British Politics’s Blog

The ravings of an individual, UK voter frustrated with our politicians

Archive for September 2008

Tories vow to address the health and safety culture

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Not before time, a UK political party has committed to address the almost farcical health & safety culture that has built up in the UK, not least its affect on the ability of the emergency services to do their jobs.

I remember discussing the case of Jordan Lyon who drowned last year with an ex-fireman. This young boy drowned even though two Community Safety Officers were on the scene, because these ‘officers’ did not have the appropriate training. The ex-fireman told me that the fire service is also tied up with Health & Safety red tape, to the extent, that if a fireman was to enter the water to save someones life, without the requisite support, then he could have faced losing his job and pension. I was appalled. If you take on the job of a police office or a fireman, you know that at times, you will have to risk your life to save others, very often, it is a judgement call, to have that decision made by health & safety officials is deplorable.

Imagine the situation if all our armed forces were forced to consider the health & safety risks before they went into battle. When you join the army, you know that you may be called upon to fight for your country and lay your life down in that service. You are entitled to expect senior officers to complete a risk assessment and not waste young lives, but not a health & safety officer! Yet here we are, with health & safety officers placing a raft of conditions on police officers and fireman. The public are entitled to expect the emergency services to help us when we are in need, they have chosen that vocation, are paid to do the job and they know the risks. They should not be prevented from doing their jobs through red tape.

Clearly this government does not understand the implications of all this, although that is not particularly surprising, given they are so out of touch with the people of this country. I normally have a lot of time for Home Office Minister Tony McNulty, but here is what he had to say about the conservative proposals. “The lives of police officers and Police Community Support Officers are as important as those of the people they serve, and this government will back the police service in the day to-day operational decisions they make in protecting the public against crime and terrorism. “And we will ensure that the criminal justice system is firmly weighted in favour of the victim, not the criminal.” Yes, but these officers know the risks and they are paid to do a job, they should be allowed to get on with it.

I would suggest he ask the rank and file members of our emergency services as to whether or not they are in favour of all of these health & safety rules, whether they see it as the government protecting them, or unnecessary interference, in as much as it prevents an officer from making a safety assessment on the spot. There are 167,000 police officers in this country, yet we feel less safe than we did 20 years ago, why is that, could it be something to do with the fact that in many cases, police officers are prevented to go into a dangerous situation, unless they have back up?

We are constantly told that the emergency services deserve good salaries and pension schemes, because of the risks they take to protect the public, yet more and more, they are required to take less risk. Our police officers and firemen should not be risk averse, they must be brave, they are charged with protecting the public and they must be allowed to do so. With this health & safety culture of ours, we will never know whether lives are lost because officers don’t have the backbone to go in, or if they are simply following health & safety rules. I would hope that these officers are not hiding behind these rules, I am sure they are not, but unless they also make it clear that they do not want these restrictions, what is the public to think?

On top of all this, I believe there needs to be a very clear definition of ‘reasonable force’, it is currently very vague. There is a need for the public to act in cases when their are no police officers around, or the police are not allowed to act for fear of losing their jobs. Where the public do act, they must be protected by law, they should not live in fear of prosecution. In my view, reasonable force is any act necessary to prevent the threat and the benefit of doubt should always be given to the member of public that has intervened where a police officer couldn’t or wouldn’t.

But the conservatives should also deal with health and safety regulations in the workplace, this has gone so far, that it is simply killing small business who must either employ and health & safety officer or use the services of a consultant. Yes there must be rules because the public and employees are entitled to be protected, but health and safety has now turned into a massive industry and it is costing every single one of us. There needs to be balance. Once again, I hope the conservatives will be bold in their policies, there is no point in meddling, Health & Safety Regulations need wholesale reform.

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Bankers must accept their own responsibility

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It is difficult to argue with the suggestion put forward by Power to the People, suggesting as it does, that the bankers should be held to account for their poor decision making that has, for the most part, brought about the current crisis.

When the dust settles, governments around the world need to reflect on precisely how a situation arose, where taxpayers were required to bail out struggling banks and insurers. This should be wide ranging and lead to both regulation and prosecution.

Power to the People

There is much talk about government responsibility through the poor enforcement of existing regulation and the need for more regulation and legislation. However, the bottom line is that the whole ethos of the city is that it thrives on being a free market. So yes, by all means include further regulation to avoid a repeat of the current fiasco, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, remind city execurtives, whether they are from the banking, insurance or any other sector, that they are trustees of the shareholders, they are expected to increase wealth, not take massive gambles, which expose the very assets they are supposed to protect and grow.

There is a very good argument for prosecuting those executives that were involved in the decision making process that brought about this calamity, no matter where they are based. Their assets should be frozen and if they are found guilty, they should be siezed, only then can we be sure that they will have learned their lesson.

 

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Bradford & Bingley nationalisation, is it a good deal?

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As I have said, not for the first time, I am no financial expert, but I am a little confused about the ‘part nationalisation’and ‘part sell-off’ of the Bradford & Bingley deal. I accept that there is probably still more detail to come about, but from the little that is available, I find myself wondering, whether the government, on behalf of the hard-pressed taxpayers of this country, worked out a good deal.

In the past, building societies received deposits, in order that they could then use that money to offer mortgages and loans to others. The saver would receive interest on their money, the mortgage payer would pay interest on their borrowings and the building society would take a commission in return for the introduction and managing of the arrangement. Although this model has been turned on its head, with the wholesale trading of these mortgages, the principle should still be sound.

Therefore, if the government have taken on all of the mortgage debt of the Bradford & Bingley, estimated to be some £50bn, why not retain the deposits as well? Instead, they “sell”, the ambitious Spanish conglomerate, Santander, some £20bn of saver deposits (2.7 million people), for the miserly some of £612m. How can this be a good deal for the taxpayer? How can the government be so sure that the savers interests are protected, given we don’t really know that much about Santander. In fact, if the government were responsible for the sale of these customer deposits and something were to happen to Santander, would the government be culpable or liable, given it was they who negotiated the deal?

This particular arrangement can’t be good for the employees either, because Bradford & Bingley employed some 3,000 people and operated 197 branches. Does anyone imagine that a foreign owned bank, will give a toss about these employees? No, from what I can see, the UK government has passed over the profitable side of Bradford & Bingley to the Spanish owned bank ‘Abbey’, whilst leaving the British taxpayer exposed with just the bad mortgage debt. What was the point in getting rid of depositors money which has traditionally been used to offset mortgages? Looks like a very poorly thought out deal to me and somebody needs to explain why? Santander must be rubbing their hands with glee at the at the apparent naivety of the UK government.

I would not normally be a supporter of nationalisation, although in this case, as in the case of Northern Rock, there was probably no palatable alternative. However, I do believe that the government is responsible for driving home a decent deal for the taxpayers, they have a duty of care to the public purse and a responsibility to the taxpayer. No matter how urgent the problem, they should not lose sight of this. Yet here, from what I can see and perhaps against the views of many other observers, I fail to see how anyone, other than Santander would be considered to a be a winner.

HSBC increases mortgage rates in the UK

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HSBC have announced an increase in their mortgage rates to borrowers which will affect hundreds of thousands of borrowers. Now, whilst I accept that the inter bank lending rate has risen and that the banks have losses to contend with, this should be weighted against the fact that the same people that have mortgages, the tax payer, are currently accepting the increased risk brought about by the incompetence of the banks.

The Bank of England has advanced £billions of tax payers money to help prop the banks, this is not a risk free strategy and the evidence suggests that it hasn’t worked anyway. But there needs to be some form of quid pro quo, if the Bank of England is advancing the bank’s our money, then there needs to be a cap on the level of mortgage increases levied by these banks. Mortgage rate increases should be commensurate with need not greed. The simply can’t have it both ways. I would hope that the Bank of England and/or the government have sought some time of assurance from the bank’s that they won’t shaft mortgage payers in order to have a quick fix for their profits. Based on experience, I suspect this has not happened, but rest assured, a more savvy public will be watching and waiting.

Tax payer owned (not government owned as is often the way it is described), Northern Rock has indicated that it may well follow suit. Northern Rock should be setting an example for other lenders, no playing a game of me too.

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25 September, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Labour MP, Caroline Flint shows the way forward

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I have long felt that Caroline Flint is one of the more intelligent members of the Labour cabinet, not that this would be particularly difficult, but she certainly shines above the rest. In a fringe meeting at the Labour Conference, she once again demonstrated that she has a better idea of where Labour needs to be, than it’s current leadership.

She said “We have to govern for the 80% of ordinary people who work hard, whether they have a minimum wage or whether they have a degree. The majority of people who work hard, take the ups and downs, pay their taxes and support their kids and ask for very little from the state deserve the attention of our government.”

She is completely right! Caroline Flint argues that middle income earners feel a strong sense of unfairness demonstrated by the policies of this government. She also fundamentally disagrees with the notion pur forward by think tank, Compass, which suggests that Labour must concentrate on the poorest people in order to win the next general election. Right again Caroline.

What this government has failed to grasp is, that it is primarily the middle income earners that fund this government’s projects through higher taxes and the payment of surcharges, for example, the £35 a year levied by the energy companies for their energy saving measures offered to the poorest members of our community. So, whilst the middle income earners are paying for the governments pet projects, they earn too much to benefit from tax credits and other ‘benefits’, but too little to be able to shrug off the rising prices. They are the forgotten majority and any government that ignores them, does so at their peril.

For too long, this government has battered middle income earners, with higher direct taxation, introducing measures to push them into the 40% tax bracket, green taxes, the list goes on. Then they are told that they don’t qualify for most, if any of the measures they have paid for. It is appalling, and it has taken Caroline Flint to point this out, even David Cameron’s conservative party and Nick Cleggs LibDems have failed to highlight this indifference and victimisation. As for Gordon Brown, how can any middle income earners believe his fairer society speech?

Let us hope that Gordon Brown listens to Caroline Flint, or better still, given the Labour party is going to lose the next election, the opposition parties could take up the mantle and offer to redress the balance. I am not an analyst, but I would guess that many of the moderate income earners are in fact what would be termed ‘floating voters’. Our politician’s should start to listen more, if not to the public, then Caroline Flint.

John Prescott thinks Labour can win a fourth term

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Though it may come as no particular surprise to anyone, John Prescott is as deluded as his mate “Gordon”. At the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, Prescott could be heard shouting, “The election is 18 months away. We should proudly defend our record, we don’t do enough of that“. He then added that Gordon Brown is, “a man of capabilities, a man who can be trusted and a man who can deal with the problems“. He then went on to claim that Labour could win a fourth term. I have got news for you Mr Prescott, there is not a cat in hells chance that Labour will win another term in office. I would bet my house on it, but I doubt that will be worth much in 18 months!

You can’t knock the man for party loyalty, but this is at the expense of reality, because few people are listening and even fewer, other than hardcore Labour supporters, believe that Gordon Brown has a record to be proud of.

Yesterday’s man, John Prescott believes that if you shout loud enough people will listen, but they don’t, when he says something, people are just turned off. In government, John Prescott’s primary role was as a marriage guidance counsellor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and what a price the tax payer has had to pay for those sessions. In spite of the fact that John Prescott spent £billions of tax payers money, can anyone demonstrate one tangible benefit achieved by his involvement, in transport, the regions and the environment?

Whenever I hear John Prescott, I have a vision of the archetypal schoolyard bully boy, not a serious politician. I think Gordon Brown has enough problems, without John Prescott reminding people of Gordon Brown’s legacy, after all, that is why we are in the mess we are.

Gordon Brown criticises companies for off-balance sheet activities

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What a hypocrite Gordon Brown is, this man lauded for his so called economic competence. In an in interview with Sky News, Gordon Brown criticises companies for running “large off-balance activities”. He then goes on to say, “We cannot excuse the irresponsibility that took place in a number of institutions. And, you guessed it, he did this with a straight face and no sense of irony.

So, this is the same man, that to be certain that he did not break his own golden rules, ensured that the cost of the Private Finance Initiative’s (PFI’s), were not included on the government’s own books. These are calculated to cost the tax payer some £172bn between now and 2032. This is the same man that forked out £110bn of tax payers money in loans and guarantees for Northern Rock, once again, ensuring that it was not included on the government’s balance sheet.

Then there is a further £1.7bn that the government must pay for Metronet’s debts, this figure is also excluded from the governments balance sheet. There is also a further, estimated £790bn in government pension deficits, this is another liability that is excluded from the government;s balance sheet. Now I accept that this may be ‘legal’ but it is morally wrong and serves only to deceive us all into a false sense of security. Some would argue that the game that these large companies and institutions alluded to in Gordon Brown’s interview did nothing more than he has.

Now, Gordon Brown has says that “It’s got to be cleaned up and its got to be cleaned up quickly.” I would hope, that when he is considering these words, he will consider his own actions, because their are many in this country that would consider his own actions as “irresponsible” and “inexcusable”. Enough said!

 

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