Tuesday 31 January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Your overpaid CEO won't take a pay cut? Here's what to do...

Sunday 29 January 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012 Posted by Jake 4 comments Labels: , , , ,
By Richard Murphy, founder of the Tax Justice Network , director of Tax Research LLP, and author of The Courageous State*
Ed Miliband has announced himself in favour of good business. I am delighted he has. So am I. It’s astonishing that some are saying that by declaring himself against spivs, chancers, asset strippers, speculators and tax avoiders he is somehow anti-business. Far from it: he’s declared himself very pro-business precisely because it is these people who are anti-business.
But being anti-something is not good enough. Being pro-good business is what is required and that requires a clear understanding of just what a good business might be. I’m not seeking to offer a definitive guide here, but take these as examples. A good business:
  1. Makes clear who it is so people know who they are dealing with
  2. Makes clear who runs it
  3. Makes clear who owns it
  4. Makes clear the rules by which it is managed
  5. Puts its accounts on public record if it enjoys limited liability, and does so wherever it is incorporated whether required to by law or not
  6. Seeks to comply with all regulation that applies to it
  7. Seeks to pay the right amount of tax due on the profits it makes in the place where they are really earned and at the time they really arise
  8. Seeks to pay a living wage or more to all who work for it
  9. Recognises trade union rights
  10. Operates a fair pay policy so that the pay differential between highest and lowest paid in the company cannot exceed an agreed ratio that should never exceed twenty
  11. Makes fair pension provision for all employees
  12. Does not discriminate between employees on the basis of race, nationality, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and similar such issues
  13. Does not abuse the environment
  14. Has a clear code of ethics that it publishes and is seen to uphold
  15. Is transparent in its dealings with customers
  16. Seeks at all times to minimise risk to those it deals with and takes all steps to ensure they know what those risks are
  17. Accepts responsibility for its failings and remedies them
  18. Works in partnership with its suppliers and does not abuse them
  19. Advertises responsibly
  20. Creates and supplies products meeting real human need
I could readily add to that list, which I do not think I have tried to prepare before. But the gist is obvious.
So what would this look like in practice, meaning how could this status be assessed?

Friday 27 January 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Fee takes a stand against a local gym, after LA Fitness did a u-turn after public pressure

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , , ,
Chris, Fee and KJ on the coalition's fairness claims over the welfare cap

Sunday 22 January 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , ,
One of the tell-tale signs of a rip-off is an extortionate interest rate. You don't need to look as far as the £9 billion British banks put aside to compensate consumers for their infamous Payment Protection Insurance rip-off. Britain's high-street banks charging up to 800,000% interest on unauthorised overdrafts provides a clear sign of what they are up to.

But it is not enough to simply look for ludicrous interest rates to spot a rip-off. Being wicked doesn't make a chap stupid. And anyone who paid attention in that maths lesson about percentages back when they were teenagers would be able to come up with this scam. If the inclination, or rather the incentivisation, took them.

A report by Barnardo's, the childrens' charity, highlights how poor families are ripped off by extortionate credit charges. The report, "A vicious cycle: The heavy burden of credit on low income families" states:

"Barnardo’s has found that an individual could pay £780 more when buying through rent-to-own companies than through the high street. 

In this example the person would face a premium of over £150 on the list price of a washing machine when purchased through rent-to-own. This is before interest of around £215 paid over three years. 

Perhaps more shocking is the premium paid on service cover. Two additional years service cover (on top of the statutory one year guarantee) costs £382 through the rent-to-own scheme. Three additional years taken from a high street retailer costs around a third of the price, at £130. There appears to be no clear rationale for this premium paid by low income families on service cover. 

The total cost through rent-to-own credit comes in at over £1,250 compared to £470 when bought from a high street retailer. "

Saturday 21 January 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012 Posted by Jake 2 comments Labels: , , , ,
One of the true things energy companies say, (and never forget, the most effective rip-offs are done without lying) is that the UK has low domestic gas and electricity prices compared with most of the European Union. This statement has often been used by energy industry apologists to squirm out of a tight interview. 

The interviewer almost never knows the hidden truth behind the truthful facade.

What the apologists are rather shy about is the fact that the price difference is due to UK taxes on retail energy being about the lowest in the EU. If you strip out the government taxes - money which doesn't go into the pockets of the energy companies - UK energy prices are about the same as the rest of the EU.

Figures from the Household Energy Price Index for Europe (HEPI), show that the cash pocketed by the British energy companies is about the same as in the rest of the EU, in spite of them using the "UK's lowest prices" argument for their price hikes.

So that's ok, isn't it? We pay about the same as our European cousins?

Actually, it isn't. 

According to the International Energy Agency figures for 2010, Britain is 60.9% self-sufficient in Natural Gas, which is the source of gas (naturally) and electricity generation in the UK. 

Contrast that with the other European Union nations who have to import anything between 80% and 98% of their gas.

British energy companies claim to run on wafer-thin margins by moving their profits from downstream (selling to customers) to upstream (sucking the stuff out of the good Earth)

Of course, the energy industry has a whole quiver of fibs, including:

Friday 20 January 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , ,
The gang discuss the high court's decision to evict the Occupy London protesters

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , ,
Chris, Fee and KJ weigh up Michael Gove's suggestion for a £60m royal yacht against his education cuts

Sunday 15 January 2012

The British Army has a brave tradition known as the "Forlorn Hope": a band of soldiers who would make the first assault against a well defended position. None of the Forlorn Hope was expected to survive unscathed; few were expected to survive at all. In spite of the extreme danger there was rarely a shortage of volunteers. Ambitious men who had a forlorn hope of being plucked from obscurity, veterans who hoped forlornly to show they still had what it takes, or those on their last legs forlorn and yet hopeful of leaving the mark they had failed to leave in their careers so far. Survivors were rewarded with promotion, glory, and cash.

British Members of Parliament have set up their own Forlorn Hope, in the form of the Committee on Members' Expenses. Their objective is to scale the heights of public outrage and outflank the entrenched disgust of voters at our MPs' pilfering, and breach the defences of the public purse. If their assault is successful they will earn the whispered gratitude of the whole House of Commons, perhaps with ministries for the survivors and peerages for the fallen.

As Britain was distracted by thoughts of Christmas food, presents, and relatives, our intrepid MPs quietly made their opening gambit. Objective, to sneak through a remuneration rise in the face of the current freeze on public sector pay. The committee, set up in July 2011, published its first report early in December 2011. One of its key recommendations (Recommendation 17):

  1. IPSA provide a detailed explanation of the rationale for its existing London supplements (especially the Outer London one) and make transparent its current methodology for calculation of the rates.

  2. A body independent of both Parliament and IPSA be commissioned by the House Service to undertake a financial cost-benefit analysis to determine whether extending IPSA's current system of London and Outer London supplements to other regions in the UK could provide greater value for money for taxpayers..

  3. In not more than six months' time, the House should have the opportunity to consider the merits of that cost-benefit analysis and evaluation and to make a decision on whether there should or should not be a system of regional supplements instead of the existing travel and accommodation provisions.
(IPSA=Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority)
The committee, you will note, has identified “a system of regional supplements” as a means of capturing a few extra £000s using the Outer London allowance as its Trojan Horse. So, what is this all about? Referred to as the London Area Living Payment, the details are:

Eligibility:            MPs for constituencies in Greater London, plus 24 MPs who are outside Greater London but are in the “London Area” (within 20 miles of Parliament).
Value:               £3,760 per annum for MPs in Greater London
                        £5,090 per annum for the 24 MPs in the “London Area

In order to reinforce the argument for inflating these relatively modest amounts, the committee asks IPSA to ‘make transparent’ its methodology for calculation of the London supplements. IPSA publishes an FAQ document, with the following statement on how it calculates the additional £1,330 per annum for the outer London MPs:

Thursday 12 January 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
38% of appeals heard at a tribunal against "Fit to work tests" are successful.

Monday 9 January 2012

Monday, January 09, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Fee spells out to KJ why David Cameron's excessive pay plan won't work

Sunday 8 January 2012

Sunday, January 08, 2012 Posted by Jake 3 comments Labels: , , ,
By Stefan Stern, visiting professor of management practice at the Cass Business School. 

At the end of 2011 they interred the ashes of the man who urged us to "live in truth".

Vaclav Havel's funeral was, perhaps unexpectedly, quite uplifting, a reminder that speaking the truth with courage and conviction can still be the most powerful weapon of all. It can bring down governments and change the course of history. In the Arab world this year, the word from the streets has helped to overturn seemingly unshakeable dictatorships.

Ripped-off Britons: estate agentsThe less uplifting thought is that, elsewhere in the world, truth has been a casualty, caught in the crossfire of lies, self-deception and legalese that broke out repeatedly in 2011. Economic and political crises, such as the one we are living through, are sometimes called "moments of truth". Will the new year bring us a fresh outpouring of truth-telling and a healthy purge of the deceivers? Or will mendacity win out, again?
The Truth – an ambiguous and elusive concept, I know – has actually been in trouble for some time. In 1997, Peter Mandelson told the journalist Katharine Viner: "If you're accusing me of getting the truth across... that I'm trying to create the truth – if that's news management, I plead guilty." The recent Bush administration had a more troubling and grandiose view. An unnamed aide told Ron Suskind in 2004 that those who worked in what the source called "the reality-based community" did not understand "the way the world really works any more... We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality... We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do".

This is not the cue for another discussion on the whereabouts of (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction. But three decades after Vaclav Havel had told us to live in truth, the film-maker Michael Moore declared that "we live in fictitious times" (speaking at the Oscars ceremony in 2003), while the satirist Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" to describe those things that we feel and know ought to be true, but sadly just cannot (and never will) prove. Anyhow, who needs mere facts when ambition and faith are leading you on? "I only know what I believe," as Tony Blair told the Labour party conference in 2004.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 Posted by Jake 2 comments Labels: , ,
By Sophie Allain, campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport.

In the first week of 2012 thousands of rail passengers fed up with being ripped off by above inflation rail fare rises took part in a social media protest, showing that fares continue to be a highly charged political issue. It’s not surprising that British passengers are angry, Campaign for Better Transport compared a sample UK season ticket with four similar European ones and discovered we’re paying up to ten times as much as our European counterparts.
Ripped-off Britons: Rail and bus fares

Campaign for Better Transport compared the cost of an annual season ticket into five major European capitals. Despite the Government’s concession in the Autumn Spending review to cap regulated fare increases to inflation plus one per cent in January, instead of inflation plus three per cent as originally planned, the transport charity discovered the sample UK ticket cost three and a half times more than the most expensive European one, and almost ten times (9.7) more than the cheapest one.

The cost of an annual season ticket, including multi-modal travel on each city's underground system, from a commuter town approximately 23 miles from the capital:

Woking to London, £3,268
Ballancourt-sur-Essonne to Paris, £924.66
Strausberg to Berlin, £705.85
Collado-Villalba to Madrid, £653.74
Velletri to Rome, £336.17
Wednesday, January 04, 2012 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , ,
Chris and KJ discuss the impact of raising bus and rail fares while cutting benefits

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 Posted by Jake 10 comments Labels: , , ,
Railways traditionally involve a lot of smoke and steam. Long after the network converted to electricity and diesel, hot air and cinders continue to provide useful cover for one of the great British rip-offs - train fares. To penetrate all this obscurity, we refer you to the McNulty Report of May 2011, done for the Department of Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation, "Realising the potential of GB Rail" and its associated consultants reports.

We are told very loudly that ticket prices must go up because the government subsidy must go down. Could be sensible - why should people who don't use the trains pay for them? Very quietly we are told, regardless of subsidies, the British rail industry is grotesquely inefficient. As the graph above shows, the rot set in following privatisation in 1995-97. What was the reason? The crass incompetence of people who didn't know how to run a railway, or the sublime competence of people who knew how to extract a profit? Either or neither way, after privatisation things cost much more to do.

Comparing costs for rail projects reinforces this assertion, whatever the reason, it costs much more to do the same thing in Britain than in other similar countries: 

One thing the rail network is doing well is attracting travellers. A consistent increase in passenger journeys was only briefly interrupted by the banking crash that started in 2008. You would have thought that this increased utilisation would allow costs to be spread over more journeys, bringing the individual ticket price down. But you'd be wrong.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Sunday, January 01, 2012 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , ,
Ripped-off Britons: graduate jobsIt is said to be impossible for a person to strangle himself with his own bare hands. Apparently when you pass out your grip loosens (we do not recommend that you try this). Does what applies to a person apply to a nation? Britain is now in the throes of gripping its own neck, with the top striving to cut down what goes to the regions below. Those at the head of the country forget that while it is the nose (above the neck) that sucks in the oxygen, it is the lungs (below the neck) that pass that vital element to allow the whole including the head to survive; it is the stomach (below neck) that digests the nutrition masticated by the mouth (above neck); it is the arms (you probably get it by now) that put on the makeup and brush the hair that makes the face look so fetching. However those at the head of the nation who hold the political and economic levers manoeuvre to restrict the stuff of economic life – pay and pensions, education and opportunity, and freedom from rip-offs – flowing to the main body of the nation. And they claim it is for our own good, as “we are all in it together”.

We believe capitalism is a good thing. But it has been misrepresented and misconstrued as a culture of “grab and get away with what you can”. From bankers’ bonuses to MPs expenses this has infected every sector of Britain. “Capitalism” and the “Free Market” are good things, but labelling something as one of these does not make it good. Shakespeare’s wisdom, from the mouth of Romeo’s Juliette, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, also applies to a stink-hole which by any other name still stinks.

Changing the culture of rip-offs in Britain has as much to do with the ripped-off as the rippers. It is not a matter of our looking harder for the best deal and switching providers more vigorously. All the misleading and teasing make the choice of banks, insurers, energy, telecoms and other goods and services providers, and also of political parties, a case of out of the frying pan into another frying pan. We ripped-off Britons need to change our mind-set.

In this post, we suggest three changes in all of our Ripped-Off British attitudes.

Adam Smith, that icon of capitalism, envisaged an “invisible hand” which urges events in the best possible direction as a result of everybody behaving selfishly. Bankers, MPs, top executives, the leaders have all done their part straining their selfishness to the utmost. The big fish in the pond see no reason to do otherwise, selfishly misrepresenting their actions, to themselves as well as to the general public, as “Capitalism” and the “Free Market”. “Doing god’s work” is how the chief of Goldman Sachs described the bankers, shortly after they had put a torch to the World economy.

But for us minnows, we the ripped-off Britons, selfishness is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition. Selfishness requires us to care nothing for the bankers, MPs and executives. But selfishness also requires us to care nothing for other ripped-off Britons.

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