Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Blackpool Airport, a Gold Mine?

It is sad to read that Blackpool Airport may be closing if no buyer is found. I have worked within a stone's throw of the airport and I have met many people who used it. It is twenty years since I worked there but I think I was told that parking was free. This would have been a big bonus to flying from Blackpool but the main benefit to those who use it is that it saves them a drive to Manchester, Liverpool, or further afield.

It is a lovely location by the Irish Sea and between Blackpool and Lytham St Annes and with those two towns either side there must be a good chance that developers could move in and build houses. We need houses and there can be few complaints as there is a good road in and out. It has to be a good road as it caters for the holiday traffic. In my humble opinion this large site is ripe for development.

So who owns the airport? I was a little surprised to find that 95% of it was owned by Balfour Beatty and the other 5% by Blackpool Council. This is great news. Balfour Beatty, only need the council's permission and they are sitting on a gold mine. The council is also likely to pass the land for building because of all the extra revenue when the houses are built, and of course they have a vested interest in the 5% stake. That's lucky for both the owners.

It's also nice to read that  Blackpool council and Balfour Beatty have had a good working relationship over the past 14 years. Wait a minute. Isn't the council supposed to have no bias when it comes to planning? Are we less likely to hear any concerns about any future development in which the council has a vested interest?

When I was working in Blackpool there were houses on East Park Drive near Stanley Park which were not fit to live in. These houses were new. I seem to remember the council and the builders were strongly criticised and I also vaguely remember an out-of-court settlement. Does anyone remember these houses as I have spent twenty minutes searching and can't find a thing? I remember that it did make Look North West and the Sunday Politics but it could well have been in the days before everything was written into the internet.

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Thursday, 25 September 2014

Compelling Arguments For Military Action?

If I had to vote on whether we take part in air strikes against ISIL in Iraq then at the moment I would definitely abstain. It is a decision that cannot be taken lightly so there have to be compelling arguments. Let's look at those arguments.

Firstly the attacks would be legal because the government has asked for them. I'm not sure about the justification of what make this legal because if Saddam Hussein had asked for air strikes against the Kurds then would this have been legal? The answer is clearly no. There is a lot more information that I need before I change my mind about abstaining.

Secondly this is a very big coalition. If the whole class shouts "fight" does it make it alright to fight.

Thirdly there will be no British combat forces on the ground, not now and not in the future. Does this mean that there are never any convincing arguments to use troops? What about all the compelling arguments that politicians have used in the recent past? What about all the compelling arguments put forward in the recent past by our military leaders? And they should know.

Fourthly this decision is good because it has to be voted on in the House of Commons. The trouble is that I remember the vote when we went to war in Iraq. That was the House of Commons too, and wait a minute, David Cameron is telling us that the decision has already been made.

Will this decision to take part in air strikes make the world a safer place? Well it didn't make it a safer place for one French tourist,  HervĂ© Gourdel in Algeria. He was beheaded because of French military intervention against ISIS.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Ed Balls - not quite affordable and fair

In his speech today at the Labour Party conference Ed Balls told us he wants pay settlements that are affordable and fair. "Private and public sector workers should all share in rising prosperity. So Labour will not undermine fairness and the independent review bodies by rejecting their advice out of hand". Good point well made Ed. Unfortunately I did hear you, a few minutes earlier, talking about  ministerial pay rises. If you win the election the pay for every government minister will be cut by 5% and ministerial pay will be frozen each year until they have balanced the nation's books.

This makes me think two things. Firstly that you have undermined fairness for the sake of applause at conference. You see, for the working man (and woman) government ministers earn unimaginable amount and a freeze for a few years (because surely you can't guarantee fiscal restraint for longer than a government's term in office) is not that important. Sure - it's a nice sign but that's all it is. And if we are to take this sign seriously then Labour is saying that you should not earn the right wage as a politician. Following this logic then you are stopping many entering politics. That's probably the case anyway but shouldn't we be concerned about equality and diversity and getting people from underprivileged backgrounds into politics. Secondly, we have an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to review pay. Would it save a lot of money if and should Labour be saying that they would scrap IPSA? Surely not, as then we would be back to MPs giving themselves rises.

It makes me think that MPs can afford wage cuts and Labour MPs would do this to win votes. This may then lead to a Dutch auction to see who can take the least pay in order to win votes. If IPSA say a pay rise is fair then accept it. Don't try to win votes by telling us you will take a pay cut. That road leads to MPs who are only from a certain background. So those with plenty of money like Nigel Farage will be the model for future candidates.

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Poor to be hit hardest by Labour

It was good to see one head shaking in the audience for Ed Balls' speech at the Labour Party Conference today. Here's the background. Ed wants to see child benefit rising again in line with inflation but he won't spend money that he can't afford. So if Labour get back to power they will cap the rise in child benefit to 1% which will save £400,000,000. Sounds like a lot but that's when I saw the one incredulous female face. You see large figures do sound large but this delegate was thinking that she relies on her child benefit to keep her head above water and related to inflation she sees it is now going to be cut. She is thinking how can she manage.

The good news, in the next breath Ed told us that all the savings will go towards cutting the deficit, but this lady's expression didn't change. In fact the person next to her also pulled a face as if to say that the deficit  was one thing but her child benefit was another. Ed went on to reassure us that "unlike the Tories, we will ask those who have the most to make the bigger contribution". Hang on Ed, I thought you were talking about a benefit not a tax. You know, it's a bit like calling the bedroom tax a tax when it's a subsidy. (just in case you are wondering about my view on the spare room subsidy, there is nothing wrong with the idea of getting the right-sized families into the right-sized homes. It's implementation has not been good but moves by Liberal Democrat Andrew George should sort this out.

Ed goes on to talk about the 50p tax cut and makes a complicated issue very simple. A Labour government will reverse this tax cut. However, I am confused (and so are two members of the audience). If Labour propose to reduce child benefit (which is the effect of a 1% rise if inflation is higher than 1%) then a something and nothing reduction for the rich will certainly be hurting the poor. So Ed is not asking "those who have the most to make the bigger contribution". He is asking them to take the biggest hit.

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Need For Speed Reduction

I am not against cars. I have owned one for many years and there are many benefits to using them but they do have their problems. They kill people and cause road rage (with a little help from the drivers). They harm the environment. They raise stress levels even without road rage. They are particularly a problem in urban areas. Everyone in Morecambe and Lancaster will tell you about our traffic jams as we must have some of the best in the country.

In rural areas cars are often a necessity so if we want to get people out of cars then we have to think about urban areas. I often cycle to Lancaster and a very pleasant ride it is too. On the other hand a link road is being built as I write and what a bonus this will be all drivers from the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula who want to get to the M6. It won't help people get out of their cars and travel less or use public transport but I can certainly see the benefits.

However today's blog was inspired by comments on Facebook about speed cameras. The comments were mostly from people who had been fined and saw the cameras as a money maker for the government and I have some sympathy for this view. There is a danger from drivers who are not aware of the limit and break it unknowingly or deliberately. Excuses are many and will include ideas like it was safe to drive on the road at this speed, or I was running late because it was an emergency and risk was minimal. Other excuses may be that they got up late because they had been out the night before, or they wanted to catch the end of a television programme - make your own excuse up. One genuine excuse that I heard was that the driver thought it was a 40mph road because there was a similar road nearby!

We need to comply with the law (unless of course you happen to be an anarchist) and it's not just for safety reasons even though it is definitely better to be hit by a car at 20mph than it is at 30mh. The environment benefits from less pollution by driving at more fuel efficient speeds. Sensible acceleration will do the same thing. So will sensible deceleration, and for that matter not being stuck in jams will benefit the environment too.

Cars are tremendously liberating, and in its way so too is a link road but we have to look after the environment. This doesn't mean stopping in the house and leaving the car parked outside the door, but it does mean getting up at the right time if we have been out on the previous evening. It does mean that we need to plan journeys so we don't feel the need to break the law. It does mean that we can't be ignorant of the law, but mostly it means that we shouldn't deliberately be looking for the fastest acceleration or deliberately breaking the speed limit. Everyone who complained about the fine (£100) should ask themselves what the level of fine should be that would change their lifestyle.

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Deeper into the rigmarole

I phoned the centralised tax office today as my P2 hasn’t arrived, six days after my last call (see the previous blog entry). Bearing in mind that second class post is advertised as a two to three day service including Saturdays then I had hoped that I may have received it already, especially with the rigmarole that had preceded my second request.

It only took 35 minutes to get through to a real person but it did give me chance to take note of the useless information on the recorded messages. Did you know their telephone number was going to change soon? No? Well I don’t want to know. I am interested if this number is relevant to me. I hope that I never have to phone again and if I do then I hope I can find the number that I need. Again I am asked for the reason for my call and my personal details, all these questions are repeated by the real person.

The recorded message tells me that if my call is about my tax code then I only need to speak to an adviser if it is wrong. How I wish this were relevant but the recorded message hadn’t asked me.  Did I know that I can go online to get more information? Well yes. Does anyone not know that there is plenty of information about everything on the internet?

When the real person speaks to me she starts “hello my name is (too quick for me to hear), how can I help?” That’s nice. I explain that my daughter went back to university and I need a P2 because it is delaying her bursary. She tells me at once that a P2 has been sent out last Friday (I didn’t check the address – let’s hope it is right this time) and it may take 7 to 10 days. I ask why it takes so long and the answer is that it may take 7 to 10 days. I didn’t mention that this makes the first statement irrelevant as delivery now takes as long as it does. I already have recent experience of a letter addressed to me not arriving at all, and as I now understand it, delivery may take less than 7 days

I said that I’d like to complain and I am asked why. I begin to explain that the centralised system did not have my correct address even after I had corrected it – I got no apology last week. Then I am asked  “who did you speak to?” I repeat the words “who did you speak to?” as I write it down and apologise for saying this and explain that I am making notes.  “Why are you making notes?” My answer is simple; because I want to complain and I am writing a blog.

“If you are going to make notes then I’m not going to speak with you”. My reply is “I’m sorry I won’t delay you – I’ll just make brief notes”. “Clearly you are as you are repeating what I say”. Then the phone goes down.

I didn’t get the information as to how to complain about the tax office, I don't know if this P2 is going to the correct address, but if there are any comedy script writers out there then you are welcome to this information.

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Friday, 5 September 2014

Tax Form Rigmarole is Taxing

My youngest daughter has returned to university for her final year. She is a lucky one who receives a bursary but information about my income is needed. To be precise a P2 tax form is needed. I don't have one this year and I now know why. However I didn't know when I phoned last week. It took a while to get through to the tax office and I was repeatedly told they were sorry to keep me waiting.

If a phone call is free then it doesn't matter too much about waiting on the phone, although time is important to everyone, and even more important when it costs money. I was asked by automated voice to say briefly what my call was about. P2 wasn't clear enough. Then I was asked if I have authority from my employer. This is nothing to do with my employer so yes and no are not appropriate answers. I said no. Eventually I got through to a real person.

Why do we have to deal with recordings telling us they are sorry? Why can't we just have the appropriate phone number when we get an answer we find that we are speaking to an appropriate person? When I did speak to the person I found that they had my old address. He took down my new details and told me he would send out an alternative form to the P2, a P11D. Good. My daughter may not have her bursary delayed.

That was eight days ago. I haven't received it so I phoned again and went through the same rigmarole but this time it was worse. I was waiting in two queues to get to speak with a person because the first person couldn't possibly help me. Now I only have one phone number but managed to get the wrong person. When I eventually got the right person I went through the same checks again including my address. It hadn't been changed. Then, when I asked about the P11D I was met with an incredulous exclamation. The person I was speaking with could not possibly do this. Anyway he checked the records and said a P2 had been sent out - to my old address. He would re-issue another.

I asked if I was being charged for this phone call and the answer was that it depends on my provider (let me presume that I was). I also asked if there was a telephone number that I could use to speak with someone directly just in case I didn't receive the P2. No. The system is centralised and I could be speaking with anyone in the UK. I don't mind speaking with anyone in the UK. I do object to being told repeatedly that they are sorry to keep me waiting. No they aren't. It is in their interests to make money out of me by keeping me waiting. I do object to speaking to someone in a centralised system that doesn't happen to be the system I want. I do object to giving my change of address only to find that it hadn't been changed and I am forced to phone again. I do object to incredulous exclamations from tax employees because of information from other employees. However mostly I object to centralised systems taking my money and causing me to lose around an hour of my time that I'll never get back.

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Let's Stop Talking Bread And Circuses

I have just watched yesterday's Daily Politics on iPlayer and I found the contribution by Nick Ross very interesting, especially when compared to that of Conservative MP Philip Davies. The article was about law and order and how the police are asking the public to investigate their own crimes. Philip Davies was asked how the Tories, the party of law and order, could allow this to happen. He blames his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats because they are not the party of law and order. How does he get away with pure insult? Nick Ross was a guest and he explained the insult later in the interview. I can assure him that all Liberal Democrats are in favour of law and order.

Philip gets away with insult because he uses rhetoric to hide what is really happening. Philip always votes against a reduction in the police budget. He sees how stretched the police forces are. He believes in strong law and order measures. He tells us it is ludicrous to send out a message that the police want the public to investigate their own crimes. He thinks it is sensible to gather information like CCTV evidence in order to help the police. The police should reflect the public's priorities. The police do a "damn good job given how stretched they are and the issues they've got to deal with". All these points will get applause from an audience but as Nick Ross said, whether the police or the public investigate is "all a bit of a distraction...bread and circuses". Is Nick saying all that applause has been wasted? Not entirely but there should not be an emphasis on the criminal justice system.

Nick made some great comments and it would be useful to summarise them. Only 3% or 4% of crimes end up in court. We are never going to "arrest ourselves out of trouble". The reason why some crime rates are falling is nothing to do with arrest rates e.g. car crime and burglary. It isn't even CCTV or the number of police officers on the beat. However a politician on the right tends to think that if we are nastier to the criminal then we get less crime. Those on the left tend to think that if you are nice to people then you get less crime, but the effects from the criminal justice system has only marginal effects on crime rates. Temptation and opportunity are much more important factors in affecting the crime statistics. Nick gives the example of fiddling expenses by MPs. Even the Prime Minister had to pay back money. If the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade had their way maybe they would have to include the PM.

So when Philip Davies says the police should attend every burglary he hasn't listened to what Nick has said. Nick replies that we have to tailor our expectations because there are not sufficient resources. Philip comes back and says this is "absolutely my point". Sorry Philip, this is absolutely not your point. You want the police to attend every burglary regardless of its effectiveness.

Official figures tell us that crime has been falling over the last twenty years. Is this related to more bobbies on the beat? Well Teresa May tells us the drivers of crime are alcohol, drugs, opportunity, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, character and profit. She goes on to say that if we can understand these drivers better than we should be able to devise better policy to prevent crime occurring. This sounds very liberal for a Tory Home Secretary and liberal views were also reflected by the Labour Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper. She told us how the last Labour Government placed a big focus on crime prevention but she sees 'neighbourhood policing being undermined' but she does want to 'bring criminals to justice'. We are back to the rhetoric that gets applause and it is just a shame about the 96% or 97% of crimes that don't end up in court.

Mark Reckless MP, who serves as a Conservative on the Home Affairs Committee is of the strong opinion that crime has been falling because of political will. Thankfully Nick Ross is not on his own with his view that this is just bread and circuses. Betsy Stanko, a criminologist told us that the issue is not just about locking people up because they are going to come out again.

Nick said we have to lower expectations about what the court system can achieve. Andrew Neil asked Philip Davies if politicians would stop taking credit for a reduction in crime figure (and presumably stop getting applause) No, we still need to be "tougher on crime".  He still rates highly the criminal justice system and politicians can take the credit for that, so Philip will still take the credit. When Tory politicians use their rhetorical skills and get applause for their toughness on crime then they have conveniently forgotten the bread and circuses.

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