Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013 Posted by Jake 4 comments Labels: , , , , , ,
UPDATE JAN 2017: One of the government's flagship home ownership programmes, the Help-to-Buy Mortgage Guarantee scheme, ended on 31st December 2016. It has helped more than 100,000 individuals or couples onto the property ladder. The Council of Mortgage Lenders said it had worked "exceptionally well", making mortgages more available when it started in October 2013.

However Shelter argued that the scheme helped to push up house prices, and only helped those who needed little or no help. They said: “Drawing on official statistics and analysis, this research finds that Help to Buy has added around £8,250 to the average house price. In other words, it has helped a small number of people to buy, at the expense of worsening the overall affordability crisis for everyone else.”

Meanwhile, the Tory’s more recent 'affordable' starter homes programme kicks off in 2017. But Shelter points out that these “affordable homes” will cost up to £450,000! No doubt the perverse results will be the same. READ ON...

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" (Romeo & Juliet, Act2 Scene2).

Juliet's assertion applies both ways. A rip-off by any other name still stinks. You might think the 'affordable housing' policy is aimed at those who find it hard to afford their housing. There you would be right. You might think that the policy is aimed at people on low and modest incomes (e.g. nurses on £25k, firemen on £23k). There you would be wrong. After all, however much money you have there is always something that costs just a bit more than you can afford (think yacht, football club, income tax).

The sell-off of social housing in London starting in 1979 with the Tories' "Right to buy" scheme, rolled on virtually uninterrupted through the Labour government of 1997-2010, and continued into the Con-Dem coalition from 2010.

The original 'right' to buy at a considerable discount to market value (the discount was increased to up to £100,000 discount in London and £75,000 in the rest of the country in March 2013) was given specifically to public sector tenants. However this has been an open invitation to speculators entering into 'deferred purchase' agreements, where the council tenant has been the middleman - exercising his right to buy, and then selling on to private landlords both individuals and companies. A report by the Daily Mirror newspaper exposed the extent to which council housing has been taken over by private landlords:

"A Daily Mirror investigation found a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher were now owned by private landlords. In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants."

This opportunity to turn a profit is particularly succulent in London, where rents are literally streets ahead of anywhere else in the UK.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Payday loans market faces competition inquiry
Office of Fair Trading suspects payday lenders of preventing, restricting or distorting competition. Payday lenders charge annual interest rates of more than 4,000% in a £2bn market, making up to 50% of their money from customers who extended or rolled over loans or incurred late payment charges. Lenders are using practices which make it difficult for consumers to identify and compare costs, and create barriers to switching when loans are rolled over. The regulator said variable levels of compliance with credit laws and guidance meant firms that invest time and effort to comply were at a competitive disadvantage. GUARDIAN
(Said one payday lender  that fully complies with the laws, “If it wasn’t for Osborne throwing tens of thousands into poverty every week, we’d be out of business by now.”)

Starbucks pays UK corporation tax for first time since 2009
A company spokeswoman said it had listened to its customers, paid £5m now, and would pay another £5m later this year. The move follows pressure from politicians and campaigners, and an agreement by world leaders last week to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance. Starbucks has only reported taxable profit once in 15 years in the UK, despite sales of £400m last year. To deflect public criticism, big tax dodging corporates highlight the jobs they creats, and the tax and national insurance they pay on behalf of their staff. But that is not the tax paid by the corporate. BBC NEWS
(“...It is, kind of. ‘Cos they’re paying the tax we dodge. And so are you!” said one joyous finance director...)

Drug companies accused of colluding with chemists to overcharge the NHS for drugs
Following a whistleblower tip-off, undercover reporters approached specialist pharmaceutical companies that discussed ways chemists could bill the NHS for more than they actually spent. One company described a "rebate" scheme, whereby the chemist would inflate their invoice to charge the NHS more than they actually paid for the drug. Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are feared to have been wasted in recent years due to the practice. TELEGRAPH

British Gas pays £10m to settle row after allegation it broke rules by failing to round down gas figures on bills
British Gas had been displaying the 'calorific value' figure to four decimal places on bills when Ofgem rules require it be rounded down to one decimal place. British Gas had been interpreting the rules this way for five years. British Gas argued that bills were no higher than they otherwise would have been because the sum lost from rounding down the figures would have anyway been recouped through higher retail prices. DAILY MAIL

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 Posted by Jake 4 comments Labels: , , , , , , ,
We are told again and again by our most respected people and organisations that their criminality, scandals, cock-ups and other miscellaneous failures were due to a previous group of people under a previous system and a previous bad old culture. We have been told this by:
We are told that all this naughtiness happened under previous systems and people, and that it has already changed, and the bad old culture has been cleaned up. We are told there is no need to keep a close eye on them, no need to investigate them further. Just leave them alone and trust them, we are told.

One of these 'bad things' that we are supposed not to worry about anymore has been excessive pay in the banking sector. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards released its report in June 2013, including a couple of graphs on banker pay. One of these exposes that far from 'excessive pay' being brought under control, it is now even higher than it was in the fat days before the 2008 crash.

Average pay per head in 2012 was actually much higher, (about 30% higher in Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds) than it was at the height of excessive pay in 2007 just before the crash:

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , , , , ,
Cameron and Osborne can see the bright side...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013 Posted by Jake 5 comments Labels: , , , ,
It is not just a recent event, but events over the centuries. Politicians are bought by people with money.

This brilliant animated fairy tale is narrated by Ed Asner, with animation by Mike Konopacki. Written and directed by Fred Glass for the California Federation of Teachers. An 8 minute video about how we arrived at this moment of poorly funded public services and widening economic inequality. 

Things go downhill in a happy and prosperous land after the rich decide they don't want to pay taxes anymore. They tell the people that there is no alternative, but the people aren't so sure. This land bears a startling resemblance to our land.

For more info, © 2012 California Federation of Teachers: 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013 Posted by Jake 9 comments Labels: , , , , , ,
The wealthy live more opulently than the poor. But generally speaking the expensively dressed wealthy don't themselves benefit from the tatty outfits of their less well heeled fellow citizens. Indeed, when they are able the wealthy take the trouble to dress their servants very well. 

Old bangers breaking down on the road don't really make the man in his £50k motor car feel better. Broken down crocks just cause traffic jams to infuriate rich and poor alike. 

Few people take active pleasure in the poverty of others. They enjoy the inequality in the form of their own comfort, and just ignore the discomfort of the rest.

This is true with clothes and jewelry and houses and cars. It is true with private education and health. The wealthy buy their privileges. The principal benefit to the wealthy few of the poor services meted out to the majority is low taxes.

But this is not true of justice. Justice denied to one is justice escaped by another. The withdrawal of legal aid will mean those who can't afford to pay for their justice will not be able to afford to pursue those who can. According to a BBC report:

"The government is removing funding from entire areas of civil law. They include:

  • Private family law, such as divorce and custody battles
  • Personal injury and some clinical negligence cases
  • Some employment and education law
  • Immigration where the person is not detained
  • Some debt, housing and benefit issues"
The BBC's list does not include the cuts for criminal cases, which are in addition to the above.

To justify pulling legal aid, we are told a host of fibs about how it is 'ballooning' out of control. So we looked around, and found some data in a report by the parliamentary select committee responsible for Justice:

1) Has the Legal Aid cost been ballooning? No: it has been falling since 2004:

2) Is this because the number of cases has been falling? No, they have been rising. In spite of rising number of cases since 2004, the costs have NOT been rising:

Friday, 21 June 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013 Posted by Hari 2 comments Labels: , , , , ,
Fee and KJ are losing faith in British justice. Are you?...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Thursday, June 20, 2013 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Banking commission: Bankers should be jailed for 'reckless misconduct'
The Parliamentary Commission recommends jailing reckless bankers and enforcing a wait of up to 10 years for bonuses. The chancellor must restore confidence in the financial system by making top bankers more accountable following the 2008 bank bailouts, as well as a list of other offences including the Libor rigging scandal, and the shoddy treatment of customers mis-sold payment protection insurance. The commission also described UK Financial Investments, the body set up to look up after the taxpayers' stakes in the bailed-out banks, as a "fig leaf" to hide political interference by the chancellor. GUARDIAN
(Creating new laws is tough. How about we just photocopy Singapore’s...)

£1.5bn+ censure by Singapore of 20 banks for attempting to rig benchmark interest rates
UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland and ING have been told to set aside funds of over S$1bn (£500m; $800m) each. Another 16 banks have also been ordered to set aside lesser amounts, including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and HSBC. Some of the cases have been referred to the police. BBC NEWS
(So much for the idea that foreign financial centres would stop at nothing to woo our “talented” bankers over there...)

Junior Barristers ‘on £14 a day’ after proposed legal aid cuts
£14 a day is well below the minimum wage. Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff branded the government’s current plans ‘bonkers’. The House of Commons justice committee, taking evidence from bodies representing the legal community, were told that the reforms should be put on hold to enable a full review of the criminal justice system. The reforms include the introduction of “lowest bidder wins” price-competitive tendering, the removal of client choice and fee cuts of 17.5%-30%. LAW GAZETTE
(“OK, but will we be able to represent ourselves?” said a roving gang of junior barristers caught shoplifting ‘cos they couldn’t afford to eat on £14 a day...)

Street lights may be turned off to help fund elderly care
Leaders from 370 councils have warned they might have to switch off street lights or close parks and libraries and use the money saved to provide elderly care, which is their legal obligation. To avoid this, they want specially protected NHS health budgets to be shared with them. TELEGRAPH

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , ,
Cameron and Obama hope nobody notices if it all just fades away...

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013 Posted by Jake 4 comments Labels: , , , ,
It is suggested that paying MPs more would get a better calibre of people into the Houses of Parliament. 

The reality is an MP’s basic pay puts him or her above the wages of more than 95% of Britons. 

The graph below uses HMRC figures for 2010-11 and an MP's basic salary that year of £65,738.

This does not include the other income MPs can derive directly from Parliament:
And it does not include money they earn within Parliamentary rules doing other jobs while still employed as an MP, including Gordon Brown MP and Stephen Philips QC MP whose other earnings dwarf their parliamentary salaries.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) did a survey of MPs, and found they too felt they deserved a pay rise. Though the amount of the increase over their then £66k basic salary varied by party:

Friday, 14 June 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , , , ,
Fee, Chris and KJ - if not the mainstream political parties - see the problem...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013 Posted by Jake No comments
Nation's wage bill falls £52bn to £638bn in five years with North West suffering sharpest cuts
Falling real wages, reduced hours and changes in the kind jobs people are doing has reduced the nation’s total pay, said a TUC report. This means a 7.5% drop on average since the eve of the recession in 2007. The North West suffered the sharpest cut of 10.6%. The South West, West Midlands and Scottish economies have also seen pay packets shrink by around 10%. Despite a small rise in the number of people in work since 2007, it has failed to offset the sharp cuts to workers’ wages. The TUC says if people have less money and are spending less, businesses will struggle: “It’s no wonder businesses are struggling when so much demand has been sucked out of the economy.” MIRROR
(“It’s tragic. There’s only one union left that can stand up to the merciless self-defeating slash and burn rhetoric of wage cuts these days, and that’s us,” said the National Union of Fat Cats. "See below...")

Top companies' bosses pay and perks rise 10% to £4.3m on average
This year the leaders of FTSE 100 firms continued to enjoy salary hikes, while the average worker received a pay rise of just 1%, well below the current 2.4% inflation rate which equates to a pay cut in real terms. According to the Office for National Statistics that 1% figure is the lowest since its records began in 2001. DAILY MAIL

Nestle and Mars charged with price-fixing of chocolates
Authorities in Canada have charged the food giants Nestle and Mars, together with a network of independent wholesale distributors, in an alleged conspiracy to fix prices of chocolates. Three individuals have also been charged: former Nestle Canada president Robert Leonidas; Sandra Martinez, former president of confectionery for Nestle Canada; and David Glenn Stevens, president and CEO of distributor ITWAL. Mars, Nestle and ITWAL vowed to fight the charges. But Hershey Canada, an alleged co-conspirator, is expected to plead guilty in exchange for leniency, blaming previous management. BBC NEWS

Vodafone paid no corporation tax in Britain last year
Generous tax breaks mean the UK’s second largest mobile phone company reduced its tax bill to zero for the second consecutive year. The blue chip company has distributed £4.8bn in cash dividends to shareholders in the last 12 months – more than any other British business. CEO, Vittorio Colao, collected £11m in pay last financial year, down from the £15.7m he earned the year before. The drop in his pay is due to revenue targets missed in recession hit Europe. GUARDIAN
(News? This isn’t news. News would be “Vodafone pays some corporation tax in Britain!!!” surely?...)

Ex-HBOS chief James Crosby stripped of knighthood
Following a highly critical report by the Banking Standards Commission in April, Sir James asked for his knighthood to be removed. The report described him as the "architect" of the strategy that led to HBOS' downfall. Mr Crosby also gave up 30% of his £580,000-a-year HBOS pension, meaning he will waive around £174,000 this year. Mr Crosby's knighthood is the second casualty of the banking crisis. Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of RBS, was stripped of his knighthood in 2012 after leading the bank to near-collapse in 2008, and an eventual multi-billion pound government bailout. BBC NEWS

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , , ,
Can Ed Milliband and Cameron agree on something?...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sunday, June 09, 2013 Posted by Jake 6 comments Labels: , , , ,
The fact is a man or woman does not get into parliament by winning their seat in a General Election nor in a Bye Election. They don’t have to persuade the majority of all voters in their constituency that they are fit and proper to be their ward’s representative. 

Prospective MPs merely have to persuade their local constituency party activists – comprising about one in a hundred of the electorate. It is by persuading these local activists, allegedly regarded by some top politicians as ‘swivel-eyed loons’, that our MPs actually get themselves into Parliament.

A report by the UK Parliament in December 2012 stated that:

“In 2010, only 1.0% of the electorate was a member of one of the three main political parties. Labour had approximately 193,000 members, the Conservatives 130,000 to 150,000 and the Liberal Democrats 49,000.”

According to the Electoral Reform Society ordinary voters in most constituencies tend to stick with the same party. Which means the loony party activists in those constituencies have the parliamentary seat in their gift. :

"The average constituency last changed hands between parties in the 1960s, with some super safe seats having remained firmly in one-party control since the time of Queen Victoria. "
Electoral Reform Society

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Saturday, June 08, 2013 Posted by Jake 1 comment Labels: , , ,
MPs bleat that they are very clever, work very hard, and therefore should be paid more.

The reality is that the vast majority of them just follow party orders. This data from The Public Whip, taken by us in June 2013, shows the number of times an MP voted against the majority in his own party.

A senior MP was reported saying "Voters may not like it but if you pay peanuts you get monkeys." The graphs below show that inspite of their basic £65k salaries, not including all the perks and privileges and being allowed to have multiple other paid jobs, we don't even get monkeys - we get obedient sheep.

[For those less mathematically minded, if an MP voted against his party 2% (2 out of 100) of the time, that means he marches in line with his own flock 98 times in 100].

(It is usual that MPs in the party in power tend to rebel more than those in opposition - because they know their rebellion won't make any difference).

Friday, 7 June 2013

Friday, June 07, 2013 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , ,
Chris asks an energy fat cat about this new dodge...

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Thursday, June 06, 2013 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
George Osborne to stop energy firms exploiting £900m tax loophole
The Chancellor said gas and electricity companies have attempted to "unfairly" claim up to £900m in tax relief. The utility firms were claiming on expenses paid, in fact, by their business customers. The expenses are for changes and improvements made to supply lines, done by the energy firms, but paid for by those businesses. Osborne promised to change the law to prevent companies making such claims. TELEGRAPH
(Said one energy firm exec: “This contemptible little fraud common among the dodgiest of backstreet operations is just part of our graduate training programme. We start them off by getting them to claim on the same expenses twice. In a few short years they’re rigging energy markets, fixing international prices, and running a secret cartel to hike your bills.”)

Britain has highest food and energy inflation in Europe
The OECD said UK food prices in April were 4.6% higher than the same month a year ago: it was 3.7% in Germany, 1.6% in France and just 1% in the US. Energy inflation in the UK was 2.2% – more than four-times Germany’s. In nearly a dozen European countries energy prices fell this month, including France, Belgium, Denmark and Spain. UK consumers may be suffering from the low pound but also less competition than other markets. Ross Walker, chief economist at RBS, said: "The concentration of the big four supermarkets in the UK must give them pricing power."  TELEGRAPH

Policing of payday lenders is timid, say MPs
The OFT has been "ineffective and timid" in tackling rogue payday and door-to-door lenders, MPs said. Unscrupulous behaviour by these lenders cost consumers at least £450m a year. The OFT has never given a fine to any of the 72,000 firms in this market and only five have lost their license. It also failed to effectively prevent directors of lenders that lost their licence from setting the business up again under a different name. The OFT defended itself by saying they lack sufficient regulatory powers and can impose a fine only in limited circumstances. Door-to-door and payday lending had risen significantly since the financial crisis.
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(Who needs wider regulatory powers and fines to keep people in line? A couple of burly men and a knuckleduster usually does the trick…)

In one week, three Lords and one MP are caught agreeing to payment from lobbyists in exchange for influence
Lobbying bill will be brought to parliament by end of July, says No 10. Downing Street announces new schedule for bill that would introduce statutory register following spate of lobbying scandals. GUARDIAN

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tuesday, June 04, 2013 Posted by Hari No comments Labels: , , , , ,
Cameron promises rapid new laws to stop dodgy lobbying...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Saturday, June 01, 2013 Posted by Jake 8 comments Labels: , ,
Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools, said at a seminar organised by the Reform think tank: "You can't have small classes - small groups - and a highly-paid staff." Wilshaw's assertion being that by having bigger class sizes, and therefore fewer teachers, it will be possible to offer higher pay to tempt in better teachers. In this he was parroting Reform's own agenda:

"Ministers should support schools that reduce numbers of teaching assistants and allow class sizes to rise. Ministers should also make the case that having a high quality teacher is more important than smaller class size."  

So, is it actually true that our schools have small classes? We produce data below from the OECD's "Education at a glance, 2012" report, which looks at and compares the education systems in the OECD countries.

For both primary and secondary schools up to GCSE, class sizes in England are among the largest in the OECD.

The reality is we already have among the largest class sizes in the OECD. The government's agenda is simply to cut spending in the government education system. 

After all, those who can pay for private education can enjoy classes of 15 to 20, as you would find in ordinary schools in Austria, Hungary, and the USA.

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