Category Archives: Economics

Is there a case for making exceptions to the national minimum wage?

Conservative Lord Freud

Conservative Lord Freud

In 1997 the Blair government, to their credit, reversed 5 years of Conservative feet dragging and introduced the minimum wage. This policy, at its now slightly inflated but still chronically too low rate, is a basic safety net for paid workers.

Hynd’s Blog has consistently called for the advancement of the minimum wage to match that calculated as the ‘living wage’ – the minimum amount it is deemed to be able to have a reasonable standard of living off.

Today though the paper’s are not filled with the argument for increasing the minimum wage to match a ‘living wage’ but instead, the idea of some people being able to earn less than the minimum wage – an idea which Hynd’s Blog is not immediately and unconditionally opposed to.

Lord Freud, the Conservative Welfare Minister, has been thrown into the heart of this debate when a recording of him saying, “There is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage” was released.


In short, he suggests that certain disabled people are ‘not worth’ the meager £3.79 (for under 18s) that stands as the current minimum wage.

Moving this debate though beyond the despicable language that suggests you can assess the ‘worth’ of an individual there is a pertinent question to ask around whether or not exceptions should be made to minimum wage legislation – like for example the system they have in New Zealand.

I would personally advocate for a system where an individual employee could apply for an exception to the national minimum wage that is then assessed by a government agency so they can continue working in a job that they are perhaps good at but cannot perform at the speed or efficiency of other workers.

An example might be an adult with learning disabilities who works slowly and methodically at a certain task benefiting greatly from the social interaction, the responsibilities of work and the limited financial independence of a reduced salary but who works too slowly for a commercial employer to feel they can justify paying a minimum wage.

This opt out clause could easily be supported through an existing financial top up scheme comparable to that ‘disability premium’ income support to ensure the employee is protected whilst the employer does not lose out.

With this in mind, it is worth also examining the politics of the current uproar. Lord Freud’s comments were unacceptable and as such he needs to apologise. But, equally, the nature and severity of the attack from Labour on this issue only serves as party political point scoring and does little to add to the social policy question that the Conservative Cllr and Lord Freud were addressing – what is best form of legal protection disabled workers whose output is partially effected by their disability?

I don’t have the answer to this and certainly not the research to back up the above idea but it would be interested to get a discussion going – something unlikely to happen in the current media hyperbole.

UPDATE:

Full text of Lord Freud’s apology:

Lord Freud statement

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Greens refuse non-dom millionaire’s donation

green
A quick hat tip to The Green Party on hearing the news that they have returned £7,000 to multimillionaire Tony Tabatznik (£).

Tabatznik, a former Labour Party donor, is one of Britain’s richest men and yet is also not a full UK tax payer (something we and The Labour Party have known since at least 2002).

The Green Party have returned his donation stating it was not ‘ethical’.

Read the full story in The Times.

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Labour’s misleading statement on electoral spending

Lab photo
The Labour Party today uploaded this photo to facebook with the inspiring campaigns cliche:

We don’t have the Tories’ money — so we’re going to win this election one conversation at a time. Be part of it: http://labour.org.uk/volunteer-pledge

In it’s literal sense this is true. Labour do not ‘have the Tories’ money’. Not a penny of Labour’s money (that I know of) belongs to the Conservative Party…but (and this is a big but) they do have rather a lot of their own.

Indeed, the latest party political donation figures show that they were given a huge £3,162,980 in the period of Oct-Dec 2013 alone. I should point that is a million less than the Conservative Party who received £4,805,892. 

But you take my point, neither of the big two political parties are exactly short of cash.

If the Labour Party win the next General Election it will be partly because of thousands of people who have donated hours of their lives to campaigning but it will also be because of the formidable amounts of money they have to put into the campaign (mainly coming from Trade Unions).

In contrast, the Liberal Democrats for the same period received £1,311,824 and The Green Party just £115,943. 

My question here is can we have a fair, open and educated democracy when some political parties have so much to spend on ‘getting their message across’ while others have so little?

I think not. That is why I have always supported the system of state funded political parties.

The Green Party hold what I think to be a very sensible policy on this:

The Greens believe that party funding should be calculated and administered on a regional basis, with funds allocated in proportion to the number of votes cast in the region in the last round of proportional representation elections held across the entire region. Parties would need to exceed a threshold of 3% of the vote to become eligible for this funding.

You will not be surprised to hear that both Labour and Conservatives have been feet dragging on this issue to say the least. Not surprising considering the size of their respective bank accounts.

 

*UPDATE: Before a Labour Party activist says it, there is of course a big difference between big private donors and Trade Unions. One is not as bad as the other. But I would argue that neither are healthy for politics.

Second UPDATE:

An interesting tweet that suggests I am not the only who feels like this:

 

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Craft brewery ‘Brewdog’ issues formal apology to Portman Group for ‘not giving a shit’

Brewdog
The on-going spat between the craft brewery ‘Brewdog’ and the Portman Group (named with no irony after the Guinness offices in Portman Square where it held its first meeting), has today taken another tantalising twist.

Responding to a comically dull press release from the Portman Group which once again accuses the brewery of breaking the advertising standards, Brewdog have released their own statement apologising to the Portman Group for ‘not giving a shit’.

In their comically curt response the brewery summarises their feeling to the Portman Group saying:

“Unfortunately, the Portman Group is a gloomy gaggle of killjoy jobsworths, funded by navel-gazing international drinks giants. Their raison d’être is to provide a diversion for the true evils of this industry, perpetrated by the gigantic faceless brands that pay their wages.” 

They continued:

“While the Portman Group lives out its days deliberating whether a joke on a bottle of beer is responsible or irresponsible use of humour, at BrewDog we will just get on with brewing awesome beer and treating our customers like adults.”

As if to illustrate a point the Portman Group’s Executive Director. Henry Ashworth, specifically addresses the issue of humour in the press release saying:

“The Code rules do not exist to prevent humorous or innovative brand marketing but to make sure that humour is used responsibly.”

Before following it up with possible the most humourless sentence ever constructed in the English language:

“We urge producers to exercise due diligence and consult our Code Advisory Team if they are in any doubt.”

This is the latest slightly comic spat between Brewdog and the Portman Group. In 2008 BrewDog called for The Portman Group to be scrapped (with some equally strong rhetoric) while the Portman Group has made repeated accusations against various Brewdog beers (The beer ‘Speedballs’ apparently mocked drug addiction – an accusation that led Brewdog to then initiate defamation action for, ‘Tokyo stout’ – then Britain’s strongest beer’ – encouraged binge drinking etc etc).

For the passive onlooker this is a spat that just keeps giving. Portman Group keep chipping away in mono-corporate talk that does nothing other than give Brewdog further publicity. Brewdog on the other hand keep chipping away with their wonderful diarrhoea of anti-corporate adjectives sounding increasingly like a half-pissed Noam Chomsky.

The contrast between the two is something this blogger plans to dwell on over a carefully selected independent craft beer.

Cheers.

 

*Hat tip to my my mate Russ for putting me onto this latest spat. 

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The ‘great’ British potential in development and aid

This is a guest post by Dan Smith. Dan is an Engineer working with sanitation companies in frontier markets. He is also a good friend who blogs here. You can follow Dan on twitter at @dpksmith.

Burma
Everything about this image is ridiculous. From the fact that the British Embassy in Myanmar feels it’s necessary to persuade people how ‘great’ Britain is, to the idea that using posters resplendent with outdated nationalistic iconography is a good one.

All of it smacks of desperation.

A friend of mine recently sent me the picture from Yangon. My friend asked if this was how the British Government treated all of the countries we’d previously undermined. Looking at it historically and considering that my friend is Austrian; this comment is somewhat ironic but shows how our colonial history still pervades today.

The Austrians and Germans don’t cling to the dying embers of Empire, so why do we?

The simple fact is that the British Empire was an immoral occurrence over a generation ago, yet 60 years on it is still acceptable to promote the UK using imagery and terminology from that period alluding to the fact that we’ve changed. Whilst our pernicious foreign policy and the actions of British companies ensure that we’re still acting in a similar manner. Why can’t we move on from our history and start leading by example?

Our Government advertises the UK with outdated iconography whilst telling expats to go home. Our society bickers amongst itself about how best to manage our own sustainability whilst our international companies continue to steal resources from other countries as they always have done. All off this is white washed with propaganda about how great we are and as such our entrepreneurs come up with solutions for luxury abandon.

Perhaps this should change?

The Africa Progress Report 2013 paints a damning picture of powerful companies influencing kleptocratic governments in order to procure the rights to extract resources from their countries. The sharp end of the wedge highlighted in the criticism of the recent WTO Trade Agreement that this promotes the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals, poor or otherwise. All of which suggests that companies from rich countries are still operating in a similar fashion to the way various Royal Charter companies did back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There is proof that British companies are complicit in such actions, such as the Vedanta Mining Corporation that wants to mine a culturally significant area of India or the shooting of 34 miners at the Marikana mine in South Africa owned by Lonmin. Closer to home there has been a devastating yet largely overlooked case where the British police have colluded with large construction firms to blacklist 3,200 people viewed as “leftwing or troublesome”.

Staying at home, shallow arguments such as this and this by the George Monbiot (a journalist that at least has his ‘heart in the right place’) demonstrates the divide between the middle class left, who paint themselves as the proletariat, and who the left perceive as the evil land owning bourgeoisie farmers. Yet most of our home grown challenges, such as sustainable energy security, are smothered by Government backed jingoistic promotions (such as some woman marrying a posh bloke and having a baby) to persuade everybody that we’re ‘great’.

If you do a quick search for people making change in the world you’ll find a plethora of young entrepreneurs in Africa developing businesses to fix many of the problems they see in front of them. Yet if you look for young British ones, more established ones, or look to entrepreneurial promotion such as Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, you find people providing low cost throw away consumables, luxury goods, weaponry and food for students; as if there aren’t more pressing issues than creating maximum profit. Why are we still promoting profit over environmental and social performance?

In the UK we are a knowledge economy. We hold some of the best universities in the world; we have world leading research institutes; and some of the most respected consulting agencies. Why can’t we use this potential to lead the way in sustainable development rather than clinging to outdated dogma?

If the government really wants to increase foreign trade then perhaps it should start by regulating and prosecuting companies that are acting immorally and often illegally in other people’s countries rather than putting up posters. That would be a large step forward in changing the image of Britain. Whilst it’s doing that it could remove all of the Empiresque imagery from our foreign policy documentation and create strategies that work with people of other countries rather than against them.

Admittedly, social enterprise is supported in the UK through the creation of Big Society Capital and Social Enterprise UK. But why does this have to be at the loss to Government public sector? We could do both by going after the financial sector with the Tobin Tax – which is being pursued across Europe. Yet our government lacks both the teeth and the will to go after either the banks or international corporations.

If we could develop Triple Bottom Line businesses out of old neo-colonial corporations and promote “sustainability entrepreneurs” and “intrapreneurs” to meet our own challenges and set high sustainability standards in the UK. Then the rest of the world would look to us as leaders in sustainable development.

With external trade based on global sustainability rather than individual profiteering we wouldn’t need to tell anybody how “great” we still are.

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Filed under Economics, History

Facebook – 10 years old and 1,110,000,000 active users

Facebook is 10 years old. The influence it now holds over all of us is just mind-blowing.

  • One in twelve people on our planet now has a facebook profile.
  • One in five of web views is a facebook page.
  • 48% of 18-34 year olds check their facebook profile first things when they wake up.
  • Every 20 minutes over 1,000,000 links are shared on facebook.
  • In 2013 Facebook had a revenue of $5,287 million.

With all this in mind I thought I would share this timeline and infographic with more mind-blowing statistics (stolen from here).

Maybe share this on facebook?

facebook-infographic2

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Fair fares: A protest in Stroud

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This morning I joined a handful of others outside Stroud train station to protest at the latest hike in rail fares and to call for the renationalisation of the First-Great-Western franchise.

Why? Well, where to start. Figures show that the average rail season ticket in the UK has now risen to £2,191. This, put another way, is equivalent to 8% of the median UK salary. Even more depressingly, this is considerably higher than the £1,441 average fuel cost of driving to work.

But it gets worse. There are sections of the UK rail network now where you pay as much as £6 a mile.

The trains in the UK are bloody expensive. This is at least in part due to the last 20 years of privatisation. The Rebuilding Rail report put the cost of the privatisation of the railways at £1.2bn a year. Or again, put another way, enough money to cut the average rail fare by 18%.

These ticket prices mean that for many trains are simply an unaffordable luxury. This restricts social mobility and also drives climate change as people opt for their own carbon intensive forms of transport.

So, the question then is not why was I stood outside a station protesting but more why were you not stood with me?

Never fear though…there is always something you can do. Write to your MP and ask them to support the recently launched Private Members Bill which, if adopted, “Requires the Secretary of State to assume control of passenger rail franchises when they come up for renewal”.

The last 20 year tell us that governments are happy for train services to be run for private profit not the public good. It’s up to us to tell them that we want our trains running for the public good.

UPDATE:

Soon after publishing Molly Scott Cato, The Green Party lead candidate for the South West European Parliament elections, contacted me to highlight this e-petition – please do also sign the petition.

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The Sussex Five and the privatization of Britain’s universities

This is a guest post from Gabriel Raeburn. Gabriel studies Politics and American History at the University of Sussex. He is a Labour Party activist and is an active critic of the continued marketization of education. He tweets @gabrielraeburn.

sussex
Three years ago, as British students protested in their thousands against the rise in tuition fees, many asked “where did all the apathy go?” After that initial burst of collective energy and anger, sadly some of the apathy did return. Yet, the last few months have seen the return of the student movement as a radical force in British politics. Last week saw over eight British universities under occupation, forty-one arrests in two days in London and the return of heavy-handed police brutality against student protesters.

Arguably the most drastic reaction to the student movement was at the University of Sussex where management, led by the Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing and Registrar John Duffy, callously suspended the studies and excluded from campus five students involved in peaceful occupation of university facilities.

In February 2013, students involved in the University of Sussex’s anti-privatisation movement occupied Bramber House’s conference hall on university property. This was in solidarity with 235 campus employees who were having their jobs outsourced to the private catering company Chartwells. Occupy Sussex highlighted both the continued marketization of higher education and the undemocratic nature of British universities. The movement gained support from a range of politicians as well as the academic Noam Chomsky, the novelist Will Self, and the comedian Mark Steel.

On the evening of the 27th November 2013, students reoccupied an entire floor of Bramber House as a result of management’s continued privatization of university services and marketization of higher education. It also stated support of strike action called by UCU, Unite and Unison on the 3rd of December over fair pay and gender pay inequality in government institutions. On the day of the strike, Occupy Sussex peacefully left the occupation to stand in solidity with their lecturers and workers on picket lines. The following day management banned five students involved in the anti-privatization movement from entering campus and indefinitely suspended their studies. The Vice-Chancellor claimed the charge was “disruptive and intimidating behaviour.”

The suspension of the five students, collectively known as the “Sussex Five” or “Farthings Five”, represents a disturbing trend in British universities. The claim of “disruptive and intimidating behaviour” is, in this case, without factual basis.

The university was once seen as a key institution for education, democratisation and debate. Farthing and Duffy have distorted this image. They have turned Sussex from an institution of education to a profit-orientated business. They have instigated a top down agenda with no accountability. And as for debate, the message is clear; if you challenge management policy, you will be removed. Students are scared and intimidated, and why wouldn’t you be? If I speak out, I may be suspended. The slogan that “we are all the Sussex Five” is clearly not just a stand of solidarity but an obvious notion that students feel that this could happen to them.

Sussex’s battle may appear as a small case of five students indefinitely suspended from their studies, but the issue is clearly much larger than that. It is a battle over both the right to freedom of speech and peaceful protest, and unaccountable university management power. The response to the Sussex Five has been remarkable and swift. The day following the suspensions, 500 students marched on Sussex House where management resides, demanding their immediate reinstatement.

Similar numbers marched the following day. An Early Day Motion (EDM) was put forward in Parliament by the Labour MP John McDonnell. An online petition reached over 9,000 signatures. A letter signed by over 200 staff members, including many senior lecturers, condemned the Vice-Chancellor’s actions in the “strongest terms,” while a statement demanding the immediate reinstatement of the Sussex Five was signed by over two dozen societies. An Emergency Members Meeting (EMM), which over 600 students attended, passed a vote of no confidence in management and called for unprecedented student strike action of Tuesday 10th December in solidarity.

Within hours of the EMM, management drastically backtracked and declared the reinstatement of the five students, but claimed it would continue to press charges. This was in part due to the continued and sustained pressure of faculty and students, and the fear of continued peaceful chaos on campus.

This should be seen as a victory for democracy and for freedom of speech. But it is only a small victory in a much larger debate. The university is first and foremost an arena to foster debate and challenge conventional wisdom without the threat of persecution. If it is to be a democratic institution then management must be accountable to someone. The continued struggle over the Sussex Five will determine what type of institution Sussex wishes to become.

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Dan Smith on Britain and languages: “The world is laughing at us”

Blogger and good friend Dan Smith recently wrote a reply piece to my article “Britain: Is it time to consider living, studying or working abroad?”. Here is an edited version of his blog. To read the full article click here.

For a start, I implore you, the British public, to get out of our wonderful rainy little island and explore the rest of the world.

So in this respect I couldn’t agree more. I deeply regret not taking the opportunity to study abroad whether on a free Erasmus scheme as part of my degree or by taking a full degree over the puddle. Europe has excellent Universities and you can learn a second language while you’re at it.

You could even take up the opportunity to do an apprenticeship in another country like the two thousand or so young Brits apprenticing in Germany with Siemens and earn while you learn.

But to counter this, if you’re studying an employable post graduate degree in the UK there are plenty of funding opportunities. The Panasonic Trust with the Royal Academy of Engineering, for instance, provide opportunity for £8,000 of funding for sustainable engineering MSc courses.

If you put engineering/science, environment and sustainability in a funding application then people fall over themselves to hand you cash.

Then there’s working in Europe. This is where it becomes trickier. I’ve done it and know plenty of other linguistically challenged people working in certain hubs of Europe. I was in Geneva where there are many businesses and international NGOs all working in English. The same can be said for Brussels and I’ve been assured that many of the large international corporation’s lingua franca is English too.

But that’s where it ends.

The simple fact is that if you want to live and work in a European country you will eventually need to speak a different European language. And we’re terrible at it! I’ve been relentlessly ridiculed by my European friends about this, most of whom could speak 3 languages but often multiple. These aren’t linguists or teachers, they’re everyday run of the mill people, like me and you. And it’s a similar story on every other continent in the world.

Britain, we suck at speaking other languages!

So if I, Steve, you, or any other British person truly wants to go work in Europe I’d suggest we take a long hard look at our linguistic capabilities first.

Steve also suggested we go work in Germany because they’ve got terrific employment rates. They’ve also got a terrific education system and primarily operate in German – but they are nice about speaking English. It’s certainly not impossible, I have good friends doing just that, but it’s not as easy as he portrays.

Or how about we all emigrate to the colonies for the good life of cheap beer and endless sunshine?

Well, first of all, Britain tried this a while back and it didn’t really go according to plan. Secondly, just like Germany, to work (or indeed get a work visa) in many of these countries you need a productive skill set. Fortunately for me Engineering is on the list for most visa fast track systems.

Uganda, like many African countries, has a skills shortage and a huge unemployment problem. Unlike Germany it has an education system that is not meeting the needs of the populace.

Furthermore the economy, although growing, isn’t big enough to provide jobs for all of the young people that do have skills and education. So unless you, dear British comrade, have useful skills to offer or can produce employment opportunities for the thousands of unemployed Ugandans, the government doesn’t really want you.

And so it shouldn’t.

Just because you’ve got a sociology degree from the University of Hull and a burning desire to help poor Africans (or perhaps just to live the good life in a sunny country) this doesn’t mean you should come to do a job that you wouldn’t be qualified for in the UK.

Britain does produce many highly qualified and useful people. I passionately believe that we could be leading the way in socially beneficial business, engineering and research. As a country we really do have the experience to do that and as a global population we need more people doing it.

But if you want to export your skills to another country, whether in the EU or the rest of the world, you need just that – skills.

Apart from that we all need to learn some languages.

Britain, the world is laughing at us.

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Filed under Economics, EU politics, Uganda

Britain: Is it time to consider living, studying or working abroad?

It’s time for Brits to stop looking at their feet and to embrace the economic opportunities that sit just beyond our borders.

There is no way of silver-lining it, things are pretty bad in the UK at the moment. The average UK family is £1,350 worse off than when Cameron came to office as prices continue to rise faster than wages. That is for those who are in work. There are still 2.47 million people out of work and many more in insecure “flexible” contracts.

For those who consider dropping out of paid work to head back to education there are of course the £9,000 tuition fees to consider.

But, we don’t just live and work in the UK. We are also citizens of the EU and yes…also the world. All around us are opportunities if only we were capable of looking beyond our island’s borders.

To start, we are members of the EU. This gives us the right to go and work and study in any other member state (a basic right within the EU) – an opportunity that people have literally died trying to get.

Why shell out £9,000 a year tuition fees when you can study in Belgium for 835 euros a year or even in Sweden for free? At the very least why do so few UK students take advantage of the EU funded Erasmus student exchange scheme?

The British Council estimates that “just under 13,000 students in the UK took part in 2010/11, with between two and three times as many Spanish, French and German participants taking part every year”.

Equally with employment opportunities, why are more Brits not looking for jobs in Austria or Germany (with unemployment rates as low as 4.8% and 5.2 % respectively)?

I understand that this is not possible for some who have families and reasons to be geographically tied but I would be willing to bet that there also thousands who have just not even considered this as a possibility.

Take working in Brussels for example (where most of the work is undertaken in English). It is a 2 hour train journey from London (similar to Birmingham or Manchester) but few Brits consider looking for employment there for no other reason than it being “abroad”.

With massive youth unemployment, why are more graduates not looking to become a ‘stagiaire’ (paid traineeships) in Belgium?

And this is just for the EU. There is a whole world out there. I am currently enjoying the experience of living and working in Kampala, Uganda. My salary here is one of the worst I have ever earned but my quality of life is infinitely better than when I was living and working in London.

I am currently writing this in perfect sunshine and tonight I will be enjoying a beer for less than a quid. Why would more people not want to try this?

As a Brit you have huge visa benefits all around the world. We have opportunities others can only dream about but we don’t spot them because we are too busy staring at our feet.

I repeat that I understand that this geographical mobility is not possible for everyone but it is for many and we have to encourage and inspire these people to consider these opportunities.

We have become a country institutionalised to stare at our feet. We need to raise our heads up and look at the world of possibilities that sit just beyond our borders. We desperately need to be encouraging young people to raise their horizons and their expectations. If we fail to do this we are not only letting down ourselves but also the next generation.

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Molly Scott Cato: “The Greens are seeing a strong but steady increase, especially in the South West.”

Molly Cato Scott is a green economist as well as The Green Party’s lead candidate for the European Parliament elections in the South West of England. Molly passionately believes that at the heart of our environmental problems is a badly designed economic system. Steve Hynd recently caught up with Molly to find out why she thought standing for election will help solve either the economic or environmental crises we currently face.


Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you think you are qualified to represent the South West of England in the European Parliament?

I have been working as a green economist for the past 15 years. I have been involved in the Green Party for 23 years including standing in general elections and European elections and I am now leader of the Green Group on Stroud District Council, where we are part of the administration.

I hope that I can use this experience to best represent everyone living in the South West.

What way will a Green MEP for the South West look different to any of the others?

The Green Group in the European Parliament is doing great work challenging the interests of finance in Europe and resisting the increasing inequality between North and South. Oh and of course protecting workers’ rights and the environment!

I would like to be a part of that, helping to Green the Common Agricultural Policy for example. The EU spends a lot of money in the south-west of England but at present it does not have to achieve real environmental objectives, I would be seeking to change that.

Can you explain why the European Parliament elections affect ordinary people living and working in the South West?

There are so many ways. To give just one example, the rules that govern the single market that we operate within are made by the EU so it is vital that we are contributing positively to making sure that they achieve the best for the South West.

When people vote in the European Elections, they vote for a party, not for an individual. Do you agree with everything the Green Party stands for and if not, what will you do if you have to choose between personal beliefs and party policy?

I sometimes wonder if I might disagree, but when I read party policy I find that I agree. I used to be a bit tepid about the banking policy but I worked with a friend to change the policy so it’s fine now–no, it’s excellent!

I think we could do with emphasising the political economy implications of some of our policies a bit more. So for example on immigration we should, of course, be fighting the racist attacks on migrant workers but we should also be arguing for better global protection of workers’ rights in a globalised economy

How do you explain the recent rise in popularity in UKIP and the relative flat-lining of the Greens? Do you think this will be the same in the upcoming election? 

I don’t think you are right to say that the Greens are flat-lining. The Greens are seeing a strong but steady increase, especially in the South West. Our main problem is the media, who focus on the daft, shallow stories about UKIP and tend to ignore our more serious issues. It is incredibly hard to get journalists to deal seriously with either Europe or the environment. A shame on them and a pity for us all. I think Zoe Williams had it pretty much right with her analysis of why UKIP get such attention from the media.

What is the one thing you hope to achieve if elected to the European Parliament?

One thing? You aren’t very ambitious!

I will focus on the stuff where I think I can make the most difference: finance and the single market. It is hard to know how far I can go until I understand the politics better from the inside. I would like to take my understanding of finance into the parliament, because I am not sure how many of the Greens really understand what went wrong with the Eurozone crisis. I also think we should work for more local supply of food and against the endless increase in pointless and energy-intensive trade.

You have previously written on the importance of working shorter working hours and yet you are applying for a job with some of the longest, have you thought about how personally you are going to balance that?

I have thought about this. I think that it would be a sacrifice to be away from Stroud. I think that most politicians make a similar sacrifice and it is one reason that the attacks on politicians are pretty unfair. But there are times when the parliament is out of session when I will be delighted to jump onto Eurostar and come home.

If elected, will you continue as a Stroud District Councillor? 

Absolutely not, the time commitments would make it impossible.

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Filed under Economics, EU politics, Gloucestershire, Interview

A new dawn at the Emirates?

This article was originally published on the Tattooed Football

There is a new dawn at Arsenal. In the words of Gazidis this is a new era of “financial firepower”. Arsenal are fighting it out with the big boys, not just in the transfer market but, for the 17th consecutive season, the Champions League.  Could this be the season that Arsenal live up to their potential?

Of course bloody not!

Arsene+Wenger+at+AGMSelf-delusion is something central to a diehard 21st century Gooner. No more so than for Gooner-in-chief, Le Professor, Monsieur Wenger.

Despite the talk, the promises, the expectations, what do Arsenal have to show from the transfer window…a free transfer from Auxerre in the form of ‘next big thing’ Yaya Sanogo. He is a classic Wenger signing, off everyone’s radar apart from Wenger’s. Why? Because he shows promise, he shows talent, he might just be, to coin a phrase, ‘the next big thing’ (where have we heard that before)?

For all the talk of signing a racist Uruguayan (can’t see that one going wrong) Wenger is still dangerously close to not making the signing that everyone (literally everyone) says he needs.

Despite the demands from the terraces, the back pages and the pundits, Wenger is dangerously close to coming out of the transfer market essentially empty handed. Depressingly, you can picture him now at the first press conference of the season, brow furled, “my squad is strong enough, and they have a good mental attitude. I am sure we can win”.

Of course, the media focus on the (yet to materialise) centre forward misses the point. Arsenal are missing a solid centre back. I cannot believe that Steve Bould cannot see that. Oh and of course Arsenal could also do with a new goal keeper, left back and someone confident playing left wing.  But these are just side issues I am sure….

And so, they stumble ahead (the talk of unbeaten pre-season out of the window at the Emirates Cup), with Wenger defiant, proud and to the outsider, confident. The fans are still behind Wenger but they’re also still asking the same questions that hung over the squad at the end of last season– is there the strength, depth, spark, talent? Does anyone expect anything other than a scrap for 4th place?

Although talk of a mutiny is overstated the feeling of discontent grows within the emirates with every season where the trophy cabinet is left empty.

There is an irony of being the only top four club with the same manager as last season and yet simultaneously the club that seems most on edge, most likely to drop out of the top four, and most likely to fail to pick up any silverware.

The fans are calling for a big name player to be brought in but this will only be of any significance if, as Gazidis suggests, it marks a new era of “financial firepower” at Arsenal. Without this firepower, Arsenal, with all the managerial skill in the world, will not be able to keep pace with the big boys.

It is not just the 2013/14 season that depends on this but the entire future of the club.

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3 points on partly political funding

Today the quarterly donations for political parties in the UK was published.

Apart from the actual quantities (millions of pounds) there were a few noteworthy figures to highlight:

  • The mystery of Ms Joan L B Edwards – Sitting in both second and third position (after UNITE) for biggest donations was a Ms Joan L B Edwards who donated £420,576 to the Conservatives and £99,423 – curious isn’t it? Our friends over at Lib Dem Voice helped unravel the mystery though – apparently Ms Edwards left £520,000 to “the government of the day” in her will. It was decided that because of the coalition this should be split between the two parties by number of MPs and cabinet members.
  • UKIP and BNP are making a mint while the Greens are looking green  – UKIP was donated a hefty £153,229, the BNP (considering that they have almost ceased to exist in any elected sense) picked up an impressive £97,879, while the Greens took home a measly £27,242. To put this into context, the Tiverton branch of UKIP received almost twice as much as the national Green Party.
  •  If things look bad for the Greens though…it’s worse the SNP – Once again the SNP have picked up little more than peanuts (£4,500). This, if not bad in itself, shows the nationalists to be in stark contrast to The Labour Party who, in Scotland alone, picked up £66,032. With an independence referendum coming…this sort of money disparity will surely have an effect.

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Do we need a new ASDA in Stroud?

ASDA is planning a new megastore in Stroud with promises of jobs and greater consumer choice. But is yet another megastore really what the people of Stroud need?

The diverse independent food retail sector in Stroud is part of what makes this Cotswold market town what it is. Stroud boasts an award winning farmers market and a bunch of quality local traders.

It is a unique vibrant exception to the generic supermarket dominated towns that have sprung up across the UK.

Stroud is noteworthy in this respect as it is still fighting against what the New Economics Foundation refers to as, ‘Clone Towns’ – the homogenization of the high street driven by chain stores. The British Independent Retailers Association estimates that 98% of the UK’s £150bn grocery industry is now controlled by just nine stores.

This homogenization has already resulted in out of town Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose stores in Stroud. Stroud’s quality, if quirky, independent retail sector is struggling under these conditions but, for now at least, surviving.

It is unclear how it would respond though if  a new ASDA store that is planned for Daniels Industrial Estate on the A46 gets the go ahead.

But what cost will Stroud pay for this new development – is it really as simple as more jobs and more consumer choice?

The first point to make is the, ‘we are losing part of what makes Stroud special’ argument. This argument says that we value something more than profit and three quid chickens and that a sense of community and creativity which is currently created by the craft food retailers found in Stroud’s bustling independent shops is something worth protecting.

The second point to make is to ask if another new supermarket is really good for the consumer’s wallet and choice of produce.

Taking the issue of choice first, you have to ask why there is so little local produce available in supermarkets. If I want to choose to buy fresh locally grown produce, this is often close to impossible in big supermarket retailers. Why? Because this is not what profit dictates, we know that supermarkets stock food for appearance, longevity and value, not for the things I value like taste or seasonality.

So even if supermarkets offer a wide range of choice around the colour of different washing up-liquids on or the colours of toothbrushes, it does not offer me the choice that I want – good, tasty, locally produced food.

Then there is the issue of cost. Isn’t it good for consumers and the poorest that we have access to three quid chickens? Aren’t independents just for the liberal middle-classes? To a degree this holds weight, but again only so if we see ourselves as nothing more than consumers.

We can see that when supermarkets come to town, local businesses beyond the retail sector also start to suffer. Money starts to leak out of local economies into multi-nationals with no steak or interest in re-investing into what most people think to be important – local businesses (or put another way, the jobs we all rely on).

Choice is removed from the food retail sector and local wages decrease (either through unemployment of reduced wages and working conditions) and as such the spending power of local communities decrease, which further drives them into the hands of the cheap chicken retailers.

And thus the spiral of poverty is perpetuated by those claiming to be on the poor’s side – the supermarkets. And again let’s be clear about why this is, because profit dictates it.

Of course people shop where the prices are cheaper and the products more consistent, but this takes no account of community cohesion or local employment, let alone the dangers of a monopsony.

So when ASDA comes to Stroud proclaiming 250 new jobs for the area and a greater consumer choice, I want people to seriously consider the New Economics Foundations opening remark:

“We can choose to take action that will lead to thriving, diverse, resilient local economies across the UK; or, we can do nothing and condemn ourselves to bland identikit towns dominated by a few bloated retail behemoths. The choice is ours. “

Read this report and then please do respond to the Stroud/ASDA consultation – the future of the high street might depend on it!

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Tax payers being taken for a royal ride

We are all in this together right? All feeling the pinch? Of course we are…That is why two days into the new financial year (12/13), the Prince of Wales traveled by train from Kemble to Oxenholme for the small price of £20,327.

A one off? Hardly. Over the whole year the royals stacked up a transport bill of £3,155,561. On transport…alone.

Why why why why why do people not consider this a waste of money? Ignore for a second whether you think the Royals are a good thing or a bad thing…just ask yourself, why do they need to spend quite so much money?

To be fair, the Royals have never claimed ‘we are all in this together’. That was the famous words of our not so famous Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, who has just signed off a 5% increase in sovereign grant (up to £37.89 million!).

Pretty outrageous when you consider Gideon’s core theme of the latest budget is ‘living within our means‘.

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Is the Daily Mail making shit up again?

Hard to believe I know, but it appears that the Daily Mail is, once again, making shit up*.

Anyone not taking the advice shouldireadthedailymail.com might have today thought that their energy bills were to go up by £600 because of ‘Green energy’.

Daily FailLuckily, our friends at Greenpeace are at hand to pick out what they call “economic twaddle”.

Who needs to check figures though when you have a reliable source like the anti-windfarm group “Renewable Energy Foundation” (REF) as a source. The very same group that has its chairman…wait for it, Noel Edmonds.

You can’t make this up.

But this isn’t the first time the Daily Fail has bent the truth for a good story.

A couple of months ago Liberal Conspiracy picked up Littlejohn for the not a not so little mistake in one of his notorious anti-EU rants. On this occasion he sourced some twaddle with…again, wait for it…a Daily Fail article from the previous year that included the same lie.

 

*For clarity, the Mail is reporting in a way that misleads people into thinking a report, which is making shit up, might actually be true. Hat tip to Russell in the comments.

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Austerity? Not for Conservative and Labour donors!

The Electoral Commission has today released figures on donations to political parties in the UK for the first 3 months of 2013. The figures show that a total of £9 million was donated to political parties  in this period – that is over £3 million a month! Austerity?

Not for those playing politics.

Inevitably the Labour Party and the Conservatives raked in the biggest amounts of donations collecting over £7 million. The Liberal Democrats by their own standards also took a decent amount collecting just over £800,000.

The party press office proudly tweeted:

The full break down of party donations look likes this:

Party Cash Non-cash Other Total
Amount (£) No. Amount (£) No. Amount (£) No. Amount (£) No.
British National Party 32,000 1 0 0 0 0 32,000 1
Conservative and Unionist Party 3,447,300 106 179,877 26 35,847 4 3,663,024 136
Co-operative Party 411,723 4 1,250 1 0 0 412,973 5
Democracy 2015 8,055 1 0 0 0 0 8,055 1
Green Party 23,110 6 0 0 0 0 23,110 8
Labour Party 1,836,105 96 1,845,382 25 0 0 3,681,486 121
Liberal Democrats 792,454 64 50,256 13 0 0 842,710 77
Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales  18,511.34 1 0  0  0  0  18,511  1
Scottish National Party (SNP) 10,000 1 0 0 0 0 10,000 1
The Socialist Party of Great Britain 295,775 1 0 0 0 0 295,775 0
UK Independence Party (UK I P) 47,650 9 26,500 4 0 0 74,150 13
Total 6,922,683 290 2,103,264 69 35,847 4 9,061,794 363


So who has this sort of money to splash around in times of austerity? 

Labour received both the largest individual donation from Mr John Mills (who is interestingly also the Chair of Labour campaign group calling for a referendum on EU membership). Labour also received a neat £1.3 million from Trade Unions, of which over £750,000 came from UNITE.

Money well spent for the union members?

The Tories however seem to rely more on people who can afford big donations of £500,000 each.

The top ten donors to all parties though were:

Donor name Total amount (£) Recipient
1 Mr John Mills 1,647,500 Labour Party
2 Unite the Union 766,963 Labour Party
3 Mr Michael Davis 500,000 Conservative and Unionist Party
4 Ms May Makhzoumi 500,000 Conservative and Unionist Party
5 The Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd 412,973 Co-operative Party
6 Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers 314,388 Labour Party
7 Mr Stanley Robert Parker 295,775 The Socialist Party of Great Britain
8 Mr James R Lupton 255,000 Conservative and Unionist Party
9 Mr Michael S Farmer 254,334 Conservative and Unionist Party
10 Mr Graham R Hunnable 200,000 Liberal Democrats


On the other end of the scale, The Green Party took over £23,000 from individual donations. Pretty small you think? Well, not in comparison to £10,000 that the SNP received.

Austerity…certainly not for Conservative and Labour donors!

Full information about party funding can be found here.

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Changes to legal aid amount to a ‘tax on your innocence’

This is a guest post by Dan Bunting. Dan is a lawyer who blogs at the UK Criminal Law Blog.

A quick game for you, which of the following is not true?

  • The police do not always get it 100% right.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service does not always act with wisdom and common sense.
  • All lawyers are fat-cats, who milk the extremely generous legal aid system.

The last one is of course not true, but it is what the current government  would like you to believe. Why? In order that it may decimate the criminal justice system without you so much as murmuring.

What is this about?

This post is about the Government’s current consultation on ‘reforming’ legal aid. The proposal is to introduce Price Competitive Tendering (PCT) (also known as Best Value Tendering (BVT)). As you know, there is a lot of cost-cutting happening in Government at the moment. Efforts are being made to save money where ever possible and the legal profession is certainly no exception.

What is legal aid?

Legal aid is basically state-funded representation. Where a person needs legal advice and representation, the state sets aside a pot of money to pay the bills. Not all areas of law are eligible for legal aid however. We will, as you would expect, focus purely on crime.

What is the current situation?

At the moment, legal aid is currently available to anyone that is arrested and charged with a criminal offence that is heard in the Crown Court. This means that you can go to any solicitors firm with a legal aid contract who will represent you (an overview can be found here). Depending on your earnings, you may have to make a contribution (that will be capped) which will be returned to you if you win.

What are the Government planning?

In short, a “one size fits all, pile ‘em high” legal aid system. The aim is to reduce the fees by at least 20%.

Currently, there are about 1,600 firms doing criminal work. Some are large, covering huge areas of the country, some are small, providing a more niche service. Currently, every firm is assessed as to whether they provide a proper service and, if they do, they are given a contract.

50% of a firms work will be ‘own client’, i.e., repeat business. If they do not give a proper service, they won’t get people coming back to them and they won’t be able to survive financially. Market forces, it’s as simple as that.

Under the new plans, you will have no say in which lawyer you get. The government, (the same government that is prosecuting you as the CPS), will tell you which lawyer you’re getting. If you have a regular lawyer, or someone who
comes highly recommended, well, tough. Client choice is out of the window.

Also, the fees paid to lawyers are being ‘harmonised’. What that means is that, for almost all cases, the amount that the solicitors are paid will be fixed, regardless of how much or how little work is involved.

There are many problems with what the government is planning, but we’ll just be looking at these two.

Who will be eligible for legal aid under the new proposals?

If you have a disposable income of over £36,500, there will be no legal aid for you, you will to pay privately. This is whether you’re caught with a spliff or caught up in a pub fight which ends up in a trial that lasts weeks. Paying for those lawyers privately won’t be cheap and, even if the jury believe you are innocent, you won’t get your money back (other than at the legal aid rates which will be far less than you’ve forked out) Yes, that’s right, you’ll have to pay for the privilege of a prosecution against you even if you are found innocent. A tax on your innocence, if you like.

What will the effect be?

The aim is that the small firms are pushed out (they say it is ‘inefficient’ to deal with many small firms) and big companies take over – so look forward to Tesco Law, Stobart Barristers (yes, the trucking company) and G4S (the same G4S that stuffed up the security at the olympics).

Even if you’re eligible, there remains the question of what sort of service will you get. How will you know that the lawyer you’ve been given is any good? Under the proposed scheme, you might strike lucky, and get someone who stayed
in the game through duty and a love of the job.

Or, you might end up with the short straw – someone who works at the legal equivalent of a sausage factory, who excels turning around the files on his/her desk quickly while maximising profit. Sure, that file might be your life, but to the sausage factory lawyer, you’re a bit of grist in the mill of meeting a target. The proposed system has a lack of quality built into it, it’s evolution in reverse, the worst lawyers survive.

Then there is the incentive for ‘persuading’ you to pleading guilty.

So, you’re innocent, and you want a lawyer who will fight your corner for you? Ask yourself this – which is more
work:

  1. flicking through the papers on the train on the way to court and telling you to plead guilty or,
  2. preparing a case for a trial – speaking to you on several occasions, tracking down your witnesses, speaking to them and making sure that they come to court, chasing down the police and prosecution to give over all the
    material they have, which will often involve going to Court to force them two or three times, going through all of the witness statements with a fine toothcomb, looking for that one point that may ‘crack’ the case and then being in Court for the first two days of the trial?

It’s a no brainer. Under the new scheme your solicitor (who prepares the case) and advocate (who goes to court and presents your case to the jury) will get paid exactly the same in both those scenarios above.

Even if you withstand the pressure of ‘persuasion’ and insist on having a trial, do you think that the sausage factory lawyer will prepare a case that effectively he/she is not getting paid for as thoroughly as you would hope? Don’t count on it.

So it is about money?

We are not saying that any lawyer is going to set out to do a bad job or deliberately put money over service, but actions  have consequences if you took 30% off the NHS budget tomorrow then, with the best will in the world, you can’t expect the same level of service. Individual doctors and nurses will still go on doing the best they can but no-one would believe that the care that they got would be the same as before.

This isn’t a case of lawyers ‘doing you over’ if they are paid badly. The problem is that there are competing interests. When a firm, because of the 20% (minimum) cut in fees, has to perform as much work as it possibly can in order to stay afloat, and the fees are the same for a long trial or a quick guilty plea, then there is a conflict. One might question whether when faced with a decision which has an impact upon the financial health of their firm, a Tesco Law lawyer can truly be independent. You might be lucky, but do you want to take that risk?

Why should I be bothered?

You may not feel too sorry for lawyers, or you may think that this won’t affect you, but you’d be wrong. Anyone can be the subject of a false allegation or even in the heat of the moment just do something the law declares is wrong.

This isn’t about fee cuts to lawyers. Although criminal lawyers do a get a raw deal in the press in relation to the perception of how much money they earn and how they ‘milk’ the legal aid system, these concerns are about quality.

One day, you might need a legal aid lawyer, and even if you are fortunate enough to qualify for legal aid, there is no guarantee that the lawyer will be acting in your best interests alone. They may well just have an eye on the clock and their quarterly targets.

What can I do about it?

If you’re not happy about it, sign the petition to force a debate in the House of Commons about it.

A campaign group, No To PCT, has been set up. You can find them on twitter and facebook. Also, you can respond to the consultation on an easy online survey.

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Young people let down again by real-term cut in minimum wage

Young people across Britain have yet again been let down after the government announced that they will face a real terms cut in the minimum wage.

The government have announced a pathetic 4p rise in the basic minimum wage bringing it up to just £3:72 for 16 and 17 year olds.

The ‘rise’ in the minimum wage is well below the 2.7% consumer price inflation rate resulting in a real term cut for some of the poorest and most vulnerable young people across the UK. This blow makes a mockery of the government’s commitment to ‘make work pay‘.

This ‘increase’ also leaves the minimum wage well under the ‘living wage for Londoners’.

The ‘Living Wage’ set at £8:55 for Londoners is worked out on the basic cost of living – over £5 over the current minimum wage for 16 and 17 year olds.

When this government proudly announces it’s ‘increase’ despite the Low Pay Commissions’ recommendations – don’t believe them. This is a real term cut.

The differing levels of the new minimum wage (depending on your age) which come into effect from the 1st October 2013 can be found here

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Counting the cost of living with HIV in Africa

This is an article that I wrote for ehospice on a new study outlining the cost of living with HIV in Africa. 

The African Palliative Care Association (APCA) and Measure Evaluation have launched a new study on the cost of HIV care, treatment and support in Africa.

The study, based in Uganda, found that the average adult with HIV pays out $98 annually on indirect costs such as transportation and time lost to receive care, treatment and support. In addition to this the study estimated that the annual cost of delivering anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was $281 per patient.

The study will have a direct impact on the 1.2 million Ugandans currently living with HIV…

Read the full article here >> 

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