Saturday, April 04, 2009

G20 Sums don't add up

Gordon Brown is likely to get a poll boost from the G20 summit. However, it is likely to be short-lived for two reasons. The first is that there are no short-term measures from there that will affect the problems that are affecting real people today. Unemployment is likely to continue to rise and the pressure on returns for savers and investors will remain. Prices are still also rising, though the rate is slowing, but the net effect is that very large numbers of people are finding their circumstances greatly reduced and this will not change quickly.

The second reason is more technical, the numbers don't add up. According to government spin, the summit represented a £1 trillion boost to the world economy. Well, the FT has deconstructed it and if you take out measures already in train and exclude uncommitted spend the number for actual new money is actually under £100 billion. So, we have a typical Labour spin operation, pump out misleading numbers, get the headlines and don't worry if it all unravels later. It took about 1 day for the financial markets to twig judging from the indices, and mainstream economic and political reporting won't be far behind.

Short-lived bounce indeed.

Labour preparing for IMF Bailout - Britain Bankrupt?

Today's Telegraph is reporting that a Labour 'Senior Cabinet Member' has told them that applying for International Monetary Fund aid wouldn't be anything to be too concerned about. This is, of course, nonsense. Getting your country into a state where it cannot pay its bills without outside help is disastrous. Apart from the huge loss of national credibility and international confidence, IMF aid always comes with stringent conditions, so we would be outsourcing our economic policy to unelected foreign bankers. It is a huge admission of abject failure by a government and when Labour last did it in 1976 it took decades for them to recover any reputation for economic competence. That they have brought us to this is an indication of just how badly they have mismanaged the economy, despite inheriting an excellent position from John Major and benefitting from a decade-long global boom. Note that we are the only comparible country talking in this way, so all of that guff about Britian being best-placed to withstand a global downturn is exposed as simple spin.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Basildon Echo hatchet job on Town Centre lights

Our local paper, the Echo, has run an appalling article on the Council's project to improve the lighting in Basildon Town Centre. This work is funded via English Partnerships, now the HCA, as part of a £2m package we agreed for improvements to the town centre, and has been nearly two years in planning. The thrust of the article is that there is popular and political dissatisfaction with the investment and that it should have gone to other 'community projects', there is also an underlying theme that the lights are too 'flashy' and a comparison is made to some piece of public art in Southend, which is a different Council some miles away. In evidence the journalist turns to the always reliable method of vox-popping, that is asking people in the street. Of course, we don't know what question was asked, or how many people were asked. What we don't get though, even from that form of research, is any impression that there is some widely-held belief that there is some particlar critical investment that should have been prioritised over this. This speaks to the basic journalistic integrity of the story itself. If there is no popular feeling then there is no story. All there is the fact that some people when presented with an unknown question would like the money spent on something else, hardly the stuff of front pages. One of the vox-pops was even from Benfleet, which is part of Castle Point Borough next door.

It should also be pointed out that when this item came up before the Council's cabinet, which is all-party, it went though unanimously. So, there is broad political support too. Once again, no story.

Worse than all of this, the article presented a false choice. The funding was for improvements to Basildon Town Centre. It can't be spent on anything else. One of the options suggested in the article was education, which is not even a District Council responsibility. Now, people in the street might be forgiven for not knowing this, but the reporter did know, which shows a further failing in the basic integrity of the article.

The reason we are putting in improved lighting is quite simple. Basildon Town Centre is too dark at night, not a matter of opinion, light levels are easy to measure. This means that it can look threatening, especially in winter, and contributes to the lack of an evening economy in much of the town centre. There are also basic and quite obvious public safety issues associated with poor lighting levels. Of course, the article didn't mention any of this. On the matter of the quality of the 'flashy' lighting, than I will make no apology. The current light poles are nondescript and tatty. We want something better for our largest town centre. The Echo view is that second-rate is good enough for Basildon, well I profoundly disagree.

I don't know why the Echo chose to spin this story this way. They could have just reported the facts and left it at that. They could even have talked it up, as most people would regard investment in our public spaces as a good thing, especially when it acts in support of hard-pressed local business. Instead, they ignored public safety, treated the funding as usable for any purpose, and supported their position by no evidence beyond quotes from a public who did not evidence any general popular feeling in favour of any other project.

It was a very great shame to see it on the front page.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Basildon Council - Positive Coverage in the Mirror!

In February Conservative-controlled Basildon Council introduced free parking in Council car parks at weekends. We did it because the high streets in Basildon District were being hit hard by the recession, with many small, independent retailers under threat. Like everywhere else, our town centres have to compete with out-of-town shopping parks, which have uniformly free parking, and with people tightening their belts the extra cost of parking was a disincentive to use local shops at the heart of the community. So, the measure, which costs £100k in lost revenue for a full year is just one of the ways that the Council is helping in the midst of Gordon Brown's recession. The good news is that everyone seems to reckon that it is a good idea, even, astonishingly, the Mirror, which doesn't usually spend much time praising Conservative Councils.

The move was initially opposed by our Labour opposition on the basis that they would have spent the money on other things. That has now changed, and in a bit of grownup politics the leader of the Labour group admitted that they had got that one wrong. All credit to Lynda Gordon for being big enough to do that.