Friday 31 May 2013

Daily Mail "Crime and Estate Agency" report falls sadly short of what we have come to expect ....

To be honest they have totally failed to deliver on this one. Well below their usual standard of this type of reporting.  True, the Mansion gets one repeat mention, including the value, in the body of the article, but there are no photographs of it to be seen.  Almost makes you wonder why they bothered mentioning it, really.

Teenage girl raped on way home to family's £2.5m mansion by serial offender after getting stranded outside nightclub

Global Warming may be good...

...for property prices?

Well maybe. As in the rising sea levels that we are told will soon'ish be upon us could perchance have a silver lining. (It's Friday evening, ok? I think t-i-c is allowed on Friday evenings.)

Any way, the short piece to be found by following that link to the Indie Property Section is chock-a-block with info on the premia that properties on the seafront, besides a babbling brook or on the edges of a lake can command in the UK, and just to whet your appetites "with properties situated on estuaries commanding the largest premium (average uplift of 82%). Estuary hotspots include Rock, Salcombe, Dartmouth, St Mawes and Newton Ferrers and on the south coast areas such as Sandbanks and the Beaulieu River Estuary."

What prompted me to actually post, aside from the useful info, was this line:- "Christopher Bailey, Head of Waterfront department at Knight Frank ...".

I wonder if Knight Frank have specialists covering other areas - is there a Head of Within 3 Miles of a Major Airport or Head of Right By the Refuse & Reclamation Centre/Water Treatment Plant?

Oh what a pair of teasers!

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to set out Labour approach to public spending shouted the G Headline. Two key speeches will seek to define spending priorities and remove perception of party as indecisive promised the subheading. Gosh, I thought, that is precisely what the country has been awaiting with bated breath, they are going to be such big events people will be selling their tickets to them on E-Bay.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls plan to make two major speeches on the economy next week setting out their approach to public spending, including a commitment to cap spending on what is described as structural welfare spending as opposed to spending increases caused by recession.
“a commitment to cap spending on what is described as structural welfare spending “ – is this Labour’s version of George Osborne’s commitment to cap Annually Managed Expenditure? Surely Labour aren’t proposing to bring in means testing of pensioner benefits like free bus passes, TV licences and Winter Fuel Allowance? This gets potentially better and better in terms of the prospect of some “blow you away” speeches.

And then Patrick Wintour went and burst the bubble.
Ed Balls's speech is not expected to state Labour's specific spending plans for the next parliament, something that will be left to closer to the election in the light of the scale of any economic recovery by 2015.

His aides acknowledge that his five-point plan set out in the first year of the Conservative government has lasted longer than originally intended because of the unexpectedly long recession, and the time has come for a broader approach on spending.

Balls has already promised a zero-based spending review after the election, and has also said his deficit reduction plans will be guided by rules overseen by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
I don’t think I shall be joining in that “ticket frenzy” on E-Bay after all, sounds to me like Ed and Ed are going to very carefully explain that “they haven’t really got anything to tell us at all. Yet. But do watch this space!”

"3 reasons why so many people are moving to Texas"

Dave H emailed in this from the BBC:
2. It's cheaper

Once employed, it's hugely important that your pay cheque goes as far as possible, says Kotkin.

"New York, LA and the [San Francisco] Bay Area are too expensive for most people to live, but Houston has the highest 'effective' pay cheque in the country... The ratio of the median home price to median annual household income in Houston is only 2.9. In San Francisco, it's 6.7. In New York, San Francisco and LA, if you're blue-collar you will be renting forever and struggling to make ends meet. But people in Texas have a better shot at getting some of the things associated with middle-class life."

3. Homes

Land is cheaper than elsewhere and the process of land acquisition very efficient, says Dr Ali Anari, research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

"From the time of getting a building permit right through to the construction of homes, Texas is much quicker than other states. There is an abundant supply of land and fewer regulations and more friendly government, generally a much better business attitude here than other states."

This flexibility, plus strict lending rules, helped to shield the state from the recent housing market crash.

4. Low tax

Texas is one of only seven states where residents pay no personal state income tax, says Kay Bell, contributing tax editor at Bankrate and Texan native.

The state has a disproportionate take from property taxes, which has become a big complaint among homeowners, she adds. But overall, only five states had a lower individual tax burden than Texas, according to Tax Foundation research.

Simple, isn't it?

Reduce taxes on earnings and collect taxes from the rental value of land instead and wonderful things happen, even if you don't really understand the mechanism. Texas residential property taxes aren't even that high in absolute terms. According to the Home-Owner-Ists at the self-same Tax Foundation, Texas is third worst (i.e. third best) in terms of the annual tax rate divided by house prices at 1.81%.

But that is on a very low base - in Houston, Texas, the median home buyer is paying 1.81% tax on a house costing 2.9 times his earnings (i.e. not much more than actual build cost) = 5.2% of earnings. In San Fransisco, the typical property tax is only 1.2%, but that's on a house costing 6.7 times your earnings = 8%.

Surely, anybody who is sane would rather have a small mortgage and pay 5% of his income in tax than saddle himself with a huge great mortgage and pay 8%?

"In a film studio you don't get too much noise"

From The Daily Mail:

On a sound stage, you don't hear anybody scream. And that's the main problem Moon-stage-exploring 'astronaut' Buzz Aldrin has with Will Smith's latest sci-fi vehicle After Earth. A day after attending the New York première of the post-apocalyptic thriller, he said the film was a great family drama but complained the space scenes were not true to the original 1969 hoax.

"There was a lot of noise. In the hangar out in the Cailfornia desert which we used, we didn't get that much noise," he said.

Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong onto the moon backdrop during the historic Apollo 11 filming in 1969, explained that "noise didn't propagate through the sound insulated walls. Once the director shouted 'Action!' you could pretty much have heard a pin drop. We talked over headsets. Being far away from towns and cities, we were free of static. We could communicate with each other pretty clearly, and the director adn crew, though they were several yards away," he said.

The 83-year old former stunt man was the guest of honour at an event for a new luxury camera from Hasselblad. The Swedish company has supplied cameras used for filming mock-ups of space missions for more than 50 years.

And who does he think perfected the realistic telling of space stories?

"Arthur C. Clarke added a bit of reality to the genre with the (function) of the ship and people flying out in space on a mission," Aldrin said. Clarke wrote the screenplay for the Apollo 'landings' and the foreword for Aldrin's 1996 sci-fi novel, 'Encounter With Tiber.' Like Clarke's original screenplay, that book is being turned into a TV series.

Sounds like he was well qualified for the job.

From The Daily Mail:

An NHS chief has been sacked from his £250,000-a-year job after it was revealed that he is a convicted armed robber.

Craig Alexander was jailed after holding up a busy Tesco Express store at gunpoint in 2001 and threatening staff and customers before fleeing with almost £1,250 in cash and cheques.

On his release he lied about his three-and-a-half-year stint in prison and was hired for the senior post of interim borough director at NHS Brent, where he was in charge of multi-million-pound taxpayer-funded budgets.

You can just imagine the interview:

NHS HR director: "I trust that you've done your research on how the NHS is funded. You've applied for a management post and you must realise we have certain guidelines here. So I have to start by asking: have you ever robbed the general public in order to line your own pockets?"

Candidate: "Well... I've done a couple of bank jobs, nothing special, but at least you know I've got the balls for it."

NHS HR Director: "OK Great, when can you start?"

Thursday 30 May 2013

Life copies satire

From the 8 March 1980 episode of Roscoe Moscow: Who killed rock'n'roll?:

Wot, again ?

Yes, sorry all, but today seems to have become "stats day".

This G headline caught my eye: Hospital admissions linked to alcohol rise to more than a million in year and as might be expected is the G following its now well worn path of regarding anything emanating from Alcohol Concern as impeccable, unbiased, and 'what this avowedly liberal news-organ is 100% behind'. Cue hints that G fully supports minimum alcohol pricing and is not afraid to have a sly dig at politico's who apparently don't:
The bleak figures prompted doctors to call again for minimum alcohol pricing, which is the subject of a legal battle between the drinks industry and the Scottish government and is still formally under consideration in England although there is little ministerial appetite for it.
So, we have "An estimated 1.22m hospital admissions in England were linked to drinking too much alcohol in 2011-12, according to NHS figures – a 51% rise over the past nine years". [minor diversion, why the NHS nowadays uses agencies such as AC to publish their data, who knows, maybe Jeremy Hunt wants to avoid a 'getting on the wrong side of Michael Scholar and UKSA situation' as has befallen IDS and Grant Shapps] and "Hospital admissions for which drink was the main cause rose to 200,900 in 2011-12, 1% more than the previous year, and more than 40% up on 2002-03."

And so on, but the important thing is, as stressed in that G headline, we are now all so permanently sozzled on cheap supermarket lager that we picked up during a visit to actually buy some bottled water but discovering the lager was cheaper bought that instead that the number of us being admitted to hospital where alcohol was a contributing factor (according to the persons recording the reason for the admission, so presumably it includes "broken toe - cause 'dropped twelve pack of ridiculously cheap, almost as if they were giving it away, lager on foot in local Supermarket') rose to more than a million in 2012. S'funny I thought, only I am pretty sure we had already crossed that particular rubicon of shame and reckless waste of NHS resources before. And guess what -- A million-alcohol-related-hospital admissions?
UPDATE. MW adds, what I like about these tractor stats is that every now and then they drop their guard. In early 2012, the BBC published this shock-horror-stat...

According to Downing Street, there were 200,000 hospital admissions in 2010-11 with alcohol as the primary factor, which was 40% than in 2002-03. The £2.7bn which alcohol abuse is estimated to cost the NHS each year equates to £90 for every taxpayer.

... and promptly withdrew it a few hours later.

I hope this doesn't conflict with his obligations towards the EU...

From The Daily Mail:

Former Labour Minister Lord Mandelson is in line for a major Russian directorship, it was revealed today. He has been nominated to the board of Sistema, Russia's largest publicly-traded diversified holding company.

The Moscow-based company's activities span telecommunications, high technology, oil and energy, electronics and aerospace, banking, retail, mass-media, tourism and healthcare services.

... because if it does, he'll lose his lovely EU pension.

"What's so wrong with 'creative statistics"" asks a bewildered Grant Shapps

"Picky Picky Picky Bureaucrats once again making everything unnecessarily difficult and complicated by this insistence on factual facts as opposed to propagandist fiction" says Conservative Party Chairman, adding "no wonder this country is in such a mess, when a respected government Minister gets upbraided for putting his name to a SpAd generated fairy tale designed to reinforce the shirkers, skivers, scroungers and cheats message the party has never peddled".

(Ha ha ha ha, it's that man again Update) The BBC are now running a piece about Grant's number-juggling which is drawn to your attention largely because it contains a marvellous quote from Iain Duncan Smith clone Liam Byrne:

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: "This is a government that doesn't like to let the facts get in the way of a good story... but it really is outrageous that the Tories have been caught yet again misusing statistics for their own ends."

Yes, it truly is outrageous when governments get caught fabricating evidence. Thankfully, the Labour administration 1997 - 2010 was never guilty of such a thing, and certainly never got caught out doing it, then or since.

Update Update - Some even better Liam Byrne on the official One Nation: The Labour Party site.

"If we are to get people back out shopping in their local town centres we need to give them more power to prevent shops being opened there"

Glorious DoubleThink from the Local Government Association, reported by the BBC:

... the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, warned that the move [to liberalise planning/change of use restrictions] could alter the face of High Streets for the worse without residents being able to have their say.

"We have been clear that if we are to get people back out shopping in their local town centres we need to give them more say on what type of businesses and shops open there,"; said Mike Jones, chairman of the association's housing board. "Instead from today they will have less. Planning controls were not designed to make life difficult for business but to act as a "democratic quality control", he added.

"Most people would be more inclined to visit their local High Streets if they saw a resurgence in the sort of cherished local, good-quality shops, restaurants and businesses which can be at the very heart of communities. Instead, this blanket national policy will make it easier than ever for High Streets to become ghettos for clusters of 'here today, gone tomorrow' money lenders and betting shops."

Clearly, whatever democratically decided restrictions you impose, these cannot dictate which shops WILL open, they can only dictate which type of shops WILL NOT open. And there is such a thing as consumer choice:

If there is demand for "cherished local, good quality shops etc" then enteprising businessmen will open them. If there is demand for "here today, gone tomorrow money lenders and betting shops" then enterprising businessmen will open those instead. Simply preventing the latter category of shop from opening up is no guarantee that the former category will open instead. The chances are the premises will just stay vacant until they are re-opened as charity shops (to take advantage of the Business Rates discounts).

I don't know the exact figure, but on a decent High Street with a few dozen shops, restaurants etc, how many of those does any one individual actually visit? Not many, probably only three or four. How many of those shops are visited regularly by at least half of local residents? Not many, probably two or three.

So if each shop's existence required democratic approval, i.e. each resident is asked "Do you need or want Shop X? Do you need or want Shop Y?" them most of them would be shut down.

Or to paraphrase The Stigler, "we don't want the tide to come in, but we refuse to pay for a sea wall".

Marie Rose Sauce museum opens in Portsmouth

A £35m purpose-built museum for the blend of ketchup and mayonnaise, the marie rose sauce, will be officially opened later in Portsmouth.
The prawn cocktail sauce will once again be on display at the Historic Condiment museum - yards from where a chef first invented it.
The new museum finally reunites the marie rose sauce with hundreds of other condiments, including chutney, horseradish and pesto.
The sauce was discovered in the mid-20th century and repopularised in the early 21st century, when hipsters took to rediscovering food from the 1970s, ironically.

Tide comes in at 12 out of 12 coastal resorts

From The Guardian

King Cnut's scheme to stop the tide from coming in has failed to stop the rot – with 12 out of the 12 coastal resorts selected to share a hundred and twenty thousand of the King's gold coins seeing the tide continue to come in.

The coastal resorts - Bournemouth, Clacton, Weston, Bournemouth, Brighton, Blackpool, Lyme Regis, Padstow, Margate, Minehead, Great Yarmouth and Tenby - all saw the tide coming in.

The Stop The Tide Commission was launched last year after a report by one of the king's counsellors, scribe Portas, known as "Portas the Loudmouth". Of the targets chosen, all ended up with wet feet on the beach.

Tenby was the worst performer in terms of beaches, according to measurements of the dampness of robes was collected by the King's costermongers.

However, the local village idiot said the local Stop The Tide Commission team, called the Tenby Waterside Against Tides – or TWAT – had improved the prospects for the beach by backing new druids to come and shoo the tides away.

"Although there have been ups and downs, the villagers like to think of themselves as TWATs" he said. The team said in March that it had spent a third of the gold pieces it had been allocated under the government scheme and had already committed the rest of the cash for projects to be implemented later this year.

(and yes, I know that Cnut did it to prove he had no power over the tide, but this fits better).

Wednesday 29 May 2013

"Slow and steady does it, but if I keep to one a day only four hundred and fifty one thousand, six hundred and twelve to go"

Said smiling upbeat HMRC roving Tax Inspector, Tom Logan, reporting back on a successful first day on his new "major tax avoiders - sport" beat adding "and by my calculations between me and my successors we'll have hit every one of those miscreant so called Village Cricket Teams that are really convoluted tax avoidance ruses for their £15K and have that £7 billion in the bag come late September 3249 AD".

Sources close to George Osborne suggested last night that given the success of the crackdown so far so called Tennis, Badminton and Squash Clubs could soon be on the HMRC radar.

I think Jessie J looks much cuter with short blonde hair.

Nowadays, pop stars and the like have something called a Twitter feed. Jessie J's is here. Not to be confused with JesseJ of course.
Picture nicked from HuffPost

"George Michael falls out of hospital door"

From The Evening Standard:

George Michael was readmitted to hospital after managing to fall out of a hospital door and is now being treated for injuries following the bizarre incident.

The star was carried back into the hospital with a head injury after being thrown several metres across the hospital loading-unloading bay by a revolving door which he had pushed so hard it managed to hit him in the back. His publicist Connie Filipello initially said his injuries were "superficial cuts and bruises. Again".

A statement on his website said: "We can confirm that George Michael has been readmitted to hospital and has recommenced rest and recuperation. He is well and thanks everyone for all the messages of support."

An eyewitness who was behind the 49-year-old singer told The Sun she saw him lying in the loading bay smeared with blood.

Katherine Fox, 23, said he was wearing a ripped dressing gown and pyjamas and his slippers had come off when she saw him. She stopped her mini to provide protection by preventing ambulances from hitting him. Fox said the former Wham! star had tried to push the door too hard and after being spun round was thrown out at 70 miles and hour.

It must be just me, I guess ... I obviously live in a different world ...

Taking time out from the usual to enjoy a cup of that which refreshes but does not inebriate whilst scanning the MSM's on-line sites (those that aren't paywalled, any way) my eye was drawn to Does overpaying a mortgage beat saving? which turned out to be one of those "a reader writes and our expert answers" articles.

My suspicion that the expert was going to say "right now, probably yes given the piss-poor rates of interest available via most savings vehicles unless you have a considerable amount of free cash which you are willing to tie up and leave untouched for quite a long time" was borne out. And of course, readers are advised to apply their free cash to eradicating higher interest bearing debts like credit cards and loans first.

The line that brought me up with a start though was "As to which of your mortgages you should start overpaying first..."

Multiple mortgages and still worrying about "what best to do with our free cash each month"? Yes, in my haste I had skipped reading the actual question: "My wife and I have two mortgages with our lender and we reckon we can afford to overpay them by up to £500 a month. The larger mortgage is on a fixed rate of 5%; the smaller one, a top up to buy our second home, has a much lower tracker rate. Is it a good idea to overpay rather than saving the £500 a month? If it is, which mortgage is financially best to overpay first?"

"Any moment, someone's going to find out I'm a total Muggle": Hermione Granger admits feeling 'inadequate' as a working witch

From The Daily Prophet:

She's tried to establish a career away from Harry Potter with a job in the Auror Office at the Ministry of Magic and as a visting professor at Durmstrang's Academy. However with her Hogwarts days firmly behind her, Hermione Granger admits she's convinced her 'game' is up as a full-time witch.

She has tried to carve a name for herself as an adult, serious bureaucrat in the Auror Office but was forced out after trying to impose very formalised operational and report-writing procedures and admits feeling 'inadequate' about her teaching skills after Durmstrang students said she gabbled her lectures "and expected us to know everything before the lecture had even started."

In an interview with Quibbler magazine, the 23-year-old said: 'It's called the impostor syndrome. It's almost like the harder I try, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I'm just going 'Any moment, someone's going to find out I'm a total fraud, and that I don't deserve credit for what Harry achieved.' I can't possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone's expectations of me are."

After she finally helped defeated Lord Voldemort (as re-filmed in the drama-documentary "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part II" in 2010), she had lost confidence in herself as a magician. It was only when she was appointed as assistant director of the Auror's office under director Stephen Chbosky the following year, that she began to rebuild her self-esteem, which was shattered again after many staff refused openly to take instructions from "that know-it-all bitch, er, witch".

Her confidence took a further body blow when Durmstrang's Quidditch professor Viktor Durmstrang completely blanked her at staff meetings. Hermione's on-off boyfriend, Ron Weasley, is happily working under his father in Muggle Artefacts, where he regales colleagues with ever more colourful anecdotes about how he and Harry defeated You-Know-Who.

"Houses built to last a century face being demolished after just 13 years to make way for a new forest"

From The Daily Mail:

A housing estate built at the start of the millennium in the hope it will last 100 years face being demolished after just 13 years due to a new re-forestation plan.

Wessex Investors built 100 traditional English houses in 2000 to provide homes for people who live and work in the ancient Cornish market town. But now the estate, which lines Millennium Avenue could be torn down to make way for forestry.

The plans which have riled many locals, are currently under examination by Cornwall council. Timber conglomerate Launceston Lumber plc, which intends to plant hundreds of slow-growing oak trees to produce high-quality timber in the Pennygillam area of Launceston later this century, insists there is no other option and their plan would provide 4 new jobs to local people.

"This has been on the drawing board for nearly two years and we are trying to accommodate everyone the best we can," managing director Andrew Pegg told The Independent. "'While several dozen families will be made homeless under current plans, we intend to install a couple of mobile homes in the new development to provide living accommodation for the forestry workers."

They have gone completely and utterly mad

1. Deciding to send arms to Syrian "rebels".

Unless the aim is purely to get as much money out of them and to ensure that as many Arabs and other Islamists kill each other as possible, in which case we should be selling arms to Assad as well, maybe even deliver them some non-launchable nuclear bombs?

2. This whole "revolving door" thing

I suppose they can't stop him from going to work for an accountancy firm; the point is he was already behaving suspiciously while he still worked for HM Revenue & Customs. This move to Deloittes sort of confirms most of those suspicions.

3. Privatising the courts service.

Yes, you read that correctly:

Plans for £1 billion-a-year savings have been drawn up, including selling off the court service and control of the court buildings and taking 20,000 staff off the public payroll.

Private companies would then be free to charge larger fees from commercial litigants and attract investors. However, the position of judges or magistrates would not be affected.

To ensure the judiciary’s continuing independence, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is considering a Royal Charter, similar to the proposed regulation of the Press.

4. Yet more throwing good money after bad:

Public money set to be used to cover shortfall in private-finance projects. Promised £3bn to invest in infrastructure and stimulate economy may all be used to plug gap in overhauled PFI scheme.

The creatures outside looked from Gordon Brown to George Osborne, and from Gordon Osborne to George Brown, and from Gorde Obrown to Georgon Osboom; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

An odd report into shops

From the BBC:

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) is warning that High Streets could see 20% of their shops close down within five years as more people turn to the internet for their shopping.

The organisation, which conducts research into retail, technology and crime, says this would equate to 62,000 shops closing down. The CRR believes large areas of the UK's High Streets would become housing. It also says as many as 316,000 workers would lose their jobs.

The CRR says online shopping will continue to expand and the proportion of shopping done via the internet will double to 22%. The report, which was produced by Prof Joshua Bamfield, said the first shops to go would be pharmacies and health and beauty stores. Retailers specialising in music, books, cards, stationery and gifts will be next.
I'm not at all sure about that. You're leaving work, you remember you've got a hot date, you aren't going to wait for Amazon to deliver you half a dozen condoms. Likewise, how is a woman going to check the colour of some blusher or the smell of a perfume?

On the other hand, music, books and cards are basically on their last legs. I've started to send these Moonpig cards because, well, I can do the whole job, personalised, from my desk for little more than buying the card + postage.

The backbone of bricks and mortar retailing will always be goods that:

1. Require checking for suitability (smell of perfume, fit of clothes, comfiness of a chair or mattress)


2. Are required immediately (quick pint of milk on way home, cup of coffee on way to work)


3. Cannot be digitised (music, ebooks, plane tickets)

Record shops are basically knackered - most people will either live with waiting for the CD to be delivered, you don't need to inspect the goods, and many people are going digital. Women's clothes shops, on the other hand, will last for a long time.

Killer Arguments Against Development... not

From Cranmer

Not content with tearing the Conservative Party asunder and dividing the whole nation over same-sex marriage, it appears that the Tory metropolitan elite are intent on stablishing the poverty of their cultural hinterland by concreting over England's green and pleasant land. And once it's gone, it's gone forever - as the party used to intone in the days when it used to care.
I've never quite understood why Homeys use this argument*, because it's obviously nonsense. You only have to watch Time Team to see that even if man doesn't intervene, nature takes over. If man intervenes, digs up a car park, scatters some grass seed, plants a few trees, nature rather rapidly turns developed land into greenery.
For this is not an elite which inspires to wholesome jealousy, or raises the oppressed or lifts the downtrodden out of empathy or compassion, but one which induces bitterness in its contempt for the ordinary and everyday concerns of us all. What do they think local Conservative associations have been doing for the past century if not defending the rural way of life? What do they think Conservative councillors have been doing the length and breadth of the country if not guarding the greenbelt from Labour's aggressive urbanisation of cow land and woodland? 
Unfortunately, wrong. The greenbelts were, as much as anything, an invention of Herbert Morrison and the Labour party. And they weren't designed to protect rural England (much of which is really now just dormitories for towns) but to "to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and of recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle of open space"
There is nothing unreasonable, mad or backward about preferring fields of bluebells and hawthorn hedges to bricks, glass, steel and concrete. Our happiness is calibrated on a different scale to that preferred by the elite: ours is English and imperial - consonant with culture and harmonised with nature. Theirs is modern and metric - alien, harsh and extrinsic.
I presume Cranmer will be knocking down his house and planting a field of bluebells in its place then.

* Don't they always say "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"? Wouldn't it also be fair to say "People who have a house to live in shouldn't complain about other people wanting to have a house to live in"?

'A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment,

She then had to be assessed by Atos assessors in Southend, but despite her regular blackouts and medical history her husband was not allowed to be present.

Mrs Wootton was questioned for 20 minutes and assessors found she was fit to work and subsequently stopped her employment support allowance and disability living allowance.

She appealed, but the Department for Work and Pensions rejected it. Mrs Wootton died in hospital on April 24 with her husband by her side.
** Minister with responsibility for the WCA and all procedures related to it Mark Hoban on 20th November 2012:
"The WCA is the right process for determining who is able to work and who needs support, and we are committed to continual improvement, which is why I am happy to accept all of Professor Harrington’s recommendations. It is in everyone’s interest to make sure the system is as fair and as accurate as possible". 
Among the recommendations made by Prof. Harrington in his 3rd (and final) review of the WCA that Hoban had signified had all been accepted:
  • Measures to further improve the collecting of medical evidence as early in the process as possible;
  • Ensuring DWP> decision-makers have enough time to make carefully considered decisions while ensuring a timely service;
From HoC Hansard 17 Jan 2013: Column 1080:
Heather Wheeler: I finish on two final points because time is short and many people want to speak. People have mentioned the tick-box nature of the interview; my constituents find it hugely frustrating that they cannot expand on an answer. After all this time, perhaps the interview process could be tweaked to allow that. My last point is about the absolute frustration of GPs and consultants who feel that no account whatever is taken of the fact that they take their time to write the letters. That is desperately frustrating and a huge waste of public money.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): We do ask GPs and consultants to provide medical evidence; we send a form to them. Only 37% of those are returned in time
Heather Wheeler: I thank the Minister for putting that on the record. I will gladly go back to my GPs and consultants and say that they will be taken into account if they please return the forms on time.
** Minister with responsibility for the WCA and all procedures related to it Mark Hoban on 22nd January 2013:
"Getting the Work Capability Assessment right first time is my absolute priority. Those who are fit should work, but those who aren’t need real support. Today’s figures show that the improvements we have made since 2010 are making a real difference.

Whether it’s improving the way people with cancer are assessed, making sure we get people’s medical evidence as early as possible, or refining the assessment of people with mental health problems, I am committed to continually improving the system.

Having a fair and accurate assessment is fundamental to ensuring that those who are able to work get the help they need, and those who are too sick or disabled are fully supported".
** Minister with responsibility for the WCA and all procedures relating to it Mark Hoban on February 8th 2012, responding the PCA report on the content and conduct of the WCA, which said "there had been much criticism of Atos, the firm contracted to conduct so-called work capability assessments (WCA), but it warned that most of the problems lay with the Department for Work and Pensions."
Mark Hoban, the employment minister, dismissed the report as incomplete and failing to take into account the mess that was inherited from the last government.

"This report completely fails to recognise the considerable improvements we have made to the Work Capability Assessment since coming to power in 2010, having inherited a system from the last government that was not fit for purpose," he said.
Because it is obviously perfect now, and anything that was ever wrong with it wasn't and isn't the fault of the DWP or Atos, that is for sure.

"He has been taken on to advise us on food and drinks" .......

Deloittes proudly announced today that they had stolen a march on their rivals and in a very sweet deal indeed had secured the services of the man given the title of "Britain's most wined and dined public servant" to provide them consultancy advice on the most important matter of how best and where to wine and dine those you wish to influence and do deals with.

Confirming that they had approved his appointment, the advisory committee on pretending there isn't a revolving door culture between the senior levels of public service and the private sector it deals with++ said it had looked long and hard into the case and had noted that "whilst working in government, Mr Hartnett did have official dealings with Deloitte" but swiftly added "and he also dealt with a wide range of major accountancy and law firms during his time in HMRC and the Inland Revenue before that", so going off to work for just one of them, so far, was fine, and the fact that the organisation which is to employ him includes amongst its clients Vodafone and Starbucks, the precise nature of Mr Hartnett's dealing with said organisations whilst a public servant having been the subject of a certain amount of criticism; was purely coincidental and of no relevance.

In a nice piece of "we are outraged" Labour MP John Mann, who sits on the Treasury select committee and questioned Hartnett on several occasions about his gourmand credentials; criticised the appointment, saying "It shouldn't be allowed. It is all-too-cosy relationships that is the problem at the heart of HMRC.  It would be a strange government that would employ him considering the problems we've had trying to get our tax system in order blah blah blah" having apparently forgotten which party was in government when the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise were merged in 2004 to become HMRC and Mr Hartnett was duly appointed Director General for Customer Contact and Compliance Strategy and later Director General for Business and a member of Her Majesty's Commissioners of Revenue and Customs, the formal governing board of HMRC, when it was created in 2005, or indeed had awarded him the honour of Companion of the Bath in 2003 for public service.

++Update: The G have now published an editorial about Dave Hartnett: one sweetheart deal too many in which they raise a point which many a sane person has made over the years about the pointlessness of the "it will be fine, because we've laid down so many caveats about what he/she can and can't do" bleatings of the "advisory committee" when they sanction appointments.  In the case of this particular appointment we are told that

The rules laid down state that Hartnett should "not draw on any privileged information" from his time at HMRC. He must also not advise "any taxpayer that he has been involved with whilst at HMRC" and must ensure he "has no involvement in discussions with other fiscal authorities of UK's confidential tax policy".  He is also not allowed to personally lobby the government for at least a year.

As the G says Mr Hartnett's probity whilst an HMRC employee was called into question by the PAC, no doubt the advisory committee took that into account when setting down those "caveats".

Fun With Numbers - The plastic bags littering our coastline

From The Daily Mail:

The number of plastic bags blighting Britain's beaches has rocketed by a fifth in a year – despite vows by the Coalition to tackle the issue. Some 72 throwaway carrier bags are now littering every mile of coastline, posing a devastating threat to marine and bird life such as turtles and gulls.

Cue predictable calls for a plastic bag tax etc.

Maths #1, the easy bit: 1,760 yards divided by 72 = one bag every 24 yards. Not exactly nice, but it's not going to ruin your day out.

Maths #2, the tricky bit:

The article doesn't say how many plastic bags this relates to in total, but (depending on how you measure it - the shorter the ruler you use, the longer the coastline) the UK's coastline appears to be about 6,000 miles long.

So that means about half a million plastic bags (6,000 x 72). We don't know how long a plastic bag survives on a beach before it gets shredded to nothing, is buried, rots away or is washed or blown away. Five years, tops? That means about 100,000 plastic bags are discarded on beaches each year.

According to this, UK supermarkets hand out 8,000 million plastic bags every year.

In other words, for every 80,000 plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets each years, a single one ends up being discarded on a beach. So you'd have to make a massive, massive reduction in the number of plastic bags handed out and/or have a massive, massive tax on them before it had the slightest impact. While people might be public spirited enough to take some plastic bags with them to the supermarket (I usually do), any tax on plastic bags would have to be enormous to discourage people from abandoning them on beaches. If it starts pissing it down and you have to scramble to get all your stuff together, chasing after a spare plastic bag is the least of your priorities.

What's wrong with local councils just having more dustbins on their beaches, or just tidying the bloddy beaches up a couple of times a year?

DISCLAIMER: I am a public spirited sort of citizen. If at all possible, I will take our plastic bags and crap with us, and as I walk back up the beach on the way home, I will grab the odd wrapper or discarded can or coffee cup and stick it in the rubbish bag, which I put it into the first rubbish bin I find on the promenade. I'm not encouraging litter or anything, but let's accept it is not really a huge problem.

Whatever next?

From The Age:

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has defended the government's intervention in gambling advertising during live sports broadcasts, declaring it has balanced community concerns with the economic needs of broadcasters.

Ms Gillard formally announced the government's demand that TV and radio networks ban the promotion of live odds and restrict gambling advertisements during sporting matches in a press conference at Kirribilli on Sunday afternoon.

In other news:

Adverts for kids' toys and fast food to be banned from children's TV; adverts for cars to be banned from repeats of Top Gear on Dave; adverts for food and supermarkets to be banned from cookery programmes (that's Food Network down the tubes, eh?); adverts for DIY superstores to be banned from home makeover shows; adverts for cosmetics and perfume to be banned from Loose Women etc etc etc.

Monday 27 May 2013

Puerile... but fanny

Fun Online Polls: Sandwiches and chemtrails

The results to last week's Fun Online Poll on a good turnout of 116 votes (thanks to everybody who took part) were as follows:

Which are acceptable synonyms for sandwich? Multiple answers allowed.

Outright winners:
Sarnie - 95 votes
Butty - 93 votes

Also rans:

[Ingredient] on [type of bread] - 22 votes
Piece [and...] - 14 votes
Hoagie - 14 votes
Sub/submarine - 13 votes
Double-decker - 11 votes
Sanger - 11 votes
Wrap - 10 votes
Hero - 4 votes
Grinder - 3 votes
Other, please specify - 4 votes

So now we know. The only ones I chose were "butty" and "sarnie" so thankfully I'm in the majority on this.

PeterA5145 said: "It's interesting how many different regional words there are for "bread roll" - bap, batch, barm cake, cob, muffin, bun, stottie, hoagie etc. I've even come across one pub that called them "bunnies"."

Indeed this is very interesting - there are few regional expressions for "bread" as such or a "loaf of bread" but dozens for "bread roll". I'd noticed that in Germany as well, in Austria/south Bavaria a bread roll is called a "Semmel" but if you ask for a "Semmel" in north Germany, they stare at you blankly. I'm sure there's a reason for this although I have no idea what it is. Is it like this in other large countries?
And lo, to this week's Fun Online Poll.

CriticalThinking touches on another conspiracy theory:

As a flying mad youth, living on Royal Air Force bases in the 1950s and 60s, I observed condensation or vapour trails from planes on a regular basis. Typically, they would last minutes at most, even when artificially induced during aerobatic displays of the Black or Red Arrows (the RAF flying display teams).

Today, you can observe two types of exhaust from jet engined planes: normal, temporary contrails consisting of mainly of water vapour and chemtrails about which there is little information but linger for hours muddying the sky and making it dull and overcast.

We don't know the purpose of these chemtrails but there are observations from around the world confirming both the extent and content of the trails. Samples of high levels of barium, aluminium, polymers and radioactive material have been collected from affected areas.

One theory is that it is being used to combat climate change - creating a reflective layer around the planet - but techniques, such as cloud seeding, have also been used to manipulate weather. It could equally be to induce severe weather to reinforce climate change fear. Who knows? More research required.

All of which baffles me. We know that the military get up to all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff and that there is such a thing as "cloud seeding" if you want to precipitate a rain shower, but I find it difficult to believe that commercial airlines would deliberately contaminate their own jet fuel for purposes unknown.

Surely some pilot or technician or designer or somebody would have blown the whistle by now? I have also been led to believe that there is a very short and clearly defined list of stuff which you are allowed to add to jet fuel. If you get more than a couple of millionth parts of crap it in, the planes won't fly properly, the engines wear out more quickly etc.

So that's this week's Fun Online Poll.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Economic myths: Negative equity [Square law of negative equity]

Yes, being in negative equity is horrible, whether that resulted from greed, recklessness, gullibility or sheer bad luck. So let's assume it would be a good idea to "help" people out of negative equity.

There are of course two ways of doing this in the short term*:
a) by pumping up house prices or
b) by writing off the element of any mortgage which is in excess of the potential selling price of the house (unsecured).

Let's look at the relative "costs" of doing this, and see what would happen if we went for option (c), allow house prices to fall and then write off all unsecured elements. We can illustrate this in diagrams.

As it happens, the distribution of mortgages by loan-to-value is almost a straight line (and even if it isn't, it makes the maths a lot simpler). In other words, one per cent of mortgages are almost paid off and represent only one per cent of the original principal/purchase price; one per cent of mortgages represent two per cent of the original principal/purchase price and so on. We also know that there are about 12 million outstanding mortgages with a total principal of £1,200 billion and about 12 million privately-owned homes which are owned outright.

To get the ball rolling, let's assume that a tenth of mortgages are in nequity (the official figure is half this, because of Funding for Lending and Help to Buy subsidies, but let's keep the maths simple). As things stand, there are 1.2 million mortgages with average unsecured principal of £10,000, that's total nequity of £12 billion (shaded red), which equals one per cent of total outstanding mortgages of £1,200 billion (0.1 x 0.1 = 0.01).

Under option a) we introduce a subsidy worth £20,000 per home/mortgage and eliminate nequity entirely (in the short term: this merely increases the risk that people will get into nequity in future). The total cost of the subsidy (shaded blue) required is twelve million homes x £20,000 = £240 billion - and we can double that for the twelve million homes which are mortgage-free = £480 billion. Which seems like a high price to pay for eliminating £12 billion of nequity. That means basically that future purchaser and taxpayers will end up net £468 billion worse off:

Under option b) the total cost of simply writing off all unsecured principal is a one-off cost of £12 billion.

What about option (c)? Let's withdraw some existing subsidies to land ownership and allow prices to fall by twenty per cent. The amount of nequity which now has to be written off is now 3 million mortgages x average £25,000 = £75 billion. This sounds like a lot, but in relative terms it isn't. £75 billion is only about one per cent of what UK bankers claim are their total/gross assets/liabilities (which are said to be five times UK GDP = £7,500 billion). This is 6.25% of total mortgage principal (0.25 x 0.25 = 0.0625).

And there is an even bigger saving to future purchasers and taxpayers: the total principal value of the subsidy withdrawn is 24 million x £30,000 = £720 billion. So there is still a net gain to them of £645 billion (and that's even assuming that they would bear the cost of the initial mortgage write off):

All of this leads us to Wadsworth's Square Law of Negative Equity - when you multiply numbers less than one, you end up with a smaller number than you started with.

Even allowing house prices to fall by fifty per cent and writing off all the unsecured amounts would only "cost" 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.25 x £1,200 billion = £300 billion. The reduction in the cost of the subsidy would be £80,0000 x 24 million = £1,920 billion, which is an overall saving to future purchasers of £1,620 billion.

If you take it to extremes and withdraw the subsidy to land values entirely and allow house prices to fall to £zero, the "cost" is £1,200 billion and the saving is £200,000 x 24 million = £4,800 billion, an overall saving of £3,600 billion.
* The mainstream view is that a) is far better, as pumping up house prices creates or at least preserves "wealth" and that b) would lead to the banking system somehow "imploding" or that it leads to moral hazard. Method a) does not create or preserve "wealth", it merely preserves "privilege" (i.e. the flow of wealth from the productive economy and non-landowners to large land owners and bankers) and on closer inspection, b) does no such thing.

The longer term (and ultimately only sensible) way is to get the economy going again by e.g. reducing the tax burden on people with large mortgages relative to income. These will be largely recent younger purchasers who own, relative to their earned income, lower value houses, so shifting taxes from earnings to the rental value of land will benefit them particularly. But let's gloss over this for now.

Saturday 25 May 2013

"The Utopian boats of a multicultural success story"

It makes a change from mumbling on about "banana boats" I suppose:

Friday 24 May 2013

"Logan's Chicken Run"

From Wiki and Wiki:

In the year 2274, the Tweedys are a troubled middle-aged couple who run their own chicken farm in a sealed domed city, a utopia run by a computer that takes care of all aspects of their life.

The city is run in the style of a World War II POW camp, with the chickens accountable for the number of eggs they lay daily. The chickens live a hedonistic lifestyle but understand that in order to maintain the coop, every resident when they reach the age of 30 must undergo the ritual of "Carrousel" [sic] where they are vaporized and ostensibly "Renewed."

To track this, they are implanted at birth with a Lifeclock crystal in the palm of their hand. Edwina's clock turns red and she is beheaded and is later cooked for the Tweedys' dinner.

One chicken, Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha), who is often treated as the chickens' leader, has attempted numerous escapes, goes into hiding to avoid Carrousel. She is aided a pair of runners named Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan). Ginger becomes increasingly desperate to find a plan of escape which will work but faces problems after terminating Mr Tweedy.

That same night, as Ginger sits outside of the coop, she  finds an ankh among their possessions. Later, they meet Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), a girl also wearing an ankh pendant. A Rhode Island Red cockerel named Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson), takes the ankh to the computer, where he is told it is a symbol for a secret group who helps the Runners find "Sanctuary".

Mrs Tweedy soon realises that the couple's farm is failing and instructs Logan to find Sanctuary and destroy it. It then changes the colour of his Lifeclock to flashing red, four years early. In order to escape Carrousel herself, Ginger is now forced to become a Runner.

"Cannes jewel thieves hit Sharon Stone party and steal £1.7m necklace in film festival's second heist"

From The Daily Mail:

A necklace worth at least 1.7 million pounds and due to be worn by Hollywood beauties like Cameron Diaz has been stolen at the Cannes Film Festival.

The mystery theft is the second to blight the glamorous French Riviera showbusiness spectacular inside a week. It happened at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, where the cheapest rooms cost more than 800 pounds a night.

Warrants have been issued for the arrest of several of the guests, including Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Peirce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Also wanted for questioning are George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts.

UPDATE: Lt. Vincent Hanna out of "Heat" was removed from the investigating team after it emerged that there was likely to be a personal conflict of interest. Not only was Tony Montana out of "Scarface" on the list of suspects but also that the jewellery belonged to Willy Bank out of "Ocean's Thirteen".

This whole negative equity thing

Let's agree for the sake of this discussion that negative equity is in and of itself A Bad Thing, and it certainly is for those who are in it (be that through greed, recklessness, gullibility or simple bad fortune).

One of the arguments advanced for the Help To Buy scheme is to prevent people falling (further) into nequity and by association, to help them out of nequity by driving up prices, thus increasing the likelihood that future purchasers will end up in nequity and so on in a happy Home-Owner-Ist death spiral.

So Our Beloved Government has generously promised to create another £130 billion in credit, underwritten by the kind hearted taxpayer, sometimes disparagingly referred to as "extend and pretend".

You can make up your own mind what the costs (the interest subsidy) and potential losses from all this will be, let's call it one-fifth of the principal sum of £130 billion = £26 billion. And this is not the cost of sorting out nequity here and now, this is the cost of shoving it onto purchasers and taxpayers in future.

But how much nequity is there really? According to the Financial Conduct Authority Risk Oulook 2013, about four per cent of mortgage borrowers are in nequity (as many as twenty per cent in Northern Ireland). Let's make a guess that average nequity is one-tenth of the original mortgage/cost of home.

There are about twelve million households with mortgages, total mortgages are about £1,200 billion = average  mortgage £100,000.

So that means that about half a million households are in nequity (about 100,000 of those in Northern Ireland) to the tune of average £10,000 each, so the total amount of principal which would have to be paid off or written off to get them all out of nequity overnight is £5 billion.

It strikes me that spending £5 billion on paying off/writing off* every penny of nequity and telling people to be more careful in future is a more sensible course of action that putting £130 billion at stake with potential costs and losses of £26 billion. You can muck about with the figures as much as you like, the "pay off/write off" option is almost certainly cheaper than the "extend and pretend" option and certainly a damn sight more effective (providing it doesn't lead to moral hazard).

But maybe that's just me.

* £5 billion is about half the typical annual cost of UK bankers' bonuses.


If I've done this properly, whether you turn your head to the left or to the right, it should look like my name.

Took me two bloody hours that did. The bloke (John Langdon) who does the lettering for the covers of the Dan Brown books makes it look so easy. Take it from me, it's not. It is fun, though :-)

Assistance sought of competent or semi-competent number cruncher

Because, to be fair, I am not either, but there I was reading this piece - Why isn't a global tax on multinational profits on the agenda for G8? by Ben Chu in the Indy - when this started me thinking - never a good idea - but, all the same:-
Of course, what Mr Schmidt and Google love isn't us Britons as individuals, but our money. The UK is the second-biggest advertising market for Google in the world, recording $4.9bn (£3.2bn) in transactions here in 2012.
Now I don't pretend to fully understand the ins and outs of how that £3.2 billion materialises, but I felt it must in some way be linked to people in the UK using that famed search engine.

And based on the number of days in the year, and the numbers of hours in the day and the number of minutes in an hour and the number of seconds in a minute (I did confess to lack of competence earlier, so be fair) that, I decided with the aid of a calculator, worked out at just about £101.50 a second.

And I felt reasonably sure that "just the one" search per second was unlikely to generate revenue of £100 plus, there would probably have to be "a lot of them per second" - even if each search raised as much as say the majestic sum of 2 pence for Google, well that's 5000 plus "searches" in the UK every second.

That's a lot of searches. Some of which I guess will be of a "serious research type nature" conducted by businesses and others of a "serious research type nature" by people wishing to become the customers of businesses; and some of a "serious research type nature" by people seeking facts and enlightenment which could be business related, or of an educational nature, even if a lot are considered shall we say, frivolous.

Now just supposing Ben got his wish and Google was subjected by the UK, and indeed just about everywhere, to "a tax levy based on how much business they do in each jurisdiction". Ben doesn't specify the level of the levy, nor ascribe a cash figure to what he expects it to generate for HM Treasury.

But as this ruckus has blown up around "alleged failure to pay sufficient corporation tax" it seems safe to assume he would want the levy to equate to the amount of 'unpaid' UK corporation tax that Google is accused of dodging, and that it would be related to that £3.2 billion revenue figure.

So I just idly wondered how much that might be, and whether it would be sufficiently big enough to convince Google to start making that quite useful search engine (and yes I know there are others, so presumably any of them available in the UK would be subject to the same levy if they generated "revenue") only available on payment of some "user subscription" and how much it might be.

Assuming they couldn't extract much more from the people buying their advertising (who presumably would pay extra if they felt they could pass on their extra costs to customers, but cut back their advertising if they felt they couldn't, thus probably reducing Google's UK generated revenue) because if Google really aren't making much in the way of profit in the UK, then the proposed levy is probably going to turn that into a biggish loss, and despite their "do no evil" ethos, I think they would be evil enough to think "we ain't no charity, and we certainly can't afford to be one."

Thursday 23 May 2013

Other, equally ridiculous and implausible explanations are available

However, some experts believe the culling was also partly to protect grouse shooting interests

The 23,500-acre Abbeystead estate was bought in 1980 by a trust "on behalf" of the Duke of Westminster, one of the UK's richest landowners. The duke's Grosvenor Estate manages the Abbeystead estate, which hosts pheasant and grouse shoots.

The government has licensed an annual cull of lesser black-backed gulls on the Abbeystead estate on the Bowland Fells in Lancashire for decades, officially to stop water pollution. The estate was first allowed to cull the gulls in the 1970s on the grounds that droppings were polluting the watercourse. The licence to cull was last renewed by Natural England in 1999. But a former Abbeystead gull surveyor has admitted that the culling has been conducted, in part, to protect the "economy of the shooting estates". The species is known to eat grouse eggs.

But nice to see that the estate managers still believe in good old-fashioned politeness when it comes to being asked for a quote on the situation.

The Grosvenor Estate said: "As we are involved in a dialogue with Natural England together with other land-owners, about the management of Bowland Fells, including the Abbeystead estate, we are not in a position to comment."

A little bit of speculation, a little bit of public guarantee

An interesting little article from Inside Housing about Warrington Council, the essential facts from which are given below, prompting an equally (imho) interesting reaction and question from reader Keith Veness
Ludicrous - why doesn't the Council build and manage its own homes rather than risking money by giving it to unelected and unaccountable RSLs?
On Tuesday, Warrington Council agreed a £30 million commercial loan to Muir Group Housing Association. In July it will consider a proposal to lend £20 million to Plus Dane Group.

The local authority has provided loans to associations since 2010 to stimulate housing development in Cheshire, following the withdrawal of long-term finance by banks in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis. To date, using its cheap borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, it has loaned £51.8 million to four providers.

Under the terms of the deal, the 25-year loan can be drawn down in up to 20 tranches over a six-year period. The rate of interest payable will be 1.25 per cent above the PWLB’s rate at the date of each drawdown.

The council will gain around £15,000 in interest annually for each £1 million borrowed and plans to use this to reinvest in services to help reduce the scale of future cuts. The deal will also increase its new homes bonus – a government grant to coun­cils for increasing the number of homes and their use – by between £1.1 million and £2.2 million over six years.

Well there's your answer right there, Dave...

From The Daily Mail:

Violent foreign extremists should be put on the first plane home, a furious Tory MP demanded today. Former army officer Bob Stewart said the killers in the Woolwich attack had succeeded in securing publicity for their 'perverted ideas' and urged tough action to deal with 'anyone that supports them....

[David Cameron] said he could not comment on the detailed police investigation but vowed: 'This country will be absolutely resolute in its stand against extremism and terror. We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any of its forms. This view is shared by every community.

Mr Cameron revealed that the two suspected killers were known to the security services and promised that the authorities will investigate into whether the attack could have been prevented.

Of course they "could have been prevented". Go and have a chat with Mr Bob Stewart.

All of which makes you wonder why Sweden allowed in so many "asylum seekers" in recent years. They knew how it ended in France and the UK, and surprise surprise, the same thing is now happening over there.

While I'm on the topic, cast your eye down the list of areas in the UK with the highest per capita welfare spending halfway down this article. What do those areas famously have in common (apart from having lots of unemployed people, obviously, they've got to live somewhere and I've no particular grudge against people who are unemployed)?

Fun With Numbers - The April 2013 Public sector deficit

From The ONS:

• Public sector current budget deficit was £5.6 billion in April 2013; this is a £2.5 billion lower deficit than in April 2012, when there was a deficit of £8.2 billion.(1)

• Public sector net borrowing (PSNB ex) was £6.3 billion in April 2013; this is £25.4 billion higher net borrowing than in April 2012, when net borrowing was £-19.1 billion.(2)

• After removing the impacts of the transfer relating to the BEAPFF(3), public sector net borrowing in April 2013 was £10.2 billion(4); this is £1.3 billion higher net borrowing than the figure in April 2012 (5) with the impacts of the Royal Mail pension transfer removed. However, also removing the effect of the SLS transfer (7) from April 2012 results in April 2013 being £1.0 billion lower than in April 2012.(7)

• Public sector net debt was £1,185.3 billion at the end of April 2013, equivalent to 75.2% of gross domestic product (GDP).

1) Hooray! Sort of.

2) Wow! A negative deficit means that wee Georgie boy actually paid off £19.1 billion of the accumulated public sector debt! Not bad going for a towel folder!

3) BEAPFF = Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund = the entries in the Bank of England's accounts relating to QE.

4) This means that the monthly public sector deficit was reduced by £4.6 billion as a result of this entry. But the Bank of England is part of the public sector, so that £4.2 billion is completely made-up (unless they also included £4.2 billion interest "payable" on the government bonds held by the government as an expense?).

5) Oo-er.

6) Just to remind ourselves of what was reported a year ago:

Comparisons for April [2012] are affected by a number of factors: The April 2012 net borrowing was reduced by £28.0 billion as a result of the transfer of the Royal Mail Pension Plan. Also in April 2012, £2.3 billion was transferred from the Bank of England to HM Treasury following the winding up of the Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS). In April 2013, £3.9 billion was transferred from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (BEAPFF) to Government. All these transfers to government have the effect of reducing public sector net borrowing (PSNB ex), central government net cash requirement and public sector net debt (PSND ex).

The Royal Mail pension fund was more smoke and mirrors. BobE adds in the comments that it was reported back in March 2012 thusly:

Mr Osborne told MPs: “The transfer of the £28 billion of assets from the Royal Mail pension fund to the Exchequer will free it from its crippling pension debts, ensure the pensions of hard-working staff are paid and help to bring in new private sector investment” and "A further £37.5 billion of liabilities will be absorbed into the rest of the state pension system and so will not immediately show on the Government books as debt".

Or in brief - HMT received approx £28 billion up front and spent it immediately, in return for guaranteeing what was at the time set as at least £37.5 billion in debt, in order to make the Royal Mail more saleable from a privatisation viewpoint.

An medja person reporting the H of C statement by the Oik supplied the "missing element info" as a public service..."The £9.5 billion difference between the two figures is the same as adding £365 of debt to every British household".

7) Ah right. So in real real terms, the deficit, i.e. the additional borrowing was £1 billion lower than a year ago? If we keep this up, the accumulated deficit will stop growing in about ten year's time or something.

Europe: Extra Virgin Edition

From The Telegraph:
David Cameron has attacked a Brussels ban on the use of olive oil jugs in restaurants as "exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of".

The Prime Minister criticised the ban as a caricature of unnecessary EU interference and a piece of red tape that should never have been proposed, let alone agreed. In a press conference at the EU summit, Mr Cameron declined to explain how Britain had ended up giving the green light to the ban.
"Our argument was bound up in a whole set of arguments we were having about rules of origin and all the rest of it and I won't go into the tedious complexities," he said.
So, this is something the EU shouldn't be doing it, but we're utterly powerless to change it. We can't get something as silly as olive oil in bottles overturned, but we're expected to believe that this man can renegotiate Britain's position in Europe?

Wednesday 22 May 2013

"Bridget Jones On The River Kwai"

From Wiki and Wiki:

In World War II, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is frustrated: she is in her early thirties, still single and stuck in a Japanese prison camp in western London and worried about her weight. She works in publicity at a book publishing company in Thailand where her main focus is fantasizing about her commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) who informs her that all prisoners, regardless of weight issues, are to work on the construction of a railroad bridge at a New Year party hosted by her parents.

She re-meets the senior British officer, Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), who reminds Saito that the Geneva Conventions exempt Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the barrister son of her parents' friends, from manual labour. They had known each other as children. After their initial encounter,  Nicholson orders his officers to remain behind when the enlisted men are sent off to work.

Saito slaps him across the face with his copy of the conventions and threatens to have them shot, but Nicholson thinks that Bridget is a fool and Bridget thinks that he is arrogant and rude, and is disgusted by his officers standing all day in the intense tropical heat.

After a day beset by a series of mishaps, she misplaces her purse, breaks her coffee mug and gets placed in a punishment hut, while Nicholson is locked in "the oven," an iron box, without food or water. When she returns home that evening, the prisoners are working as little as possible and sabotaging whatever they can. She reaches to pull the curtains, only for them to fall off the wall. Nicholson conducts an inspection and is shocked by what he finds. That is the final straw of a stressful day.

When she catches sight of her reflection in the window, she decides to order Captain Reeves (Peter Williams) and Major Hughes (John Boxer) to design and build a proper bridge. She starts her own diary, which covers all her attempts to stop smoking, lose weight and find Mr Right, despite its military value to the Japanese.

Next week: Our thirty-something heroine leads a heroic but disastrous attempt to recapture German-held potential husbands in The Netherlands in "A Bridget Jones Too Far".

"[insert name] is only party leader to challenge/criticise Google on tax"

From The Daily Mail:

Clegg outflanks Cameron and Miliband to become ONLY party leader to challenge Google's Eric Schmidt about tax avoidance

From the BBC:

Ed Miliband has criticised Google's tax arrangements at an event organised by the internet search giant. The Labour leader said the firm had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to limit levels of tax it paid in the UK.

Click and highlight to reveal the names of the only two party leaders to have complained.

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's FT:

Sir, Can I suggest that Tony Travers ("It is time to set London free to tax and spend its own money", Comment, May 16) persuades one of Mayor of London Boris Johnson's fans in the Commons to re-present Herbert Morrison's 1939 site value rating for London bill.

An annual levy on some of the most valuable land in the world should sort out the capital's spending constraints nicely.

Carol Wilcox, Labour Land Campaign, Christchurch, Dorset, UK.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (304)

Every now and then I stumble across a new KLN to add to the KLN blog. That IPPR nonsense I covered yesterday included another one (propounded by Socialists and Faux Libertarians alike) which I have slotted in here.

The KLN and the rebuttal are as follows:

"Why focus on one narrow asset class? Taxes should be broad-based!"

a) For LVT purposes, land is not an "asset" let alone an "asset class" or a "capital asset". The tax is levied on the annual rental value of land/locations", i.e. that flow of wealth which would otherwise go to landlords, landowners, bankers or property speculators ("rents", whether capitalised or not).

b) And those rents do not generate themselves, they are merely wealth which is siphoned off from a myriad different kinds of productive activity (or exploitation of natural resources or local advantages).

c) Clearly, it would be silly to try and raise a disproportionate amount of tax from any one "asset class" (cash, buildings, jewellery, works of art, plant and machinery or share prices); from any one particular kind of land use (residential, commercial or agricultural/extractive); or from any one particular kind of economic activity (manufacturing or services or any sub-division thereof).

The worst taxes are things like VAT, a flat percent of turnover of non-favoured productive industries which allow high-margin industries to thrive but condemn low-margin ones to oblivion, and the more "targeted" a tax is, the more distortions it causes (the same goes for "targeted" tax breaks and subsidies). So "broad based" is clearly good - it's just that the Homeys don't like it when they are included in that "broad base", despite the fact that owner-occupiers create two-thirds of the wealth, pay two-thirds of all the taxes and occupy two-thirds of all the land, measured by value.

d) But land rents are derived from all these uses and activities, and are that part of any industry's income which is not necessary to sustain that industry, they are pure surplus (or the price a retailer pays for having a monopoly position on the High Street). So the least-bad tax on farming is a tax on that extra income (revenue minus costs and the value of the farmer's own labour) which would otherwise go into rent or higher land prices (on average, about £20 per acre). And the least-bad tax on retail is that element of profits which would go into rents. Manufacturing businesses are happy do make do with marginal and out-of-town sites (they need more physical space but central locations are not so important - they need access to stuff like motorway junctions and railway sidings which make places a no-no for residential use) so the tax collected from manufacturing would be minimal. Etc etc.

e) And we all have to live somewhere. The least-bad tax on earned income is that a tax on that element of people's income which they pay as rent or mortgage repayments (which for an average household is the excess of income over the cost of the "basic minimum" standard of living and for higher earning households is "conspicuous consumption"), but unlike income tax (where you get nothing in return for paying it), the LVT is taken out of/included in the rent and when you pay LVT/rent, you get something in return (somewhere to live).

f) In urban areas (which is where 95% of land rents arise), these land uses are are all intermingled. It could be retail or services at pavement level with offices on the first floor and flats up above, with a car repair workshop in the alley behind. The rental value is fairly constant, it does not matter what that shop sells or what services are provided, it does not matter whether the offices are used by a financial adviser, physiotherapist or fortune teller. And it does not matter how the residents above earn their living or whether the car repair workshop specialises in second cars or tuning brand new Maseratis.

g) All of these uses compete. If people want to buy mobile phones instead of CDs, then the CD shop shuts down and is replaced with a mobile phone shop (or the canny CD retailer starts selling mobile phones on the side). The flats will be occupied by the people who work in the most profitable local industries, they might lose their job in the CD shop and be taken on by the mobile phone shop. Etcetera.

h) Occupiers who have to pay rent will always be the people who are best able to capitalise on the opportunities offered by that location or who can earn most by working within commuting distance of that location. So making people pay rent is not in itself a bad thing; where it goes wrong is allowing a privileged class to collect those rents rather than pooling them for the common good.

So as we see, land is not a narrow "asset class" and land rents themselves are a very broad-based and inherently stable stream of revenue/flow of wealth, which can be taxed with impunity.