Saturday, 26 April 2014
There's some general issues but some specific ones with housing in rural areas where the availability of private rented housing is limited and where there is a real need to give local people a chance to live in their communities to keep rural villages alive.
Following an earlier discussion I went to a workshop today to discuss the problems. The rural allocation policy used by Homefinder, the service run by the Council and the main providers of social housing in the county, is set by officials from these organisations is (in simplistic terms) as follows:
- people in housing need in the parish or neighbouring parishes
- people in housing need elsewhere
- people in the parish or neighbouring parishes
- everyone else.
This means that when new social housing is developed in local areas there is no guarantee that local people will be allocated housing, and this can be seen as unfair and divisive - and inhibits the maintenance of communities.
There's a number of potential solutions;
The process of allocations needs to be publicised and people need to get more confidence in the system;
People need to record their need even if it cannot be met initially;
If circumstances change it is always worth notifying Homefinder;
The policy needs to be reviewed to give more priority to a local connection;
Councillors should have more involvement in the prioritisation process.
We agreed that the policy would be reviewed, as a matter of urgency, and a further workshop would be held with members to discuss it. I hope that over a period of time this will improve things for people who need scarce housing.
Thursday, 28 March 2013
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
- voters don't like extremism. They admire conviction but not at the expense of working with others - just as people have to do every day in their lives.
- the world changes as does the electorate: it appears that the Republicans have forgotten that not all US voters are white middle class and retired.
Those are important lessons for the Tories here in Britain as well.
Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Saturday, 6 October 2012
One was about the West Coast rail franchise, taking it from Virgin trains and giving it to First Group.
The second was the proposed merger between BAe and EADS.
I heard both when I was listening to he radio. Both instinctively felt wrong; it was obvious they were silly ideas.
For the rail franchise, it was obvious (I speak with experience of the bungles with the East Coast main line franchise) that insufficient weight had been given to the experience of the current operator and too much weight had been given to future promises of a previously unreliable operator. I didn't know just how badly the process had been handled, or how quickly it would unravel, but it was obviously wrong. Why couldn't transport ministers see that? How did they let it happen? It's easy to blame the civil servants who clearly made serious mistakes possibly driven by the fact that Virgin trains had previously negotiated too good a deal. But ultimately the ministers decide. I suppose you get wrapped up in a bubble and there's a limit to how much you can contradict the advice of full time officials. But this was so obviously wrong they shoud not have accepted it. The fact they did means they should not be ministers now.
BAe, given a downturn in defence spending, needs to consider it's strategic direction. But the companyis fundamental to the UK defence structure and its major clients are in the US. Its also a big UK employer. It's surely obvious that a merger with a primarily competitor over whom the French and German governments have significant influence is going to be very high risk, in the best case, with major implications for UK defence security and for UK jobs. This is one where the Government should simply have said "don't even think about it" when they were sounded out, as they must have been. Yet there's a major lobbying operation which appears to be having some success. If the Government is lucky shareholder pressures may put a stop to the deal. If they don't then the Government belatedly needs to stop it. If not they'll regret it even more than the rail franchise -although by the time the consequences arrive they'll probably be out of office.
But again: why is this not obvious?
Monday, 27 August 2012
Why? It worked perfectly well before. Its not obviously better now - it's just different and therefore less convenient because I (and at some other time in the past) other users have to re-learn how to finesse it to produce a desired result.
This happens so often in technology: one reason I no longer bother with facebook (and linkedin) is because they kept changing it.
And yet ... all those people working on the changes are doing it because they think it will make the world a better place. A shame it usually doesn't.
Had I been organised I’d have posted my thoughts on what was
important for 2012 before the year was over half way through – in fact I’d have
done it at the start of the year. I did generate the thoughts, I just never
wrote them down. But better late than never:
At home, the economy is the most important thing: will there
be a double dip recession and if so will it be long standing, will inflation
start to reduce, and will public sector spending come under control? Much of
the outcome will be determined by what happens outside the UK:
- in Europe where uncertainty about the Euro and the public
sector deficits and the safety of banks in some European countries is
depressing confidence and economic activity;
- in the US, where a stand-off between Democrats and
Republicans over pretty much everything but especially how to deal with the
deficit, is again damaging confidence and therefore investment;
- in the Middle East, where continued instability is a
threat to the world economy (and much else); and
- in China, whose growth can impact the rest of the world
because of its scale although in turn it can be influenced by events elsewhere.
I thought that there would not be a double dip recession
(although I now know I was wrong) but that inflation would come down and the
public sector deficit would continue to be brought under control albeit slowly.
Concerns are that the Government has prioritised rebuilding bank capital over increased
bank lending and that the Bank of England seems to have no policy prescription
other than Quantitative Easing. This does not help economic growth.
Four other matters are of interest:
Will the coalition continue to work reasonably well?
As it nears mid-term and the warm glow of doing something
fresh fades away under the pressure of events, the coalition will come under
pressure particularly from disenchanted back benchers seeking a media presence
in the absence of a seat in Government. As long as it remembers why it is
there: to focus ruthlessly on getting public sector finances under control: it
should continue. It is in the interests of neither of the parties nor the
country to have a minority Government or an election.
The Leveson enquiry
It has been pretty unedifying and a bit tedious to watch
resentful celebrities and forgetful politicians parade before the enquiry but
this enquiry is important. This enquiry is important for the country; press
freedom is precious and in an over-hyped atmosphere it would be easy to see it
Feel good factors
The Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics ought to be good for
the country. I wish we hadn’t got the Olympics (too much of the original ideals
seem to have disappeared under rampant commercialism) but I hope we make the
best of them and the Jubilee should be something special. Hopefully the
spending around both events will offset the fact that many people won’t be
working during them.
Banks: as before, will we stop hating them?
See my 2011 comments.
Abroad, the factors I noted above will be important.
In Europe, the survival of the Euro (which I don’t doubt)
will lead to greater common Governance amongst the Euro area and potentially in
the Union generally. This will put pressure on the British position. Our
relationship with Europe is tense at the best of times – the facts that we’re
an island that’s never been successfully invaded, we have a common law culture and
an international economy mean that we approach the Union with a different
philosophy from the other major countries. Most of the political parties are
divided on the subject, and the coalition is particularly so. Although
renegotiation of our relationship is inevitable it is not a good time to do it
when everyone is in crisis.
In the US, the Presidential election is very close. The
Republicans have made America ungovernable and their candidate does not deserve
to win. But the Democrats have responded by ignoring the need to cut long term
spending commitments as part of sorting out the deficit. Obama inherited
probably the biggest mess ever but has not been able to sound convincing on the
economy. I hope he wins; I suspect he won’t.
Friday, 16 December 2011
The UK media was pretty hysterical about it whether they were pro- or anti-, and they had been vocal about the treaty beforehand. In this relatively rich part of Europe people seemed much less concerned. There was some concern about the state of the Euro and the financial situation and disappointment that the UK had withdrawn from the discussions - but a resigned acceptance that the UK was always different. A much calmer reaction (which perhaps shows that the posturing in the European Parliament was just that, posturing) than in the UK.
I think Cameron had little choice. I think it was unfortunate because it’s always a shame to leave a discussion unresolved, especially because the topic (solving the Euro crisis) was pretty important. But Cameron was stuck: he had no support from his party (the largest party in Parliament) to compromise much; he had no support from other countries who were too scared of the Franco-German axis and he was caught in a disagreement between France and Germany. Had he put off a decision, he would have been criticised at home and more importantly would have been blamed for the eventual collapse of the talks and the weakness in the Euro. Now, the UK has stood aside so if anything goes wrong it’s the fault of the Euro countries – primarily France and Germany. There’s another point in his favour, spelt out by one of his most ardent critics: he played it straight. He didn’t stoop to the Euro sceptics stance of kicking Europe when it was down; he gave everyone warning of what was important to him and he followed through.
The short term winner of the summit was Sarkozy, who needed a win because of his Presidential election next year. He wanted a weak agreement without the EU being able to bind countries, unlike Merkel who wanted a strong formal agreement. The trouble for him is that it is clear, and increasingly clear, that the summit has not helped solve the problem of the Euro and that there will have to be more discussions. Even worse, and perhaps unsurprisingly, more and more countries are stepping away from what they agreed to. The summit may have been portrayed as the UK vs the rest, but the UK will soon be one of many who can’t agree to the plan. This will weaken Sarkozy’s position and strengthen Merkel’s.
As far as UK politics is concerned, Cameron’s position has been strengthened. Miliband had little useful to say and Clegg looked silly. There’s no doubt the Lib-Dems will be disappointed but fundamentally the coalition is about sorting out the UK’s financial position and it is unlikely (not least because of their weakness in the opinion polls) that the Lib-Dems will withdraw. It is more likely that the stupid part of the Conservatives will push for an aggressive stance in the next phase of European discussions. Even though this could damage the coalition, reduce confidence in the UK’s ability to sort out its deficit and therefore harm the UK’s economic situation, and disrupt sorting out the Euro problem – also damaging the UK’s situation. Hopefully a combination of common sense and party discipline will prevail.
As for the Euro: it really is a mess. There are only two solutions, full fiscal union with central budgetary control and Germany picking up the pieces (which in the long term might be unsustainable politically) or the exit or devaluation of the weaker nations. This would be very disruptive in the short term but better in the long term because the Euro could start again. From this side of the Channel it is unclear why the Euro elite are so wedded to a costly project – but they are, and they will do their best to keep the Euro going whatever the cost. The trouble is, it’s a cost to us as well as them.
- Most of the sensible politicians in Europe still want the UK engaged. They know we can’t help being straightforward, practical and outward looking. They value that. We will only be on the fringe of decision making if we choose to be.
- The package agreed at the summit will probably fizzle out, we won’t get too much of the blame and discussions will continue.
- in the past we have done well by being slightly disconnected from Europe; we did not suffer from staying out of the euro as so many suggested we would. But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. Things don’t always repeat themselves.
- The UK is benefitting from a very low interest rate because people still believe we are sorting out the deficit. But our ability to do so is harmed by the struggling European economy. It wouldn’t take much for people to take a hard look at our credit rating and think we too have problems so increasing our borrowing rate. Rather unpleasantly the Bank of France today suggested the UK should lose its AAA status before France. I don’t think we will but we mightn’t be far behind.
We are, after all, all in this together.
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
To me, it’s silly. More than that, it’s really silly.
The Bank of England gives banks and other institutions cash in return for certain types of assets they hold (primarily gilts). The banks and institutions are meant to do useful things with that cash, including (hopefully) lending it to businesses and maybe even individuals. Generally however, they use it to make short term financial gains trading in money markets. They already have lots of cash because they are deliberately reducing their size and increasing their capital (to be able to cope with forthcoming losses). They don’t really need more to increase productive lending.
Thinking of QE as a method of boosting the economy is like putting your foot on a car accelerator when someone has cut the cable. There’s no direct connection. It might work (if for example the car is going downhill) but it might not.
We need to improve growth and business confidence. Surveys show that lending to the engine room of the economy, small businesses, is drying up and the pressure on their working capital is damaging confidence and future investment – and employment. This is where action is needed, urgently, and QE does nothing to help.
Some think QE is inflationary; the Bank thinks it won’t be because it thinks we are about to get deflation. There’s also an argument that this isn’t new permanent money in the system because it is buying assets. However, a cynic would say that inflation is one way of reducing the country’s debt burden. They would note that an abnormally large proportion of the Bank’s pension fund assets are in inflation linked instruments; that could be a co-incidence but it probably isn’t.
Inflation is having a bad effect on household discretionary spending and on household confidence. A lack of confidence prevents spending, increases saving and harms the economy. I’d agree that deflation would also be bad, for different reasons, and it’s not definite that QE will create more inflation. But it might, and is that a risk worth taking?
What QE definitely does do is distort gilt yields, it makes them abnormally low. These yields are used in pension calculations and this distortion has two negative effects:
- New pensioners (unless they are lucky enough to be in the public sector or in defined benefit schemes) have to take their pensions when the annuity rates are low. This, other things being equal, gives them a lower income for the rest of their lives
- The deficits in company pension schemes are increased, so companies have to put more money aside to meet the deficit and have less to use productively in helping growth.
These effects are certain. The benefits of QE are not.
Even if there are some benefits, the effort is not being targeted where the economy needs help: working capital for the SME sector so that business confidence can gradually be built up.
So: it’s a lot of money; it has uncertain benefits (the only certain one being that it is increasing banks’ profits and therefore capital*); it may increase inflation; it will damage new pensioners; it will suck cash out of large companies; and it won’t provide help where it’s needed.
That seems really silly to me.
* See my post about predictions for 2011: the banks are being told to do contradictory things but primarily they are being told to increase their capital and reduce risk.
Although they knew it could not happen: this parliament cannot bind the next.
Although they knew the European economy is in a bad way therefore harming the UK economy, and such a referendum would do further damage.
Although they knew such a referendum would weaken the Government's negotiating position at a time when real change could happen.
Although they knew each vote for the referendum would weaken the Government's negotiating position.
Although they knew that referendums aren't cheap, are a distraction and the focus at the moment should be on the economy.
Although they knew they are representatives meant to do the right thing rather than following the opinions of their constituency associations.
Why? Self indulgence.
It makes you wonder if the Conservatives can be trusted to govern if 80+ of them can behave in such a childish way. I am very occasionally ashamed to belong to the Conservative party; this is one occasion.
What's a bit depressing is that last week was another; what possessed those people on the Tory benches to be supportive of Liam Fox? He should have resigned earlier, and been suspended if he hadn’t. It seems that being on the right wing of the party is enough to offset breaking the ministerial code in a whole number of ways.
Westminster village commentators suggest Cameron did well to string things along until Fox was found out. Because the right wing wouldn't have accepted action until it was inevitable. In the real world people knew the whole thing stank.
Thursday, 1 September 2011
A lot happened while I was away - phone hacking, riots, Eurozone collapse of confidence, never mind Libya or Syria - and I'll comment on those issues now.
I think the main point of interest is how so 20th century they now appear. They seemed to be incredibly important at the time - headline after headline, lead item on the news for days - and yet once the news spotlight moves on no-one is really interested any more. That says a lot about the inability of news media to focus on what's important, and to keep focused even if its not topical. (I wrote that paragraph on the 1st of September, when the Eurozone crisis had slipped out of the headlines for a few weeks: I have come back to this post on the 24th October when it is certainly back in the headlines. It never went away but as far as the media is concerned, it did).
I watched the furore about phone hacking, the demonization and closure of the News of the World and the criticism of the News International group (“NI”) with bemusement – especially as there were so many significant things happening elsewhere - and I’m not surprised that the issue has now largely gone away.
It seemed to be caused largely by a combination of jealousy and revenge at – two hypocritical newspapers, The Guardian and the Independent. Hypocritical and not particularly good selling as well. When the history is written, the News of the World will stand out as a great campaigning newspaper that did far more for the public good than the Guardian could ever dream of doing and Rupert Murdoch as someone who did more for media freedom in the UK than possibly anyone else.
And what would you expect a newspaper to do?
An important part of their job is to tell us things we don’t know. This includes things people don’t want known. Some of these things are justifiably private. The assessment of which those are is a critical part of a newspaper’s job, and there needs to be scope for proper appeal and compensation if a newspaper gets it badly wrong.
But most things people don’t want known should be known and we should be grateful that many newspapers invest time and money in digging into the truth. There is a right to privacy but most of the people investigated by the press lead public lives and use their image to boost their career or status.
Far more worrying is the growing attempt to muzzle the press by injunctions against publication, especially super-injunctions against reporting the existence of an injunction. Pre-hacking, this was the hot issue affecting the media. As most of the details leaked out it was clear that the injunctions had been brought not to protect privacy or other family members but to protect the value of the person’s image. A very few judges have been allowed to create a new branch of law to protect people with a lot of money from the public gaze.
Unfortunately the hacking scandal has allowed the focus to switch and has taken the pressure of politicians to protecting the press. The politicians will be pleased because so many of their misdeeds have been exposed in the past. And remember many of those exposures have used dubious methods but we have been grateful for them.
When I posted on this theme last time I mentioned the excellent BBC serial State of Play. I recommend watching it.
Most people took support from the riots for their opinions about what is wrong with Britain today, from the left’s decades attack on family and responsibility causing a collapse in society’s moral fibre to the brutal impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable in society. As news trickled out about those involved, immaturity and the short term madness of crowds became more likely suspects, complemented by incompetent policing in two regards:
- Arrogant handling of a tense situation after police had killed someone, and
- Insufficient focus on stopping trouble before it started.
It was worrying to see how Sir Hugh Orde in particular, the head of ACPO, the self annointed trade association for police heads, was so keen to criticise politicians for their role in trying to resolve the issues when it was clear that the police had lost control. Fortunately he failed to get the job of heading the Met, and hopefully his influence is waning.
There is an investigation underway into the causes of the riots and it’s better to wait for that before commenting too much; there’s not enough information yet. But I take away two things:
- Whatever your position on social exclusion, the work being done by Ian Duncan Smith’s team is critical. If it is successful it will improve people’s lives immeasurably in the long term. If not, many will continue to be excluded from normal society.
- The current method of policing cities – hands off, CCTV, stepping as a final solution – has gone horribly wrong. Zero tolerance, involvement, visibility are words that should start being used.
Where to start? The simple thing is that the Euro was a mistake from the beginning, at least in involving countries with very different economies. A "core Euro" of France, Germany and Benelux might have worked. But the differences between those countries and the other 12 were too great; things onluy worked for as long as they did because the lenders were happy to provide finance while the world was going through an economic boom - or a bubble. Once that confidence evaporated, the scale of Government debt (made worse in some cases by guaranteeing the debts of banks) meant that the question of who stood behind the Euro could not be avoided. And as we saw in Yugoslavia, if you put things together that should not be together the eventual parting will be painful.
So who does stand behind the Euro? Inevitably, Germany is the only country that can and the question is the price it will extract for doing so. It is inevitable that if the Euro is to be a stable currency that there has to be some form of political as well as economic union - without a common fiscal and central bank policy there cannot be a stable currency region. I think those who doubt the future of the Euro underestimate the willingness of the European governing elite to ensure its survival and the survival of the European dream.
It is inevitable that the Greek Government will default on its debts; hopefully others will not have to as well. But I think it very unlikely that they will leave the Euro: the cost to them and potentially to others would be too great.
The cost of the default will mostly fall on European banks, who will have to be bailed out to some extent by other countries. Mostly Germany.
The treaty changes necessary to implement a co-ordinated form of economic governance in Europe provide the UK with the best chance in years to re-negotiate its involvement in Europe. I have long thought that the solution to our difficulties in Europe is to recognise a two-speed Europe, or an inner and outer core. We should welcome the creation of a more harmonised Europe for those who want it and we should take our proper place in the slow lane.
The intervention has worked. Despite a lot of criticism of Cameron and Sarkozy at the beginning, their humanitarian instincts have helped successfully depose an evil man and we should be grateful to them (as should the Libyans, who should now get on with running their country). Syria seems to tied up with Russia and Iran to be given a similar level of help. Its hard to understand why Russia doesn't want to get on the right side of history, but hopefully Libya will motivate Syrians go continue their struggle.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
AV has a whiff of fairness about it, but it also brings with it complexity, a change to something that doesn't really need fixing and an increase in the power of parties over individuals.
The more I've thought about it - and have looked at the respective campaigns - neither of which have been impressive - the more I think the flaws of AV outweigh the benefits and will vote no.
There are problems with most forms of democratic voting systems (where the area is bigger than an area where people know each other well); problems of not identifying with the MP, not having equal representation (Labour need many fewer votes per MP than Tories or Lib Dems), under-representation of extremists (many would see that as a good point), MPs not being selected by more than 50% of the votes, MPs being selected by small groups of people because they are good party people (eg MEPs); and so on. Volumes of words have been written on the subject. AV solves none of them - not even being selected by more than 50% of voters, because you don't have to cast more than one vote.
Which is why, until the yes campaign kicked off, most of its current suppporters did not support it.
There's another reason some of the current supporters changed their minds having previously been negative: money. The cost of running an AV election will be substantial (£250m+). A main financial promotor of the AV campaign is an organisation (the electoral reform society) that will profit from the change.
Many supporters say that although AV is not perfect, it is at least a change from the current system. These tend to be LibDems - although there has been research into the effect AV would have had on past elections, it's hard to work it out accurately. The effect seems to be that when there's a significant swing in mood (eg to Thatcher or Blair) AV would emphasise that swing and when there isn't it would emphasise the middle. But the party that would do best out of it in general seems to be the LibDems. The result is therefore likely to be less effective opposition or coalitions based on party negotiations.
I don't really accept the "no" campaign's argument that the system is too complicated to explain - and yet: remember the significant number of spoiled ballots in Scotland in the 2007 election? Complexity really did have a negative impact.
Our current system is one of the better alternatives. There has to be a clear reason to change. AV doesn't solve most electoral problems, it will cost a lot and is likely to lead to more power for political parties rather than less. (I will always remember the photo of Nick Clegg's coalition negotiating notes showing he was mostly concerned with the Lib Dems status rather than policy).
I have another problem with the vote: I think important changes should be carefully considered. I don't like the idea of referendums deciding something unless there are some safeguards: a certain % of people should vote; the majority should be more than 50% to take account of the fact that some people won't vote; ideally there should be two referendums for major changes, say 5 years apart, so the result isn't swayed by short term issues. The thing about change is you can't put it back. But you can always change in the future.
So in the absence of clear reasons to change - and because there are some good reasons not to - I'm voting no.