Who's actually in charge?

Who exactly is running this country? Reports today suggest no-one is really sure. The “plan” to split the Home Office in to two – one section to fight terrorism and enforce national security, the other as a Ministry of Justice – has been put on hold. Apparently Gordon Brown does not want any changes until the Labour party coronate him in the summer. According to the Guardian – “the issue has been kicked into the long grass until Gordon Brown takes over.”

So Tony Blair is the PM but can not do anything unless Gordon backs it. If Gordon does back it he does not want Tony to take the credit so nothing will get done until Tony is gone. So nothing is getting done. Effectively we do not currently have a Government that can or is actually doing anything. Can I withhold all funding of the government through my taxes on this basis? On the plus side, maybe the government will be forced to kick a few more issues in to the long grass over the coming months.

Policy Announcements, Wednesday 14 February

  • A new drive to cut the level of fire-related youth crimes - such as arson, hoax calls and attacks on firefighters - was announced today by Fire Minister Angela Smith. Through its Action Plan, central government will work with the Chief Fire Officers' Association and other bodies to try to further reduce fire-related deaths and incidents caused by young people. Action includes the Fire and Rescue Service working with Sure Start family centres to start fire safety education early.  
  • inister for Disabled People, Anne McGuire, today announced the launch of a public consultation to ask disabled people what equality means to them, and to gain their views on how Government can best monitor progress towards equality for disabled people.

A good day for Ken

Reports out yesterday suggest that congestion in London is almost as bad as it was when the congestion charge was introduced four years ago. I bet the Mayor can not believe his luck – revenues must be going through the roof and what better excuse for bringing forward the £25 a day Low Emission Zone? That will include 18 percent of all vehicles currently coming in to central London.

The whole extension plan has been a complete shambles from the start. Extending the zone will not reduce congestion, but actually increase it as all the Chelsea and Kensington residents will get a 90% discount to cross in to the current zone. The wider the zone spreads the more pointless is becomes, the higher the congestion gets the more excuse Ken has for whacking up the charge and more money falls in to his coffers. Forget the nonsense about saving the planet, this is about raising money and giving the Mayor more political clout. And it’s working.

Style over substance - whatever the cost

Incredibly, more than a third of Scotland’s local councillors are to receive a “golden handshake” pay-off of up to £20,000 each, basically because they don’t fit the right “image”. Before I go on, you won't be surprised to learn that the money is tax-payers’ money and most of these councillors are from the Labour party. The total cost will be a whopping £7m.

It is reported that the measure is designed to "refresh" local government in Scotland before May's council elections. How do we refresh Scottish politics? Get the Government to use our money to replace middle aged “old Labour” types with “new Labour” types - how very refreshing indeed! Is this not an incredibly irresponsible use of public money – not to mention a complete waste? They are using public money to cynically further a cause that will mainly “benefit” the Labour party, using our money to pay-off a bunch of old councillors so that they will have some young blood in in-time for the local elections in May.

Review of the Papers, Wednesday 14 February

  • Plans to mark the 60th birthday of the NHS next year by formalising its core values in a written constitution are to be put to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown by Andy Burnham, the health minister responsible for NHS reform. In an interview in Society Guardian today, he said patients and staff were nervous of change and needed reassurance that reorganisation of the NHS will not erode its enduring values.,,2012364,00.html 
  • Congestion in central London is almost as bad as it was before the daily charge was introduced four years ago, according to official figures. Traffic delays have risen sharply in the past two years and will rise further next week when the zone doubles in size with a westwards extension into Kensington and Chelsea, Transport for London said.
  • A greatly increased role for the private and voluntary sector in delivering welfare-to-work programmes was all but promised yesterday by John Hutton, the work and pensions secretary. His declaration that the government "will need to create opportunities [to run such programmes] on a scale that will be attractive tothe best companies in the world" was made as Ruth Kelly, the communities secretary, acknowledged that social housing was creating barriers to the economically inactive moving into work.
  • Locking up teenage offenders is largely a waste of money with only a small proportion of the 3,350 currently held needing to be imprisoned to protect the public, according to a leading figure on the government's own Youth Justice Board.,,2012362,00.html 
  • More than a third of Scotland's local councillors, mostly from the Labour party, are to receive "golden handshake" payoffs of up to £20,000 from the taxpayer as part of a £7m package to persuade old and long-serving councillors to retire. The unprecedented measure is designed to "refresh" local government in Scotland before May's council elections, the first council elections to be fought there using proportional representation, by removing scores of mainly middle-aged "old Labour" stalwarts who dominate many councils in the central belt.,,2012442,00.html 
  • Tony Blair is to write to everyone who has signed the petition against road pricing in an attempt to dispel the “myths” about the proposed charging system. Next week he will send all the signatories an e-mail defending the plan to hold regional trials of the pay-by-the-mile scheme. More than 1.3 million people have now signed the petition on Downing Street’s website and the total could reach two million by next Tuesday, when the petition closes.
  • Tony Blair last night staked his legacy on achieving a post-Kyoto climate change agreement, saying he would do "as much as I can" in the few remaining months of his leadership to deal with what was a "greater challenge" than solving the crisis in the Middle East.,,2012663,00.html
  • The media watchdog Ofcom yesterday launched a review of children's programming amid growing concern that the production line of homegrown shows providing an alternative to the BBC, from Rainbow to Children's Ward, is coming to a juddering halt. ITV has not shown any children's programmes in its traditional afternoon slot since the beginning of this year, preferring instead to screen quiz shows such as Dale's Supermarket Sweep and repeats of classic dramas Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC, and is continuing to lobby Ofcom for a reduction in its regulatory commitment to the genre on its main ITV1 channel.,,2012439,00.html
  • Shorelines that people have been barred from for centuries or which are only accessible when landowners choose to allow walkers onto them should be designated as part of a coastal corridor open to all, the government will be advised today. Natural England, the government's statutory adviser on the environment, has spent two years considering the best way to improve access to cliffs, beaches, dunes and shorelines.,,2012460,00.html 
Liberal Democrats
  • Liberal Democrat Norman Baker published a breakdown of MPs' £5m annual travel bill in what he described as "an important victory in the battle to make parliament and the use of public money more accountable to the people". The figures were released to him after a freedom of information tussle with the Commons authorities. A former Labour minister claimed more than £16,000 in mileage and a Tory backbencher over £5,000 in taxi fares, figures released last night showed, putting MPs' travel expenses under detailed scrutiny for the first time.,,2012682,00.html


Government alchemy - Independent-style

The Independent is never shy of calling for more government money to be spent on one thing or another. Now we know why. Apparently taxation is not a drain on the economy, but a means to create wealth.

They report today that the Department for Transport estimate that "road pricing could raise up to £28bn by 2025". Let's not worry about how they can so precisely calculate a figure so far in the future, or whether they took the costs of the scheme into account. It's rubbish, of course, but we'll leave that for another post some other time.

What I am interested in here is what we can learn about the understanding of at least one leading journalist at The Independent about how the economy works. Because, in their box-out "The case for (and against) charging" (the brackets nicely illustrate the "balance" that they bring to this argument), they report that road pricing would "benefit the economy by £28bn".

Silly me. There was I thinking that we need to keep taxes under control because they represent a drag on the productive part of the economy, when all along I should have been pushing for ever-higher taxes, because the government can apparently magically double the value of money in the hands of taxpayers, simply by taking it off them.

Next time you read analysis in The Independent making a moralistic (and usually simplistic) case for more spending on this or that, remember that, in their eyes, they'll not only be improving the lot of those on whom the money is being spent, but expanding the economy as well. Then put the paper down, and buy one written by economic literates.


£6.2bn, the price of a failed project - but don't tell anyone

The NHS and failed IT projects – it rolls off the tongue like money down a drain. Unfortunately, when the NHS wastes money on dodgy systems it doesn’t just mean an inconvenience for the public and another dent in the public purse (these two outcomes are taken for granted by other government departments these days), it is actually putting patients at serious risk. For some reason, best known to the incompetent technogeeks within the Government, the implementation of a multi-billion-pound computer system linking doctors and hospitals is flawed.

Review of the Papers, Tuesday 13 February


  • Senior Whitehall figures are accusing ministers of creating a "culture of fear" in the Home Office that they claim is directly contributing to the department's catalogue of failures. They say officials have been so bullied by ministers - notably former home secretary David Blunkett and John Reid - that civil servants are now unwilling to give their political masters bad news. One cited example is the row over the failure to register data about Britons who commit offences abroad - only the latest in a series of debacles. One official has been suspended amid claims that ministers were not told what was happening.
  • As few as three uniformed police officers are available to patrol the streets, respond to 999 calls and tackle night-time disorder in some towns and city areas, according to research into the experiences of front-line Pcs. Despite record numbers of police officers overall, many commanders in local divisions in England and Wales - typically based in a station in small and medium towns - can call on just five or fewer uniformed officers per duty shift, the academic study shows. Those who are available are often tied up in bureaucracy for up to half their eight- or 10-hour shifts. The shortages are particularly acute at night, when police are most needed to deal with drunken hooligans.;jsessionid=G3NYO20B5POFDQFIQMGCFFOAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2007/02/13/npolice13.xml
  • Senior judges are strongly opposed to plans by ministers to restrict their power to quash guilty criminals' convictions because there has been a mistake in the trial process. It is the latest of the Home Secretary's plans for rebalancing the criminal justice system to fall foul of the judiciary. Critics say that the highest courts should have a last-resort power to denounce flagrant abuses by the state by striking down improperly secured convictions.
  • Proposals aimed at heading off Government plans to penalise employers and recruitment firms by making them liable for tax unpaid by contract workers are to be presented to the Chancellor. The Association of Technology Companies has drawn up alternative plans based on reinforcing due diligence checks carried out by its members when vetting managed service companies used by contract workers.
  • Social housing tenants will be given the chance to get a foot on the property ladder even if they can afford only 10% of the value of their home, the communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, will say today. She will argue that Labour should offer a new "right to own" matching the Tory "right to buy" of the 1980s.,,2011698,00.html
  • The transport secretary, Douglas Alexander, was under increasing pressure yesterday after he attempted to contain a snowballing campaign against Labour's plans to introduce road pricing. With tens of thousands every day signing an online petition against a mooted pay-as-you-drive congestion tax, Mr Alexander dismissed some of the petitioners' arguments as "myths" and warned motorists the government had no choice but to deal with "the growing problem of congestion". "We don't have the kind of luxury of doing nothing, if we are not going to see the kind of gridlock found in American cities," he said.,,2011953,00.html


Bureaucracy fighting crime

Tough on crime. Tough on the causes of crime. Now that is picking a winner. This is what the government should be doing. However, it seems that being tough on crime and its causes has more to do with sitting behind a desk pushing a pen than actually getting out in to towns and cities and actually catching some criminals. According to research, as few as one in three officers are available to respond to 999 calls and tackle crime – particularly at night when the police are most needed to tackle drunken hooligans.

Why do we pay millions of pounds a year in taxes to train up and pay the wages of our police officers when they spend half their shift writing about what they have done that day? It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the police would better tackle crime if they are at the crime scenes or even better out and about stopping crimes taking place in the first place. I do fear, however, that things are unlikely to change and even if they do the government will probably have to set up an “independent” think tank first to tell what we already know – uniformed officers are tough on crime and its causes, not bic biros.

Policy Announcements, Monday 12 February

  • New measures to strengthen police powers to deal with sex offenders and further protect the public from crime come into force today. The measures, from the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, mean that from today more offenders can be placed on the sex offenders' register for life; the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can prosecute an offender for a sexual offence, even if the date of the offence is unknown; courts can seize any vehicle used in connection with people trafficking; and anybody found in possession of a knife or blade in a public place or school faces a maximum prison sentence of four years.
  • The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell today published the Government's official study into the feasibility of hosting a future World Cup, concluding that England is well placed to bid to host the tournament in 2018, and has strong public support for doing so.
  • The UK Government is funding a consortium to help develop 'greener' air-conditioning systems, which are more energy efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly for planes, high-speed and underground trains and buildings. Adoption of aircraft-style 'air cycle' air-conditioning technologies in buildings would eliminate emissions from conventional hydro fluorocarbon, or greenhouse gases. The £800,000 two-year research and technology project, named New Environmental Control System Technology, or NECST, will create the technology needed to develop the air-conditioning systems.
  • The Government is investing in a £17.4m project to provide computer technology to bring the next generation of aircraft into production in the UK. The project, which will also boost the UK's car and boat industries, comes on top of a £34 m DTI-backed wing technology project recently launched by the Secretary of State Alistair Darling at the Airbus factory in Broughton in North Wales. The project announced today will put £8.7m of Government money, through the DTI-led Technology Programme, towards another Airbus-led consortium, to develop computer-based simulation software dramatically improving the design process for future aircraft.
Liberal Democrats
  • The Liberal Democrats are to refer the British Government to the European Commission over the abandonment of the investigation into BAE Systems' dealings in Saudi Arabia. If the Commission finds that its rules have been broken, the Government could face a potentially unlimited fine in the European Court of Justice. 


Review of the Papers, Monday 12 February


  • Senior government figures have played down any chance of Labour increasing the taxation of City bonuses after a prominent cabinet minister said they were creating a "grotesque" wealth gap in the UK. Peter Hain, Northern Ireland secretary and a candidate for the Labour deputy leadership, launched an assault on the bonus system, insisting recipients should hand over two-thirds of the money they receive to boost deprived communities.But although Mr Hain's attack was one of the fiercest on this subject from a senior Labour figure in recent years, it will not effect Treasury policy.
  • A call from Beverley Hughes, children's minister, for the right to request part-time or flexible working to be extended to all workers has been rejected by business leaders. Ms Hughes, writing in a series of essays to be published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, says that extending flexible working rights would help parents balance their working lives around their children.
  • The school meals tsar Prue Leith admits that she has just three years to convince Britain's seven million schoolchildren to adopt healthy eating habits. Otherwise, she fears that people will "lose faith" in the campaign to improve school meals. If that happens, nutritional standards in school dinners could slip back to the level of neglect that has dogged the service for the past two decades. 
  • Schools will be required to provide at least four hours of sport for pupils every week under plans outlined by Gordon Brown. His proposals envisage schools being opened during holidays and weekends to allow youngsters and older people to use their facilities.
  • A big extension of the use of private companies to help the Government to try to get a million more people off welfare benefits and into work is planned by ministers. Single parents could face tougher conditions and earlier work tests to encourage them to take jobs. At present half the lone parents in Britain work. A range of measures to reduce the stark figure of 4.9 million people of work age who claim benefit will be brought forward in a review for the Work and Pensions Department this month.
  • Downing Street is backing plans for an overhaul of the welfare state which would force single parents back into work much earlier than at present and make English lessons compulsory for people who cannot get jobs because they struggle with the language.,,2011051,00.html
  • Ten areas in England are considering road pricing schemes as 60,000 London residents brace for an extension of the capital's congestion charge. The pressure on the government over road pricing increased yesterday, with the number of people who have signed an anti-road pricing petition on the Downing Street website passing a million.,,2011135,00.html
  • State funding of political parties could rise to £28m a year under one of the proposals being put forward by the former civil servant charged with seeking a cross-party agreement on cleaning up the system. Sir Hayden Phillips has drawn up proposals under which parties would earn 60p for every vote they received in general elections or byelections for Westminster seats. Up to 30p would be earned for each vote in European or Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assembly elections.,,2010997,00.html
  • Tony Blair will hold a mini-summit with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin tomorrow amid growing optimism that he can crown his 10-year premiership with an international breakthrough on climate change in June. Aware that his influence in domestic policy is dwindling, Mr Blair has decided to focus on four foreign policy issues during his remaining months in power in the belief that he can make progress on the environment, global trade talks, the Middle East peace plan and Africa.,,2011130,00.html
  • An NHS hospital with an international reputation for medical excellence has been thrown into financial disarray by the government's health service reforms. After overspending by about £900,000 in the first half of the year, Moorfields eye hospital in London got a risk alert from the regulator and had its borrowing limits halved.,,2011088,00.html
  • Universities will be encouraged to build up funds of billions of pounds from former students and philanthropists under plans to be unveiled by Tony Blair this week. Drawing on the experience of US institutions that raise huge sums from alumni, the government will give £1 for every £2 donated to English universities in an attempt to embed a "culture of charitable giving" across higher education.,,2011140,00.html
  • Courts in England and Wales are expected to be affected by a two-day work-to-rule by angry criminal law solicitors this week as opposition mounts to government plans to change the way legal aid services are paid for. Lawyers said the proposals, which stem from a government commissioned review of the legal aid system by Lord Carter of Coles, would accelerate the flight of lawyers from legal aid work. The age profile of those doing criminal legal aid shows most are in their late 40s and 50s and few younger solicitors are attracted into a field that pays poorly compared with other legal work.,,2011165,00.html
  • One in three households across Britain is now dependent on the state for at least half its income, it has emerged. Official government figures showed that more than seven million households are getting most of their income from government handouts. The figures also reveal the huge gulf in welfare dependency between single parent and two-parent households. The report is scathing about how New Labour welfare policy has been designed to "create beholden voters rather than independent people".;jsessionid=J12TIETDSUHHLQFIQMFSFFWAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/2007/02/12/nwelfare12.xml 
  • Failing care homes which have been ordered to shut down are able to defy the sector's watchdog by remaining in business following serious allegations of neglect. In the wake of allegations of abuse, homes can exploit a loophole in the law, allowing them to continue to operate by entering a lengthy appeals process. The latest concerns about standards of care for thousands of elderly residents come in advance of a BBC Panorama documentary which will broadcast allegations tonight of abuse and neglect at two homes in Yorkshire. 
  • A dire shortage of midwives is forcing maternity units to turn away expectant mothers, a survey has found. Figures show that centres across England closed temporarily for a total of 170 days last year, during which time women would have had to go elsewhere for help. The survey, collated by the research organisation Dr Foster, found that 24 of the 39 maternity units forced to close had to do so for periods of 24 hours or more. 


"A grateful electorate rather than free-thinking citizens"

Official government figures showed that more than seven million households are getting most of their income from government handouts. That is one in three households across Britain who is now dependent on the state for at least half its income. How on earth has this culture of dependency come about?

Gordon Brown (and successive governments before New Labour) have orchestrated a society that feels that relying on handouts is the better option compared with the reality of getting back in to work. The benefits system is now so generous you can not blame many people for “playing” the system. While the government might like to think that it is giving a leg up to those living in relative poverty in this country, it is actually keeping them there as it is the better and easier option for them.

Now we're all philanthropist, thanks to Tony

Tony Blair, when not trying to save the planet or fight the just wars of the Middle East, is making his stake to be Britain’s leading philanthropist. The government will give £1 for every £2 donated to English universities in an attempt to embed a "culture of charitable giving" across higher education. There is nothing wrong with former students and businesses donating money to the universities – from a business point of view it may well be a wise investment. However, the government claiming it will “embed a culture of charitable giving” by giving away money that was raised by the tax payers in the first place is absolute nonsense.

Policy Announcements, Friday 9 February


  • A streamlined process for applying to Defra for waste PFI credits has been announced. The introduction of Award Rounds, similar to those used by other government departments, means discrete application windows will replace the previous 'first come first served' system. PFI has a key role in helping local authorities to finance the estimated £11bn of infrastructure required for the UK to meet its targets for reducing dependence on landfill. The previous Waste PFI system allowed Local Authorities to apply for credits at any time of the year.

The Home Office leading by example? Surely not!

The Prison service has been told to find savings of £80 million for each of three financial years from an annual budget of £2 billion. Yes, the same prison service that has been in the headlines recently for being overcrowded and poorly run. Some might say throw more money at it. To me it begs the question, if one of the worst run areas of government can tighten its belt to the tune of £80m a year why can’t the rest of the government’s departments and agencies?

Review of the Papers, Friday 9 February

  • More than 60 MPs have backed a campaign to force the Government and regulators to step in to prevent BSkyB, Britain's biggest satellite television company, from taking over its terrestrial rival ITV. The prospect that BSkyB's chairman, Rupert Murdoch, could, in effect, gain control over ITV - including its news channel - has created a political dilemma for the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, as he gets ready to take over 10 Downing Street. A Commons motion, put forward by the Labour MP John Grogan, has called on the Government to use its special powers under the 2002 Enterprise Act to prevent BSkyB from controlling ITV.

Pay up or else.

The environment debate, and I use the word debate in its loosest form, has become rather like the so called “war on terror”. That is to say, you can’t really question the government over with it without being accused of being some sort of self-serving monster that has no interest in the well being of the world and its people. As a result, the government (and opposition parties) are not only trying to out “green” each other, but they are cynically using climate change to impose “big brother” like regulation and also use it as an unquestionable form of taxation or method of raising money for Treasury’s deep, deep pockets.

Policy Announcements, Thursday 8 February


  • The Chancellor Gordon Brown and Education Secretary Alan Johnson called on all employers to sign up to a 'Skills Pledge' to ensure that all their employees reach a skills level equivalent to five good GCSEs. The Skills Pledge, part of a plan to equip Britain's workforce for the future, will share responsibility between the State, employer and employees and will be open to all employers irrespective of size, status or sector. It is designed to stimulate demand for training services and support a new culture where gaining skills is taken as a matter of course.
  • Schools Minister Andrew Adonis launched the new Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in a reception at the House of Lords. The new subject association is aimed to champion the quality of teaching and learning that can have a big impact on the health and well-being of children and young people.
  • The roll-out of an initiative to help tackle robberies at cash machines and a renewed pledge to work with the mobile phone operators to meet their target of blocking stolen phones were announced by the Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker.
  • Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly announced a new Commission to look at how local democracy can be revitalised and made both more representative and more responsive to local people. Praising the contribution councillors make to grassroots democracy Ruth Kelly said the new Councillors Commission will look at ways to better support councillors and encourage more people from a wider range of backgrounds to play a leading role in their communities.
  • A dual energy scheme to be sited off the Cumbrian coast was given the go-ahead by Energy Minister Lord Truscott. The Ormonde project from Eclipse Energy will be sited 10KM from Walney Island near Barrow in Furness.
  • A new unit to provide Ministers and civil servants with independent professional advice on fire and rescue issues is to be set up. The new unit will be headed by a new post, Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, announced Fire Minister Angela Smith. Advising Ministers, COBR, other Government departments and local government during a major emergency will be just one of the responsibilities of the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser's Unit. The unit will be set up by Communities and Local Government.
  • Parents are set to benefit from a share of £7.5million being invested in better services for parents by the Government. Families Minister Beverley Hughes has explained that far from telling parents what to do, the Government wants parents to have the information and support that they are asking for. She said that local authorities had a crucial role to play in making sure that parents were listened to and that services met the needs of mothers and fathers. Helping parents in this way not only improves the life chances of children, but can have wider benefits for communities and society as a whole.