Life Becomes Just a Little Bit Simpler

For the first time in my lifetime there was no inflation in the month of February. Of course the prices of some things rose but the prices of other things fell and as far as people can measure by the Retail Prices Index the rises cancelled out the falls and that means some other “firsts” such as Continue reading

Dirty Old City

London is a very dirty city. The quality of the air that Londoners breathe is just as dirty as it was when the great smogs on the 1950s killed so many people, but the London air does not now reveal itself in visible smogs. Instead the nitrous oxides and particulates that fill the air are relatively invisible.  Continue reading

A Trick a Deception and a Fiction – Tax Avoidance

The politicians have called it “the Google Tax” ; they now intend to tax multinationals that operate in the United Kingdom who at present manage to avoid paying UK taxes by using interesting means. This Google tax is long overdue. I am not a lover of multinationals; they seem to scare governments and cower them. However, the most interesting thing about this issue is not that the multinationals avoid tax – every sane person and business would seek to keep its tax bill to the minimum – but the means by which they avoid paying tax,  Continue reading

Exit, Pursued by ISIS

No good deed is said to go unpunished but many attempts to do good deeds are thwarted by the treat of punishment or actual punishment. Antigonus learned that, no doubt cursing as the bear chased him away from the baby. In world affairs an attempts to do a good deed, remove dictators and replace them with democratically elected politicians, we have seen that the attempt to do a good deeds have been chased away by larger less predictable and more serious threats. as the democratically elected leaders who replaced dictators are being chased away by ISIS. Continue reading

A Real Waste of Money

Governments waste money, the saying goes. However, in many cases civil servants also waste money.

Some years ago the UK government decided to computerise the European Union system of calculating and paying subsidies to farmer. It was a logical candidate for computerisation; the old system took a farmer a few hours to complete a form, which then took officials in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a few more hours to check and process the form and then authorise the payments.

Computerisation in these cases usually means a bit more work for one side (the farmers) and a lot less work for the other side. A successful computerised system would mean farmers doing a lot of free work for the government, but the taxpayer saving a lot of money in the processing of the subsidies. This kind of thing has happened in so many industries; airlines, for example, get you to do all their ticket administration when you book a flight on line; it takes you more time than buying a ticket from your local friendly neighbourhood travel agent, and saves the airline money.

A new software programme had to be invented for DEFRA’s Rural Payments Scheme, and for some reason the cost came out at £154 million, which is a suspiciously large figure.

When the system was introduced farmers found instead of taking the three hours it took before the system was computerised, them in most cases it took them three of four days to fill out the form on the website, and even then the information still had to be processed at the cost of many official man and women hours.

Now the government has abandoned the website because it did not work properly, retaining the simplest part of it, which was the registration part. £154 million for a website which just registers details of farmers sounds like a ridiculously large amount of money.

I do not think we can blame the politicians for this waste; it was not the same kind of waste as government expenditure on the Olympic Park or the Millennium Dome, which were extravagant grandiose schemes to puff up the politicians involved(Tony Blair, Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandelson). The DEFRA Rural Payments Subsidies scheme was a logical candidate for computerisation, but clearly the officials involved failed to get any value for money and have wasted quite a large amount of our taxes.

I have yet to see any report explaining what steps the government will take to get some of this wasted money back from the companies who designed the computer programme.

A Dull Day In London

It is a dull day today in London. The news is dull, rather than being frightening, and eyes are turned towards the pavement, because there is little that looks good in the dull light that cloudy days bring at the dog days of March. The Ides of March have passed, and the Lenten sacrifices for those who observe them begin to wear thin. People look less beautiful in this kind of light; they look less hopeful and less contented.  Continue reading

Grave Robbers and Grave Movers

Humanity seems to have developed a taste for digging up the bones of once famous people and examining them. We can thus find out which person had which disease, how they died and sometimes even what they ate. It is a habit driven often by idle curiosity than by scientific or historical inquiry. Continue reading