Friday, November 16, 2007

Northern Rock bosses sacked

You bet your company on the international money markets and lose, creating the first run on a British bank for 158 years and are only saved from bankruptcy by government intervention and they still leave you in charge, until now that is. Finally, someone has figured out that the Northern Rock fiasco was down to bad catastrophic management and the guilty parties have been shown the door. Except not yet. Apparently, Adam Applegarth, the CEO, is being kept on until January as an 'advisor'. Is this so he can go to the firm's Christmas party? This chap has caused over £20 billion of taxpayers money to be tied up in his little business scheme and there is a real prospect that some of that may be lost. Every taxpayer in the UK has effectively invested in Northern Rock because we have a financial regulatory system that failed and a government without the bottle to let a bank fail when it richly deserved to do so, but in the final analysis the blame lies with Applegarth and his cronies on the Northern Rock board. They should have been sacked sooner, and the way that this is being handled does not auger well for the takeover bids and rescue plans that are now jostling for attention because the now ex-management appear to have done little to stop the value draining out of what was left of their business. In the end it will be shareholders, staff and taxpayers who will suffer for that.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Commons public accounts committee slates Thames Gateway

The view of the Public Accounts Committee on the Thames Gateway is that:
Without significant improvement in the overall management of the programme it will remain a series of disjointed projects and is unlikely to achieve its potential to make a major difference to economic regeneration and sustainable housing.
That is just an excerpt from a relentlessly critical report on the huge Thames Gateway project, which is the largest regeneration project in Europe. Now I have an insider view on this: I sit on the Basildon Renaissance Partnership and I chair the Thames Gateway South Essex Economy and Inward Investment Board and I think that the MPs do and don't have a point. First of all the Thames Gateway project is a worthy one, and without it the growing prosperity of the area will still leave areas of deprivation and inadequate infrastructure. Unfortunately, the scale of the endeavour is matched by its difficulty. Regeneration that works across numerous local authorities and communities is hard to organise and the professional talent that is needed is scarce. The project did not get off to a good start either, with John Prescott running it under the now defunct Office of the Deputy Prime-Minister. He was not a good leader and his department made numerous mistakes, not least in grossly complicating the planning system, which then made delivering regeneration on the ground a tortuous process. That having been said, from my lowly viewpoint things are happening. Basildon at least has a thriving regeneration programme that has been enabled by carefully targeted funding from the Thames Gateway organisation. In Thurrock there is a port project that will eventually handle half of the UK's container traffic, and there are other schemes elsewhere in the Gateway. It is when you step back and look at achievements in aggregate through the Thames Gateway that things start to look uneven. In particular, there are issues with housing delivery and the CLG seems to be under pressure from other government departments. One point in the report is on how local MPs have been engaged, and I know that there are certainly issues there in other parts of South Essex. Here in Basildon we make a point of meeting with our local parliamentarians, and both John Baron and Angela Smith have been very supportive.

What will be interesting is how the Thames Gateway project's leadership reacts. I hope that they push through the strident tone of the report and look carefully at each point in turn, because there are some things to fix.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Conservatives on votes for Council Tax

David Cameron has proposed that Councils who want to raise their taxes above a certain limit must ask their people in a referendum. The idea was immediately rubbished on the the Today programme by the BBC's 'expert' commentators who said that because people would never vote for higher taxes it was just the same as the current capping regime. There are examples, from Croydon and Bristol, where people who were faced with a choice certainly did vote for the lowest possible Council Tax increase. Case closed you might have thought if you listened to the piece. The thing is that the BBC in their never-ending quest to be even-handed did not mention Milton Keynes. Here a vote was offered on three Council Tax alternatives and on a turn-out higher than the local elections people did not vote for the lowest, going for the rise in the middle of the range instead. So, the BBC's contemptuous dismissal of the Conservative proposals that was based on an assumption that people only ever act in their own narrow self-interest was simply wrong. It does, however illustrate the soft-left view that people cannot be trusted and must be corralled by their betters instead of being given any real power or choice themselves. Actually, I think that the idea could work and that people would vote for a well made case, even if it meant paying a higher tax. They did in Milton Keynes.

It all reflects the Conservative agenda of pushing power down to individuals and communities. After ten years of this controlling, target-obsessed government it is time that the argument moved on.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Conservatives ahead by 8

From the Sunday papers:
An exclusive ICM poll for the Sunday Express put the Tories on 43 per cent, Labour on 35 per cent and the Lib-Dems on 15 per cent. The eight-point lead – a three-point rise on the last ICM poll a fortnight ago – would be enough to give David Cameron a slim overall majority in a General Election.
The Conservatives are up three from two weeks ago, all at the expense of the the Liberal Democrats who are down three. Labour have not moved despite the re-launch of the Queen's speech. While Labour has had mid-term blues before this is the first sustained period that the Conservative Party has been running at 40+ in the polls since 1992.

Labour thinks Basildon is on welfare

Basildon survives on government handouts, according to the local Labour party that is. We were debating Basildon's Regeneration Framework at the Council's Cabinet when the Leader of the Labour Group came out with the claim that Basildon District gets more government money in the form of subsidies and investment than it returns to the government in the form of tax. Now, the Regeneration Framework is our way of presenting our multiplicity of regeneration projects as a coherent whole, and many of those projects have had government funding in one form of another, but to move from that to the idea that Basildon District is basically on benefits is a bit of a leap. Basildon is in southern England within striking distance of the London economic powerhouse, our largest industrial and business area employs 40000 people and the District has areas that are very affluent indeed. Is it even remotely likely that its contribution to the exchequer is net negative? If Basildon as a successful District in southern county is on welfare then which part of the country is providing the subsidy? All in all this harks back to the old Labour tactic of running Basildon down in an effort to obtain more cash from the government. Our approach is to demonstrate our success in order to show that Basildon District is the right place to invest. That at least has the virtue that it works.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Cross-party push to lower abortion age

It appears that a government bill just introduced into the Commons is going to be amended in an effort to reduce the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 20. So, this issue will again be a matter for public an parliamentary debate. The arguments on abortion are complex; on the one hand a termination may be needed for medical reasons, which has now come to include the mindset of the mothers. On the other hand medical science has now moved to the point that an embryo at 24 weeks is more like a baby at 24 weeks, with theoretical survival rates now around 40%. So, at that limit babies are dying who might otherwise have lived. There are extremes of opinion on either side; people who believe that abortion should not be allowed at all or people who think that it should be allowed on demand at any time before the child emerges at nine months. The former clearly have a point when it comes to regarding human life as being special, anyone who thinks differently should research societies can become when human life comes to be regarded as disposable. However, they do not have a point at least in the case of medical harm to the mother. The latter argument would at the extreme turn doctors into murderers.

Abortion should be allowed, but as medical science advances it is going to be progressively more difficult to maintain the current limits, and that situation is going to become steadily worse in the future. At this time a reduction from 24 to 20 weeks is reasonable, but it won't be the last word.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Labour Defence Minister quits to go car racing

You couldn't make it up. The defence procurement minister, you know the chap responsible for getting the kit into our soldiers' hands, has quit to go and compete in the Le Mans motor race. Our men and women are dying for want of equipment, as shown by a coroner's verdict today, and this man decides to wander off on an extended holiday. So much for being a Labour 'working' peer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Brown's Vision hidden in Queen's Speech

A Zen master once asked what is the sound of one hand clapping? The answer is the appropriate response to Gordon Brown's program for the new parliament. True there is a lot of legislation and a few sound bites, but is there is nothing on the biggest problems facing our people today. On immigration there is actually nothing. On reform of the benefits system, almost nothing, and absolutely nothing on able-bodied people ending up in permanent dependency on the State. On crime we have a measures to do things to people after they have been convicted, nothing on prevention or detection or getting more police out on the street. Then we have a manufactured row in the making about extending the detention without being charged of terrorist suspects to 56 days from the current 28. There is absolutely no evidence that this is needed, and no terrorist suspect has ever failed to be charged or released inside the current 28 days, so the only reason for this is to get the opposition to vote against and then portray them as soft on terrorism. Never mind actually doing any good for our country. David Cameron's response was to call Brown weak. Personally, I never thought I would miss Tony Blair.

Monday, November 05, 2007

John Baron MP: ISTC for Basildon is now killed off

Having now been told in writing by the Government that no Independent Sector Treatment Centre (ISTC) for Basildon would go ahead against the wishes of the local NHS, and having recently met with SW Essex Primary Care Trust (PCT) and been informed of their decision to oppose the idea, John Baron MP has said that the proposal for an ISTC for Basildon has now effectively been killed off. John and Basildon Hospital have long argued that such a scheme would disrupt existing NHS services, undermine staff training, and threaten patient choice. Now the plans appear to have been blocked.

Commenting, John said:

“Given that a Government letter to me has clearly stated that an ISTC will not be imposed on Basildon against the wishes of the local NHS, and now that both SW Essex PCT and Basildon Hospital have come out against it, a local ISTC is now dead in the water.”

“Major changes to the health service cannot proceed without the support of the local NHS and residents. I have therefore written to the Government reminding them of their promise and asking them to confirm that plans for an ISTC for Basildon have now been shelved.”

“I welcome the PCT’s decision to oppose an independent hospital in Basildon. Our existing NHS Hospital would suffer a drain of resources if a new hospital was set up next door. This would have bad effect on training budgets, planning, and cross-subsidy of services.”

“The ISTC project has been subject to secret negotiations between the Government and a private provider, with local patients and the NHS kept in the dark. There were many unanswered questions about who would pay the bill if patient numbers fell below the level agreed between Whitehall and the private sector. My concern was always that local services would suffer as a result.”

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Conservative Nigel Hastilow Resigns in Race Row

A Conservative parliamentary candidate has resigned after writing a column in a local paper which said that Enoch Powell was right in his infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech in 1968. Powell was sacked from the Conservative front bench for that one, and so expressing admiration for him was a little unwise to say the least.

Immigration has been a toxic issue in British politics for years, with those who want to close down debate on what is a legitimate political issue pointing fingers and screaming 'racist!' at anyone who dares to say that immigration might not be an untrammelled good. They have come out of the woodwork again in the form of Peter Hain who has been drivelling on about the 'racist underbelly' of the Conservative Party. That is the sort of abuse that you would expect from a government that has no idea about the numbers of immigrants in the country or their contribution to the economy, and desperately wants to close any debate down. Well, it won't wash this time. Hastilow, might have show extraordinarily poor political judgement, but that is as nothing when compared to the serial incompetence of the Labour government that Peter Hain's drivel is an effort to cover up.