Archive for the ‘Privatisation’ Category

Book Review – Rutger Bregman, Humankind

illustrationI was going to start with what I dislike about this book, but that would be contrary to its whole ethos. I had in my head that there was something opportunist in Bregman’s prose, and hence the man himself. I have to say that this book could be life-changing, or in the case of oldies like me, a bit of a booster, like one gets to top up a vaccine every now and again. In life I can see myself slipping into pure cynicism. Bregman is a check on that. So I am going to change the criticism to give readers some idea of how I should be thinking rather than the way that I have come to think.

So, here is the re-writing of my original first paragraph (I’ve moved what was the original first paragraph to the end of the review for anyone who is remotely interested).

Regular readers know that I do not watch much television, though I did when I was a child. As I got older and was allowed to stay upillustration later and watch adult television, my father insisted that we watch documentaries rather than sit-coms and soaps (we’re talking the 1970s). The format was always the same: an expert or knowledgeable person (or both, James Burke, right), would present in a quite succinct way some science or current affairs. There was never any music and the expert or knowledgeable person had no dress sense, even then. With hindsight, one of the reasons for the no frills was limited bandwidth. Broadcasting hours were fewer back then, and there were no specialist stations. It was broadcasting in the true sense. There was insufficient airtime to waste on unnecessary graphics, or choreography. In recent times, I have been reading much more than I used to – the pandemic has helped. I have noticed a style of writing in popular non-fiction (a genre that I have traditionally avoided out of snobbery). It is akin to current TV documentary style. There’s a soundtrack, an extended narrative with cliffhangers and expansive prose. I realise that this book in this style is not produced for me. Though if it gets people engaged with science, current affairs, art, philosophy, then all well and good.

SONY DSC

I started reading this book, not because I want to be convinced at how kind humans can be – which is the point of the book – but because I know Bregman is an important commentator. I finished it, incidentally, because I wanted to be convinced of how kind humans can be. Bregman made a big splash at Davos in 2020 in telling rich people that they should pay their taxes, and in the US when he took on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. He is not going away in a hurry. I commend him for that because ultimately he is on the right side of history, albeit a white history. But the style of writing is not entirely to my liking but I know this view is not shared!

The first part of the book seeks to debunk the hypothesis that there is a human predilection to violence and being beastly to one another. I have not checked the veracity of many of the claims made in the book, but here are a few that I really want to be true:

  • blanket bombing of populations in war does not result in the surrender of those subject to it
  • soldiers do not like shooting at other soldiers, even if they are deemed to be the enemy
  • Lord of the Flies is a work of fiction; left to their own devices, boys will create order and manage their way through
  • the people of Easter Island did not engage in tribal warfare that decimated the population (colonialists did that)
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment was a contrived hoax to enhance the reputation of social psychology and academics

illustrationThe philosophers at the heart of Bregman’s analysis are Hobbes and Rousseau. The Hobbesian world is that of the Leviathan – the human need for strong leaders, discipline and order to prevent a state of chaos, barbarism and cruelty. The Rousseau-ian world is one of the social contract, cooperation and common interests regulating behaviour. Bregman makes the argument that it all started going wrong when private property was conceived, when people – who became powerful and rich – were able to enclose common land and exploit it for private gain. These people built a civilisation on slavery, private property and the exploitation of natural resources. This has been a theme of other books that I have recently read; namely, Adreas Malm’s Fossil Capital and Tim Lang’s Feeding Britain.

There’s a chapter on Stanley Milgram and the “shock machine” – an experiment in 1961 where volunteers administered electric shocks of up-to 450 volts to so-called “learners” in an adjacent room. Milgram was Jewish and, claims Bregman, devised the study to to offer an explanation for the Holocaust. People follow orders, hypothesised Milgram, irrespective of the implications, genocide being one of them. All is not, however, as it seems. Bregman argues that the experiment did not test obedience, as stated, rather it tested goodness! The subjects, although paid, participated because they believed that the research would result in a contribution to knowledge. An explanation for the Holocaust was a worthy study. There was trust in the research and people in white coats who kept insisting that they needed to continue to administer the electric shocks for the research to be valid.

It was also the time of Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem. Bregman’s case for human kindness could not exclude a discussion on the Holocaust. I do not have the authority or knowledge to engage with the terms of Eichmann’s guilt. What is recorded is that Eichmann presented himself as someone who just followed orders. Hannah Arendt who witnessed the trial first hand coined the term, banality of evil, to capture the essence of the Eichmann phenomenon as she saw it from the courtroom. There is much debate about exactly what she meant, though it was largely interpreted as her accepting Eichmann’s defence. Bregman concludes that Eichmann’s motive for his actions was actually a commitment to a cause that he believed would lead to a better society, however perverted.

What about the German citizenry who fought to the very end of the war, despite the inevitability of both the eastern and western fronts being breached? The evidence points to camaraderie, argues Bregman, rather than ideology as the cause of seemingly pointless resistance.

More optimism

Bregman takes us with him to visit some interesting people. For example  trained nurse and economics degree dropout, Jos de Blok (right), not someone I’d previously been aware of. He runs a large healthcare company in the Netherlands called Buurtzorg. He does this not by dillustrationesign, but as a consequence of working in the sector and realising that it the care service was not fit-for-purpose. Care is not delivered optimally as a product (i.e. commoditised) and by people who get their orders hierarchically, rather by people who work in small autonomous teams. De Blok is not unknown; he is in receipt of the the Royal Society of Arts’ Albert Medal. Previous recipients of this medal have been Stephen Hawking (physicist), Tim Berners-Lee (the www) and Francis Crick (DNA). So, he’s in good company.

Then there is the story of the transition of South Africa from Apartheid state to inclusive democracy under Nelson Mandela. The period between Mandela’s release in 1990 and the presidential election in 1994 was precarious. I was aware of the ugliness of Eugène Terre ‘Blanche and his Afrikaner Volksfront. I was not aware of the Viljoen twins. The family resource meant that only one of them could go to university. Constand said that brother Abraham should go. Constand (left) joined the army and became a senior officer in the South African Defence Force in Apartheid South Africa. Abraham studied abroad and found himself irreconcilably parted from his brother and aligned with the ANC and Mandela. Constand joined Terre ‘Blanche. I’ll leave it there – it is worth reading the book just for this section and only goes to raise my emotions. Mandela is the leader that we all need.

If any reader thinks that I have covered everything in this book, I have not. It is packed with ideas about positive reforms: education, democratic, penal, protest and warfare! The protest issue is so pertinent as I write at a time when the USA is convulsed by the racist Murder of George Floyd. Drawing on a study by American sociologist, Erica Chenoweth: “In the real world, she thought, power is exercised through the barrel of a gun. To prove it, she created a huge  database of resistance movement going back to 1990. ‘Then I ran the numbers,’ she wrote in 2014. ‘I was shocked.’ More than 50 per cent of the nonviolent campaigns were successful, as opposed to 26 per cent of the militant ones. The primary reason, Chenoweth established, is that more people join nonviolent campaigns. On average over eleven times more. And not just guys with too much testosterone, but also women and children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Regimes just aren’t equipped to withstand such multitudes. That’s how good overpowers evil – by outnumbering it.” (p359). At a time of Covid-19, however, maybe not.

Bregman keeps caveating his narrative with admissions of imperfection in the characters and methods he presents. Deliberative democracy works sometimes, not others. There are some truly bad people around – power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely in Lord Acton’s famous phrase. But Bregman is right, too, that if we treat one another badly in our places of work, jails, schools, communities, we cannot be surprised if it is reciprocated. We have seen during the pandemic real goodness in people, communities coming together to help one another and even the act of self-isolating and observing the lockdown are unexpected demonstrations of togetherness. Let us try to retain some of that as we move on, starting with the rewriting of my first paragraph.

Here is the original first paragraph:

The more I have been reading recently, the more I have seen this style of writing. Now, I do not watch much television these days. But when I was growing up – I know I keep going on about this – television documentaries used to have an expert or knowledgeable person (or both), would present in a quite succinct way some science or current affairs. There was never any music and the expert or knowledgeable person had no dress sense. One of the reasons for this succinctness, I imagine, was limited bandwidth. TV programmes did not start showing until late afternoon and TV stations shut down by midnight, apart from at the weekend. And then it was half-past midnight. There was such a shortage of airtime, so every minute mattered. Hence the quality of the output. Bregman’s book is a documentary with music, and is excrutiating for it. Moreover, it is extremely patronising: “This may get a little technical, but we need to understand where he went wrong” (p88). It then proceeds to be not very technical.

Pictures:

Bregman: Victor van Werkhooven

James Burke: https://archive.org/details/james-burke-connections_s01e10

Jos de Blok: https://www.josdeblok.com/biography/

Constand Viljoen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constand_Viljoen

 

 

 

The Economist and the UK General Election – what a squirm

Two years ago I critiqued the Economist’s advocacy of the Conservative Party to form the next UK Government under David Cameron. The magazine, in my opinion, disingenuously dismissed Ed Miliband’s programme in favour of the “stability” offered by more economic-liberal austerity by the Conservatives. The magazine overlooked the commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe despite its avowed support for the European Union, at least in the context of a single market and customs union.

Fast-forward 2 years and here we are with another General Election having been called – we are told by Theresa May – to protect the will of the people translated as her vision of Brexit from those who would oppose it (saboteurs according to the Daily Mail), like parliamentary oppositions are supposed to do under the Country’s usefully unwritten constitution. May, not being a democrat, or not one that I recognise, duly called her General Election after having been on a walking holiday. Though I am minded that she first had a word with the architect of the Conservatives’ last election victory, the benighted Lynton Crosby.

I was waiting to see what stance The Economist would take this time. Let me have a look. First of all, the leader of the opposition is called “ineffectual”. However, that is not the real story. May looks to achieve a landslide victory and increase her majority from the current 17 to something approaching 100. “For the 48% of voters who, like this newspaper, opposed Brexit, this may look ominous” says the Economist, un-reassuringly. However, we have mis-read this. Indeed, argues the newspaper, “[i]nfact, it offers an opportunity for those who believe in a more open, Liberal Britain”. Really? We need to know more.

If I read it correct, if May gets her increased majority, she will fear the Commons less when it comes to the final deal. The House of Commons fought hard to have a say on the final deal and would, if the “deal” was not as good as what the country has at the moment with EU membership, tell her to go back and try harder. One assumes she is particularly fearful of her “hard Brexit” backbenchers. If she has a bigger majority, goes the argument, she can accommodate their wrath as well as that coming from the depleted opposition benches. This means, continues the argument, that she is more likely to be able to make compromises with the EU with this safety net. And that means a softer Brexit. Brilliant!

Dear Economist, that is nonsense. May wants to close the borders. Only a hard version of Brexit will enable that. Plus Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has himself described it as a “power grab”. Moreover, she also does not want to be bound by the current manifesto of her party written by her predecessor. So, her Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, who suffered ignominy when his budget tax increase was rejected, can now make this a manifesto commitment. Also, May herself is obsessed with selective education and already has in train a return to grammar schools at the expense of children from less privileged backgrounds. The Economist thinks that Theresa May with a majority can fix the housing shortage and make good the “funding crisis in social care”. Bearing in mind that her party is the cause of these two problems and policies so far pursued seek to make it worse, not better (for example, right-to-buy housing association dwellings).

We should not be surprised by this spin and support for the Conservative Party; but we are where we are because of the Conservative Party (austerity policies and THAT referendum). The solutions and future must lie elsewhere.

The nonsense of anti-trade union legislation

My trade union, the UCU, is in dispute with my employer. My employer seems reluctant to discuss the issues at the heart of the dispute, so the Union organised a ballot if members managed by the Electoral Reform Society, the experts in balloting and the law. The result was a legally acceptable (relative to current law) percentage of members agreeing to take strike action. The Union then called a two-day strike only to find that under the new law, before labour can be withdrawn, two weeks’ notice has to be given to employers. The strike had to be postponed.

We are getting close to the Easter non-teaching period. To withdraw one’s labour in a non-teaching period is a bit of a waste of time (and money). But to leave it until the start of the new term renders the ballot void. So, here we have a piece of legislation that forces members to strike in order to keep the legal mandate to strike. So, at the end of the coming week, we are going to withdraw our labour – symbolically – for half a day in order to strike on another two days later in late April. Brilliant.

The concerted attempts to destroy the post-war consensus in the UK

The UK at the moment is in a mess.

Daily I am subject to the effects of ongoing industrial action by two transport unions – one for train drivers, one for (what we used to call) guards. It being awp-1484414323498.jpg privatised and fragmented railway network, this is happening in a single region, and hence the effects are localised. The objective for the railway workers is to run the trains safely (drivers have recently been given total responsibility for safety on trains, over-and-above the driving, which they argue is not safe). The same unions are in dispute with Transport for London over safety and staffing on the London Underground.

Last week it was the turn of the National Health Service. People are dying waiting to get into a hospital. The Government is now blaming General Practitioners, the primary carers. Seemingly because they do not provide a 7-day service, too many people are going to the emergency departments in hospitals at weekends and evenings.

Then there is my own profession, university teaching. The Government’s priority is to push ahead with a bill that uct_leslie_social_science_lecture_theatre_classenables private companies to award degrees and add further metrics to the practice of teaching. This progressively turns teaching into a proscriptive exercise rather than a learning experience. The arrival of private companies, it is argued, will provide choice in the ‘education market’ (as if there are not enough universities to provide choice) and innovate.

My take is this. With respect to the railway disputes, this is a Government that wants to impose new working conditions on railway workers that have the potential to make travel less safe. We have seen this before at privatisation, It can be deadly.

With regard to universities, the advent of 9000 pound fees per year changed the relationship between teaching staff and students. The fees effectively commodified learning and universities have been complicit in this. Private companies such as the large publishing houses want to control content and merge their content production with delivery. This will squeeze out any critical thinking.

Euro_flag_yellow_lowAs we have seen with Brexit, all is not what it seems. The Conservatives, with hindsight, were always Eurosceptic. They never embraced membership or tried to change it from within.  The incoming Prime Minister, Theresa May, simply sees it as an opportunity. The opportunity to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and to control border (something that she failed to achieve as home minister in the Cameron Government). The mandate from the referendum is there, even if the damage done to the economy is significant. This is not about the economy, it is about nationalism.

And not unrelated is the situation with the National Health Service. It is the ultimate outcome of  a postwar rejection of conservatism. A majority Labour Government in 1948 enacted legislation to enable healthcare to be provided free at the point of use. The UK conservatives see now their opportunity to end this once and for all. They have prnhsogressively been privatising it with many familiar private-sector firms cherry picking services (leaving the public sector with the difficult stuff like geriatric care and chronic illness). Now, the crisis that has erupted in recent weeks with Accident and Emergency services struggling, the blame has been put on General Practitioners who are opposing 7-day working. It is reported today that some are indicating their intention to leave the National Health Service. On the one hand, this looks like something that the Government cannot ignore. On the other hand, maybe it is just what they are looking for in order to introduce an insurance system?

Pictures: A lecture in progress in Leslie Soc-Sci building in theatre 2A. Discott 

Privatising schools by stealth

GeorgeOsborne2015Here we go again. George Osborne (left), the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer – otherwise known as the finance minister – took it upon himself to announce in his budget last week that all Schools will be forced to become academies. This is to rid them of fiendish local bureaucracy and hand them over to private-sector “trusts” where no such bureaucracy can get in the way of delivering first class education to children across the country.

First of all, I was a little confused as to why the finance minister rather than the education minister would make the announcement. Even the Prime Minister is a more likely bearer of such policy news. Who is making policy here? Oh, and while we are at it, let us abolish the right of parents to be governors on school boards. They seem to be part of that unnecessary bureaucracy that gets in the way…

Let us look at the rationale. First, Osborne links local bureaucracy and poor global performance of schools (on very limited instrumental metrics). Simply not demonstrated. Not only are local authority-run schools high performers in some cases but academies also fail – take AET, as just one example. Second, centralisation is an attempt to micromanage education. The national curriculum does not hold in academies, but the testing regimes do. And less-than-exemplar exam companies such as EdExcel (a subsidiary of Pearson) run the show. A far cry from my own secondary education certificate from the Joint Matriculation Board, a lofty university accredited outfit.

The local authority monitoring – sorry, bureaucracy – will be replaced by a highly efficient and non-bureaucratic schools commission. Conveniently accountable to some oblique central authority, not locally-elected representatives or accountable local civil servants.

More pertinent, it seems, is money. There is money to be made for academies not possible under local authority control. So, Knight of the Realm Sir Greg Martin – boss of Durand academy chain, apparently notched up a tidy salary of £390k and management fees of £508k while also running a dating website, a health club and an accommodation business (as if running schools was a part-time business opportunity).

Then there is the land. Oh yes, now we are getting to the nub of the matter. Local authority schools occupy public land. Academy schools’ assets are handed over to a “trust” (if ever the word trust was misused it is here, surely?). Wait and see the terms of use of land held in “trust” change.

Then there are the children who have learning difficulties or behavioural problems. Academies have to be target driven and non-conforming children are removed and ultimately become the responsibility of local authorities, those democratically-controlled entities that bureaucratically hinder educational achievement.

And then there are the teachers. Academies are not bound by national terms and conditions. The current Education Secretary’s predecessor, Michael Gove, already freed up academies to employ non-qualified staff and to replace them with software programs. Really. Now there will be no national negotiations over pay. That is another attack on organised labour and another good reason for conversion.

Talking of which, The BBC reported recently that to date conversion has cost local taxpayers £32.5m. According to Michael Rosen writing in the Guardian, 2,075 out of 3,381 secondary schools and 2,440 out of 16,766 primary schools are academies. That is a lot of conversion money still to be found.

 

The rationale now makes sense!

 

 

Should I admire Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Mhairi_BlackLast week I was driving to work listening to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Jenny Murray, the programme’s avuncular anchor, was interviewing the 21 year old Scottish MP, Mhairi Black (left). It was a general discussion about policy, life, MPing, etc. She made her maiden speech in parliament on 14 July 2015 and was roundly lauded for it, despite having broken the protocol that maiden speeches should be largely apolitical.

It transpires, however, that Ms Black is an admirer of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset. This is not someone that is at the top of one’s list for admiration. I find him extremely divisive and not a little annoying. But listening to the interview a seed of doubt was implanted in my brain. Ms Black said that although she fundamentally disagreed with him he was a) very polite to her and b) articulate such that he would always give a reason for his position (something which I would have thought was true of all MPs, but seemingly not).

Oh dear! Should I now reconsider my feelings towards Mr Rees-Mogg (below right)? Fortunately, to the rescue, came today’s edition of the Radio 4 Sunday morning magazine programme, Broadcasting House, for which he was a guest newspaper reviewer (along with former Business Secretary, Vince Cable and Hon_Jacob_Rees-Mogg_MPShelagh Fogerty, a radio presenter in London). They were discussing privatisation, and in particular the privatisation of Channel 4 Television. Cable argued that privatisation would undermine its public service ethos, particularly its flagship news programme, Channel 4 News.

And so Mr Rees-Mogg did what he does best, plausibly lie. First, he said that there are many private-sector news outlets that have high journalistic integrity. Hence Cable’s argument was not valid. He must have been thinking about Sky News and the integrity of Rupert Murdoch’s unimpeachable global news empire. He then went on to say that there should be a management buy-out; seemingly the best of both worlds, a privatised broadcaster with the existing management’s public service broadcasting ethos.

Now I have spent a good part of my life studying privatisation (UK bus and rail industry). In both of these cases, management buy-outs were seen as good options. Many of the former national bus company regional operators were transferred to the private sector by means of management buy-outs. The same is true of railway franchises. But where are they now? The bus and rail industries in the UK are dominated by large – increasingly international – conglomerates. One of the exemplar management buy-outs in the rail industry, Chiltern Railways (operating trains out of London’s Marylebone Station) held out for 6 years before finally succumbing to corporate ownership. It is currently owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway operator. A few bus companies still hold out. In my home town of Hull, East Yorkshire Motor Services remains stubbornly independent. I cannot think of many more.

The point is Mr Rees-Mogg, management buy-outs are simply a means for corporations to access strategic assets at probably a little more than they were originally purchased by incumbent managements. The best way to protect strategic assets from corporations – if this is a desirable objective – is to keep them publicly owned. In this I include housing (wholesale transfer of public housing and right to buy). Mr Rees-Mogg is deliberately specious. He needed to be challenged on his plausibility. He was unfortunately deemed to be presenting a plausible argument. Speciousness is a deeply unadmirable trait.

Pics: Mhairi Black – SNP (through Wikipedia)

Jacob Rees-Mogg – LadyGeekTVFlickr

Increasingly undemocratic

Jeremy_Corbyn_Global_Justice_NowSome regular readers of this blog have expressed a disappointment over the lack of political content in recent months. To paraphrase, “I do not care about your tandem tour or cigarette advertising, but I do like to read what you think about…Jeremy Corbyn (left) or whoever/whatever”. Like a few of my peers, since the UK General Election in May, it has been quite difficult to muster much in the way of enthusiasm for writing about politics in the knowledge that a significant minority of the population voted for a bunch of lying, thieving and privileged men (largely) to run (down) the country, destroy the trade unions and the Labour Party and oppress working people.

What Cameron said about Jeremy Corbyn at the Tory Party conference earlier this month was outrageous slander. It is true that Corbyn was elected the leader of the Labour Party against all of the odds and in spite of the best efforts of the Tory-lite brigade within the party and their media friends. It is refreshing to hear a leading politician publicly renounce the use of nuclear weapons, expose the lie of the deficit, decline to sing the national anthem and bow before the queen.

Let’s just deal with the national anthem and patriotism. I regard myself as being fiercely patriotic without being nationalistic. I do not sing the national anthem, even at the Proms of which I am passionate.  However, as a republican atheist, it is quite difficult to retain authenticity if one starts singing “God Save the Queen”. Surely? Corbyn was respectful at the Battle of Britain memorial service. He just did not sing the words. Moreover, if one listens to national anthems the world over, mostly they say something about the country, its people, the landscape, etc. The British National Anthem says nothing about these things. It is unsingable for any rational patriot.

Another thing that defines Corbyn is his commitment to democracy. OK, sometimes leadership is necessary, and merely listening might not be enough. The Conservative Government realise that their programme cannot be taken through the UK parliament and be ratified. There is simply not enough support for the programme in both houses. So what does the Government do? Find a way of not taking policy through normal channels, that’s what. For example, there is a law against new selective grammar schools in the UK. They are regressive and favour the already privileged children of middle- and upper-class parents. So instead of trying to get the legislation through parliament – which the Government knows is impossible – it sanctions the establishment of a new school as an annex of an existing school some 20km away, claiming that it is not a new school.

Then there is the issue about sale of social housing units – housing association properties to you and me. Notwithstanding the fact that attempts to sell off social housing stock at a discount is a bad idea as it transfers much needed affordable housing into the private sector funded by us, the taxpayer, to benefit private landlord (this is what happened with the sale of council houses in the 1980s). Additionally, Housing Associations are separate entities from the state and government. The houses are not the Government’s to sell. Yet. Again, knowing that it cannot get this measure through the Parliament, what has the Government done? Well, it has negotiated withNat_Fed_logo_1.png the National Housing Federation an extra-parliamentary deal. According to the Guardian newspaper “Housing association leaders believe a voluntary deal will guarantee their independence as charities and private housing providers, and head off a full-scale battle with government, which has been critical in recent weeks of association performance and efficiency.” In other words, taking on the Government would undermine charitable status, a central plank of their identity and constitution. Essentially, they would then just become private companies, like any other. Or more likely public assets and available for sale. Fortunately, some Associations are resisting this bullying. Overwhelmingly.

Picture: Jeremy Corbyn by JMiall, Wikipedia

Fracking as a metaphor

HydroFracI was reading in the Guardian newspaper an article by comedy screenwriter Ian Martin (In the Thick of It) about how we are all being fracked as corporations find new ways of extracting more and more from us in pursuit of profit. Fracking, for those unfamiliar with the process, is the extraction of gas from rocks by using high pressure jets underground to break them up to the release the gas. Firms that are seeking licences to do this on a commercial scale are experiencing serious opposition from local people, not least because of the likelihood of toxic chemicals contaminating water courses and hence threatening human health (see graphic above left).

Moreover, the Murdoch newspapers take the position that that fracking is some sort of panacea – cheap, plentiful energy, produced locally and not subject to the whim of international diplomacy. Russia, for example.

I had not really thought of a metaphor of blasting rocks with  high pressure jets. Fracketeering, as Martin calls it. So how are we being fracked? Here are a couple of examples from the article:

  • estate agents’ “client progression fees”, where the buyer has to pay the estate agent to make the offer to the seller, even though the seller has already paid for this “service”;
  • admin fees paid on online transactions – such as concert tickets – where the marginal cost is near to zero and where we, the customer, have already spent 20 minutes of our valuable time getting to the screen that tells us that we will have to pay for the privilege of paying (for our tickets).

Here are some that I am subject to, seemingly.

  • In order to get online with my internet provider, I have to have a phone line that I do not need or want. The phone line costs the same as the broadband. No phone, no Broadband.
  • paying to upload to this blog pictures of an illuminated Eiffel Tower that I took with my own camera;
  • not being able to roll over digital credit from one month to the next on my dongle. Have I bought my 3Gb or not? Why can I not pay again when I have used it?

Graphic: “HydroFrac” by Mikenorton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HydroFrac.png#/media/File:HydroFrac.png

Those pesky railway workers

Network_railThe strike by UK rail infrastructure workers scheduled for next week has been called off, but the train operators (private companies using the rail infrastructure) had their plans for dealing with the lack of infrastructure. Obviously, not run trains. But it was worse than that. This was going to be a 24 hour strike straddling two days. Never helpful, but this is industrial action, it is supposed to be disruptive. Starting at 1700 on Monday and finishing 1700 Tuesday. Presumably then, trains will run on or near to 1700 on Tuesday? Er…no. Not worth it, it seems. Trains would have restarted the next full day.

PrintMaybe someone can correct me on this, but it seems on the face of it that the costs associated with restarting train services at 1700 are too high and the key passengers – season ticket holders – were unlikely to have travelled in to London or other principal cities in the UK earlier in the day and would, therefore, be unlikely to need the train home. So the rest of us who might want to use a train for non-work travel can go stuff ourselves.

It is easy to say that pre-privatisation (1994) it would have been inconceivable that the trains would not recommence after the ending of strike action. This really does seem to be a case of profit coming first.

Incidentally, I will arrive at Gatwick Airport at 1800 on Tuesday with a view to getting back home on the South Coast. I checked nearby hotels and airport parking. Extortionate. £140 pounds to park at Gatwick. These organisations seem to have had a service bypass!

The one unexpected good business was National Express which planned to put on extra coaches to cater for the stranded passengers at not-inflated prices from what I could see. Top marks. I’ll remember that.

Avoiding tax avoiders

Stefano_PessinaThe UK Labour Party is under pressure, apparently, because big business is not endorsing tax policies. The most recent criticism has come from Stefano Pessina (left) the boss of Boots, the iconic British pharmacy-cum-drug store. Boots was founded in Nottingham, England, in 1849. It is now privately owned and has its headquarters is in Zug, Switzerland, to avoid UK corporation tax.

Now out of the woodwork are the fickle Simon Woodroffe, he of Yo! Sushi fame, who has funded both Labour and the Conservatives simultaneously just to hedge his bets, and Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, now part of the Dixons empire. Both of these supported Labour under Blair. Arguably, Labour under Blair was conservative, and hence not a risk. Actually it would have been a risk not to support them in the run up to the 1997 election. Even Murdoch did that.

Labour under Miliband has targeted inequality as a key economic factor much to the chagrin of so-called ‘business leaders’ who took us in to recession and are unwilling to contribute to the state infrastructure that enables them to trade in the country safely and predictably.PricewaterhouseCoopers_Logo

Enter Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) the accountancy firm has been chastised by the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Chaired by Margaret Hodge, for its speciality in advising firms on tax avoidance strategies on an ‘industrial scale’. Denied, of course.

Which other firms offend? We know well about Starbucks, Facebook, Top Shop, Amazon, Google, Apple and Virgin. That said, it is ok for Richard Branson because he is a philanthropist. Maybe we can define a philanthropist as someone who gives away part of their fortune to rectify the ills caused by their own business practices?

Other tax avoiding firms include: Dyson and Wolseley UK, owners of Plumb, Pipe,  etc, Centers.

Celebrities have always moaned about tax. Michael Caine went off to the US, albeit when tax rates were somewhat higher than they are today (but even then, the high rate was a marginal rate).  Unfortunately, Paul Daniels did not go when he threatened to back in the 1990s, let us hope that the likes of Griff Rhys Jones and Ray Winstone do leave as they threaten. Gary Barlow, Anne Robinson, the Arctic Monkeys, Katie Melula, George Michael and comedian, Jimmy Carr (I could go on) have all been exposed as intentional tax avoiders.

Picture: Stefano Pessina – Alliance Boots, available through Wikipedia