Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu: Its time to panic: Official!

Those of you who took note of my last post on the subject, and decided not to panic, well, well done!

However the World Health Organisation has now officially decreed that it is time to panic, raising the level of threat to level 5.

It is difficult to know exactly what to make of this. We in this country do have large stocks of anti virals, which in this case seem effective. That said our stockpile is worth £500 million, which means we are paying in capital costs alone between £12.5 to £25 million to keep it. Right now this looks like good value.

Apparently models have been made which indicate that a complete cut in travel will not stop the spread of the flu (well, unless we go into a real deep lock down) only delay its spread. After all we did get the Black Death.

So what do we need to do?

Firstly don't panic. Secondly follow some very basic old fashioned public health advice. Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. It would also help if you did not panic buy things. That said I may give advice on what to make sure you have stocks of after this panic is over.

The other thing to do is to not go to work if you have the flu, and make sure no one you work with does the same.

The BBC has this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cutting Public Spending by £90 billion!

If UK PLC popped along to see its bank manager, around about now, and asked to extend its overdraft by £606 billion over 5 years plus no date for the start of repayments he would say No! In fact, were it not for the bank of England printing money to buy gilts back, there is quite a high likelihood of a gilt strike. That is where the normal gilt buyers refuse to buy, leaving the government high and dry.

The bank manager would be looking for cuts in expenditure of at least £50 billion. The problem is that would be drastic. With that in mind I read the following email from A Ferrand Stobart & Associates:

Could someone please recognise that to economise in any service, public or private,one does not cut the service, one cuts out the current waste in providing that service which often actually improves the service

£15bn of economies are proposed in the Budget in the Public Services, about 2% of total expenditure, Reform says £30bn is possible 4%,. The Taxpayers Alliance has quoted £80bn, 10.5%, In 20 years of work in the field of operational improvements leading to cost reductions I have never found less that 12% and often up to 15% of benefits [cost reductions] achievable in the 12-18 months after revised system installations, £90 - £112bn. per annum in the Public Services possibly !! The Government/Chancellor are setting a very low target for economies which are quite certainly there to be had.

I have personally examined several Public Services in my time, and worked in a few of them. The most interesting reaction to what was called "analysis", establishing whether there was potential for improvement before offering to deal with it, was from a large department in constant touch with the public. [I shall not name names and it was some time back]. The problems, waste and frustrations at "shop floor" level were the same as at any other clerical operation that I had looked at. Plenty of opportunity for improvement, and I had an enthusiastic talk with a union shop steward on the possibilities !

But when I presented my findings to the top civil servant in charge, he was not pleased. He had wanted a report that his department was working well !! I do not think that he went "out on the floor " much.

If a way could be devised that the staff in a Public Service were rewarded by part of the cost of the waste they stopped, one might get somewhere. This has now been suggested by Conservatives ?

As Lord Digby Jones said recently "the work could be done by half the people", as the Book of Common Prayer says "There never was any thing by the wit of man so well devised or so sure established which hath not in the continuance of time become corrupted", and as Cicero said "Men do not realise that a great revenue may be had from economy"

Now, that is quite some savings, particularly from a relatively simple change. That said they could also scrap the stupid accounting rule that all budgets must be spent by year end or else you lose the balance and have it removed from your next years budget. With that sort of threat of punishment is it any surprise that budgets are pretty much always spent in full whether what it is spent on is worth while?

Swine Flu Panic!

Swine flu will kill everyone! ... continued to endless news paper headlines.

The fact is though, that there is no reason to panic. Outside of Mexico this virus does not seem to be fatal, and we can't therefore be sure that those who are thought to have died of it in Mexico actually did.

We also have large quantities of flu drugs, which do seem effective.

All that said, this flu outbreak is odd. Why are people dying in Mexico but nowhere else (yet)? How did it end up containing elements of swine flu from 3 continents?

My advice would be don't panic. Governments around the world, as well as health organisations are keeping an eye on this one.

The BBC has this.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

UK economy takes a nose dive.

Well, the economic figures issued by the ONS today are grim, showing economic shrinkage of 1.9%, far worse than expected and indeed worse than government forecasts. So far, on aggregate, the economy has so far shrunk by 4.1%, and there is yet more to come.

Alistair Darling looks like he is living in cloud cuckoo land.

What is of more concern is that unemployment lags in a recession, so the numbers of unemployed will go up from here, quite a lot. 3 million unemployed could look optimistic soon. It is certainly the case that the growth figures in the budget are shot below the water line. I could accept that there might be 1 year of growth at 3.5% the year after next, but not for three consecutive years.

It is clear therefore that public spending needs to be reduced further than even Labour are considering and as I have already said, that is harsher than Thatcher's cuts.

The BBC has this.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Worse "cuts" than Thatcher!

Just to give you an idea of how bad this budget is, and indeed how dire the public finances are, even the Guardian recognise that public spending restraint under this government will make Margaret Thatcher's look positively loose in fiscal policy.

There will be much blood on the carpet.

The Guardian has this, whilst Polly Toynbee has this. The amusing thing about Polly's deranged world view, is that she would rather tax the poor more so she can punish the rich, but that is another story!

What is the point of the 50p tax rate?

The short answer is that it is fantastic politics, and many opinion polls say it is popular.

The problem I have with it is that I want the rich to pay lots of tax, not tax the rich a lot. They may sound like the same thing but they are not.

I wrote this about how the 45% tax rate could cost money, but consider the actual evidence. When the rate of income taxes were eventually rationalised in 1988, to make the top rate 40%, the tax take from the rich went up, and when Denis Healey raised them the tax take went down.

So what you need to decide, is whether you want more cash from the rich (in which case rationalise the tax system to make it simpler, and reduce tax breaks) or whether you want to punish them and then get less cash so you have to tax everyone else more.

I know what I want.

Happy Saint George's day!

Just thought I would say that!

I will be raising a glass to him later!

George Osbourne´s reaction to the budget

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Budget 2009: My Comment.

Well, this government intends on borrowing eye watering amounts of money. In the net two years alone, if its laughably optimistic figures are to be believed, £381 billion. That is more than ALL OTHER GOVERNMENTS OF THIS COUNTRY HAVE BORROWED PUT TOGETHER!

As if that is not bad enough, the growth figures that future borrowing are based on are very optimistic. The net result is public debt will double.

Lefties the blogosphere over will be saying how this will ensure growth etc.

Rubbish. Firstly the numbers have no credibility in terms of showing how the public finances will be brought back to balance, and so drive up the cost of borrowing. Secondly borrowing is not free money, it is deferred taxation. As the tax rises and spending cuts to pay for it kick in, growth will be reduced.

The government think that growth will end up trending at 3.5%. This is a pipe dream. For a start the last 10 years of growth under Labour have been funded by both public and private debt. That can´t continue, secondly growth will be strangled because the government will have to pay back debt with higher taxes.

In short, we are in a very bad mess.

The BBC has this, with this report on David Cameron´s reaction , whilst Stephany Flanders has this.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

45p tax rate will cost us money!

One of the Daily Telegraph´s leads this morning is that the 45% tax band will cost us money, in the sense that it will raise little or no extra tax and may cost some. It is based on an IFS study.

The treasury says this is bunkum, but even on their figures, it will actually only raise £600 million, leaving the budget short of £1 billion.

None of this is a surprise, as reducing the higher rate tax band to 40% actually raised the tax take.

The problem is of course, that beating the rich is popular, even if it is a really stupid thing to do.

Labour to slash spending by £15 billion!

Well, they call them efficiency savings, but were it the Conservatives proposing exactly the same thing, Labour would call them cuts.

How much they will affect front line services is difficult to say. You could cut public spending by the actually required £40 billion without affecting public services, the problem is that you would be reliant on those currently wasting money to cut the fat rather than the muscle, and if the could do that, they would be already.

However, there are many points to make about these much heralded ¨efficiency savings¨.

The first is this is a budget announcement, it has been leaked, ergo the chancellor should resign. That is what has happened pre New Labour.

The problem is that New Labour have so cheapened politics that they can get away with leaking budget sensitive information on a regular basis and the client media (yes, the same ones who have now turned on Damian McBride) just lap it up.

The second thing to say is: why have we been tipping £15 billion a year down the toilet? If we assume that this had been going on for 5 years, then had Labour acted sooner, we could have £75 billion more in the bank. Wow, that would come in handy right now.

The third thing to say is that the problem with these cuts is how they are delivered, and more importantly who sets the accounting rules. Government still works on the daft rule that if you do not spend all your budget this year then you lose the money, and you lose the same from next years budget. This is a bean counter rule, and what is more it is a stupid one. If you make reasonable budget assumptions, and beat them you are punished, not only this year but next.

Changing that one rule would dramatically help the public finances. For a start it would mean that there would be budget surpluses.

The last thing to say is that these public spending reductions will not go any where near far enough to reduce public debt. Remember that almost every pound borrowed by the state is a pound less available to the market for every one else.

The BBC has this.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Whipped like the Taliban!

A lot has been said and written about the policing of the G20 summit in London.

Personally I think that the policing went reasonably well, though obviously there are several areas of concern, not the least of which is the apparent assault of Ian Tomlinson and his subsequent, possibly linked death.

One such area of concern is the incident involving Nicola Fisher, who, if you have seen the footage, was slapped across the face and then hit across the legs with a baton, according to her, twice. It has to be said there is no apparent lawful reason for this action by the police officer and therefore the IPCC are investigating.

What made me laugh was laugh though was how Nicola Fisher described the incident as like being ¨whipped by the Taliban¨. Ridiculous. Anyone fancy contributing to the cost of a plane ticket to the tribal region of Pakistan so she can find out what being whipped by the Taliban is actually like.

The BBC has this.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Sun has not received Tom Watson´s writ!

Tom Watson, the rather unpleasant minister who sits with Gordon Brown in number 10, also known as ¨two dinners¨ has been rumoured to have put pressure on the BBC, and possibly others, lest they try to link him to Derek Draper and Damian McBride´s part in smeargate.

You can read Iain Dale here and Guido here on that.

Apparently the Sun has not had the word from Tom Watson´s lawyers (no doubt paid for by us) and have run this piece.

Good hit from the Sun.

I may have earlier led readers to believe that Gordon Brown apologised for the email smear campaign. It turns out he hasn´t at all. See Iain Dale here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gordon Brown tries to spin his way out of this mess

I hear that Gordon Brown is to write a personal apology to all those smeared in Damian McBride´s emails. Good.

He is however trying to spin his way out of this mess by saying that he will have the code of conduct under which SpAds (special advisers) operate tightened. Whoopy do. They are tight enough already and McBride broke them. The promise is clearly an attempt to divert attention away from the smearing ways of Number 10.

For those of you who thought Tony Blair´s spin operation was bad, they have never been a match for Gordon Brown´s. His henchmen have been dealing with his rivals by smear tactics for years.

The BBC has this.

Were Derek Draper and Damian McBride lying?

Daft question I know, but Nadine Dorris has been on the BBC and GMTV pointing out that the smears against her have been put to her by national newspapers. The implication is that they have already spread, possibly from either Derek Draper or Damian McBride. If so their position that those emails never saw the light of day is a lie.

The other curious thing is the way that people who normally support Labour do actually blame the malevolent Gordon Brown. See Jackie Ashley in the Guardian here talking about Gordon Brown´s vicious side.

The laughable thing is hearing Alan Johnson saying it was not Gordon Brown´s fault. Yeah right. Gordon Brown´s right hand man is doing dirty things for his master, and Gordon not only did not know (not particularly credible) but did not create the atmosphere in which this happened. Clearly Jackie must think that is as much rubbish as I do.

Guido has this, the BBC has this.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Damian McBride resigns

His ungracious resignation statement is here.

Curiously he blames Guido for putting these stories into the public domain, and that he and Derek Draper never would have done so.

Thing is, though, no one believes that, partly because some of these stories did get out, before Guido revealed McBride´s fingerprints all over them.

What you can be certain of though, is that the News of the World has some damming stuff to run with tomorrow or else he would not have gone.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Guido has this, this and this, Iain Dale has this, this and this.

The BBC has this

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bob Quick´s resignation

I heard Bob Quick resigned this morning, announced by Boris Johnson.

Bob´s big problem of course was that no one could trust him with important information any more.

Daft, but there you go. John Reid thought he had no choice either. I agree.

David Blunkett of course wants to pass a law saying that if some one is so careless and useless that they allow sensitive information to be seen, it should be an offence to photograph it, but then David Blunkett is as daft as a brush. This sort of breach of security on the way to Downing street has only happened twice since the invention of photography*, so clearly there is no need for a law, you just rid yourself of the careless.

The BBC has this.

*Both on Gordon Brown´s watch mind!

Bob Quick´s blunder

Police in Manchester, Liverpool and other parts of the north west have, it appears, carried out a successful operation to arrest a group of people suspected of terrorist offences.

There were not going to do it today, of course, they were still gathering evidence, but then the accident prone Bob Quick decided to brief Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith on the investigation. Alas he did not keep all his documents in a file so walked down Downing street briefing the world.

It has to be said serious questions were already being asked about Bob Quick, and it does not help his cause that he has damaged a major anti terror raid by rank carelessness. We are all human, but that carelessness may still cost lives.

The BBC has this.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The sad death of Ian Tomlinson

I have to say that I was saddened by the death of Ian Tomlinson when I heard about it. At the time I thought nothing more of it. After all, he died of ¨natural causes¨.

However I am deeply disturbed by the footage shown. He appears to be walking around posing no threat to anyone trying to get home on a bad day in London when he was assaulted for no obvious reason by some one in a uniform.

Whilst it is not possible for me to say whether the assault and heart attack are linked, heart attacks can be brought on by difficult circumstances.

That officer has now come forward, presumably because he can be pinpointed. It does him no credit that he did not come forward earlier.

The police do also need to rid themselves of people who break the law and give them all a bad name.

The state has to have a monopoly on violence, or else there is anarchy, but that violence must be used lawfully. I have to say that it does not appear to have been so in this case.

The BBC has this.