Archive for January 2011

What Laws?

My eye having been caught by the headline “Thousands could sue over ‘child protection’ sackings” in the Telegraph online this afternoon I decided to read the article.

It turned out to be about three nurses who, dismissed from their jobs because they failed checks run by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), are now suing for loss of earnings in a ECHR test case that could result in others in similar situations doing the same thing. Although it is using up taxpayers money, I can’t say I blame the three of them because the ISA was a bloody stupid idea in the first place.

It was these two paragraphs however that caught my attention:

The three nurses bringing the case all lost their jobs following minor offences which were not deemed serious enough to go to court, but which resulted in them being handed police cautions.

One of the nurses broke the law by leaving her 11-year-old son at home alone while she went shopping. Another was cautioned because while he was at work, his wife left the couple’s children alone for a short period. The third kissed a colleague without permission.

These things are offences? Really? Since when? Should I be reporting my own parents as I and my brother were left home alone at times when we were both still under 11? Should I be reporting my colleagues from the Italian office who always greet myself and the other ladies in the team with a kiss when they visit? I think not.

According to the report other people effectively dismissed from their jobs by this government quango include:

…a mother was cautioned for child neglect after leaving her three-year old son in the care of her responsible 14-year-old son while she popped to the shops.

…another mother was cautioned for child neglect after leaving her three children in the care of a seemingly responsible neighbour, a grandmother, while she took a relative to the airport. The neighbour left the children on their own for a while and the mother was barred from taking up a place on a nursing course.

…Rachael Parry, from Caerphilly, south Wales, was cautioned for leaving her daughter alone in the bath for a minute and a half when she went downstairs to get towels. She returned to find her daughter face-down in the bath. She gave mouth-to-mouth to revive her daughter and took her to hospital, where she made a full recovery, but although police and social services recognised that she was a loving mother who had made a terrible mistake the CPS ordered that she be given a caution.

Strewth, if they are setting the bar this low I don’t know how anyone with children will be allowed to work with other children or vulnerable adults as so far as I can see these are all things that have been going on since time immemorial. Is there a child out there who has never been left at home alone even for one second, never been left in the bath alone, never been left with an older kid (e.g. a baby sitter)?

Evidentially the High Court agreed because they ruled the treatment of the three nurses in question to be unlawful.

How many people have been affected by the heavy handiness of the ISA? 13,150 last year alone – of whom 812 have had their bans overturned. That is a failure rate of over 6% and one that is likely to grow.

Any chance we can just shut down this useless waste of money and get back to some common sense?

Vampires seek more blood…

Camden residents of properties in the higher council tax bands are probably well used to receiving begging letters from organisations asking for money. They may however be about to get a new one – from the council.

In addition to the £2,662.70 (£2,043.06 to Camden, £619.64 to the Greater London Authority) that they paid in council tax in 2010/11, the council is considering asking richer residents to donate up to 5% of their annual bonuses to help the council bridge the estimated £100 million gap between their income and their expenditure over the next three years.

And what might this scheme raise?

The paltry (in terms of their overspend) sum of £0.5 million – or 0.5% of the shortfall.

Really worth the effort, not.

So, how much does Camden Council spend?

In the accounts for 2009/10 (the last year available on their website) they spent £1,130.66 million.

If one is to make the (very unlikely assumption) that over the next three years they spend the same amount of money each year then we are talking a sum of £3,3391.88 million. A £100 million shortfall over the same time therefore works out as only 0.3% of that. Even if we are to say that it is the shortfall each year we can still only up to 0.9%..

Are Camden council therefore really saying that they can’t save less than 1% of their budget?

On a final note, would these begging letters be sent to their CEO (salary £199,961 plus £11,481 bonus in 2009/10) or the ‘Director of Culture and Environment’ (salary £151,734 plus £8,712 bonus in 2009/10) or any other the other 15 officials whose total remuneration (excluding pension contributions) topped out at over £100,000? Assuming of course that these individuals actually live within the borough…

Making a mountain out of a molehill

Via Witterings from Witney comes this rather depressing tale of a dinner party. No, it isn’t the dinner party which is the problem, it is the massive over-reaction from the emergency services to something that wasn’t an emergency.

Assuming that Matthew Norman isn’t exaggerating matters we have a dozen members across three services pitching up at a non-event having presumably rushed there with their blues-and-two’s on and sirens blaring and a large number of opportunities to resolve the matter without a huge waste of time and effort going begging.

Let’s start from the beginning…

We have a fire in a flat and an alert neighbour or passer-by knocks on the door to notify the residents who proceed to quickly put it out before anything more than minor damage is done. Considering the matter resolved and after checking on the baby asleep in a different room they and their guests sit back down to continue eating.

However someone, perhaps the person who knocked on the door, has informed the porter who has dialled 999 without checking to see if it was really a necessary thing to do. Why? Probably because such a course of action has been drilled into them at the expense destroying any common sense.

Having been summoned, the fire brigade arrive and the hosts, rather than telling them ‘Thanks but the matter has dealt with’ and shutting the door, let them in and thereby surrendered control of the situation to the ‘professionals’.

Said professionals, deciding to make the most of the opportunity presented to them, did what all power hungry fools do and ensured that the resources poured into the situation didn’t go to waste. Instead of taking a quick look, agreeing with the owner’s assessment of the situation and departing, they evacuated the property, had the accompanying ambulance staff check out everyone including the baby and then lecture the mother on fire safety.

Mother, annoyed, responds – supposedly mildly – causing the fire brigade call for back-up from the police and as a result mother and baby are escorted by police to the hospital where upon staff there confirmed what has already been said and mother and baby are allowed to leave the next morning after being kept in over night for observation.

All told I make that five missed opportunities to stop the situation from escalating: firstly by the porter, secondly by the mother followed twice by the fire brigade and then finally by the police with the end of result being an utter waste of time and money and a tale that 9 people will no doubt dine out on for some time.

The only silver lining I can see is that plod didn’t feel the need to get social services involved but if I were the mother I’d be careful as no doubt something has found its way on to a database of theirs somewhere…

The moral of this story? Two actually. Firstly that people in uniform are no long the friend of the law abiding having been turned into target chasing drones with little or no initiative. Sure, not all of them are but as you can’t tell what sort you are dealing with at first glance always assume the worst. Secondly their authority does not extend past your front door unless you indicate otherwise or a court has agreed that they can legally force their way in – so don’t let them in if there is no need to.


Shortly after 1700 this afternoon the TPA’s debt counter rolled past the One Trillion mark. That’s one thousand billion pounds, ladies and gentleman, a one followed by a dozen zero’s or, for those who remember such things from school day maths, 1 x 10 to the 12th.


That is how much UK Plc officially owes. Unofficial estimates – which include PFI costs and pension liabilities – put it at over 4 TIMES this. It is, by any count, a heady sum and one so vast that it becomes meaningless as we simply do not think in such numbers on a daily basis. Indeed, I am reminded of my dad talking about his work as an insurance underwriter in the oil and gas industry:

“We had to knock three zero’s off just to make the figures sound realistic.”

Let me then try to put the colossal figure into perspective.

  • It is over 81,074,069 times the wages of someone doing a 40 hour week at the minimum wage of £5.93/hour
  • It is over 38,610,038 times the average salary for a full time employee of £25,900
  • It is over 740,740 times the £1.35 million salary that Bob Diamond will earn as the CEO of Barclays once he takes over the job in March
  • It is over 833 times the £1.2 billion that Philip Green paid his family in 2005
  • It is over 166 times the £6 billion tax bill that certain individuals would have us believe Vodafone avoided
  • It is over 142 times the collective bonus pool of £7 billion expected to be paid to bank staff in 2011
  • It is over 7 times the approx £130 billion paid to RBS and HBOS in order to bail them out
  • It is 5 times the amount of money that we have created out of thin air in the last two years
  • It is almost 1.5 times what the government plans to spend in the year 2010/11

But, for those looking for some crumbs of comfort, it is only about 70% of our current GDP. On second thoughts it is not that comforting, is it?


A philosophical question for a Sunday morning:

What is marriage?

For myself I see it as a formalisation of an existing relationship between two or more people; a statement to let everyone know to they are in this for the long term. If the various parties wish at the same time to draw up an agreement to agree how assets should be divided in the event of the relationship failing then this should be recognised as a legal document by administrators dealing with the break-up.

How would you define it?

A rose by any other name…

Amongst the many reasons to detest our former governing party was their propensity to tell people what they should be eating, drinking, thinking and doing. Their exit was greeted with a sigh of relief and the thought that such Nannying tendencies would be a thing of the past. Those of us who thought that (and I have to include myself in this) were wrong. Nanny is still there but has been renamed. Rather than hectoring us, our new government wishes to ‘nudge’ us.

Meet Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago, co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness and an economist who, as a leading exponent of ‘nudge theory’ has been advising David Cameron and his Orwellian sounding ‘Behavioural Insight Team’.

Nudge theory is described as being ‘libertarian paternalism’ and is, according to Wikipedia, about

help[ing] you make the choices you would make for yourself — if only you had the strength of will as well as the sharpness of mind. But unlike ‘hard’ paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aims only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.

Well, they have the paternalism bit right, that’s for sure. All they have described is the process by which parents (should) raise their children without mentioning the inevitable discipline that is required when the boundaries are pushed too far.

One problem though – people who we legally consider to be adults are not children and thus should not be treated as such. Any attempt to skew my decisions towards something I don’t want to do is infringing on my freedom of choice. If I want to buy a round, eat food that isn’t health, donate my organs, give to charity or smoke I’ll bloody well do so because I want to – not because a politician such as Oliver Letwin has decreed that he would like to see me doing so.

This is not Libertarianism and can’t be. Libertarianism allows people to make their own choices (so long as they do not mean violence to another) and accepts that this will result in some mistakes being made. This is normal behaviour and is part of the how humans have learnt over the last x million years. You can advise that something that it is not a good idea but you can’t in anyway force them not to do it by removing that option.

Paternalism is control by another name. It is about reducing the level of choice available to someone simply because a busy body who thinks they know best has decided that some choices are ‘bad choices’ and that they should therefore be taken away.

The new government may have whitewashed Nanny and given her a new name but do not be fooled. She is still there, in the background, determined to interfere with and control the population and she must be resisted at all cost.

Charity begins at…? Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, the Government’s spirit of giving seems to be in full swing this festive season. Not content with our money, it is after our bodies as well.

Yes, all right, before the howls of anguish start, I am being slightly dramatic.

Anyone who has had to fill in a D1 form to obtain a new or alter details on their existing driving licence will be aware that for quite some time now there has been a section to allow you to indicate that you would like to join the organ donor register. Completion of this section has been entirely voluntary.

But not any longer – or not after July 1st anyway. The Public Health minister, Anne Milton, has announced (news report only I’m afraid, I haven’t been able to find her actual statement) that from then on anyone filling out the form will have to indicate one of the following responses:

  • Yes I would like register on the NHS Organ Donor Register;
  • I do not want to answer this question now;
  • or I am already registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

It might not seem like much of a change, indeed the second answer is perhaps much the same as skipping over the section completely. The problem is that this change is forcing people to give a government mandated answer – and there isn’t a ‘No’ option. My organs are my property and it is up to me what I do with them, not for the state to reduce my say in the matter to a choice of “yes; already have done; ask me again later”.

It isn’t even a one time answer. Legally one has to notify the DVLA of every change of address as well as renewing the photo card portion of the licence every 10 years and then there is every extension when you get past 70. Each time the state gets to nag you again. Each time the question and the possible answers may change. How long before mission creep means that every person who wants a driving licence is automatically enrolled on the organ donor register?

Over the top? Not really. The likes of the BHF would like to see organ donation become an opt-out thing where everyone is included unless they say otherwise. That to me is tantamount to an organisation declaring that it owns your body unless you choose to take that ownership back and is completely unacceptable. The choice should always be mine to make. Anything else is unacceptable force by an outside agency and should be opposed.

And before anyone complains, I am not against organ donation. I am simply against the idea of someone else making the decision for me.