Archive

Posts Tagged ‘real decisions’

Rail fare hikes and tough talk on welfare waste: Today’s problems will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

January 2, 2013 1 comment

With a 4.2% average rise in ticket prices hitting rail commuters today, just how long do politicians think that rises in the cost of essential services, utilities and products will remain ‘sustainable’?

Stories such as this one and also the attack on welfare payouts by Iain Duncan Smith in just the past two days alone demonstrate just how little emphasis there really is in dealing with the root causes of problems, which may be unpalatable to those in power, but are nonetheless very real indeed.

As a businessman with both conservative and capitalist principles, I have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to be both enterprising and entrepreneurial throughout my career. However, I also learned very early on that there are basic laws at work within business, one of which is that costs will generally be fixed, but profit will always be variable.

Where this goes wrong in the economy is in situations where those in control of businesses are able to fix minimum profit margins and then seek the cost of investment and renewal through price hikes which usually only affect people and other businesses who themselves have no ability to raise their own incomes or margins to cover those very same costs.

Those reading this who have experience of the commercial sector in its broadest sense will know that the circumstances which generally allow this darker side of capitalism to thrive, only exist within monopolies or within industries which provide services or products which people must have; many of which were once in public hands.

The history which has given privately owned businesses the ability to dictate the ‘breadline’ or to become able to ‘profit in misery’ is a long one. Profligate spending by idealistic politicians who believe in the principle of something for nothing, simply created a situation which left others with a more realistic understanding of the way that an economy really works with little choice in the way they had to respond.

The age of privatisation was soon born and responsibility for its evolution cannot be levelled at the door of any one Conservative, Labour or Coalition Government, as all have played their part since the 1960’s.

What can equally be said is that no one person who can ask for the votes of many thousands of people, can reasonably expect to retain any sense of respect as an MP if they have accepted that responsibility and then failed both to recognise and then to act upon the damage and pain that such levels of power are causing in the wrong hands.

Yes we need travel fares that make a job worth travelling for. Yes we need reform of welfare, benefits and taxation so that there is an incentive for all to work and stay in this Country. Yes we need managed investment in just about every area of life and infrastructure that we could conceivably imagine.

But we also need Government which is responsible, confident in taking risks and ready to deliver reforms which may well include legislative restructuring of businesses offering essential services in order to limit what they actually make.

The failure of Government to ensure and safeguard basic costs for independent living is a root cause of many of today’s problems and will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

Labour Council Leaders say Government cuts will lead to public unrest. But the days of passing the buck for a free Pound have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Some Conservative Councillors will quietly sympathise with the difficult decisions being made within almost every local authority in the Country as the result of continuing budget cuts. But that’s precisely where any similarity in view will end with the content tabled in a joint letter to the Observer by the Labour Leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield Councils, suggesting that cuts in local government grants will break up society.

Look at our Country today and it is easy to see that we are already living within a divided society that is split by divisions which go way beyond simple demographics, political bias or the slashing of public services at just one level of Government.

These are problems that are far more serious than any senior politician on any side seems willing to address in any meaningful way. And the reality is that the demise of local authority structures and the seemingly endless range of services that they were once able to provide are only being accelerated by the ‘age of austerity’, and not caused by it as this document would apparently have us believe.

There is in fact significant irony that local authorities are also the victim of the philosophy and actions of the very movements and people who are so eloquently attempting to place blame on the Coalition Government today, for problems which have actually been a long time in the making within a system which has only been sustainable because of what must have seemed like a guaranteed bottom line to a generation of politicians who believe that idealism can be delivered without any thought for practicalities.

In just one respect alone, I found myself completely horrified when I first learned of the gargantuan percentages of Council Tax which go directly into the gold-plated Local Government Pension Scheme. Similar ideology has been rampant within local government decision making throughout living memory and any commercial business run with such an extraordinary emphasis on funding employees and their benefits would be as viable as its existence within in a competitive market.

I have little doubt that just these funds alone being made available for the purpose which the Taxpayer has the right to expect, coupled with the real reforms that every part of Government now requires, would deliver a significantly positive effect on what is today a very gloomy picture indeed for locally-funded public services.

Government and non-Government organisations of all types have for too long been insulated against the real world realities of profit and loss by protectionist culture; by the political correctness of socialist job creation; and by a guaranteed level of income which has now unceremoniously come to an end.

It’s time that everyone in positions of responsibility within all tiers of Government began being responsible, rather than looking elsewhere and expecting someone else to pick up the pieces or to pay the bills with a non-existent stream of infinite credit.

Political idealism is as ideal as it is practical. Politicians from all sides now have to accept and work with this reality. Otherwise, a new reality will continue to write itself which will go way beyond the fallout from wasting opportunities for change and from a failure to take full responsibility within local government.

The days of passing the buck and expecting a free Pound in return have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences.

Flooding: A truly democratic system should allow for changes in Planning Legislation which will limit the damage which future flooding events have the power to cause

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Christmas will not be that merry for many who have been hit by flooding over recent days, weeks and what has now become months. Even today, news that the seemingly freak weather patterns that have haunted the UK in 2012 are staying put will be sending a shiver down the spines of all those who have closely witnessed or experienced the nightmare of being in a flood.

But is the perceived change in weather patterns the only factor we should be considering for future flood protection, or are the issues governing the severity of future flooding events far more deep seated, but with the potential for control?

In July 2007 and less than 3 months into my first Term as a Councillor, Tewkesbury Borough sat at what felt to many of us like the epicentre of a disastrous flood which demonstrated just how the impact of unforeseen water damage and a systematic failure to plan ahead can actually be and how its power can touch the lives of people who would never normally have reason to live in such fear.

Over a period of 36 hours, home after home in areas that had never been previously considered at risk of flooding became submersed by the affects of just 1 days deluge right across Gloucestershire. Whole Villages went under and for some home owners, many months of pain and torment lay ahead as driveway-based caravans suddenly became the only way to live, rather than the home from home that many choose to put on the road every Easter.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of this unpredictable event was the pollution of fresh drinking water supplies at the Mythe Water Treatment Works near Tewkesbury. Residents and businesses throughout Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury were left without drinking water for over two weeks and stories of water thefts and fights at distribution points soon made many aware of just how quickly the civilised facade of our society can begin to break down when the basic elements of daily life that we take for granted are put at risk.

Daily deliveries of bottled water throughout the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward thereafter and dealing with many flood related issues on behalf of Residents to date has provided an invaluable insight into both the flooding events themselves and the way that the whole issue is handled by organisations as diverse as single-issue pressure groups, local Authorities, the Environment Agency and Central Government.

One of the most concerning elements of that experience has been the illumination of the way in which our centrally-derived Planning Laws and Policies simply do not allow people with local knowledge to exert meaningful levels of influence on building which many quietly agree does not consider either extreme levels of river or fluvial flooding or indeed the more concerning and unpredictable rain-based or pluvial flooding. It is such pluvial events as in 2007 that can present those extreme volumes of water in such short periods of time that  rivers and streams cease to exist leaving an out of control torrent to create its own destructive pathway to its gravity-borne destination.

Most worryingly still is the apparent lack of interest from authorities in these pluvial flood issues, with most prevention work concentrating on fluvial targets and where anything else may be ceremoniously rebuffed with the excuse that such events are so very, very rare and perhaps a only a ‘1 in a 100 year event’. When coupled with such arguable intransigence as the suggestion that built-up land on flood plain by its very nature ceases to be a flood plain – irrespective of where future floods might therefore go; you might see that even politicians like myself have good reason to be concerned for what the future may hold not only for those communities already experienced with floods, but also for those whose experiences may regrettably be still yet to come.

It is a frightening reality that Local Authorities with Planning functions are at this very moment in time formulating policies and projections on building development for the next 20 or 30 years. Development which when even only in existence upon paper is by that very existence arguably irreversible when Councils have effectively been coerced by Central Government to let the development genie out of the bottle, thereby granting the wishes of developers who now appear to be out of control. Developers who have pockets deep enough to challenge any refusal to grant planning permission by those Councils who may go against what may actually be official advice and challenge on the basis of what is right. Councils that may if not already, soon be on the verge of bankruptcy because of other centrally derived and disastrous ‘one size fits all’ policies that are serving nobody but their political architects.

In times when sustainability is a Government mantra, the unsustainable practice of what is in effect unbridled green-field development has to cease.

Housing need must not only be determined by local people at local level; that level of development must itself be based upon what any one local area can support and not upon what Westminster Officials decide as being a requirement.

As a Nation, we simply cannot concrete and tarmac over fields in order to sustain exploding population growth which itself is not contributing either the equivalent or more of what it then demands from a paymaster which continues to function well beyond its means.

Long term housing projections should cease, not only for being the gift that they have become for unscrupulous land-banking developers, but also because we simply do not know what lies in store for us as a population next year, let alone that which may be the case in 30 more.

It is local people and their representatives who should have both the power to decide upon what is and is not sustainable in building terms, along with the right to say no to developers without any fear of unseen bureaucrats undermining or reversing those very same decisions based upon an external and self-serving strategy.

Mankind may not have yet discovered the way to change the weather, but a democratic system should actually allow for changes in Legislation which will limit the amount of damage which future flooding events have the power to cause.

Local people should have the choice to protect their homes, businesses and even lives right now. Not when there is nothing left insurable.

Toll Motorways: No Government can continue to charge the Taxpayer time and again for the same things and expect to be taken seriously.

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Latest headlines suggest that the DFT is now open to the idea of privatising new roads, and George Osborne is also now considering charging tolls for existing Motorway use too.

Perhaps many of us are mistaken, but don’t we already pay for this in ways such as Road Fund License, Fuel Tax, Vat on vehicle purchases, Vat on Fuel, Vat on vehicle repairs, Vat on Tyres, Corporation Tax on Companies providing the same etc, etc??? To be fair, the list probably goes on a great deal further; and that is about the only great deal that the Taxpayer and businesses seem to get when it comes to road use and transport.

One of the most significant tragedies and missed opportunities of this Coalition Government was the given acceptance on the part of so many of us that the Country’s finances are in a hell of a mess and that we had been fully accepting of the need to implement changes and policies which would have absolutely smashed the age of political correctness that is wrapped around and protects so many of the root causes of our problems. Changes and policies that if implemented, would easily have began to address the real problems which a post 2015 Government may well try to cover up with yet another return to profligate spending.

Few people or businesses can exist or move forward in the UK today without transport and therefore road use entering in to the mix at some point. The financial burden which accompanies road use is already arguably higher than is sustainable. So simply loading further charges on users who cannot earn more or charge more, when every other cost continues around them continues to rise, is simply outrageous.

Before anything else, existing Motorways require better management. Today’s technology may well allow for every vehicle to be ‘chipped’ and for road space to be allocated to keep overcrowded roads moving, whilst purpose-specific taxation is generated on a per mile basis. But such moves simply cannot be adopted as a method of raising additional fees and would have to replace or consolidate existing systems which do not fairly reflect levels of use and do not intelligently support the growth and competitivenness of British business.

Privately built and operated toll roads may themselves bring a timely solution to the hole in funds for new infrastructure, but will again ultimately allow profit to be made from essential services and functions for public use, where focus on the bottom line will only ever lead to even greater problems for the end user.

Top to bottom reform of all areas of Government, Benefits and Taxation are the only way that the true depth of this Country’s problems can ever be addressed and finding politically expedient ways of reducing the thin layer of jam between the bread in the Taxpayer’s sandwich may solve a problem today, but will leave the whole thing tasting rather sour tomorrow.

Politicians must now accept that you cannot charge the Taxpayer time and again for the same things and expect to be taken seriously.

Effect-focussed Government has failed us all. Can we really move forward with a plan of something better for all if we never address the causes of our problems?

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Leaps in utility prices touch just about everyone’s lives either directly or indirectly. No less so because of the growing paradox which appears to be a guaranteed bottom line for shareholders, whilst customers continually carry the can for everything that any non-essential business would have no option but to absorb within what are today’s unalterable margins.

Public services such as Trains run under much the same guise, and the question really should be asked if the time has come when any provider of a key or essential service should remain able to have a free reign over charges and their levels of profit when the end user simply has no choice but to buy?

Similarly, margins drawn from the production and retail of essential basic items such as milk, bread, meats and vegetables must surely now be protected from City speculation and the stranglehold of the big retailers who are together endangering various food producing industries in what is little more than an obligation to sustain and build upon profits, laid down by the purely financial motives of their masters.

So what exactly is stopping the long needed change in direction which would embrace a true form of moral or rather responsible capitalism, which in its boldest form would serve to protect a basic and affordable living for all, whilst delivering an arguably much reduced cost for Government?

One of the key failings of many of today’s politicians is a fundamental lack of understanding, will and fortitude to deal with the deep rooted causes of the problems that we as a nation face; instead choosing to do little more than dalliance in dealing with the effects of bad or flawed decisions, then going on to repeat the very same mistakes when that latest remedy itself begins to demonstrate its flaws.

Be under no illusion, this process is not unique to any political genre or ideology. It is a deep seated and inherently progressive condition, made all the worse by a political party system which now serves only to propagate itself and those within it who effectively function to do the very same, placing electability before delivery.

Successive Governments, whether they have been Conservative, Labour or even Coalitions have done the very same things, albeit with a different wrapper. But with little more than a ‘fire and forget’ mentality, the consequences are plain to see and there for us all to share and experience in our everyday lives.

The commonalities within privatisation, right-to-buy, the evolution of the free market and even political parties themselves are that they were arguably all political creations with a great and beneficial purpose in mind for those who were the driving forces behind them.

However, like most great ideas in Government that come to be manifest, they have progressively moved beyond their point of balance or what some might choose to call good, and have gone in another direction entirely. One which has benefited the unscrupulous and cost those of us dearly who have the right to expect the protection of our everyday interests by those who we put in place to take that responsibility on our behalf to do so.

Acceptance that the evolution of policies can and will continue beyond their point of good is no enviable task. This is particularly so when many organisations, NGO’s and even Government Departments have been created simply to deliver upon questionable policies and their lucrative spin-offs. In many cases they arguably continue to exist for the sole purpose of existing.

Trades Unions, Health & Safety Legislation and European red-tape are all examples of well-intentioned principles which have gone way beyond their point of good. Even UK Taxation and Benefits no longer represent the equitable and fair approach that we should all be able to reasonably expect from a 21st Century Western Government and the implementation of truly fair systems such as Flat Tax are long since overdue.

Fear of driving the watershed of change needed in an age where we have laws for the sake of having laws; where blame is a national industry and where everyday people feel that Government of all levels has no understanding of the lives that they lead, is no longer excuse enough in itself to avoid it.

Painful as it will be, somebody will soon have to be big enough to take on big business, the City and the insidious money men who are continuously elevating the breadline, all in the name of profit.

Selfless politicians must set about the change of policy after policy which may well serve their political masters today, but remain lifetimes away from serving those for whose benefit they were apparently intended.

Effect-focussed Government has failed us all and not least the most vulnerable in society and shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted does little to help after the event.

Can we really move forward with a plan of something better for all if we never address the causes of our problems?

Giving the responsibility of getting the Housing Market on its feet to Supermarkets will ultimately give money men a level of power which could make future Governments even less relevant to the bankers than they are now…

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

You quickly learn in management that many of the things you do are down to process – even fire fighting – and this will inevitably take a certain amount of time to do properly unless you are happy to accept little more than a quick fix. So when you see Government Consultations dropping into the mix from nowhere that have all the distinct hallmarks of a ravenous siege engine working at speed, you would probably find yourself asking questions about its drivers, just like I am.

Over recent days, the Estate Agency Industry and The BIS Consultation on Encouraging new business models – the ‘Proposal to amend Estate Agents Act 1979’ has started to come into sharp focus, not least of all within the Industry itself, where the rat knocking at the door appears to be the Supermarkets.

As I recently wrote on this Blog, like many people, I am no great fan of Estate Agents and believe that as an industry, they already carry much of the burden of responsibility for the ridiculously high values which accompany property these days and which in turn has effectively priced many new entrants out of the market.

However, opening the door to the Supermarket Industry is far from the answer to getting the Property Market moving and could itself be one of the most deadly time-bombs that any visionless politician could unleash on an unsuspecting public that just wants money in its pockets once again.

It has been proven time and again that the big Retailers play a very long game as they move further and further towards a level of monopoly in goods retail. And as a monopoly, property sales is one that would have very far reaching consequences indeed, should the day ever come when Supermarkets control the prices we pay for the houses we buy.

Make no mistake, as proven with their dealings over Milk prices only recently in a process which actually took many years, dictating values within such a market would be of untold commercial value to them. So playing the loss-leading game whilst they remove the balance of standing competition from the market – as they have done with many small retailers – would be a process willingly embraced by homeowners, but at what real cost to us all in the long term?

We already have the model in place to show how little more than commission led sales within the Estate Agency Industry has contributed to the very position where a Government Department is attempting to address the effects of the problem rather than the causes. But once again, political idealists may be about to open a whole new can of worms as they blunder into doing so, which could so easily turn what is the disastrous position of the Housing Market today into a full scale catastrophe for us all tomorrow.

Gutsy decision making that will have an impact on the cause of the problem is what is required, rather than assuming that the answer to one problem will be just as suitable for another. After all, you wouldn’t use a sticking plaster to dress a broken leg and send the patient on their way with nothing more than a sweet, unless of course you had no grasp of the impact from doing so.

To get the Housing Market moving, there has to be an appreciation of the gravity of the situation. It is one which will not be solved by inviting in a new set of players onto the board who will play by the very same set of rules, but on scale which means the whole game cannot so easily be controlled.

The Estate Agency Industry needs to change its way of operating and adopt a position of responsibility to both its customers AND to the economy, particularly as the impact of having so far failed to do so has had an arguably unique impact on the economic position that we all experience today.

To play their part, Estate Agents have to move away from commission-based selling and focus upon the process of doing a good job at a fixed price, which relates to house sizes, demographics, location and all the tangible factors which should dictate the price of such a service to domestic and business customers alike. Perhaps they will then sell houses for what they are worth, rather than what they aim to get.

However, today’s Estate Agents are unlikely to make the required difference to the whole Property Market alone and devaluation of the UK’s property portfolio may be a step which no Westminster Politician will ever be prepared to openly consider, even though it may turn out to be the only solution which genuinely works . But giving the responsibility of getting the Housing Market on its feet to Supermarkets will ultimately give money men a level of power which could make future Governments even less relevant to the bankers than they are now.

Is the distance created by modern communication and business methods removing basic humanity from our relationships and has the time come for a whole new set of rules?

August 1, 2012 1 comment

So what motivates you at work or within your business? Is it doing the very best job that you can; or is it simply to earn the greatest amount as quickly as possible and perhaps keep yourself in that lucrative job that you already have, maybe progressing you to an even better paying or profiled position?

Whilst admitting that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth just as soon as the realisation dawns that other people may have noticed; for a growing number today it will be the latter and for very practical reasons that they may never really have even considered at that. Perhaps strange then that it’s a feeling of guilt which often accompanies that understanding when it arrives, as few will ever argue that we would all like to earn more or have a better lifestyle if given the option to do so.

The reality is of course that people feel bad about making money when questioned, if they hadn’t realised that it has become the purest motivation or aim in what they do, rather than being the very healthy side-effect of a career undertaking or vocation, and then doing it damn well.

With a growing concern about the ethics employed within business, not least of all illustrated by the Libor scandal, one must ask if a loss of conscience is one of the very negative aspects that the distance created by increasingly elaborate supply chains and the rise of the Internet have created?

Many of us have simply adapted and in many cases thrived from the changes and opportunities brought into being by the rise of the Communication Age.  So workers within Internet and information technology reliant businesses are perhaps excusably less aware of the fallout hitting customers they may never even see from decision making which is without a tangible fear or concern for the ‘human factor’. One also wonders if they are therefore insulated from the future catastrophes they now have the power to create in what may seem little more than parallel lives, which to the more aware would only ever be dressed as distant elephants that look less than the size of a gnat on their horizon.

To perhaps emphasise the downside of distance more effectively, I will take a step back to an industry that we all love to hate. A profession that has always had the benefit of distance between business and customer once they have been commissioned; but a distance which is also created by time and process rather than by the remote contact of a broadband cable.

Within the property market, many are quick to become cynical of the inflation-setting-overpricing of houses and wonder how they find themselves unable to afford even a modest home.

Some would blame the gargantuan super-tanker that was ‘right-to-buy’ as set in motion by Margaret Thatcher, but can quickly forget how it was that very act in the first place which encouraged massive property ownership within parts of society where people would never have dared even dream of being homeowners before her tenure, and perhaps led to those very same people being able to aspire to making such dreams their reality to begin with.

Others would look perhaps more accurately to the realms of Estate Agents who have ruthlessly pushed prices up and up, month-after-month and year-after-year in order to secure greater and greater percentage based sales fees.

Estate Agents actually do a job that they could choose to do very well on sensible margins – even in a good market. But repeat custom is to them a very long game and if someone else is saying they can sell a house for more, it doesn’t take much excuse to follow or to lose out because the risks to them seem very distant indeed.

After all, very few owners will willingly lose many thousands of pounds on a sale just because one agent tells them what its actually worth, when another says different. The agent who ‘does what it says on the can’ will have ‘priced to sell’ and done what they were commissioned to do, whereas the second agent plays the long game, watching the market rise to the price they suggested, thereby getting the fee they want but paying little note of the pain that their customer experiences in the meantime. No wonder then, that so many Estate Agency businesses have stopped trading or been forced to make substantial cutbacks during the economic crisis.

The long-term effects of such business practices are potentially incalculable and one can only speculate on just how overpriced our homes now actually are, and how far back in time standards of living and subsequent social mobility could actually be pushed as a result of the out-pricing of starter homes for young people; a situation created purely on the basis of making higher and higher margins for just a few without any apparent risk to the many from doing so.

So with the rise of the Internet and information technology, many more businesses now find themselves enjoying a distance between themselves and  customers which is to such a degree that the abuse of such apparently lucrative opportunities could create all manner of future problems, which may only ever become apparent much further down the line.

For instance, a once heavily hands-on recruitment industry which only a few years ago interacted with perhaps every candidate who made the effort to post them a CV, has been replaced by one which has discovered a seemingly bombproof level of security from risk of losing fees by targeting ‘perfect fit’ or tick box candidates, simply by focusing on electronic advertising and administration techniques. 800 applications through an Internet Job Board sounds a lot to handle; but not if you have set up a machine to identify perhaps a minimum of 8 ‘keywords’ or phrases from 10 in those CV’s before the hand of a human with any kind of feeling will go anywhere near them.

Nobody talks about the longer-term threat to hiring businesses of all shapes and sizes that comes from recruiting candidates from what by default effectively becomes a closed field of applicants who only know and understand a specific discipline within business, illustrated by the use of a series of words. Words which may themselves actually just be buzzwords or the esoteric ensemble of a recent graduate.

And why in purest profitability terms should recruiters care when today’s bottom line is secure and they achieved it with the benefit of never having to even speak to perhaps 3 times as many candidates as they actually did. Candidates who may have provided the recruiter’s customer with benefits and untold added value which they never had the chance to see but paid for nonetheless.  A situation leaving perhaps the best candidates finding themselves removed from the running by a software package that reduced the time involved for the recruiter to all but a mere fraction of what they would have ‘wasted’ otherwise.

It is quite concerning that labour and cost saving technology for one business can itself create the opposite effect not just for one, but potentially many others. But then if you also look at the dark-art-creativity of the financial sector and money-making ideas such as cereal futures and funds that own shares in supermarkets and dairy processors, you can quickly begin to see just how the mechanics of distance and its ability to negatively affect the lives of many people actually are. After all, what is 1p on the price of a pint of milk every couple of days when you had a £1 Million bonus last year?

On the one hand, technical advances and the heralding of an information-based communication age encouraging openness and sharing is driving a potentially buyer-led age where businesses have no option but to sell on the basis of making ‘just enough’ profit and delivering quality on time every time.

On the other, the opening of doors to many more  ‘golden-egg’ opportunities which are great for those picking up the product as it is found, but like the ever expanding and deepening ripples from a tiny stone tossed into a still pond, can cause mayhem and disaster in places that they had never even considered.

So the question needs to be asked; Is the distance created by modern communication and business methods removing basic humanity from our relationships and has the time come for a whole new set of rules?

%d bloggers like this: