Saturday, June 25, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
- "power on a local authority to do things for a commercial purpose only if they are things which the authority may, in exercise of the general power, do otherwise than for a commercial purpose".
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Someone of immense wisdom* suggested to me the other day that the Liberal Democrats are at their best when the three drivers of Party activity - organising, campaigning and thinking - are all heading in the same direction at the same pace. In order to do that, you need people in each of the three strands who understand the value of the other two, and who are influential enough to make it happen.
Baroness Hussein-Ece To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the recent speech by the United Nations Secretary-General on the lack of progress towards a political solution to a divided Cyprus.
|Hector the Inspector|
Before I continue, for those of you below a certain age, Hector was, in his day, a bit of a trailblazer. He was the first attempt by the then Inland Revenue to reach out to the public as if to say, "look, we can laugh at ourselves too". And, believe it or not, his voice was provided by Alec Guinness, the only voiceover the great man ever did. But I digress.
When I started as a civil servant, at a time when tax assessments were produced by typists using carbon paper, we still had wax to seal documents and I occasionally worked by the light of a candle, the standard retirement age was sixty-five, just as it was for virtually everyone else. However, things were beginning to go badly for the then Conservative government, and it was decided that getting rid of a bunch of civil servants was necessary (and doubtless popular, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose).
However, firing people was bad for morale and, more importantly, expensive. And so the Conservatives thinkers came up with a brilliant plan. "I know, we'll reduce the retirement age to sixty and pension them all off!". "Brilliant idea George, let's do it!". And so, a number of my more aged colleagues were dragged away from jobs they rather enjoyed (and were quite good at), and force fed pensions. And the logic was obvious - it cost less to give them a pension than to keep them on the payroll. Well yes, in the short term, at least. Of course, you had to make them eligible for their pension, and that meant allowing civil servants to receive their pension at sixty.
At that time, you accrued your maximum pension entitlement after forty years which, if you had joined the Civil Service from school, you would manage that by the age of sixty. It wasn't so great if you had studied at university, but the pension was pretty good anyway, and the promised leisure time was kind of appealing.
The catch was obvious, giving every Civil Servant an extra five years of pension was likely to prove expensive eventually and, in truth, look rather generous from the perspective of everyone with real jobs (naturally, I am paid to drink tea and shuffle paper all day - you have no idea how difficult it is to do both at the same time...). But, as long as the economy was going well, it would be alright. Of course, it also assumed that the Civil Service wouldn't grow much either. So much for that theory...
The system was already beginning to creak and groan by the time Labour came into power in 1997, and before long, proposals to make the scheme less generous were forthcoming. However, to avoid the ignominy of civil servants doing even less than usual (note to the humourless - that's sarcasm, by the way), it was agreed that those of us already in the scheme would have the right to opt in to the new scheme, or remain in the old one. If you had served more than fifteen years, you were almost certainly better off staying put. If you had served less than twelve, you were better off moving over. Yes, you had to pay a bit more, but the benefits were enhanced a bit, and if you were a newcomer, you weren't given a choice anyway.
It still wasn't enough though, and it was soon time to restore the retirement age to sixty-five. That wasn't as helpful as it sounded though, as the reserved right to retire at sixty was retained. What that meant was that you could go on until sixty-five if you wished, but why do so if you could take a comfortable pension at sixty, live off of the lump sum for five years and then collect a state pension at sixty-five? However, it would begin to pay off somewhere around 2050...
Since then, the final salary scheme has been closed to all new entrants (2007), the mandatory retirement age has been abolished (2008), both of which potentially help the 'pension timebomb' at some point in the future. On the other hand, the maximum number of years for which you could contribute towards your pension was increased to forty-five - which did at least mean that you had to work the extra five years if you wanted to benefit.
So, that's the background to the current dilemma. Tomorrow, I'll look at some of the reasons why civil servants are so outraged...
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
57 Page 210, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 39 on page 212
Doesn't look like much, does it? However, the effect is wonderfully satisfying for those who have the interests of local government at heart, and the rather ecumenical nature of the proposers (one Labour, two Liberal Democrat and one Conservative) makes it all the more curious.
In one fell swoop, the amendment removes the proposal that elected mayors could become the chief executive officer, as well as much of the rubbish that gives him/her powers that would make the rest of your elected representatives pretty well redundant.
And, like all of the best amendments, it won't even get debated. Baroness Hanham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, said yesterday, in the early stages of the first day of the Committee Stage;
"At Second Reading I indicated that we would listen to noble Lords' concerns about shadow mayors and mayors as chief executives. We are keen to build on the common ground and consensus that the Bill has enjoyed. I should therefore like to say at this stage that when we reach the debate on mayoral provisions, the Government will be pleased to support amendments that have the effect of deleting from the Bill mayoral management arrangements; that is, mayors as chief executives and the concept of shadow mayors. In more detail, this means that we will delete mayoral management arrangements and we will be supporting Amendment 57 in the names of my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord Tope, Lady Scott of Needham Market and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. We will also be supporting Amendments 62A, 66A, 84E, 87A to 87D, 108A and 187 in the names of my noble friends Lord True and Lord Howard of Rising, which complete the changes needed to delete mayoral management arrangements."
So, no more shadow mayors either, another one of those absurd suggestions designed to (effectively) keep the question of an elected mayor on the agenda regardless of the lack of enthusiasm from all but those who aspire to be the elected mayor.
But it seems that I missed a small detail. Apparently, I am the Interim Chairman of the Parish Council until Steve signs the appropriate documents and assumes the chair. To be honest, I suspect that Rosemary, our Parish Clerk, withheld this small but important piece of information just in case I went berserk and started ordering trespassers to be shot or some such thing.
I admit that this is rather unlikely, but I am the most overtly political councillor on Creeting St Peter Parish Council, and I do have 'views', most of them about value for money and 'ordnung', admittedly.
My powers are fairly limited though, and as I don't even know how to turn on the street lights, Rosemary, and the village, are probably safe for the time being. And, in any event, I get to hand over the invisible chains of power in a fortnight's time...
Thursday, June 16, 2011
So, I had a look at their latest posting, and was interested to see that it addressed industrial relations. Given that I'm a fairly cynical member of a public sector union, PCS, what did Liberal Vision's contributor, Leslie Clark, have to say?
"Despite the recent results of Mugabesque proportions that were widely interpreted as an endorsement of anger against the Coalition..."
The use of ‘Mugabesque’, redolent as it is of individuals coerced into voting through fear, hardly reflects the reality of those pesky Trade Union ballots. As a public sector union member, that’s an image that is rather unfamiliar to me. Union ballots are run by the Electoral Reform Society’s ballot services arm, and I vote secretly in the comfort of my own home.
And yes, there is anger about pay and conditions. Three years of pay freezes have reduced living standards amongst civil servants, all of whom are doing jobs required by the Government, and most of whom are earning less than £25,000 per annum. Yes, argue about whether there should be as many of them as there are, or whether their tasks are really necessary, but his callous sarcasm directed at individuals struggling to raise their families and keep a roof over their heads indicates where his motives actually point towards. It should be unsurprising at a time when inflation is running at 4.5% and real incomes are falling by almost as much in the public sector that militancy is on the increase.
Add to that the proposal that civil servants make bigger contributions towards their pension - which implies another cut in real terms income, despite the fact that the value of the pension was taken into account when deciding pay scales and pay increases, the cynicism of his attitude knows no bounds.
"It goes without saying that introducing a minimum turnout wouldn’t drastically curb the fundamental right to withdraw one’s labour."
Of course it does, he wouldn't recommend it otherwise. The use of the warm and fuzzy word 'modernise' is a tactic beloved of all weasels in a tight corner. So, why not be honest here, public sector strikes are bad because they make the lives of people like Leslie Clark slightly less inconvenient.
His proposal to require minimum turnouts for strike ballots does two things – it incentives opponents of any proposal to simply stay at home, rather than engage, an action likely to entrench the sort of one-sided outcomes that so upset him, and it reduces the freedom of the individual union member to choose whether or not to participate as, under his proposals, union officials would need to actively drive up turnout by pressurising members to vote, creating the very scenario he appears to imagine exists now.
And he assumes that union members act like sheep, unable to think or act for themselves. Just because unions representing 750,000 public sector workers have voted for strike action doesn’t mean that 750,000 public sector workers will be missing on 30 June. I for one am expecting to turn up to do a day’s work as usual, and I’m guessing that I won’t be alone.
Strike action in the public sector is surprisingly rare. Giving up a day’s pay, plus a day of pension entitlement, is not done lightly, especially when most of those doing so earn less than the average wage.
His inconsistent approach to democratic legitimacy merely serves to infer that freedom, in his view, only applies to those of whom he approves, and that is no freedom at all. But, of course, he is writing on the blog of an organisation which has no internal democracy, is criticial of the internal democracy of the political party it claims to support and sees no paradox in being a collective endeavour whilst seeking to place limits on the freedoms of other collective endeavours.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
At a meeting of the Mid Suffolk South Area Committee of SALC, the Suffolk Association of Local Councils, Cllr. Mark Valladares raised local concerns about poor communication of the closure of the village's main link to Stowmarket recently.
In a conversation with County Council Highways official, Steve Bone, Cllr. Valladares noted the failure to notify villagers of the closure, pointing out that had he not taken it upon himself to circulate the information, drivers would only have discovered the closure on reaching the junction of Pound Road and Mill Lane.
He also noted the failure to co-ordinate roadworks, given that at the same time, Church Road in Stowupland, the only other convenient route to Stowmarket, was the subject of redressing, reducing traffic speeds to 20 mph.
Other subjects raised included the dangerous right hand turn from the A1120 into Creeting Lane, and the filling of the grit bin in The Lane.
"It really isn't good enough,", claimed Cllr. Valladares, "the County Council needs to be more careful in scheduling road closures, especially when fuel costs are soaring. Long diversions, especially when they are unexpected, are costly to those of us who live in villages.".
Meanwhile, the closure of Creeting Road, on the edge of the parish at the entrance to Cedars Park, has overrun, although the road is now passable, and should reopen to traffic shortly.
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Monday, June 13, 2011
|Anyone would think that I wasn't taking this seriously...|
Having obfuscated with rare style over the future of Miliband, the conversation turned to Lords Reform. As a senior Labour Peer, his opinion undoubtedly matters. He is rather well-connected in Labour circles. So, we can expect his arguments to be echoed in future debates, which makes his comment that the Coalition has introduced more than one hundred new Peers all the more depressing.
Regardless of which side of the debate on Lords Reform you find yourself (and I'm sitting on the fence marked 'conflict of interest'), it would be helpful if Labour didn't distort the facts in support of an argument which opposes a manifesto pledge of theirs. Yes, more than one hundred new Peers have been introduced, but as half of them were appointed by the outgoing Labour administration on a list which was repeatedly delayed by the inability of Gordon Brown to sign it off, Charlie's comment is, to put it mildly, misleading.
And so, when he calls for the sort of minor changes that he saw no need for when on the Government benches, you can safely assume that he has slipped comfortably into Labour's stance that everything on the Government's agenda is wrong, unnecessary, or being done too fast.
And yet, didn't his mob abolish all but ninety-two of the hereditary Peers, attempt to unconstitutionally abolish the post of Lord Chancellor, and use the Lords as a retirement home for aging Labour MPs to create vacancies for the chosen friends of the leadership and their Union boss friends? You know, I think that they might have done.
Was it unnecessary then? Did it contribute to the reduction of child poverty? Did it create a single new job (apart from for Tony and Gordon's mates)? No, but it was the right thing to do at the time. Or was it just another cynical act designed to attract the votes of those who seek constitutional reform? You might say so, but I couldn't possibly comment...
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It is all too easy to create a credible story and portray it as real life, especially when it plays to an agenda that people want to believe in. In this case, a repressive regime torturing and killing its citizens, in a country where LGBT rights are limited/non-existent, and where information is heavily restricted, provides a background for a really good tale.
The irony, of course, is that somewhere out there, there is almost certainly a young lesbian Syrian, whose experiences would make great, dramatic reportage. She probably doesn't have internet access though and, even if she did, she probably wouldn't be believed now. Indeed, there has already been a backlash from genuine LGBT activists in the Middle East, condemning Tom MacMaster (the person behind the Amina persona) for his actions.
But why would he do such a thing? His claim to have been raising issues that he cared about may be entirely genuine, but the resulting damage to the credibility of all bloggers purporting to be reporting actual events in Syria only helps one party - the Syrian regime. Because, let's be honest, anyone who reads tales of violence, torture and oppression coming out of Deraa or Jisr Al-Shagourh is going to be thinking, "Is this real?". As far as the Syrian government is concerned, job done.
Which leads you to another, darker possibility, that Mr McMaster is in the pay of the Syrian regime. Naturally, I don't believe that he is, but when you've gone to so much trouble to create a fake persona, you might understand why some might wonder.
The whole story should act as a reminder to us all though. If you really want to 'succeed' as a blogger of record, as opposed to just expressing an opinion, you need to apply verifiable facts, a task made more difficult by the sheer mass of information out there. And, sometimes, the 'facts' out there have been propagated by people whose agenda might not be entirely open or honest...
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Sunday, June 05, 2011
Friday, June 03, 2011
Much has been said already about Andrew, and Callum Leslie and Caron Lindsay have said much of it far better than I ever could. However, it would be remiss of me not to retell my personal 'Andrew story'.
Whilst Ros was running for the Party Presidency, and not long after Andrew had taken up his new role in Scotland, she made plans to spend polling day at the Glasgow East by-election. Unfortunately, Parliamentary business meant that she couldn't make it and, as the train tickets and hotel booking were non-refundable, it looked like a lot of money was going to waste. So, rather than have that happen, I went up to Glasgow on a whim, unannounced. As I walked into the committee room, Andrew looked at me as though I was the last person he expected to see, but set me to work immediately.
I noted that the committee room was a bit spartan and he explained, with a glint in his eye, that "if the committee room's too comfortable, people hang around instead of getting out and doing things". I left that office for more than just grudging respect for a man whose skills were so valuable and character so steadfast.
My condolences go to Roger, who I never met, but know made Andrew happy, and to the Scottish Liberal Democrat family, who had taken him to their heart, and who have had a horrible month.
Andrew, you're already missed...
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Thursday, June 02, 2011
I was looking forward to Birmingham even less. Without any real purpose for being there, with the prospect of even greater security, and having seen the cost of conference hotels, it did cross my mind that I didn't actually have to go. And, of course, I don't.
But now that it becomes apparent that I might not be able to go anyway, I do wonder if I really want to bother at all. When I applied for a spouse pass for the House of Lords, my application was delayed for further checks - it's a long story, and quite a dull one, so you'll pardon me if I don't go into details. If the checks for Federal Conference are of a similar nature, they make take some time, and the temptation would be to refuse me on the grounds of caution.
It is unlikely that I will be refused accreditation, I admit, but it is possible that friends or acquaintances may be, and I'm uncomfortable about condoning such a possibility, indeed I am angered by the notion that the Greater Manchester Police should have the power to decide who may, or may not, attend our Party Conferences.
And yes, there are those who suggest that this is merely a by-product of our Party's accession to government, and that the concerns shown by a number of people whom I like and respect are overblown. However, it is a principle of liberalism that the State shall not interfere with our legitimate freedoms without just cause, and I am yet to be reassured that the case has been made.
It is not an easy time to be a liberal in politics, and a squabble which leads us to question the very principles we believe in hardly makes things easier.
However, on the positive side, I am led to believe that a full explanation is forthcoming from Andrew Wiseman, the Chair of the Federal Conference Committee, and as I know Andrew to be a decent, John Stuart Mill-fearing liberal, I'm happy to await his comments before I make a personal decision on whether or not to attend.