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Politicians and Political Parties should never automatically assume the respect of the people, nor that when they do, it equates to silence…

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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Getting a true glimpse of the true nature of the respect that our politicians have for us isn’t an everyday event by any means. Yet recently, we have been treated to a series of insights in to the way we are all viewed by the people who either do, or soon hope to govern us. It doesn’t make particularly happy reading.

The fairytale halving of the £1.7 Billion bill from the EU and the Parliamentary vote on the European Arrest Warrant that never was, were both perhaps very telling of the way the current Coalition Government does its business. But it was the comments from the Labour Party following Ed Milliband’s workout with Myleene Klass on the ITV’s ‘The Agenda’ on Monday night which may have represented the lifting of a much bigger stone.

Watching the programme made good viewing. We rarely get the opportunity to see the kind of challenge which Myleene made, telling Ed why Labour’s Mansion Tax Policy isn’t going to work and effectively showing the whole idea up for the hollow, headline-grabbing and socially-divisive-pigeon-holing stunt that it is.

Apparently unable to deal with the broadside at the time, Tuesday morning not only saw a belated attempt by Ed to try and turn it around with a parody relating to Ms Klass’s time in the Band Hear’Say; it also brought comments from the Party suggesting that she had failed to show Mr Milliband respect, and also tweets from a Labour MP apparently suggesting that she should leave the Country.

All well and good to demand respect if you have actually earned it. But these guys all seem to think that being an MP is qualification in itself. Isn’t it right that we should have the right to question what they do?

The fact is that the UK is in the perilous state that it is right now, in no small part because of the inability of Party-affiliated MP’s to safely ask the kinds of questions or make points of this nature without fear of reprisal from their Political Parties.

Ed Milliband may well walk in to 10 Downing Street as the next Prime Minister in less than six months time. But if Labour will not accept the legitimacy of questions which show the lack of thought and consideration which has obviously gone into their policies now, what hope will there be for us all when they start to enact them?

image: itv.com

Royal Mail & Privatisation: Its called privatisation for a good reason and politicians need to wake up and realise that privately owned business will never have the general public as its point of primary concern…

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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In July 2013 – before the privatisation of Royal Mail took place, I wrote a blog about the process and discussed why it was a bad idea and briefly, what the implications would most likely be for the future of the universal delivery service.

Sadly, the news today that the privatised Company has experienced a £74 Million fall in profits and that it is already pointing the finger of blame at competition in profitable areas comes as little surprise.

We will no doubt soon experience further questions over the viability of rural and unprofitable delivery routes.

Whether the Government likes it or not, the reality of surrendering public ownership of a service which was created to ensure parity of service for all in the way that only a not-for-profit operation can do so, is soon going to bite.

It is simply impossible for Government to dictate the operational structure of a private business when profit is at risk – unless they choose to subsidise the service. If that happens, the question will surely yet again be why did they dispose of Royal Mail in the first place?

Whatever our politicians may think, privatisation of services which are there for the benefit of everyone is never a good idea; however hard to run; however much they cost; however much can be earned from their sale.

These services are essential to deliver a basic standard of living for all, which Government is currently failing to do by not dealing with the profit-led management policies of all the privatised services which the public once owned. What is more, it is set to continue compounding the problem by having so recently disposed of Royal Mail and by taking very big steps in the direction of privatisation of the NHS through the Commissioning Process.

It stands to reason that the managers of privately owned firms are going to focus on the practices and methods of working which deliver a good bottom line.

Whereas Government and Social Enterprise will be very happy if they are simply covering their costs, private owners simply don’t get up each day and think about how they can remove all their profits from one area of their business to subsidise the services they offer in another – when they cost them money to do so.

Sooner or later, someone – certainly not this Government – is going to have to begin picking up the pieces from what has been the serial offloading of a whole range of public services which once gave all British people unhindered access to the tools of a modern life which were once the envy of all.

The Country may already be secretly bankrupt. But selling up everything that we own is not the answer.

Top to bottom reform is now inevitable. It’s just a question of when; not if – and what the cost will be to us all whilst we wait for the leadership of politicians who are big enough to get all of the jobs done in the best interests of everyone and not just themselves.

 

image: europeanceo.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Payday Loans: Profit from misery and the throw back to the age of the Debtors Prison – but this time without brick walls

July 1, 2013 1 comment

payday-loansDesperation, the emotion it brings and the knee-jerk response to any opportunities that might even just temporarily stop the cause of that pain, can lead those of us experiencing it to do what others may consider to be some pretty illogical things.

The prospect of escape at any level can certainly lead to the failure to consider detail that any one of us would normally think about. And when events feel like they have brought our lives to the edge of a precipice and no other answers are coming, would we really care anyway?

The point is being tragically missed in Government that disposable income is falling fast for everyone who is unable to obtain anything beyond standard ‘cost of living’ pay rises; that  ‘standing still’ or ‘treading water’ financially has become all but impossible for a great many people, and that this downward slide is hitting those with the smallest incomes hardest of all.

In some cases, cutting back on luxury items simply isn’t enough to counter the escalation of monthly, weekly and even daily costs which must be met just to survive. Prices on items like fuel for travel, car parking, travel tickets, basic food, clothing, utilities and communication escalate with what feels like jaw-dropping regularity and very few of us other than those charging the fees actually believe that such inflation is genuinely sustainable.

Even those with comparatively good household incomes have cut back and whilst some would argue that reducing the regularity of nights out, buying new clothes or downgrading the annual holiday will hardly make a difference, many of these same people are now using savings or high street credit cards to balance their household books in the hope that things will soon change. But for some of those with less, hope of that kind simply isn’t an option.

Living hand to mouth is a phrase that many will consider an anachronism and borne of a different era. But for many on the lowest incomes, the reality that money is gone as soon as it comes into their hands is very real indeed, so the prospect of ‘a couple of hundred quid to keep things tied over til the end of the month’ coming at you from the TV screen can for many seem a very easy, perhaps timely and almost certainly an attractive way out. But a quick yes followed by the receipt of cash within minutes can easily overshadow the realities of what may be sold as a ‘Payday Loan‘.

With interest charged at a rate of let’s say 1000% calculated as an APR against a loan for a year (per annum or P.A.) of for example £100, the charge without any repayment over one calendar month would be a fee of £83.33. And when you take a quick visit to the internet and see that ‘Representative APR’ or interest rates go up to nearly 6000%, you can see how easy it is to make a difficult situation one which will quickly become completely horrific.

With perhaps as many as one million UK households using Payday Loans each month, you would hope that the Coalition would be doing much more to address the financial issues which everyday people are facing generally. At the very least it would be more than reasonable to expect them to take real action to address what some would argue as being a sanitised form of loan sharking by casting a legislative net across this very dark and murky pool.

But with a Government which has gravely missed the point that real savings in the long term requires the pain of real and meaningful reforms in the short, they also appear to have very little idea how passively influential they are being in guiding ever more people towards the first steps of the negative debt spiral, that in today’s economic climate seems all but impossible for many to then escape. Put simply, no action is action all the same and this action is helping nobody but the loan companies themselves.

There is no simple or isolated solution which will solve this growing problem and protect many more people from the virtual enslavement which is experienced through being the victim of what is arguably a legalised form of crime. However, Government could:

  • Regulate the Payday Loan ‘product’ and enforce a ceiling on interest rates to a manageable level. The fact is that a £25 charge for £100 over a month would still equate to an APR of around 300%. Even at half that if you give generous consideration for what are probably very small administrative costs via the Internet, that still leaves a profit of £125 on every £1000 lent every month or £1500 over the course of a year. Pretty good money even then!
  • Take greater control of the credit assessment processes run by the finance industry which have disqualified many Payday Loan users from gaining mainstream credit and effectively pushed them into the hands of the unscrupulous.
  • Push for mainstream lenders to begin offering the Payday Loan ‘product’. If necessary develop a method to provide a level of guarantee through direct access to the users source of income and Legislate accordingly.
  • Create a Government owned ‘Peoples Bank’, run as a not-for-profit on commercial lines, which has an appropriate level of altruism in its approach to support those who really need it, whether they are domestic users or even small businesses who need the financial leg-up that nobody else seems willing to provide.

There are many more ways that Politicians could help the people in need who Elected them to Office if they really wanted to try.

The biggest step they could take would be to acknowledge that the power of any Government extends way beyond the services that it pays for and then act, knowing that this influence should and must be used to its fullest when the behaviour of any person, group or business is having a negative or detrimental effect on any part of our wider community for no other purpose than making unreasonable levels of profit.

The reality is however that increasing numbers of Taxpayers are now paying for a system which is failing to support them when they need it most, and then paying way beyond the odds for an alternative form of support which isn’t actually supporting any one of them at all.

Without the Coalition even talking about the need for Britain’s lowest wage earners and genuinely-benefit-dependent to be able to maintain a basic standard of living between payments, it is not only finance companies who should be branded for irresponsible practice.

Failing to deal with just this one of so many different problems facing this Country is simply storing up more trouble for yet another day and in all likelihood another Government. And whilst the absence of an overall majority may suit Politicians who don’t have the heart to do their job, everyone else is still suffering.

If you have found and read this blog because you are experiencing financial hardship in any way and are looking for help, please know that there are real people out here who care; who want to help; and that some of them might even be Politicians!

There are some really helpful Charities and Debt Advice Organisations who will do everything that they can to support and guide you through the issues you are facing, or possibly help you to find even more people who can.

A couple worth trying are the Citizens Advice Bureau who may have an office you can visit near your home and the Step Change Debt Charity (Formally the Consumer Credit Counselling Service or CCCS) who can also be called on 0800 138 1111.

If things already feel like they have gone too far to try and make sense of, there are also the Samaritans. Contact any of these Organisations and you will speak to real people who are genuinely there to try to help and are not there to judge you in any way.

image thanks to http://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk 

Tax avoidance, foreign companies and the real influence of Utility providers on our cost of living

Utility companies are in the news again and this time for exploiting the foreign ownership loopholes that are allowing an increasing number of monopolistic companies to avoid paying sizeable sums in tax.

Were it not for the near exponential rises that we seem to experience from energy and water companies alike on regular basis, you might be forgiven for having a little sympathy with a company which is struggling to make money.

But these are companies which are not only achieving great success in securing stratospheric profit margins from the services they provide using what appears to be increasing levels of media-friendly scaremongering; they are arguably doing so without making any real contribution to the wider society that pays them whilst customers also seem to pay for all their upgrade work as well.

This situation has of course been in the making for a considerable time and whilst it would serve the political interests of some groups to blame the problem on the process of privatisation in its basic sense, it is pretty certain that the sale of shares to everyday taxpayers was never intended as a direction of travel which would result in foreign ownership, or to the cartel like behaviour which has contributed to the creation of rip-off Britain.

Coalition Government or hung Parliaments don’t lend themselves well to dealing with issues of any real importance when they are in power as we all continue to witness each and every day. But that of course is when they face issues that we as a public are openly aware of because Politicians have chosen to acknowledge them for whatever politically expedient purpose that it might serve.

The real travesty with the issues regarding utility companies and the influence that they are having on the true cost of inflation to us all – which has this week been suggested to be as high as 25% – is that there is not even the will to talk about the true impact of their actions upon us all in Westminster.

With the economic fall-out of credit-card government and the continuation of spending with money that the UK simply doesn’t have, reality suggests that negligible or zero percent rises in wages for the workforces operating within the commercial and public sectors alike are here to stay. That benefit and service cuts will remain the uninventive and ill-considered weapon of choice used by a political elite which seems bereft of any consideration for the mechanics of life outside their own societal bubble.

However, there are choices for our leaders and within the constraints of Coalition Government or not, Politicians taking their responsibility to the Electorate seriously would and should all be using them.

Before anything else, acknowledgement that companies providing what are in fact essential services are profiteering and are misusing the opportunities that they have would be a significant step in itself. People would at least begin to feel that leaders are identifying with what real life is really like.

This would by its very nature have to been done with clarity and purpose and with much more than a mere suggestion of what action lies ahead. Another mealy-mouthed effort like that on the part of Politicians when it has come to addressing the previous actions and future behaviour of bankers simply will not do.

It has become clear that self-regulation in such key industries isn’t working for anybody but the companies themselves, and this is where those with Government responsibility should really be taking a lead.

The next step would be to regulate pricing to allow the true cost of service provision to be reflected in the prices that we pay and dictate the formula under which such Companies can raise funds for new and improved infrastructure which in most other industries would rightly come from the bottom line.

Because the services that these Companies provide are essential to everyone, profit should be capped and systems put in place through vigorous auditing processes  to ensure that clever accounting methods cannot provide a conduit through which different cost centres or budgetary areas can be manipulated to provide an enhanced dividend.

Company owners wouldn’t like this approach, but the fact remains that with services that customers have no alternative to use, profiteering before doing what is right has created a cash-cow for the few, whilst inflicting financial misery on the many in circumstances where people cannot even earn more just to compensate. That’s why foreign owners have been so happy to throw cash in the direction of companies in the UK that governments most other Countries would at least keep very close to State control and why our Politicians must now recognise the power and influence that these industries actually have in our everyday lives.

Finally, the time has long since passed when simplification of the Tax system was required on a comprehensive basis to stem the flow of revenue from leaving the Country that we desperately need and to which we are entitled.

Tax should be applied at the point of sale; not at the location where the account managers and owners  are based. This one simple and realistic change could find tax raised from the tills where coffees are physically bought; from the sale on the actual computer and screen where products are purchased; and from the meters where our power, gas and water are measured and supplied inside the houses in which we live.

Scary as the prospect of taking on the industrial and financial monoliths might seem, it is for reasons just like these that Politicians are Elected and why Governments are given power. It might not be easy, but if those who seek our votes at Elections take the trust we have given them seriously, it necessarily follows that they will use it for our benefit too.

Isn’t it time that they started living the mantra ‘action speaks louder than words’, rather than simply just paying lip service to it?

image thanks to source unknown

Spending Review & Local Authorities: We need change and a resurgence of ethics, not coercive micromanagement by stealth and an even greater distance between people and Government

images (51)With £11.5 Billion in further cuts set to be outlined in the Coalition’s Spending Review later today, I will probably not be alone in asking myself if this is really going to make the difference that the UK really needs.

Of course, many of us have got far too used to asking such questions only of ourselves as we wonder if there is simply any point in asking the same of anyone else and particularly those Politicians who would actually be in the position to give an honest answer if they so desired.

Many of the Politicians we see on TV are spending increasing amounts of airtime telling us that they are listening. But are they really hearing?

Listening to the news in recent days, you may have heard the suggestion that cutting budgets has not been a failure of the Coalition and that it is in fact the continuing problems with the economy and its inability to deliver the income expected at the time of the 2010 Spending Review that is the real issue. An issue which now of course sees George Osborne scratching away at what he appears to see as the tried and tested…

Of course, those like me who currently inhabit the local government political pool will be looking on in horror at the prospect of a further 10% Central Government funding cut from 2015/16.

Cuts in just in this area alone since 2010 have placed a massive strain on service delivery and are quietly playing out in the loss of arguably vital community resources which were once taken for granted and even affecting the speed and quality of pothole repairs on roads which most of us probably feel should be resurfaced when a hole appears rather than undergo repetitive re-patching for the umpteenth time, bearing in mind the amount we seem to keep paying for them.

Played out across all tiers of Government, the Quangos and Non-Government Organisations, the open secret in all this is that efficiencies have to be found. But the elephant in the room sadly remains missed and the rise of shared services, business services outsourcing and privatisation of services forced on us by budget cuts and imposed ceilings on Council Tax rises will never resolve the biggest issue of all which is the need for comprehensive reform across Government at a fundamental and cultural level.

Change is essential to move inefficient and unproductive ways of working which have developed over many decades of protectionist management; Change which will lead into the delivery of services which once again have their focus upon the benefit to the end user and when selflessly applied, targeted and managed as they should be, are likely to deliver savings all the same.

Ethical working based on doing what is right for all, rather than what works best for those making the decision, has to once again become the norm rather than the exception. For it is this institutionalised and subsequently conditioned practice which has created many of the problems not only in finance, but also in the quality and efficiency within all parts of Government which the Coalition now faces, manifested in services ranging from traffic management to the NHS.

Making savings of the level that have faced George Osborne was never going to be an easy task. But simply addressing the problem by imposing cuts that are ultimately doing nothing less than changing the systems which support everyday people to live real lives and takes Government further away from the public who pay for it is never going to be right. Worse still; it won’t solve the problem.

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

A General Strike will be little more than terrorism in a sanitised form

The saying ‘everything is relative’ is perhaps the most polite way to tell someone that they are being insular; focused only upon the impacts of a wider issue on themselves, or simply failing to grasp that each and every one of us has a different viewpoint and that they could perhaps do well to look at things a different way.

Whilst the possibility has been grumbling in the background for some time, this week has seen the first clear indication that the Unite Union is seeking to take a lead in initiating a General Strike, of the like this Country has not witnessed since 1926. But is this throw-back to an age when Unions may have still possessed some form of genuine purpose actually going to help anybody?

The excuse given for a level of action which is more likely to destroy support for Union Members rather than be of any benefit to it, is of course the measures of ‘austerity’ that the Coalition Government has apparently been taking. It is indeed no secret that these measures are resulting in the loss of jobs and Benefits; but it has also brought an end to the seemingly ceaseless momentum behind enhancement of conditions for professions which are most likely to yield Union Membership.

Even as a former business owner and politician elected on a Conservative ‘ticket’, I myself can see that there was a time when the rights and welfare of workers needed much greater consideration so that exploitation became the exception, rather than a rule in any sense at all.

But we live in very different times and the rights, conditions and systems of support which now exist at every level of business and Government for staff are already far beyond that which the Strikers of the Twenties would have ever dared to have imagined – even in their wildest dreams.

Few businesses would survive today for very long without paying wages that the market can sensibly sustain, or by providing conditions which do not genuinely reflect the value of any role within a business. Therefore, the question that we should now be asking is not whether business and Government should be forcefully coerced into paying more money in wages because of the threat of strike action from Unions, but rather if we as a Nation are already overburdened with Legislation affecting employers and their ability to create new jobs?

I consider myself as being fortunate to know and socialise with people from all walks of life and count many of them as friends. However, it has become increasingly clear that nobody has been insulated against the affects of our age of ‘austerity’, which itself has far more to do with the spiralling rises in the true cost of living for us all, rather than it does the efforts of a lacklustre Government tinkering around the edges of policy, covering cuts with band-aids when the breaks in our whole Society are so very much more profound.

Ironically, it is the very same failure on the part of Politicians to consider the full impact and self-serving nature of their actions (or lack of them) upon others and ultimately themselves that the Unions are now displaying – even by just talking-up the potential of a General Strike. Sadly, the similarities do not end there.

The horrible truth in all this is that neither the Government nor the Unions hold any genuine level of moral currency either in the way that our times of economic hardship have come into being, or by how either would act in their contributions to ultimately attempt to resolve it.

No group that is politically motivated, other than one which is truly and comprehensively people-centric will ever be ethically and morally sound. Until that time, the Unions would do well to remember that even the poorest of our Governments have been elected democratically and by majority votes.

However frustrated any of us feel, there are many more people suffering financial hardship beyond the realms of just those with Union Membership and there are far more appropriate and reasoned pathways to bring about the change that we all now need.

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