in the UK counts as an export from the UK's point of view and as an import from Israel's point of view. It's still just orange growers selling oranges to people who like eating them.

c) As a matter of common sense and observation, the larger an economy is (more people or higher GDP), the smaller is the share of imports and exports as a fraction of GDP. For example, if all the countries in the world were merged into a single country, the sum total of exports or imports would be precisely $nil. And if Scotland becomes independent, all the sales to and purchases from "rest of UK" which hitherto counted as domestic will now show up as imports or exports, even though nothing has really changed. So assuming that he means "imports and exports" when he says "trade", then "trade" is inversely proportional to GDP or population size.

d) The UK is a relatively large economy and using regression analysis, we would expect imports and exports to be about 40% of our GDP. As it happens, the UK is also an island which is not at a convenient spot on the international trade routes and our imports and exports are "only" 32% of GDP.

So misleading crap as per usual.

* I've no idea whether the Israelis still grow and export oranges. They did when I was a lad.

"The UK economy is doing really well...

... apart from the bits which are doing really badly", says Top Bank Of England Economist:

CONFIDENCE is improving, exports are on the up and large swathes of the economy are growing relatively strongly, the Bank of England's Ian McCafferty said yesterday, dismissing the threat of a triple dip recession...

"If we adjust overall GDP growth for the sharp falls in construction and North Sea oil output, the rest of the economy – over 90 per cent of GDP – grew by 1.2 per cent last year," McCafferty told the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce's Women in Business conference.

Genius plan to rejuvenate the High Street!

Graeme linked to this in The Telegraph:

The Prime Minister is to announce a Government-backed code of conduct which will mean that pornography is blocked in public spaces such as cafes and railway stations where children are likely to be present.

Mr Cameron said that he wanted “good, clean WiFi” in public spaces which would give parents confidence that their children cannot access illicit websites on smart phones or mobile computers.

The Prime Minister said: “We are promoting good, clean, WiFi in local cafes and elsewhere to make sure that people have confidence in public WiFi systems so that they are not going to see things they shouldn’t.

Does he not get embarrassed saying stuff like this? Does he not realise that he's making a complete idiot of himself?

The coalition of charities, which includes the NSPCC and The Children’s Society, last night welcomed Mr Cameron’s intervention...

Just for old times' sake...

The NSPCC's 2012 accounts have a nice long list of donors at the back, which includes Comic Relief, The Department of Education, Welsh Government, Army Central Fund, Department of Health 3rd Sector Investment Program (Dart), Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety, Newcastle International Airport,BBC Children In Need Appeal and Glasgow City Council. They received over £9 million in "statutory funding", see note 3, page 31.

The Children's Society 2012 accounts note 7 on "Incoming resources from charitable activities" says they received £13 million from central and local government for doing what it is they pretend to do.

Ooops! Maybe I should have added a further "Off" option to this week's Fun Online Poll.

In this morning's news... Robert Pattinson Jets Back To Los Angeles Following Kristen Stewart, Rupert Sanders Rumours

Pensions annuities now pay out 2% per annum. To the annuity company.

Another one which BobE emailed in, from The Guardian:

The ONS figures, published in its Pensions Trends report, show that savers who want to achieve a larger retirement income have also seen big rises in the amount they need to have saved during their working life. To buy an inflation-linked retirement income of £25,000, less than the UK's average salary, now takes a pension fund of £763,900.

That is the figure given by the ONS (page 2), which we shall assume to be broadly correct.

For some strange reason, possibly EU related, the cost is now the same for men and women, even though women tend to live longer and so it should be more expensive for them. The result of this will be that men avoid buying an annuity and it's now a better deal for women, as a result of which the price will creep up a bit more and men will simply not buy annuities if at all possible.

To work out the annuity rate, all we need to know is average life expectancy at retirement, which is 21 for men and 27 for women = 24 years according to the ONS.

Bung "=PV(-0.0185,24,25000)" into a spreadsheet and you get a nice round present value of £764,000.

OK, that's index linked, which means the initial return will be lower than non-index linked, but I'm not sure how they justify paying out a negative return. If you were prepared to gamble on living exactly 24 years and inflation being 2% throughout, you could put the money under the mattress, not earning a penny in interest, spend £25,000 in the first year and increase the amount you spend every year by 2% to match inflation and you'd still end up with £4,000 left over to cover your funeral costs.

(I'm ignoring tax distortions in all of this).

Tuesday 23 April 2013

"Winston House Prepatory School"

I emailed them about this today, let's see how long it takes them to corect it:

Grand Alliance Rapid Policy Response Unit er responds to Not Red Ed proposal

with something "similar but different"

Today … 

The Government is considering the idea of “hospital hotels” where elderly patients can recover from illnesses or falls.

The proposals to ease so-called bed-blocking on NHS wards are based on a system used in Scandinavia, where services are run by private hotel chains.

NHS England, the new body responsible for recommending how local doctors' groups should provide for their patients, has been asked to review the scheme.

Yesterday …..

The NHS would be handed responsibility for providing nursing home care for the elderly under a future Labour government in an attempt to constrain Britain's spiralling healthcare costs, Ed Miliband will announce today.

At present, while hospital and primary care is the responsibility of the NHS, the cost of nursing and social care is met by local councils. This means that some patients – many of them elderly – are kept for longer than they should be in expensive hospital beds as councils delay taking responsibility for their care, a problem known as "bed blocking".  Labour's move could open the way for hospital trusts to diversify into social care and provide services more efficiently than at present.

Mr Miliband will announce the launch of an independent commission, led by a former Department of Health official, Sir John Oldham, to draw up detailed proposals for how the new system would work in time to be included in Labour's manifesto.

They own land! Give them money!

Spotted by BobE at Inside Housing:

A Gloucestershire council is developing its own mortgage scheme to help first-time buyers onto the housing ladder.

Cotswold Council plans to guarantee 20 per cent of the buyers' deposit so they will only need to raise 5 per cent to buy their first home. This should enable them to access lower mortgage rates by satisfying the requirement for 20 to 25 per cent of the property price that lenders commonly ask for.

The scheme is similar to the government's Firstbuy shared equity scheme, which also offers 20 per cent equity loans, but applies to purchases of existing as well as new properties.

Rosemary Lynn, the head of sustainable communities and housing at the council, said: 'We are conscious that it is very difficult for young people in the Cotswolds to get a deposit together for a house, especially when the typical sum required for this area is about £15,000 given that the maximum loan to value mortgage on offer is normally 80 to 90 per cent. This scheme would enable them to obtain a 95 per cent loan to value mortgage and it would make a big difference financially.'

The council is working with consultants Sector Treasury Services to find a partner lender and on the legal details of the scheme, which it intends to launch in the autumn this year.

Interesting business proposition from the Middle East

From the FT:

Syria's top rebel commander is seeking western backing to create a military unit to take control of oilfields controlled by al-Qaeda-linked extremists and other rebels, as lucrative natural resources captured from the regime stoke tension between rival factions...

General Selim Idriss, the western-backed head of the Supreme Military Council, told the Financial Times he wanted to assemble a 30,000-strong force of military defectors to secure oilfields, grain silos and cotton stocks, as well as crossing points on the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

From the numbers given in this and an accompanying article, here's the offer on the table:

The general is asking for $40 million a month (call it $0.5 billion for the first year), he will use this to employ 40,000 or so mercenaries-cum-young, motivated and idealistic patriots, each paid $100 a month (leaving 90% of the budget for weapons and his profit margin), and hopefully within a year or so, he'll have his hands on the oil wells and about $1 or $2 billion's worth of oil exports per annum.

I can imagine that this will be tricky from a negotiating and legal point of view. It is quite likely that some other generals will be seeking other investors on more favourable terms etc, so the likelihood of:

- your chosen candidate succeeding; and
- him not being assassinated; and
- him actually being clever enough to stay in power; and
- him actually being honest enough to repay your investment instead of disappearing with the money; and
- the oil wells not being promptly renationalised;

is very small indeed, but it must be worth a punt if you have $500 million to spare.

"Your spouse's credit card spending sees slight dip"

From the BBC:

Your spouse put £12,060 on the plastic in the financial year to April 2013, slightly lower than the amount by which he/she* overspent in the previous year. The amount was just £30 lower than the previous year's total of £12,090. You have slammed the credit card spending as "catastrophically off course" and said it "would take 400 years to balance the family's books."

Following a heated argument about whether "400 years" was a wild exaggeration or actually understating the enormity of the situation, your spouse has promised to stop using his/her* credit and store cards by 2017 or 2018. His/her* spokesman said: "Though it is taking time, he/she is fixing your household's economic problems. His/her* credit spending is a third lower than a few years ago, several whizz bang new electronic gadgets/complete new outfits including shoes* have been acquired and interest rates are at near-record lows, benefiting you and your business."

The cost of his/her* unnecessary shopping sprees in March fell to £1,510 from £1,670 a year earlier, excluding one-off items such as the interest charge on the accumulated debts of £100,000 said the Office for Nagging Spouses (ONS). And that new set of golf clubs/D&G designer handbag* that were in the sales and actually saved you money in the long term.

* Delete according to gender/sexuality.

One of them's out by a factor of five.

From Policy Exchange, published as read by The Daily Mail:

Housing and Intergenerational Fairness calls on policymakers to reform the planning system to encourage the construction of new good quality homes that will not antagonise local people. Current rules make it almost impossible for developers to build houses with extra floors which has led to a situation where only 2% of UK housing stock consists of bungalows. In 2009, only 300 bungalows were built. The report says that building more bungalows will allow older people to downsize, freeing up family sized homes for younger families.

Well yes, hooray for more bungalows* if that's what people want, but 2%? WTF?

According to the DCLG:

1.3 About one in five (19%) dwellings were flats with the rest being houses and bungalows. Looking at houses, the vast majority (80%) consisted of two storeys above ground, some 11% were bungalows and 9% had 3 or more storeys, Figure 1.2.

The majority of flats were in blocks of less than six storeys with just 8% in blocks that were higher than this. Around 1.5 million flats (37%) were situated at ground floor level.

11% x 81% = about 9% of all dwellings are bungalows. Not 2%. In the UK, most flats are low-rise, so by definition a third are on the ground floor. And, to restate what you would have assumed anyway...

1.20 There were also large variations in the mix of dwelling types in different areas. Only 4% of dwellings in village centres and isolated rural areas and 6% in rural residential areas were flats compared with 63% of those in city centres and 32% in other urban centres, Figure 1.15. One in five (20%) of dwellings in city centres were converted flats.

The most common type in suburban areas was semi-detached houses, whereas in rural areas, detached houses were more common. One in five (22%) of dwellings in rural residential areas and 17% in village locations were bungalows.

It's the Holy Trinity. Build densities are driven by location values; location values are driven by population density; population density is driven by location values and limited by build density; and so on ad infinitum.

* So called because the first man to build one ran out of bricks after he'd finished the ground floor and decided to just bung a low roof on.