Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Why speed limiters would be a poor solution

So once again at Christmas time the Government has dug out those old chestnuts for a new attempt at making some decent stuffing. This year it is sat nav driven speed limiters that make it onto the fire for a slow roast. These voluntary devices will save the world, cutting down on fuel emissions and reducing road accidents as we cut speeds to the legal limit we are told.

So the questions have to be are they a good idea and will they work?

Sadly there are a few technical issues to resolve.

1) The mapping is not available off the shelf. Yes, Ordnance Survey have a road network that underpins the geometry used by Teleatlas and Transport Direct/DoT and Navtec have their own alternative. But none have a legally accurate speed model. Nor is it as easy as mapping all the road signs as many don't match the legal orders to the metre.

2) If captured it will have to be updated for every vehicle every time a new road is added or speed limit changed else people wouldn't be able to drive on new roads. The current best commercial release is every 6 weeks from Ordnance Survey using an on-line push service to commercial customers.

3) GPS is accurate enough to work. Well most of the time it is, assuming the right chipset is used, the satellites are visible, your windscreen is not attenuating the signal, you have locked on, you are not in an urban canyon need I go on :-)

4) Even if you are 20m out it doesnt matter really. I suppose it doesn't.... if the road parallel has the same speed limit. My sat nave regularly places me on the service road parallel to the one I am driving in the Southampton area, and as readings are taken at 2sec intervals I have seen it on rare occasions jump off the motorway onto the feeder road alongside... oops that has a 30 limit... can I have my power back before... BANG too late... how much does a 2 hour closure of a motorway cost?

Then there are the safety issues

1 Overtaking the tractor on the rural road is far safer with foot down get by then brake back to the speed limit if you have exceeded it than being stuck at 60 edging past.

2 Will urban users really want to wait the 2 or more minutes it may take for the first satellite lock?

3 I use cruise control regularly on motorways and some straight urban roads when clear the problem with it is it doesn't stay exactly at speed its at best + or - 3mph over 10 minutes worse on steep hills, sure you watch the road not your speed readout but you relax too much

Finally will it work on fuel reduction?

I have to say from personal experience no. On the urban cycle congestion and the stop start acceleration will kill off your economy in any case so its on the open road that things will count.

But for the majority of law abiding users it will have no effect at all. In fact it will make matters worse!!

On what do I base this claim? Well every car I have driven overestimates speed at 70mph by between 4 and 8mph compared to a GPS at steady speed. Compare 3GPS at the same time and they agree to within .2 of each other. As a commercial driver this has given me the confidence that is safe (from a speeding ticket point of view) for me to drive to the GPS not the speedo. The result my long term economy has dropped from 57 to 54mpg (diesel).

I suspect that people like me, who generally drive within the limit, will be those most likely to fit the device. For us the thought would be if I put my foot down I still won't break the limit so I'll trust government technology to ensure I dont break the law.

Those who would make economy savings, the 85-90+ driver, wouldn't touch this with a bargepole in any case.

So is there value in what is proposed?

For the big picture, no this is a red herring.

However if the government are prepared to front the cash to enable local government to produce a nationally consistent set of speed limits in a digital form accurately reconciled with the legal orders AND the road signage, which is then freely available, regularly updated and integrated to all Sat-Navs systems on the market so that all a driver needs to do is glance at their sat-nav screen to know the speed limit then this particular chestnut might actually lead to something tasty and nutritious in time for Xmas 2009.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Emperor Browns new Clothes

First the Germans said, it now the IMF have followed suit Far from being the saving of the British economy the VAT cut is looking more and more like the Emperors new clothes.

But should we be surprised, while the big retailers are happy to pass the savings on what about the rest of the economy.

The publican running a microbrewery "I cant afford to change all my menus and beer prices are actually going up, the duty change over cancels the cut in VAT and that is permanent"

The small builder (and the haulage sector) "increases in fuel duty mean we are paying more not less tax and we cant claim that back"

Hotels personal experience "none of the hotels I use on a regular basis have changed their prices so all this means is margins going up"

Sure I have saved some money as a result the vacuum cleaner we needed to buy was £3 less but I saved far more by shopping around for the Children's presents than I did from VAT changes.

So where are we left, in 373 days VAT will return to normal and if the commentators are to be believed we will still be in deep recession. Potentially worse the rise may even create a double dip scenario with firms either forced to cut margins or see a further hit to spending.

We need confidence back by that point if we are to survive.

So is it working? Just look to the high street today

The Officer Club : up to 70% off

HMV: 2008 chart albums 2 for £10

B+Q: 50% off sale starting tomorrow on bed, bath and kitchen furniture

Adams: savings on everything bar the spring 09 collection

Waterstones : large range of 3 for 2

The sales have started and it isn't even Xmas eve. Compared to this the Chancellors offering is an expensive red herring.

Then look at the queues the bigger the cuts and the cheaper the branding in any case the bigger they were, The Works, Primark, Waterstones were all busy. In short shoppers were trading down and again by far more than 2.5%.

Now the figures in January will tell their own story as no doubt will be the number of businesses in receivership but now is the time for the Chancellor to be bold.

If the stats show the VAT cut isn't working it should be reversed immediately. With the money saved he should.

Invest in insulation of all public buildings.

Underpin the housing market by purchasing vacant property across the country and use it to reduce council housing waiting lists and homelessness.

Initiate further investment in infrastructure modernisation across the UK.

If the chancellor thinks getting the public deeper in debt for consumable items is the way out he is little more than giving whiskey to the dunk on the street corner. We do need to spend but we need publicly visible signs of our investment to build confidence in the rest of the economy not just a cheaper wii to fill our days while we sign on and look for a non existent job

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Environment must gain from car bailouts

This week two key factors emerged in relation to our car industry.

Firstly the EU have passed new targets that will reduce CO2 emissions by 20% in 2020 including new targets for vehicle emissions. Secondly it appears at least one UK maker will be cap in hand to the Treasury looking for a bail out to keep in in business over the coming months.

Now let me make it clear I without hesitation support the need for a financial package to the industry. Without it the same decimation of communities that followed the Tory butchery of the coal mines in the 80's will be seen in communities across the land as not just the big factories close but so do all their component suppliers.

However this must not be a blank cheque. If the government are in effect to take a large share in the car industry then it must do so with two reforms tied to the back of its money.

First the industry management processes must be streamlined and modernised. Then second the money must be tied to short, medium and long term commitments to improving the environmental friendliness of their product.

This can be simplistically be done in many ways however I suggest 4 key commitments to start the process off

1 Remove the most polluting variants from their range within six months
2 Place environmental friendliness on a par with safety in all advertising
3 Refocus new research on technology that improves fuel efficiency especially in the stationary traffic jam scenario
4 Commit to the original more ambitious targets that the EU originally proposed for this weeks legislation before the industry lobbyists got their claws in

That way not only will we have a car industry left after this crisis passes but we will have one configured towards ensuring our children have an environment left in which to own their own car in the future

Friday, 19 December 2008

Powys Leisure centres under threat ?

So having turned out the lights and forced the elderly off our streets (good crime reduction idea.. I think not) Powys are turning their attention to the entire community especially those who wish to keep in shape or learn to swim.

It would appear that leisure facilities are under "review" It seems that 16 leisure centres for 125k people is too many.

Of course looked at another way since 16 centres are all that is needed to cover 25% of the land area of Wales we only need another 48 to give everyone the same geographic access as Powys residents. Somehow such a suggestion would be laughable, after all that would mean only 1 or perhaps 2 centres for the whole of Cardiff and there is the core of the problem. Close any of the existing centres and you force residents on a 30+ mile round trip to the nearest alternative. Put another way it would be like expecting all Cardiff residents to use leisure centres in Newport.

The subtext is more interesting though. "areas under scrutiny would be opening hours, leisure centre activities, usage and pricing policy" in short we won't close them but you are going to pay though the nose to use them.

Lighting may have been a thorny question for many but the loss of one of these facilities would be a major hit for any of the towns concerned and send a clear message to the town concerned that they are no longer important.

Looking wider than the obvious it does raise serious issues about how government funds are apportioned to Welsh authorities. No settlement can be completely equitable due to the conflicting demands but there are clearly identified costs of delivering services in rural areas over an above urban ones.

Perhaps what we are seeing now is real impact of this lack of central understanding, or perhaps we are seeing the reality that the all party cabinet and lots of independent councillors just don't work in holding the officers to account and services suffer as a result.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Is an i_pod the new dead sheep?

It is not for me to criticize Nick Bourne for buying an electronic device to enable his learning of the Welsh language. If it helps him communicate with his electorate a significant proportion of whom speak Welsh as their first language then his actions are to be applauded. However his choice of player leaves a lot to be desired and his justification opens up significant questions of his approach to government.

Take his defence in todays Western Mail as an example

“I’ve made it absolutely clear it’s primarily for learning Welsh. There is no music on it.”


If that is all you needed what was wrong with the £20 generic player from any high street store. My own Sansa only set me back £80 and I can listen to Radio Wales and keep up with the news on it.

If this is indicative of the opposition approach to value for money then what confidence can we have in a future Tory administration led by a man who claims of the public

They want a Wales that doesn’t draw this hard and fast distinction between the public and private sectors – people just want decent healthcare that is paid for

How will he be able to determine what is best when he is incapable of identifying when a generic product is as good for the job as the more expensive brand. After all isn't that just the problem clinicians face every day?

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Scientific way to turn off the lights

One of the hottest potatoes in Welsh local government has been the issue of streetlighting and when to turn off.

To date councils have offered seemingly random selections done the deed and waited for the howls of protest. However there is a different and more scientific approach.

Almost every authority will have their streetlights stored within a geographic information system. In these cases it becomes possible to treat the issue in the way you would a planning application and check them against a set of consulted upon constraints.

Do they light:
steps (sourced off Ordnance Survey mapping);
CCTV cameras (source Crime and disorder partnership);
road junctions (sourced off Ordnance Survey mapping);
safe routes to schools (source education department);
access to care homes;

The list that can be developed is easy to imagine. The question then is a case of rating each light in turn and switching off those that fail to meet a certain criteria or weighted score.

While the outcome itself may be painful at least we would provide a transparent consultative approach to the problem with which the electorate can be engaged

Monday, 8 December 2008

Kirsty victory a big step forward

Its no secret here in Wales that I have supported Kirsty for a long time as a potential Welsh Lib Dem leader. So todays result is a great one for me personally. However I also think it is a great day for politics in Wales too and marks the first step in the changing of the guard, as well as being the first female leader she is also the first leader who was too young to vote in the 1979 referendum and marks the change over to the devolution generation of politicians.

But why is it good for Wales? because Kirsty will bring a passion to the heart of welsh politics that has been lacking for a long time. Yes we have had politicians of great political conviction (Mike German and Richard Livsey are great examples from within our own party) but both were good solid figures when it came to speaking to an audience. There is also a long tradition of inspirational speakers too but it is a long time since we in Wales had a leader who is both.

And that is what the opposition must now fear, all their leaders are worthy individuals but they lack the spark to ignite a fire in the belly.

Kirsty is capable of that.

When she talks about reigniting the flame of liberalism she means just that. The last 6 months have not been the best for us in Wales as sting of by-elections defeats in held seats have taken the gloss off the progress we made in May. But we now have a chance to step back over the Christmas period and take stock as we prepare to focus our resources towards progress in next years European elections and beyond.

Because let us make it clear with a new leader and one capable of inspiring new supporters and members Wales has a new fresh vision to consider and our politics can only be enriched by that prospect.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Unlocking the housing market log jam

As it becomes increasingly apparent that the changes announced earlier this year are having no impact what so ever on the housing market is it now time to consider more radical measures?

Given the increasing number of repossessions announced today and assuming the trend continues are we confident there will be enough capacity in the local authority sector to rehouse these individuals?

If you have answered yes then no to these questions perhaps there is some merit in developing these ideas?

Given that premise how about this for starters

Many house sales will no doubt be trapped in chains at the moment. Could the government therefore consider purchasing the highest property in the chain allowing every transaction under it to be completed?

Costs: unknown but if you start at the longest chains and work down.

Benefits :
Increase in stamp duty revenue from house sales lower down the chain
Increase in workloads in house move related industries, (estate agents, removals, land registry)
Increase in tax and reduction in redundancies in the sector
Availability of new social housing stock within the community as opposed to "social housing estates"
increase in mobility for people moving with the labour market

Obviously this is uncosted and unproven but unusual times such as these call for innovative and different solutions

Thursday, 25 September 2008

If Gordon can multiply why can't Darling

An old colleague once told me the key to winning EU bids is not to show how much grant money you will spend in an area but how that money will multiply within the local economy.

While its seems that our PM has learnt this lesson the chancellor most definitely has not.

What do I mean by this curious statement well take their two big announcements. When the chancellor decided to give home buyers free loan to spend on new build he created a single transaction in short he allowed the payment to the builder. No knock on no multiple just one payment and one transaction.

In contrast GB resisted the siren calls of a rob peter to pay paul windfall tax which would just circulate money around the system and hit lower middle income earners with big price increases. Instead he offers up a means of saving money year on year and the opportunity for builders to take on new work to see them through the current slump in their trade creating new tax revenue two three or more steps away from his original investment.

So now think about the housing market if the Darling proposal was also open to old houses how many links in a chain could be completed with all associated agent and legal fees and at the high end of the chain additional tax for him to reinvest further.

So I say again if Gordon knows about multiplication perhaps he need to teach his (new?) Chancellor about the trick

Monday, 16 June 2008

Europe the way forward?

As we ponder the way forward in Europe perhaps the devolution position in the UK is a model to consider.

In Scotland the settled will suggested full law making from day one would fly while in Wales the settled will would have voted no out of hand so we have a partial solution and a roadmap to something better.

The EU problem is that, to continue the analogy, they have imposed the Scottish Model on Wales then wondered why its unpopular.

So what is the way forward?

Not as the analogy may suggest a two speed approach but a realisation that the peoples of Europe are what matter.

Stereotypically we are all to a greater or lesser extent xenophobes with a mistrust of authority.

When Marillion sung of "pleading answers from the nameless faceless watchers who stalk the carpeted halls of Whitehall" they capture that concern and when established politicians subconsciously associate humour in the use of Wop to characterise Italians it demonstrates how deeply ingrained this is in the national psyche.

To be faced with foreign president and overcentralised powers was therefore too much too soon.

Our leaders must go back to the treaty drawing board and look at what it contains. Grandiose schemes like Presidents must go on the back burner whereas processes that open up the commission and give powers from bureaucrat to parliamentarian and open up the processes to the public must come to the fore.

Europe must earn the trust of its peoples with a simple treaty designed for the population not those stalking the corridors in Brussels and Strasbourg.

In short we need a Welsh treaty not the Scottish one on offer

Friday, 30 May 2008

Why Boris and Dave are wrong about crime mapping

As a GIS professional it is nice to see our field of work at the front of national politics for once.

However the Tories are making a fundamental error in suggesting live data should be available to the public.

Crime hotspot analysis is first and foremost an intelligence tool. By modelling where crime is occurring at different times of day it is in theory possible to quantify risk and deploy your resources to respond to that risk.

So what will the Tories plans achieve put simply they will ensure the police are sharing their intelligence with the criminal fraternity.

Take burglary for example. Under Daves new world the IT savy local burglar can now check out where his competitors are working see the hotspot pattern and move to another part of town away from the focussed police presence designed to catch him. Then 2 months later when the insurance claims are settled he has a nice list of properties to revisit safe in the knowledge that the TV is brand spanking new.

In short if would be like the USA sharing their troop deployment with Russia in real time at the height of the cold war.

Far from forcing forces to spend time and effort on these shiny new web sites they should invest the same resources into improving the analysis infrastructure of forces to maximise access to this information at the beat level rather than leaving it trapped with a small group of highly professional analysts

Friday, 18 April 2008

Gwyneth Dunwoody

When you see on teletext the note veteran MP dies that first though is often I hope it isn't one of ours (followed a microsecond later by how sad for the family).

Todays news I have to say leaves me feeling that it is one of ours that Parliament has lost this week. At a time when too many politicians are little more than lobby fodder for the whips it is vital for our democracy that genuine thinking politicians with a free mind can still find their way to Westminster.

That is the type of person I feel we have lost today, while Labour now praise her memory and her effectiveness I hope they select a fit replacement in the same mould to contest the seat, if not I hope they get well and truly stuffed

Do Labour MPs need reading lessons?

Are some of our poor hard working labour MPs in need of a lesson on how to read legislation?

The reason I ask is they seem to have failed to understand the text of the budget measures they voted for last year with the 10p tax band....

..or did they?

I can just imagine the discussions 12 months ago

MP1: "Gordon I dont like this cut is sounds so unfair on the poor?"
GB: "keep quiet I'll be PM in a couple of months we get another 5 years in September and everyone will have forgotten the change by then"
MP1 "OK but..."

Need we say more?

Friday, 7 March 2008

Could Labour trigger a stock market crash next week?

Its an interesting question but quite a valid one to ask now that the terms of the Bill to compensate Northern Rock shareholders has been published.

The key problem is the terms that have been set in order to determine the valuation
In determining the amount of any compensation payable by the Treasury to any person in accordance with paragraphs 3 to 5, it must be assumed (in addition to the assumptions required to be made by section 5(4) of the Act (compensation etc. for securities transferred etc.)) that Northern Rock —
(a) is unable to continue as a going concern; and
(b) is in administration.

Obviously the company was not in administration at the time of nationalisation, and was, and still is, trading normally and as a going concern (as Government Ministers have repeatedly stated).

This means that in setting the criteria the Government is ignoring the facts and could be said to be acting in a way that is ethically and morally unjust in an attempt to contrive to fix the terms of compensation.

As a result of these terms any valuation process will not be objective and independent and as such liable to legal challenge. In essence the terms of reference in the Compensation Order will mean that the panel cannot value the Company in accordance with conventional standards and practices.

And that is the rub of the whole problem,if the Government are prepared to break standard accounting rules once what is to stop them again in the future.

Does this mean any use of the lender of last resort facility from the Bank of England could leave a bank and its shareholder vulnerable to nationalisation for a pittance?

.. and if it does given the state of the credit market at the moment is it wise to hold any substantial amount of assets in this sector?

Of course this need never happen all the Government has to do is remove these clauses from the bill. At a stroke they will ensure that any valuation is not prejudged by the very people who have most to gain from it.

In so doing and ensuring the valuation is on a normal commercial basis not only will they remove the main plank of any human rights based claim from shareholders but they will also go a long way to reassuring investors that it is still safe to invest their money in UK financial companies.

And of course with all those small northern investors it won't do them any political harm either

Monday, 25 February 2008

Llandudno 2008

There is something nice about returning to an old conference haunt after a few years away and Llandudno has to be one of the oldest for me.

Last time we bought Welsh Conference here I promised our new conference chair that sunday morning would be a piece of cake and promptly got so drunk on the free post dinner shorts sponsored by S4C I didn't surface until just before midday to find out we had had almost every minor hassle on standing orders possible.

Previous visits had seen me watching the northern lights and learning the set had been involved in a near miss on the way up from london.

Was 2008 any the less eventful hardly is the answer that comes to mind the social side finally wore down between 3 and 4 each morning and the conference dinner with an excellent humerous speech from Ros Scott was one of the most successful in ages. (small memo to self don't ask RW to be the auctioneer next time)

The set piece speeches couldn't have gone much better either. You only need to read the anger of Labours elected members to realise we have hit the nail right on the head in Nick Cleggs comments about the neglect of the Valleys. Sadly the media have not been so hot in picking up on how well we have done when we run the show but you cant win them all.

Then there is the venue itself significantly expanded since we last came here about 8 years ago Venue Cymru is now a real contender for bringing Federal Spring Conference back to Wales

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Rock Nationalisation just the start of Labours problems

Todays announcement of Northern Rock nationalisation is just the start of Labours problems.

I like many other demutualisation shareholders have seen the writing on the wall for weeks but at the end of the day the whole fiasco should never have been allowed to happen.

I hope tomorrow that Vince will ask the hard questions.

The questions that seek to understand what the Chancellor was doing in the summer when he knew the problems at Northern Rock were a possibility, the questions as to why the FSA allowed the directors to act in the way they did and the questions that seek to unravel if there has been a false market in Northern Rock shares since the middle of August last year.

Because these are the questions on my mind at the moment, I accept shares go up and down and are a risk but put simply I owned shares in a company who in the full knowledge of the Government were keeping price sensitive information from the market.

In fact the whole story of Northern Rock is enough to shake the foundations of confidence in the banking sector to the core.

Price sensitive information not released to shareholders, dividends announced and then withdrawn, the government inferring that a private deal was possible then pulling the plug at the last minute, rescue terms set with financially impossible criteria. Then terms of reference for compensation set by the people writing the final cheque.

Now as we go down the nationalisation route I ask myself how much less taxpayers money would have been spent with nationalisation at £4 a share in the second week of the crisis than will now have been spent over the intervening time and will be spent in the courts.

Wheter I get a penny out of this I now don't really care, what I do care about is the incompetence of our Chancellor past and present exposed to the full. All the lessons that are to be learnt learnt in full and the relevant people (and I dont mean Northern Rock employees) given their P45 at the first available opportunity

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Suggestions for reform on staffing

I have no problem with an MP employing 1, 2 or 200 members of their family so long as they are the best 200 for the job. So let me make a simple suggestion on how reform could be achieved

Set up a common set of job descriptions and expected skills for the core jobs an MP may advertise (case worker, office manager, diary secretary etc). Within each area establish a job ladder of expanded skill levels/ expectations and development needs with an accompanying national pay scale.

The HR team in the commons then work with the individual parties to build up a resource pool of individuals who have been assessed against the required criteria and are available for any MP of that party to employ.

Final pay is based on assessed merit and selection based on employers preference.

Of course if an MPs family are particularly large and particularly gifted they can all be employed if they don't cut the mustard they are out the door before they even get in.

Time for some real reform on MPs expenses

Yesterday was the first working day of the new month.

On starting work I extracted all my fuel receipts from the car, pulled out my government credit card receipts opened up three spreadsheets and two web pages and completed my end of month financial return. No doubt many other civil servants did the same thing.

On expenses I am governed by specific rules I have limits on hotel room costs, how much I can spend on lunch and on an evening meal the smallest amount I have ever accounted for is a 20p car park ticket.

The forms then go off to the expenses team and will be checked against the rules if I spend 1p too much on lunch an adjustment is made.

Perhaps all MPs need to spend a week shadowing their civil service counterparts to start to understand what goes on in the real world. Who knows some of them might even benefit from it.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Johnson - pleasure at Lib Dem Response

There but for the grace of god go I must the non atheist MPs be saying today over the supposed Alan Johnson "scandal".

As far as I can see Mr X didn't want to be associated directly with funding the campaign so he asked Brother Y to give the money instead. Y was a legitimate donor and campaign Z having checked him out made the formal declarations.

For the Mail on Sunday to cry sleaze is I have to say a bit over the top this wasn't a deliberate ploy by the campaign to hide donations it was an act of deception on the part of an individual against a member of parliament.

Of course the time is ripe for reform of the party funding system part one reform that I am sure will get cross party backing is the creation of a new offence of paying a proxy to make a declarable donation under the PPERA legistation to an individual party or campaign

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Between the Rock and a hard place

Yes its back to our old friend the Northern Rock and the complete dogs breakfast our government have made of the whole sordid business. I've said before that the government has many unanswered questions.

But the latest steps in this affair have left me decidedly underwhelmed. While I have never favoured nationalisation which puts me at odds with the party as a whole I do find myself agreeing with much of what Jonathon Wallace had to say earlier this week.

However what alarms me has been the wholesale demonisation of the shareholders during this affair. Sure some of the hedge funds are latecomers to the party and many have upped stakes as the price hit the trough it is now in and will have made a tidy profit this week however there are many of us who have held shares since demutualisation and we may yet get our revenge.

You see what people have tended to forget is that the three motions that failed at the recent EGM only did so because they needed a 75% vote all three motions secured over 65% of the vote showing a clear level of discomfort at what was planned.

So where are we now. Well despite all the Labour spin of the weekend Branson is not the only game in town , both Olivant and the new board are putting together packages and the shareholders will have the final say and with the Government finance on the table who is to say others wont appear.

And that is the rub the original Virgin offer was an insult to the intelligence of the existing shareholders. We were in effect told to double up or risk with no guarantee of returns for the foreseeable future or lose everything.

Since then the incompetent handling of the affair by our Chancellor has seen shares fall still further and the balance sheet get bleaker. So when we now see Gord and Dickie smiling at one an other in China there comes a temptation to to say sod you when it comes to a vote.

However there are more questions that now need to be aired.

Given the sensitive nature of his comments weren't Northern Rock shares suspended first thing on Monday morning until after the Chancellor had spoken in the Commons (or at the very least while he was speaking) ?

What exposure does the government have in the event of a failure and what exposure do shareholders have in the same circumstance?

And what are the government plans if the only solution they approve is Richard Branson and his plans are rejected by shareholders?

While a private sector solution looks possible nothing can be rules either in or out at this moment in time.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Plaids identity Crisis

Dear oh dear Plaid dont seem to have got the hang of this being in government bit do they.

No sooner is the change to the budget for local government announced than we have Dai Lloyd on the floor singing the praises of his party in securing the change.

Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd welcomed the final budget, saying, “Today’s announcement comes after weeks of intense activity by Plaid Cymru AMs and ministers. Ever since we realised that this year’s settlement would be tight, we’ve argued the case for a floor system that would ensure more funding for the worst affected councils.”

No mention of course of the lobbys led by Powys AMs involving councillors from Powys CC and similar from other councils badly affected.

But perhaps more cynically no mention that it was Plaid Ministers who were quite prepared to allow their government to submit the draft budget in the first place.

Where were Elin, Rhodri Glyn and Ieuan on the day the draft came before cabinet?

Why was it they were happy to let this it pass then and then scream about it later?

Yet most important of all when will Plaid finally realise that they are in government too?

The draft budget was theirs as much as Labours, was it only when they went back to their constituencies that they realised the price of some of their pet policies was their own councillors being short changed.

However what are they celebrating now

The extra £4.7m consists of £2.2m from reserves and £2.5m from elsewhere in the Social Justice and Local Government budget.
according to the Western Mail

So that is over half that was in the local government arena in the first place and the rest from a resource that wont be available next year.

But why worry about the 09-10 local government settlement Dai the only scheduled elections that year are the Euros and Rhodris replacement. :-)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The sound of breaking glass

"I love the sound of breaking glass, Especially when I'm lonely"

Right now the Nick Lowe classic would be a good candidate for top of Peter Hains ilike listings if his facebook profile had one.

Not content with putting the boot in to George Osbourne it now appears that 80 Tory MPs have been reported to the Electoral Commission for using unincoprorated associatiosn to channel their own campaign funds.Increasingly the moderate approach of Nick Clegg and Lembit Opik seems to be the best approach to this whole sad afair that is doing our political system no end of damage.

However perhaps the major casualty of this round of the funding arms race is the PPERA environment itself. Far from resolving political party funding all it seems to have done is create an avoidance system that a tax lawyer would have dreams over, and a watchdog who has no punishment options between a slap on the wrist and a costly referral to PC Plod and the CPS.

Hopefully once all the point scoring is over an sense prevails there might be a realisation that there can be no sacred cows for Labour or conservative parties and we will see some genuine reform of this corrupt system

So to finish where I started with Nick Lowe

"Oh, change of mind, sound of breaking glass
All around, sound of breaking glass
Nothing new, sound of breaking glass
Breaking glass, sound of breaking glass"

That glass house that is party funding seems once again to have alot of people throwing stones around hopefully there will still be a couple of panes of glass left.

And for those that don't know what I am taking about on the lyrics

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Many questions for Northern Rock

First let me declare an interest, I am a demutualisation shareholder in Northern Rock. I had planned to sell my shares in June to finance a house move but the move fell though. Not long after the company issued a profit warning but the market advice was stay put.

"Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods said that Wednesday's announcement reflected "a period-specific strain in 2007 and does not indicate the business model is not working." Profits outlook hits Northern Rock

I left for holiday off the back of stable but not stunning results and a nice dividend announced and waiting for me in the autumn. In late Aug I though about selling again but with no threats on the table and no pressing need for the money I thought I would wait until the announced dividend was paid and take stock again.

The rest is history. On paper I am about £5000 poorer than I was 12 months ago.

So as we move into the end phase there are a few questions that still need to be answered and most of them relate to the governments handling and culpability in the affair.

Why was no stock exchange announcement made by the company about its financial position between the 14th August and the 14th September 2007 when clearly the company had already anticipated the financial crisis and had been in discussions with the Bank of England?
14th August : Bank of England governor Mervyn King is alerted to the potential impact of the global credit squeeze on Northern Rock's business in a phone call with officials at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Treasury." Timeline:Northern Rock banking crisis


Why were declared shareholder dividends suspended when staff pay rises were still paid in full, and secret bonuses for 173 staff totalling up to £17m allowed to proceed?

"SENIOR staff at Northern Rock are receiving secret bonuses of up to £100,000 a year as part of an incentive scheme" Key Northern Rock staff receive secret bonuses

Why does the Chancellor continue to blame the bank for risky trading practices when those same trading practices were approved as sound by the oversight regulator?

"we recommend investors look through the near-term interest rate strain and at a business model that can clearly deliver superior returns at lower risk," they continued." Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Profits outlook hits Northern Rock (July 2007)

Why did the Bank of England and the Chancellor fail to use the time from the 14th Aug when knowledge that a government approved method of funding a bank was under pressure to the 13th Sept when it failed to put in place policy that would have protected savers the majority of savers and hence preempted the run on Northern Rock in the first place.

"Our system for dealing with the insolvency of banks and deposit insurance is markedly inferior to other countries." Professor Mervyn King.


Nationalisation now seems to be the only answer my remaining shares will quite likely become worthless and as a taxpayer I will have an hefty increase in national debt.

However even as late as the middle of August action could have been taken by Government and the Bank of England to reduce the severity of this crisis.

As a taxpayer I want my pound of flesh as shareholder in a highly regulated industry I want a pound of bones too.

Why MPs need to back their pay deal in full

I had lunch today with one of our MPs, a long term friend we specifically decided politics was off limits for the day. They did said they will be voting against the full pay rise because of all the work they were doing in support of the police claim and it would be hypocritical to do otherwise I told them I thought they were wrong and we left it at that ,but here I thought I might explain why.

Personally I think the best thing an MP can do for every nurse, policeman, teacher and everyone else whose pay is "set" by independant review is to back this increase in full.

Why? because to do otherwise is the leave Gordon Brown with the stick "MPs rejected their full increase so you should follow there example". Of course the there will be accusations of snouts in a trough so some care on presentation will need to be undertaken but there is a fundamental principle at stake in that vote.

IF you set pay by independent review then you must honour that review in full.

Of course I hope our MPs will propose at least one amendment the abolition of this crazy vote in the first place.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The power decision

Well there it is, the die is cast the decision made and in the public domain all that is left is securing the funding and Wales will have two more power stations.

No don't get me wrong I don't mean nuclear stations I mean the plans of Mr Tomlinson of Holt and Mr Pugh of Churchstoke to turn their large supplies of cow dung into electricity. Neither scheme is very big in itself Mr Tomlinson only expecting to generate enough power to supply the 500 houses in the village from an initial setup cost of £1.2m. But think of the potential.

2002 figures point to there being about 2.5m dairy cattle in the UK based on Mr Tomlinson figures that seem to be backed up by work in the US this suggest that there is a potential for up to 250,000 houses to receive their power from this source equivalent to the domestic needs of Cardiff and Swansea combined.

Of course these are not the big single site schemes so loved by our government but as the Nepalesse experience suggest they have a significant role to play in tacking our emissions challenge.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Nick off to a safe start

Allthough technically based from home its rare that I am actually there so having the opportunity to see the leadership announcement and Nicks for PMQ is a bit if a shock to the system.

So how did it go?

Personally I thought rather well. Camerons digs about 4 leaders is not unexpected and the joke about Nick putting some distance between them by moving two seats down I think was helpful as it removed the option for Brown to comment on it in his reply. We then went into the Cameron/Brown knockabout that was pure theatre but set things up quite nicely for us to come across as responsible adults.

The choice of fuel poverty was an interesting one. This is a real bread and butter issue for many poor families and ones I suspect that if you dig deep enough are in the not regular voters category at one end of the scale and impoverished pensioner in the other.

While the latter got the full attention of Nick the former were the focus of the standard question from Steve Webb that came about five minutes later.

No knock out blows or stunning sound bite for the media but a lot for those of us on the ground to get our teeth into.

If the message that this sends out to people is that we are caring about poor families then it is one I look forward to hear more on in coming months

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Micro wind vs Micro water

Two very different environmental stories caught my eye today.

The first via Yahoo but published in The Register deals with a small study on the viability of micro turbines in your back garden, far from being the ideal way forward as David Cameron was suggesting it would appear that in many cases the turbines would not even light one bulb let alone boil the water to melt the chocolate Tory teacup.

The problem it appears has many facets ranging from not enough wind to too much turbulence and common or garden theft and vandalism. Overoptimism from contractors also appears to have a role to play.

In contrast Talybont on usk just (30miles) down the road from me are looking to expand their existing hydro electric scheme into a wider community led initiative to make the village carbon neutral.

Coming two days after I was down in Clydach where the Forge Fach community resource centre were looking to meet their energy needs by redeveloping an historic leat into a small scale hydro scheme it would seem that for many water power may be a better way forward.

Monday, 7 January 2008

At least I'm clearly a Democrat

Its a me too as well, it would appear these US Pres Front-runners just don't cut it with us UK liberals. Looks like I too fall into the Obama for pres camp.

73% Dennis Kucinich
72% Mike Gravel
68% Barack Obama
67% Chris Dodd
67% Joe Biden
65% John Edwards
64% Hillary Clinton
60% Bill Richardson
34% Rudy Giuliani
26% John McCain
25% Ron Paul
25% Mitt Romney
17% Mike Huckabee
15% Tom Tancredo
13% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz