06 April 2010
UK General Election
Here's a few more predictions
In 2006 I said an uninspired Labour would feed into the hands of the SNP in Scotland and the Tories in England. Within a year, the SNP was in government in Scotland and in 2010 the Tories are leading in the polls UK wide.
In 2007 I predicted the resignation of Tony Blair, the SNP winning the Scottish elections and the Tories winning the UK elections in 2010.
In 2008, I predicted on the BBC website that 2010 would see Labour lose and Gordon Brown off to a well paid job in the City and the SNP a good 10 points in front.
In 2010, we see the SNP a good 10 points in front, and of course the Tories in the lead UK wide.
The polls have been wrong before - hopefully the number crunchers will have taken 1992 into account - but the predictions are looking good so far. I'm not much of a fan of the Tories, including the lack of help in sorting out the red tape I got from my then MP Alistair Darling, but anything has to be better than another 5 years of Labour.
09 November 2008
Barack Obama and Arnie's land of opportunity
PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
However, one barrier remains. America still requires the President to have been born in the US. Only a land of equal opportunity if you happen to have been born there. Factors such as skin colour which is something your are born with and have no control over should not be a barrier to becoming President. Neither for the same reason should be the place of your birth, it should be up to the people of America to decide whether a candidate and US citizen is fit to lead them and not some rule which says no After all, he's already leading 12% of Americans.
I'm glad to say that some in America are taking this discrimination seriously and perhaps Arnie is the one person of charisma and ability who can lead a campaign with as much emphasis on the land of opportunity as Barack Obama, and certainly a lot more stylish than boring John McCain.
Why do countries insist on state sponsored discrimination?
04 August 2008
UK Government big thinking. National Insurance
Here's a policy which someone who has been chancellor for 11 years should be able to sort out.
Simplify the tax system and make it accountable.
Here's an example - look at what National Insurance is for on the direct gov website.
Then use that explanation to explain why EMPLOYERS who derive only a minuscule benefit from National Insurance need to pay more NI than employees. Employers do not get the pension benefit, employers get only a tiny benefit from sick pay. Employers still have to pay the majority of maternity pay and employers get no benefit towards unemployment benefit through this tax. Indeed as a self employed person in a Ltd company, you end up paying approx 24% in National Insurance even though you CANNOT CLAIM UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT BETWEEN CONTRACTS because "looking for work" whilst out of work is deemed to be paid employment even though you are not being paid whilst doing it.
This nonsense is little better than the equally bureaucratic mess inherited from the Tories. I took my case in 1996 to my MP who now happens to be Chancellor of the Exchequer (i.e. Alistair Darling). This was around the time of Harriet Harman's "send my kids to private school" story:
Letter in The Herald 5-Feb-96
This was published in full as their main letter of the day
Poverty trap bound by red tape
The disproportionate publicity given to a Labour MP's decision to send her child to a grant maintained school is causing the real issues affecting millions of people to be quietly brushed aside by the Conservatives. Here is an example of a "customers" experience of the disastrous state the Welfare system is in after nearly 17 years of Tory rule. They only have themselves to blame. As a "Customer" my response is that the Welfare state is a mass of red tape and I'd like to shop elsewhere, if I could.
Last year I was made unemployed and I registered as such with the unemployment office. It turns out, that despite a 500 a month mortgage, approx. 100 a month in bills and a requirement to buy food to live, I am not eligible for any state aid. I am disqualified from receiving any unemployment because during the year 93/94 I was on the Government's Employment Training initiative and only being credited with National Insurance, not paying it. My other 7 full years of actual contributions count for nothing. I couldn't even get the Welfare State to pay my £70 train fare for an interview because the initial contract was for less than 12 months.
I am disqualified from Social Security as I live with my fiancée and she works 25 hours a week. It apparently doesn't matter that her monthly wage is the same as my mortgage. It costs about 600 a month minimum plus food for us to exist and every month we are going more overdrawn because of the lack of the welfare state. The government defines "full time employment" as 16 hours or week or over and if one of a couple is working this, the other is not eligible for social security or housing benefit no matter what their income is. This definition of "full time employment" is patently ridiculous. If I put on my job applications that I would work 16 hours full time, I'd get laughed at. If I put I'd only work 16 hours a week on my signing on card, I would not get full unemployment benefit. The Government clearly has it both ways.
The "Employment Service" fully accept this problem and numerous people at the Employment service have said "I shouldn't say this but you would be a lot better off if your fiancée gave up her job or moved out". Is it really the Conservative party which believes in "family values" which has created this appalling system - forcing people out of work or splitting up families so that they can afford to eat?
Taking the Conservative philosophy of choice to its conclusion - I believe my paying National Insurance is like obtaining an insurance policy for myself and for the benefit of others. My experience of this system is that the rules are obscure and complex. It eliminates people who need money whilst giving money to those who may be out of work but well off. I would like to opt out of this mess, as I can with a pension scheme, and pay towards a scheme which has clear, easy to understand rules which pays out when I need it. Looking at private redundancy schemes, this is what they offer.
What this country really needs though is a simple system for the unemployed and low paid of adding your income, subtracting reasonable outgoings and then paying all or some of the difference, at a level which gives a guaranteed minimum income but is an incentive to go back to work. No exclusion clauses based on one person's 16 hours work expected to fund a couple. No exclusion clauses based on what happened in the tax year years ago and no automatic benefit for the wealthy whilst genuinely poor people are trying to make ends meet.
The issues surrounding one child's schooling pale into insignificance next to the millions caught in a poverty trap by Conservative Red Tape.
So over 12 years later we still have a state system which means that people out of work can end up being disqualified from receiving any state aid whatsoever because of red tape. Zero income was the sort of thing that national insurance was supposed to eliminate so that people did not end up in poor houses. Zero income does not pay bills. Zero income fuels the credit crunch. In a credit crunch, we need an accountable and fair tax system which ensures that when someone is out of work they are entitled to a minimum benefit, just as when they are in work they are entitled to a minimum wage.
So no more paying 24% national insurance contributions and then excluding people from the very benefits that national insurance was set up to provide. Have a flat rate of NI for all. Abolish employers NI contributions and if necessary adjust the income tax rate accordingly to ensure no employees are worse off. This would result in a fairer and more open tax system. The present alternative of taking a 24% insurance premium and then refusing to pay out for the benefits of that scheme is little better than state theft.
23 July 2008
17 July 2008
Company directors at high risk of ID theft due to government data loss
Following the recent string of data losses by HM Government, no-one seems to have taken on board the institutionalised data leaks which HM Government practices as part of its statutory liability and the implication for openly publishing tens of thousands of names, addresses and dates of birth free of charge on the Internet for any ID thief to easily pick up on and make use of.
If this was the general public there would be a national scandal, as there was with the HMRC data loss. If the general public had their names, addresses and dates of birth openly accessible online with no restrictions on who could access them, no payment required and no traceability on who had downloaded them then heads would roll.
Yet this is the exact practice which goes on at Companies House if you are a company director, something that increasing numbers of people are doing to find work as contractors in a shrinking employment market. Whilst it may be a statutory duty to gather such information and whilst it may be perfectly valid to have such information to validate people's IDs in the same way the same information is used to apply for credit cards, I can see no compelling reason why the entire database needs to be dumped uncontrolled for anyone on the web to access unrestricted. We need to move to a model where such private and confidential data is treated the same way irrespective of whether it is a private individual's data on the HMRC computer or a Company Director's data at Company's House - it's the same data after all. The forthcoming changes in the Companies Act only allow the address to be withheld, so even after these changes the director's full name and date of birth will be public and can still easily be tied up with historic electoral registers before the edited versions were introduced. Simply publishing the age is also not enough since the data of birth can be deduced by querying the site once per day for a year, a task easily automated.
You reported on 3rd July, front page, that one person had accessed the name, address and phone number of another businesses' details on-line at the PAYE site. The scale of openly publishing the private details of the directors of 2 million limited companies in the UK is surely much more significant.
Company Directors are not immune from ID theft, yet the government does nothing to protect the ID of over 2 million company directors. Why not?
21 May 2008
The surplus would allow Alex Salmond to maintain existing levels of public spending, while cutting corporation tax from 28% to 12.5%, reducing income tax by 5p in the pound and still having £2 billion every year to invest in a Norwegian-style oil fund to safeguard Scotland against a future decline in North Sea oil revenue.
The study, based on Treasury oil revenue forecasts and official spending figures, has calculated that, without money from the taxation of oil and gas, an independent Scotland would have an underlying deficit of £7.8billion. But when £12.2billion of oil and gas revenues are included, Scotland would have a surplus of more than £4billion.
See the link for more info
11 May 2008
For a government that was so obsessed with spin and image whilst Tony Blair was in power, the publication of these memoirs is clearly something that serves the interests of the authors and who clearly also appreciates the damage it will do to the party as they seek a record breaking 4th successive term.
Clearly they have their own financial interests ahead of such an achievement for the Labour party and would rather be doing their bit to get the Tories elected in 2010 than hold off for a couple of years. An author's fortune or Labour's fortunes?
Coming in 2010. My years with Tony Blair and how my muck raking in 2008 led to Labour's defeat at the polls.
Somehow I don't think that'll be a best seller, unless published by Conservative central office
10 May 2008
With those three words, the political process to make the biggest change to the UK for 300+ years really begins in earnest. A process which could see a large portion of the Scottish cabinet lose their seats post 2011, if the Tories haven't done the job first in 2010.
Bring it on indeed.
11 February 2008
Scotland's bridges are all toll free
It took a Labour government to sit on this suggestion for nearly 10 years and an SNP government less than 10 months to make it a reality. See my proposal for banning bridge tolls as they simply penalised the communities they serve.
This suggestion was made to the Labour government in November 1997. SNP, time for change. If only all governments were this effective.
27 January 2008
Here is a summary of the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) position for more information. Incidentally, although Scotland has 10% of the UK population, 17% of the PCG membership is in Scotland, indicating that such legislation may have a disproportionate effect in Scotland versus the rest of the UK.
The Government has issued draft legislation, intended for inclusion in the Finance Bill 2008, to place a new tax on what it calls “income shifting”. The result will be significant tax increases for hundreds of thousands of small family businesses.
At present, a business owned jointly by a married (and civil partner) couple can distribute profits equally to each: this allows them to use up their tax allowances efficiently, and can create a tax saving. This is a consequence of the independent taxation of spouses that was recognised and accepted by Parliament when it was introduced in the 1980s. Now the Government wishes to impose a tax increase on everyone who has set up a business in this way.
PCG believes that the proposals are unfair
- The Government seems to think there is something wrong with spouses setting up “non-commercial” arrangements and wants to penalise them: in the real world, married couples enter into financial arrangements on the basis of being married to each other and it is wholly inappropriate to expect them to enter into “commercial arrangements”.
- Profits are distributed as a return on risk: the Government fails to recognise that married couples are jointly exposed to the risk of their business failing, and is seeking to deny them a joint share in the rewards if they succeed.
- For years the Government advised people to set up businesses jointly when possible: now they are to be penalised for following the Government’s advice.
- The proposals clearly and directly discriminate against small business and in favour of big business: if a consultant is hired out by a large company, he will be paid for the work and the rest of the fee will go to the company as profit, which can then be distributed to shareholders in the usual manner. If a consultant took exactly the same contract with exactly the same client for exactly the same payment, but the consultancy happened to be one he owned with his wife, the dividends would be taxed more heavily than the dividends of the large company.
PCG believes that the proposals are unworkable
- The proposed measure will make it impossible for businesses to self-assess their tax bills. How can they value every single contribution made to a business accurately and with confidence? Businesses will be left perpetually looking over their shoulder in fear of an aggressive investigation by HMRC, in which they will have to prove that they have done nothing wrong.
- The Government claims that the new rules will not cost businesses anything to administer, and not cost HMRC anything to enforce: this cannot possibly be the case for such a complex and subjective set of rules.
PCG believes that the proposals are inconsistent with other areas of law
- Spouses are entitled to equal shares in the value of a jointly-owned business in a divorce.
- Spouses are entitled to equal shares in the proceeds, under Capital Gains Tax rules, in the event that a jointly-owned business is sold.
- Under the proposals, spouses will not be entitled to equal shares in the profits of a jointly owned business while it is operational.
PCG believes that the proposals are not justified by the consultation paper
Ever since the independent taxation of spouses was introduced in the 1980s, it has been common practice for married couples who go into business to set up the business jointly; the consultation paper fails to show that anything has changed since then to justify the new rules.
20 January 2008
A 1993 MORI poll in Scotland estimated that there were over 90,000 latent, or would-be, entrepreneurs and business owners in Scotland, who were frustrated in their ability to act on their aspirations by a range of factors, including the absence of role models, difficulties (actual and perceived) in accessing resources, particularly finance, and lack of knowledge about the process of business formation. Based on figures from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) research programme around 5% of the Scottish adult population is actively engaged in business ownership or in activities being undertaken with a view to entering business ownership. This is around one half of the level experienced in the US and around one-third the level in other small open dynamic economies such as New Zealand.
Actually achieving this increased level of entrepreneurial activity will require a quantum shift in culture and attitudes in Scotland, which may only be achievable over a generation: as the experience of the business birth rate strategy in Scotland has demonstrated, this is not a ‘quick fix’ option. Specifically, access to finance is consistently cited as the prime obstacle to entrepreneurial activity in the GEM reports, and also in our research and contact with potential entrepreneurs. As it is, at present Scotland is working at perhaps 20% of its entrepreneurial potential.
Next time I have a decent idea, I'm off down to London. We have some of the brightest ideas in Scotland, some of the best graduates and even some of the world's largest banks. Yet we struggle at 20% of our potential. Why should I as an entrepreneur waste my time with a funding sector that isn't fit for purpose?
Our view is that the 90,000 “frustrated entrepreneurs” identified by a 1993 MORI poll (a figure consistent with the GEM data for Scotland a decade later) do not become active entrepreneurs largely because the funding landscape is not only too empty, but is also perceived as empty by those looking to enter it. While market participants respond (with some accuracy) that it is in fact not empty, and that sensible ideas well advised can usually find a funder, this accurate opinion is not helpful to an individual who is in full-time employment during normal working hours, has few or no contacts with the market, has little understanding of how it works, has little spare time to find out, and has a perception that entrepreneurial success relies on unique and specific skills that they may not have and may not be able to acquire.
A Darwinian approach to entrepreneurship would demand that these 90,000 aspiring entrepreneurs be left to live or die on their merits – let the fit survive and the rest remain in employment. Such Darwinism is, however, founded on the false premise (a) that this process will ‘weed out’ weak ideas and businesses, which is economically efficient, and (b) that entrepreneurship ought by definition to be hard and difficult, not least because today’s successful entrepreneurs and investors did indeed have to face harsh and difficult environments, and associate success with difficulty.
This Darwinian approach to the creation of an entrepreneurial economy is flawed, as can be seen from the failure of the Scottish economy to significantly raise the level of new business starts and the rate of formation and growth of high-potential companies over the past decade. A funding landscape that was visibly and obviously rich in sources of risk capital for businesses of every kind would remove a major constraint (real and perceived) on the formation of new entrepreneurial ventures. As such, it would provide an environment for the successful transformation of the culture of the Scottish economy into one in which entrepreneurial activity is seen as a legitimate career option and economic role.
27 November 2007
100K pah, I could have done it for a fraction of that figure. Oh, I already did.
See the comment dated 9:11pm 27 Aug 2006.
The comment was obviously far too ahead of its time and didn't take full account of inflation either.
16 May 2007
Labour and the Lib Dems have lost the plot in Scotland
Regardless of mere party politics, one paragraph written in this London based newspaper stood out.
After Wednesday, Alex Salmond First Minister "..will be off to see the Queen to inform Her Majesty that the United Kingdom has changed forever".
At Westminster, Tony Blair has to ask for permission to dissolve Parliament. In Scotland, we just go down to London and tell the Queen how it's going to be.
No longer New Labour, New Britain but New Democracy, New Scotland.
Welcome to "A new time" for Scotland, the day that the UK has its first Nationalist leading a UK country.
19 April 2007
The month that changed the UK
2nd May: the 10th anniversary of Labour coming to power. This will intentionally be a low key affair given their unpopularity in the polls.
3rd May: Scotland goes to the polls. The SNP are widely tipped to win and significant steps towards Scotland becoming an independent country, ending 300 years of union will ensue. Like Wales, the SNP are proposing abolishing prescription charges. How long will England remain socially and politically behind the rest of the former UK?
Labour are expected to lose control of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and do badly in the English council elections, all on 3rd May with their support approaching a 20 year low.
Tony Blair is expected to resign shortly after the polls, realising that the disastrous showing of Labour UK wide and the loss of devolved control in Scotland and Wales is largely down to continued resentment over Iraq, cash for honours sleaze and it is time for a fresh start. Sources indicate 31st May as the favoured date, but in practice a poor showing in the polls would bring this forward significantly.
Prime minister in waiting Gordon Brown has his own problems to deal with though. On 10th May, the Bank of England raises interest rates again. Normally set on the first
Thursday of the month, the Bank of England which was allegedly set free from political control is curiously meeting on the 10th, rather than the day most of the UK goes to the polls. Higher than expected inflation and a strong pound will hit the manufacturing sector and the balance of payments. The economic joy ride that Gordon Brown has enjoyed is coming to an end and the Tories are riding high in the English polls. Whilst the Dow Jones is now at an all time high, the FTSE100 is still some way off the level reached in 1999.
8th May: The devolution picture completes. With the Scottish and Welsh results in a few days ago, today see the Northern Ireland assembly assumes full powers and a nationalist party, Sinn Fein, sharing power. A struggling Labour government has at most three years to recover from a disastrous showing in the polls. Behind the scenes the Labour government has to discourage prominent Labour MPs from Scotland for seeking election to English constituencies as the SNP seeks to hold an independence poll in 2010 and remove Scottish MPs from Westminster. The UK looks to be on course for a SNP government in Scotland confronting a Conservative government in Westminster from 2010 elected almost entirely from English constituencies.
Such a prospect not only favours the SNP but also sees Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein increase in popularity.
The UK, heading for part of one island (England and Wales) and part of another island (Northern Ireland) needs a clear rethink of its structure as the nationalist movements in Northern Ireland and Wales look to Scotland and the previous negative arguments levelled at Scottish independence fail to hold much ground as Scotland heads towards being a sovereign nation.
From the end of April to the end of May, it will be an interesting month with reprocussions for years to come.
14 December 2006
London Underground overheating
This will be my first blog post from the PDA and as I type this I am on a very warm London underground in the middle of December. I can well believe the horror stories of overheating in the summer, especially during rush hour and three trainloads of people queuing ahead of you before you can get on a train,
The problem is caused by hotter air in the Tube failing to rise (as hot air does) quickly enough, coupled with insufficient cooler air from outside replacing it, and insufficient air circulation generally, especially within the trains when the doors are closed. I offer the following as a possible solution and welcome comments on it.
1. Have a system which derives at least part of its power from solar energy.
2. Pump cooler air from outside (possibly augmented by air conditioning) into the gaps between stations such that it flows along the lines, pushed by the trains, into stations. Said air could be sucked in from the street level drainage system.
3. Complete the air cycle by using fans to suck the air out of stations by installing such vans in escalator shafts.
4. Dramatically improve the circulation in trains by having air scoops at the front of the train (where there is high pressure) and feeding this into each carraige separately via units in the carriage ceiling - there is currently a fair bit of spare headroom there that could be put to better use.
5. Install ceiling fans with mesh guards in carriages.
My 2p worth anyway, Ken Livingston are you listening?
18 September 2006
Muslim leaders, many of whom accepted the Pope's apology, are now concerned that the violence of recent days is now getting out of hand. Certainly the murdering of a nun and the firebombing of churches are against the core message of Islam which is a peaceful religion.
Noone wants to see the good name of Muslims tarnished by a tiny percentage of followers which use their religion as an excuse for violence and illegal acts.
The leaders go on to say that they understand how the West can often find it difficult to understand Muslims when the press pick on events like this and give the impression that Muslims will take to violence and illegal acts despite all that is said in the holy books regarding respect and understanding.
In order that the violence of recent days is put in its proper context, the religious leaders of Muslim groups and nations are today calling for an end to the illegal violence and are organising peaceful marches and protests, filled with the peaceful believers who comprise the majority of the Muslim faith and whose peaceful values and respect for other human beings are being misrepresented by the media focus on a few violent and isolated protests. This mass statement, which will emphasise the peaceful nature of Islam will be a silent protest against the Muslim minority who seek to misrepresent the faith as a whole.
Praise Be This Miracle.
16 September 2006
However, I found this quote from the Dilbert Blog sums it up:
My favorite story of the week is about Pope Benedict inadvertently insulting Islam in a speech. He quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman” but made it clear that it wasn’t his own opinion.
In response to being labeled evil and inhuman by a dead Byzantine emperor, a group of Muslims did what anyone would do in that situation: They firebombed two churches in the West Bank.
This is funny on so many levels that I hardly know where to start.
Maybe we need to breed more atheists?.
Seriously, isn't it great how the Pope can issue a religious text to clarify what he said so that we can understand it better. Just think of the fun that would ensue if we could treat the bible the same way.
How about this for a starter
"Dear faithful. I thought up this religion to impose some order and fairness on early civilisation. Now that you have learnt these rules and adapted your own, you need not be bound by what was written in a dated book 2000 years ago, especially as society has moved on since then. Kindly disregard the stuff about the universe being created in 6 days and women and gays being inferior. Yes, you can have equal rights, that's what I meant really.
I hope you don't meet up with sentient beings from other planets in the future, because I completely ommited that in the bible, sorry everyone makes mistakes even those with complete power over time and space."
06 September 2006
Too right. I put this onto Reddit with some rather choice language and it made the front page.
The government even has a Project Management method called PRINCE2 and a site all about it. So was the method at fault for the £140m problem or the people in charge? Why in the light of these overruns is there no accountability? After all, the 2nd First Minister of Scotland was forced to resign over a sum which is a tiny fraction of the above.
Lets not forget the £6.8Bn NHS upgrade overruns, the ID card running into delays and overruns, 1 month after I said it would and of course the gun register unfit for purpose 10 years on.
Clearly the taxpayer should be expecting better value for money in these projects so that instead of funding overruns the money can be spent on schools, hospitals, etc.
05 September 2006
Rip off Britain
Clearly over priced goods have an effect on the economy as people will buy less of them. I am interested in other examples of rip off Britain and the government's stance on this.
Here's my example from something I was looking to buy:
WN311B PCI card for NetGear router: Typical UK price £113 plus postage
Now compare it with the US: Typical US Price $96
The US price in dollars is cheaper than the UK price in pounds.
Now for a more direct comparison. Convert the US price to pounds £50.67. Add the rip off tax known as VAT (no sales tax applicable on US internet sales remember). This would make the US price with VAT £59.53. Lets call this £60.00
So the UK Rip Off margin is (113-60)/60 * 100 = 88%. 88% markup!!
Alleged cost of importing and postage $53
And of course where there is no importing or postage, the differential is even less excusable. In this BBC article on iTunes pricing, the UK price is 55% higher than the US price and 93% higher than the Canadian price.
Welcome to Rip Off Britain
The UK Internet list, 1992, founded to keep UK Internet prices low.
Rip off prices in 1992
Rip off prices in 1993
More rip off prices in 1993
Rip off prices in 1995
Since Labour came to power, we have
Rip off insurance APR, 1999 and
High training prices 2006, because we're worth it?
Who is responsible for ensuring Britain stays competitive?
05 September 2005
First Minister's Questions
And now a question from Craig Cockburn "Tony Blair has been quite open about how long he wishes to remain PM. Do you have any views on how long you wish to remain First Minister?"
The answer he gave then completely contradicted what he printed in his autobiography Lucky Jack which was published the following week.
Which of the two answers is nearer the truth? Time, especially the 2007 elections, will tell.