Thursday, January 17, 2008

Radicals on the Internet

The internet is a wonderful thing. It allows social networks to form that bring small numbers of interested people together in ways that were impossible before. So, new mothers with twins, or cancer patients, or coin collectors can virtually meet and converse in a community, representing a real change to the way that people with the same issue or outlook or hobby organise themselves. Unfortunately, this also applies to suicidal people, anorexics, or those deluded by the half-truths of bogus science. It also applies to terrorists. Now, this social shift happened years ago and it has taken years for the government to belatedly wake up to the new dangers of an interconnected world. Some wannabee terrorist can put up a load of inflammatory material on a website, moderate a forum for violent nihilists from across the country and recruit and indoctrinate the vulnerable by remote control. At last something is being done about it, with an announcement by the government that what action can be taken will be taken. Regulating the Internet is very difficult because it crosses frontiers and material that is illegal or offensive in one jurisdiction can be sited in another, and so evade legal action. However, difficulty is no excuse for doing nothing. Let's hope the government doesn't get so far behind the next technology and social trend.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Northern Rock Nationalisation Endgame

Some time I blog posted that Northern Rock has been effectively nationalised by the extension of huge government loans to prop it up. Now, it looks like the de facto nationalisation will be formalised in a week or two. The chances of a private-sector rescue for Northern Rock were always pretty low because of the fundamental state of the business. With a damaged credit rating and a low-margin loan book, Northern Rock would always struggle to be profitable without the cheap finance that was available before the credit crunch. Then there is the business logic of buying into a business with a mortgage book secured on UK houses just as house prices start to slip. It is no surprise that institutional investors are reluctant and so the final consequence of the the government's blundering is likely to be a giant liability in the form of the wreck of a middle-sized financial institution. One thing is not clear, however. What will the government do with the Rock if they get it? There are two options: one is run the business down, fire most of the staff and sell of the assets to refund the public loans. The other is to try and run it as a bank, hoping that it can turn a corner and pay back the taxpayer when the now successful company is sold. Option one, break up and asset realisation, is probably the most sensible. It is also immensely politically painful and that is why the government will probably go for trying to keep the business going. This would be a mistake. Northern Rock is finished in its current form, the market is saying so by refusing to fund a bailout and, for once, the government should listen.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sporting Village Pre-Qualification Ends Successfully

We have just finished the pre-qualification stage in the procurement of the Sporting Village for Basildon District. This will provide our community with absolutely top-notch sporting facilities for sports from casual use all the way to elite sports of the highest standard. The Council is currently engaging in the process to select a development partner to build and operate the Sporting Village, a process which is dictated by EU regulations and which is rather long and tortuous. This is first stage where companies who want to be a part of the project have to more than just express an interest, they have to provide reams of information for evaluation. So, that cuts it down the field to those with a serious interest. While there will be an official Council communication later, I can say at this point that we are pleased with how things have gone. The project stays firmly on track, with a timescale that, if everything works out, will see Basildon with the facilities to support the London Olympics in 2012.

The Sporting Village will make Basildon the hub for sport in South Essex, and one of the key locations for sport in the East of England, if not England itself. This is good for our young people and good for our community, and a credit to our partners, including Essex County Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government as well as the officers of Basildon District Council, who have worked so hard get us to this stage.