Thursday, 8 December 2011

Is this right?

I regularly read JuliaM's blog at so I wasn't shocked to see the case in the paper today where 4 girls racially abused and beat up another girl, yet didn't get sent to jail, receiving only a suspended sentence

Then today I was reading the news sent round at work, and I saw that the first conviction had been made under the bribery act.  This chap took £500 to refrain from entering the details of a traffic summons in a court database.  He was sentenced to 6 years in jail (3 for the bribery and 6 for misconduct in public office, to run concurrently).

Now don't get me wrong - what he did was very wrong, but 6 years in jail?  That seems a little over the top.  Sacking him and giving a very honest reference would pretty much destroy his career prospects, and seems like it would nearly be punishment enough on it's own.  Throw in a big hefty fine and I'd say you're good.

The first case I mentioned?  Jail seems to be the least we could be expected to do...

How did we get so turned around?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

One to watch

As if evidence were needed that our current benefit system is not fit for purpose:

Basically, there's a chap who earns £65k and faces losing his child benefit.  He asks if it's possible to use salary sacrifice to commit enough of his salary to pension so that he won't lose the benefits, and wonders what happens if he goes further.

Based on the responses and what I know of the matter, if he were to put £50k a year into his pension (plus another ~£2k into childcare vouchers) he'd be assessed for benefits as if his income were just over £12k - meaning he'd get all sorts of benefits.  He reckons he'd go from an income of £3300 per month (after paying for childcare vouchers and nearly £4k a year into his pension) to about £3100 per month thanks to all the benefits he could claim.  He'd lose £200 per month, but would have an extra £46k in his pension pot per year (nearly £4k per month).

Sounds like a good deal?  So the benefit state is really good for people with incomes of £65k or so...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The new 50% tax rate: a sure winner!

So now someone's come out and said what a lot of us have been saying all along.  The 50% rate will not make any money, and may in fact cost the government £1bn in tax revenues.

That's not all though, because that £1bn in revenue is lost because wealthy individuals seek to avoid the tax, in part by moving their operations offshore.  This can cause the loss of jobs in the UK, and will have a knock on effect.

I find the details interesting as it shows the true pettiness of the left:
Mr Osborne and David Cameron are in favour of abolishing the top rate but are under intense pressure from the Liberal Democrats not to cut taxes on the wealthy. 
Even though cutting taxes on the wealthy will mean more money in the kitty, so less that the poor have to pay?  Who cares, right?  We're not trying to make the lives of the poor better, but the lives of the rich worse.

Friday, 11 November 2011

This is not the answer

We keep being told that more and more people are suffering in retirement as they don't have enough pensions, so the article linked above came as a bit of a shock.
Potential first-time buyers should be allowed to use their pension savings to buy homes, according to a new report on how the boost the housing market.
Well - that would go some way towards boosting the housing market, but is it really the best answer?  More money available to buy homes will mean house prices rise, so the problem gets even worse.  Surely it'd be better to find some way to bring house prices down, like relaxing planning permissions?
The number of property sales in the UK has crashed since the recession despite 5m people "languishing on waiting lists", the CBI claims today in its Unfreezing the Housing Market study.
I assume that they mean social housing waiting lists, rather than waiting lists to buy a house.  As far as I know (and my brother is in the process of doing it right now) all you have to do is find a house for sale, plonk down the cash and it's yours.  Sure - there are contracts to exchange and the like, but no waiting lists.  So realistically speaking, how many people waiting for a council house are going to be able to buy a house, even if they could access their pension funds?
The CBI said housebuilding, which is at the lowest peacetime level for 90 years, also needed to be increased. It called on the Government to address "structural housing market failures" and allow offices to be turned into homes without planning permission. 
That at least sounds sensible...

Friday, 4 November 2011

Think it through

“We live in perpetual hope that maybe, down the line, we might get a small pay increase,” says Mark, an agency driver currently working for Tesco. “We’re not necessarily looking for pay parity, we’re just looking for the crumbs from the table.”
Fair enough, I suppose.  Everyone wants a pay increase, but the terms and conditions were laid out when you joined - they're not cutting your pay, they're just not paying you as much as you might get if you worked in another role for Tesco.
Mark is one of thousands of agency workers up and down the country who has recently been asked to sign away his rights to the same pay as permanent staff at the supermarket – overriding new equal pay rules which came into effect last month. He stands to lose about £150 extra a week.
No he doesn't.  He had a choice - sign away the "rights" or lose his job.  The £150 a week was never on the table - he never had it, so how can he lose it?  If he was happy to work for his current salary when he got the job, why should he suddenly get a big pay rise now?
On average, temps currently get paid about a third less than permanent staff doing the same job, according to the TUC.
That's usually for a number of reasons.  For example, they've often not been with the company long and are not expected to stay all that long, so they don't get the same level of training as permanent staff, so they don't produce the same quality of work as permanent staff.  Also, they can usually leave with a minimum of notice (1 day is not unheard of) and thus the company can't rely on them to the same extent as they do their own staff.  Also it's often a lot easier to get a temp job (my company has a battery of tests and assessments that you need to pass to get a job, to ensure that they get people who can cope with the role.  For temps who are mostly filing or putting letters in envelopes it's not necessary for them to have the same level of ability, so they don't get the same pay and don't have to do the tests).

I'm sure there are some workers out there who do complicated, detailed work and are employed as temps.  All I can say to them is that if you don't like it, get another job.  If you're vital where you are, threaten to leave.

Fundamentally, I just don't see why companies should be forced to treat temps and permanent staff the same given that there are significant differences between them.

(I also don't think government should be involved at all in what people do in their private interactions and should just stop trying to tell us all how to live, but that's never going to happen)

Civil servants should never be allowed to make agreements

Under the generous arrangement officers working in the Operations and Communications Branch (OCB) are paid for a minimum of six hours overtime when called in on their day off - even if they work fewer hours.

The local branch of the Police Federation, however, noticed that staff were only being paid for the hours in which they worked and took the force to court.
Oh no - they were only being paid for the hours that they worked!  But wait a minute - police officers are on a starting wage of around £30k for 37 hours a week, so that's roughly £17.50 per hour (accounting for holiday), so that's £105 for 6 hours work.  Not bad if you're only called in for 1 hour.  Sounds like a stupid policy.  Sure, allow a little extra for travel if need be, but to have a minimum of 6 hours?  That's definitely stupid.

Never mind the rights and wrongs of it - if the agreement was that they get paid 6 hours for coming in, then fair enough, although you'd hope that the authority wouldn't have to be forced into keeping it's agreements.  Still: a very generous and stupid policy.

This is why civil servants should never be allowed to make agreements (or decisions.  Or anything, really...)

Strike action to go ahead

Good.  I don't think the government should have made the pension offer any better, and now that they're striking they'll have to remove the improved offer.  That's what they said they'd do, anyway.  Of course, these people being politicians, there's no telling whether or not they have the guts to stick with it...

Let's face it, Final Salary pension schemes are expensive.  The government has no money (borrowing about £0.5bn a day)so it needs to cut costs.  The fact that most of the private sector got rid of final salary pension schemes already isn't really anything to do with it (although it's a helpful guide as to best practise).

I reckon if the govt really wanted to stop the strikes, they'd just have to say that anyone who strikes will not have access to any future final salary option, but would move to DC instead, as most of the private sector has.

For those that blame Grand Theft Auto for rising crime

Computer games good, mkay!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Things I saw in the news today - part 3

This is a really quick one.  It just really bugs me when people say "oh noes!  The guberment are being ebil and nasty and screwing over pensioners" before we actually know.  I know that the lefties don't like what they're doing, but please can they not at least find something that's confirmed: why not criticise over the lack of a referendum on the EU (oh, sorry, forgot that Labour were part of that too), or the pisspoor sentencing that's happening (hmmm - that wasn't much better under Labour, was it?) or something like that?  Don't just make crap up.

If they announce the end of the triple lock, then pensioners will be no worse off than they were under Labour, will they?  But let's at least wait until they do...

Three things I saw in the news today - part 2

There are suggestions that the government may wish to remove the ability to take a tax free cash sum from your pension pot.  It's not the first time that it's been suggested, and I doubt that it will be the last, but it's still stupid, and would likely be the end of personal pensions.

Pension investments have three main benefits: (i) You sometimes get contributions from your employer (free money!) - and this will be more likely once NEST comes in and it's mandatory for all employers to contribute, but the rates of employer contribution that are mandatory are tiny, and really not significant enough to make much difference.  (ii) You can take 25% of the value of the benefits tax free. (iii) They can serve as a way to defer income, so you can avoid paying tax now, but pay tax on the benefits when you receive them.

If you take away the 25% tax free element, then the only people for whom pensions will be worthwhile are those who are getting free money from their employer (and even they would likely be better off with a higher salary) or those who are currently paying higher rate taxes but who will be on a lower rate in retirement (due to lower incomes).

So if you abolish the tax free cash, the vast majority of people who would still benefit from a pension would be those who are higher rate taxpayers - which doesn't sound like a progressive move in my book.

Also, giving tax relief doesn't cost the treasury anything.  If the school bully normally takes half of your lunch money but one day decides to take only a quarter, it's not cost the bully anything - it just gives you a little more money to get your lunch with.  Leaving the money in the hands of those who earnt it is surely not a bad thing?  I know the tradition these days is to believe that the state knows better than we do, and can spend it so much more efficiently (oops, there goes the sarcasm detector again) but I reckon leaving a little bit of money with those who've worked for it for all their lives is not a bad idea...

One final point: If people have less pensions, guess who has to pick up the slack?  Do we really want people relying more and more on state handouts in retirement?  Surely it's better to offer some incentive to get them saving up for retirement...

Edit to add: I know they're saying that they'll just make it so that you pay higher rate tax on it if you have more than x amount.  This will still impact just about everyone.

Consider a small final salary scheme.  Someone on a pretty average wage (say £25,000) works for them for 20 years.  The pension that they'd accrue on 60ths is £8,333 a year.  Not a lot to live on, right?  Now, suppose the scheme offers the same commutation factors as the governments pension protection fund: 18.66 at age 65 (for post 97 service) - that means that they'd be able to take £40,931.81.

That's about the limit that they're proposing before tax is applied - and that's come from less than half of the average working life.  If they'd been there for 40 years (or had worked elsewhere with similar benefits) then they'd be looking at paying 40% tax on £40k - or to look at it another way, the government would be taking about 16k from the average earner on retirement.  I don't know about you, but I reckon they'll have had enough of my money by then...

Three things I saw in the news today - part 1


"Now: Pensions, set up on a not-for-profit basis, will charge £18 a year for administration plus a 0.3% annual management charge, compared with the 1.25%-1.5% common in Britain."

1.25-1.5% may be common in Britain, but that's often for a managed fund with specific risk expectations.  NEST is going to be the cheap and cheerful provider that this new scheme is meant to be competing with and a quick look at the TPAS website shows that they're looking at charging 1.8% on contributions and then 0.3% annually.  Just looking at the charges, we can see that if you contribute £1,000 a year it will cost the same in both schemes; with less than £1,000 a year you'd be better off in NEST and with more than £1,000 a year you'd be better off with Now:Pensions.  That's completely ignoring investment choices and returns, so the real picture may be rather different and we'll have to wait and see how both of them do.

My issue is that that's not the impression that the article gives - it reads like an advertisement.  Why not say how much the annual charge for NEST will be in the article, rather than using the rate that's apparently common in Britain (without any citation).

Friday, 28 October 2011

So let me get this straight

It's bad when we pay the bankers massive bonuses, but it's also bad when we don't?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The referendum

With all three main parties having a three line whip, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that it got as many votes as it did.

I do find it really frustrating that the MPs who are there to represent our interests clearly don't give a crap what the people think.  I know that those in government think that they are our rulers and that we should let them make all our decisions for us, but I had hoped that a few more of the backbenchers might be on the side of the people that they work for.

So I'm wondering what the next step is.  Do we all just sign another petition ( looks like it's doing ok, at over 30k signatures already) and keep on making them whip their MPs, while noting carefully who slavishly obeys their political masters, so that we can actively campaign against them next election?

If anyone has any better ideas, I'm all ears!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Those Neutrinos

There's a bit of a hubbub going on about the OPERA neutrinos and how they seem to have travelled faster than the speed of light.  I don't know enough about relativity or quantum effects, but wondered if there might be a more simple explanation.

It's been suggested by some that maybe Neutrinos just do travel a little bit faster than light.  Those people have referred to a supernova that occurred a little while ago, and pointed out that the Neutrinos arrived hours ahead of the light from the supernova, so perhaps Neutrinos are just a bit quicker and this is another example of that.  The thing is, if the Neutrinos are just a bit quicker than light to the extent represented by the OPERA experiment, the Neutrinos from the supernova would have arrived here years ahead of the light, rather than just hours.

So I got to thinking that maybe that there's something between the transmitter and receiver used in the OPERA experiment that made the Neutrinos faster than light for very brief periods of that journey, and the same something lies between Earth and the supernova.

So we need something that there is a relative lot of between the OPERA transmitter and receiver, and a relative little of between earth and the supernova. 

Could it possibly be matter?

The Neutrinos passing from the transmitter to the receiver for OPERA moved through the Earth.  The Neutrinos coming to Earth from the supernova moved through space - an almost complete vacuum, but the key word is almost.  Could matter speed Neutrinos up?  If so, the relatively tiny amount of matter in space could have accounted for a 3 hour difference between light and Neutrinos over a sufficiently big distance (and the distance to the supernova was something like 160,000 light years).

Anyone know if that's at all plausible?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Climate Change - why it bugs me

One thing that really bugs me about the whole Climate Change thing is the way everyone asks the wrong questions.

The way that I see it, there are three questions being asked here:
(i) Is the climate changing?
(ii) Can we stop it changing?
(iii) Whose fault is it that it is changing?

I think this is very short sighted.  We're missing several very important points.  I'm willing to concede that the climate is changing, largely because it should be changing.  Whether you believe it's because we're emerging from a little ice age or because of the crap we're pumping into the atmosphere, I'm willing to accept that temperatures over the last hundred years or so have showed a slight upward slope (although that does seem to be coming to an end for now).

What we're not asking though is what impact will a hotter world have on humanity (and stop claiming you're trying to "save the world" - the world would be just fine if the temperature was 50 degrees higher, it's humanity that would suffer, and humanity that we're trying to save).  I've seen reports that a hotter UK would lead to less deaths overall, and not have any serious downsides.  What other impacts would there be?  Let's see what we can figure out, and then we can ask the next very important question: are the changes for the better overall?

Only if we decide that they're definitely not for the better should we then look to point (ii) above - can we stop it changing?  But at the same time, we need to ask: Would we be better off by mitigating?  People often refer to the Stern report, where I believe it was reported that we would be better off providing money to mitigate rather than preventing the changes.  That means that if the sea levels will rise by x metres, it's better overall to provide money to build sea walls or move people elsewhere than it is to cripple our economy to prevent the warming.

If the world is warming (and I'm not saying that it's not), I believe that it cannot be 100% negative however you look at it.  Plants will grow faster, less people will die of hypothermia in the winter, maybe we can generate more tidal/wind energy as a result of the changes, etc.  What we need to consider is how we can use the positive aspects and deal with the negative aspects in the most efficient way, rather than to assume that any change is negative and nothing good can come of it (except the chance to raise lots more in taxes).

As to point (iii) above - whose fault it it?  Who cares?  If the climate is changing, we need to deal with it.  If it turns out that mankind had nothing to do with the changes, we still need to assess how we'll be affected and decide how we want to deal with it.  If it's all our fault, it changes nothing, except for the most loony of eco-loons, who would no doubt say that if it's a natural process, we should just let it happen and who cares if it affects millions of people...

Thursday, 8 September 2011

River Song's first meeting with the Doctor

It was suggested way back in Silence in the Library that River and the Doctor are having a relationship in opposite directions.  This is a cool idea - a mysterious woman from the Doctor's future who knows him intimately (or at least that's what's implied) but who he's never met?  Cool!  And to have their timelines running in reverse relative directions, so each time they meet, it's the next time for the Dr and the previous time for River?  That's cool.  A pain to stick with (so some wiggle room is required) but cool.

But this would surely mean that the first time River meets the Dr should be the last time the Dr meets River - and the episode Let's Kill Hitler implies otherwise.  Or does it?

At the start of the episode, Amy and Rory get the Doctor's attention by drawing a massive crop circle that he spots in a paper some time in the future.  But which Doctor is it?  It's somewhat taken for granted that it's the same Doctor that we last saw in A Good Man Goes to War, but how do we know that he hasn't been around and had lots of adventures since then?  What if this is the Doctor at the end of his time, aged 1300+ ?

Then the episode takes on a different tone - when River poisons him, and there's no known cure for the poison, he hops in the TARDIS and goes to get help (the Doctor from Amy and Rory's wedding?  Or from the end of the season episode which is apparently something to do with the wedding of River Song?) then heads off to meet the girl on the edge of the lake and gets shot (the Impossible Astronaut).

The timing works (32 minutes until he's dead, and he's in Impossible Astronaut for less than 32 minutes before being shot iirc) and the change of outfit seems odd otherwise, given how that was a big thing about last season (with the Doctor's jacket in the Time of Angels).  The only questions that then remain are: was it even the real Doctor (I thought it would be the ganger Doctor that was killed on the lake edge - but maybe he's the Doctor that keeps on?) and what happened to River's Regenerations (could the Doctor have taken them away from her, knowing that she won't need them?  Could that let him somehow survive being shot on the edge of the lake?  Could it give him more than 13 lives?).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Doctor Who - Night Terrors Review (warning: Spoilers)

I managed to watch the latest Dr Who last night.  It was called Night Terrors, and was (in my opinion, anyway) a big step up from last week, but still not as good as some episodes we've seen.

The episode started off interestingly.  It seems that with River sort-of dealt with last episode, the Doctor and his pals had little to do.  They're just hanging out in the TARDIS somewhere in deep space.  Meanwhile, there is a little kid on an estate in the UK somewhere who is afraid of everything.  He's so scared that his fear manages to send out a telepathic message to the Doctor's psychic paper saying "Save me from the monsters"

So the doc and friends decide to go and help the kid (well, the Doctor does anyway - Amy and Rory seem less than enthused about the idea).  This involves lots of knocking on doors but gives the impression that they're not really that good at the job.  They don't seem to ask anything that would lead towards finding the kid.  This bit starts to drag on a little (I know they're establishing some details about other people around, but it still feels a little overlong) then thankfully the Doctor spots the boy in a window.

At about this time, Amy and Rory get into a lift (which we're told the boy is terrified of) and plummet for no particular reason.  They wind up in a creepy doll's house.

Long story short, the Doc gets into the house and saves the day, by persuading the boy that he made all of the bad stuff, and only he can stop it.

It was a reasonable episode with a nice message and feel to it, but some of it felt a little rushed (like how Amy and Rory were dumped into the house by using an elevator) or a little slow (like the knocking on doors, or waiting for the Doc and the Dad to open the closet.

I'd give it a solid 7 out of 10.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Bury Council pissing away money

Via the Register, we learn today that Bury Council has bought 22 Ipads for it's binmen, at a cost of around £9,000.

They claim:
...the products, made by Apple, could produce significant savings by helping to reduce the number of bins missed by trucks and therefore the number of trips made by the vehicles.
I'm really not sure how.  You either get the bin, or you don't - having a touchpad isn't going to help you remember which bins you're meant to be picking up, is it?

The council, which collects rubbish from 83,000 houses each week, revealed that there were 4,228 reports of missed bins last year. Costing £40 each to revisit, it spent around £170,000 going back to empty bins missed on rounds.
So 83000 bins collected each week, and they missed 4000 in a year.  That's a miss rate of about 1 in 1000 - doesn't sound too bad.  So I guess what I'm wondering is why they have to spend £40 to revisit - surely they have other binmen in the area the next day, why not pick up the rubbish then?  Each household would only have about a 1 in 20 chance of having their bin missed once a year, which is surely low enough that people will manage.

What I don't understand is why having an ipad would help.  Are they going to program the locations of all of the bins onto the ipads?  If so, why not just get a map?
A council spokeswoman said: "For a modest investment of £9,000, this technology should save us many thousands of pounds, provide residents with a better service, and promote recycling.
How the hell does it make any difference to recycling?
"We know how much residents value a responsive and reliable bin collection service. This system should ensure that the number of missed collections is reduced to an absolute minimum, because any problems are reported in real time to our customer contact centre.
So the problems are reported in real time - and then what?  
"The system should also allow us to respond more quickly during the winter to any enforced changes in the collection route."
The council also said the soaring landfill costs contributed to the decision.
The spokeswoman added: "We need to urgently improve our recycling rates to avoid passing on crippling landfill taxes to local residents, which is already costing every local taxpayer £134 a year each and is set to rise to £250 a year if we keep dumping waste in landfill sites.
"This new technology will help us to log and monitor this, and help us in our ongoing efforts to promote recycling across the borough. It is absolutely vital that we increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill."
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
 So you log the problems - well done.  I don't see how this reduces waste - from the sounds of it, they hope that it will increase the efficiency of collections, and thus increase the waste put into landfill...

Call me a cynic, but I wouldn't mind betting that the person who signed off on this purchase is either related to or good friends with at least one of those who gets a shiny new ipad...

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Doctor Who - Let's Kill Hitler - Review (warning: spoilers ahead)

I was very excited about the return of Doctor Who. Lots of unanswered questions out there, and lots of things to be revealed. I couldn't wait to find out what Moffat had in mind. So I should have been thrilled with Let's Kill Hitler, but it didn't quite come together for me.

I think most long term fans of Doctor Who like to try and figure out what is going to happen next, and how the various paradoxes can be resolved. I certainly have my own theories, and it can be quite fun to discuss with others, and compare with what actually happens.

I also have a reasonable feel for the story and how things sit, so it doesn't sit right when new characters are introduced all of a sudden, and retrospectively revealed to be really important. At the start of Let's Kill Hitler, we meet Mels* (which it later transpires is short for Melody). She's annoying, loud, constantly in trouble and deeply irritating, and is apparently Amy and Rory's best friend (and is in fact the cause of them being together).

My thought at this point in time was that she was some kind of mind reading alien who'd inserted herself into Amy and Rory's life to get access to the TARDIS. Alas, I was wrong.

So, thanks to Mel's shooting the TARDIS (for no real reason - just because... And that's always a bad reason for something to happen in a tv show) the gang manage to accidentally save Hitler from a time travelling shape-changing justice robot, manned by a bunch of miniaturised people (who incidentally seem to have bugger all idea how to run a military operation - and if it wasn't a military operation, it should have been).

Along the way, Mel gets shot and regenerates into River Song, but it's not the cheeky, flirty, funny River Song that we know. It is instead a River Song that acts like a spoilt teenager. I gather that was probably what they were aiming for, but someone hasn't done the maths (or possibly there's something else going on - we can hope) as they left the kid in 1969 (where it appeared 10ish?), Amy is around 23, so started school (age 5) in 1992ish? So the kid would have had to grow up from 1969 to 1992, then regenerated to be about 5. That would have meant (assuming age 10 at 1969) a total age of 33 when she looked 5. By the time she's grown up again to age 23ish, she'll have a real age of 51 - so why act like a stupid kid? It just grated - I like River Song, but didn't like this character that looked like her. Maybe that's the point.

Anyway, back to the title of the show. Let's Kill Hitler! Apart from one throwaway line at the start of the episode and saving Hitler from the aforementioned time travelling shape-changing robot, he gets shut in a cupboard and left there. The title is completely misleading. The episode has the great backdrop of Berlin 1938 and does nothing with it. Hitler and the question of his crimes (which he hasn't yet committed) are ignored. Hell, even the shape-changing time travelling robot is nothing more than a gimmick, as we never find out where it's from, who built it or where/what the "mothership" is. It seems like it's just there to pad out the episode a little bit.

This episode has three main strands: Hitler, the shape-changing time travelling robot and River Song, and really each one of them could easily fill an episode. It seems a shame that the first two are neglected in order to develop the River Song story, perhaps a bit quicker than necessary**. There is some joy in leaving some things unknown.

Overall, I'm glad Dr Who is back, but don't really feel like it's back yet - if that makes any sense. I'm hoping that the bits that were overlooked in this episode are revisited later in the season, and that next weeks episode is better.

* I know that technically she's not a new character, but this aspect of her is new - she was a big part of Amy's past, and has never been mentioned, or referred to. Like the Doctor says, she wasn't at the wedding (and yes, we know why she couldn't be there, but she couldn't have known that her older self would be there, so why wasn't she?) - surely Amy would have mentioned if her best friend couldn't make it?

** And does anyone else remember River Song describing the first time she met the Doctor? She says something like, "Here was this man that I knew nothing about, but he knew everything about me." Doesn't sound all that much like what happened... I'll have to re-watch and look up the quote

Thursday, 28 July 2011

G+ invites update

So far I've had over 1,000 requests for G+ invites, although there is some duplication included in those figures as some people have entered their email address more than once. I reckon I've sent out over 900 invites to real people.

Out of those people:
14 have left a rating on the market
11 paid £1 each (of which I received 70p)
9 have individually emailed me to ask for an invite
6 have left comments on the market

Since yesterday morning, the invites are coming in fairly steadily at about 15 per hour. The peak time was between 10pm last night and 2am this morning, when we hit about 17.5 per hour.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sainsbury's pay

I used to work for Sainsbury's.  I see from the Guardian that people are protesting the current wage levels.  It's tempting to point out how lucky they are (when I joined, I was on £2.73 per hour) but probably more honest to point out that they do have a perfectly good option.  If they don't like the pay there, they can get another job.  If enough people did that, perhaps Sainsbury's would up their wage to keep their staff...

Looking at the article, the main gripe seems to be that Sainsbury's makes a massive profit, so should pay more.  According to the London Stock Exchange website (no idea if that link will work - if not, search for SBRY on the site) they have a market cap of around £6 billion, and they're profits were £665m.  That's around 11%, which is higher than average, but not necessarily excessive (most projections I've seen reckon on 5%-9% being normal).

But suppose they're right, and the bosses are doing absolutely the wrong thing by keeping all these massive profits (and presumably using a certain amount to grow the business?), and the excess should be spread out amongst the staff.  First we need to determine what's the excess.  A return of 5% would be poor, and would mean lots of people selling shares (driving the price down further and thus calling into question the long term viability of the company, and incidentally costing anyone in the employee share plan lots of money, but never mind all that) but might be acceptable to the staff - that would give £363m or so to spread amongst the staff.

There are two ways the cash could be distributed:
flat amount to each member of staff
150,000 staff (from wikipedia) working out at about £2,420 each, or £1.19 per hour, taking them to £7.50 per hour.
according to their current salary
total wage bill was ~£2bn in (from here (warning: pdf)), so adding £363m would increase the total by 18% or so, so the basic £6.31 mentioned in the article would go up to £7.45 per hour.

Note that this is not what they can afford, it's the most they could give if they were willing to seriously risk the long term viability of the company, so asking for £8.30 per hour is not really reasonable.

Taxing bankers won't send them overseas, honest

Interesting spin on the story here. The way they tell it, things are peachy and noone in the financial services industry wants to leave the UK.  That means we can tax the bankers as much as we want, they're not going anywhere!

Looking at the numbers they present gives a rather different story however.
The majority of respondents (80%) had either not had the opportunity to move abroad (43%), declined an overseas opportunity (9%) or were not willing/able to relocate (28%).
Fully 20% of those surveyed have moved abroad.  I don't know about you, but I reckon that's quite a lot.  Further, another 43% had not had the opportunity (presumably because they're happy where they are?) but they go on to say:
The 43% who had not had the opportunity to move abroad stated that they would however be open to the idea. New York (23%) was their preferred destination, followed by Hong Kong and Singapore (both 13%). Dubai and Sydney were close behind, both with 9%.
So from the figures they give, 63% of financial services staff have either moved abroad or are willing to do so.   I know that this is a small sample size, but I'd still consider that there's a definite problem if raising taxes on this particular sector...

Google Plus

Just so you know, I've got invites to G+. If anyone wants them, just leave a comment and I'll send one over :-)

Anyone using it and wishing to add me (there's not a lot to see, mind) can find me at

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The whole Adele thing

Adele kicked up a bit of a fuss about having to pay 50% tax, as reported (and denigrated) by the Guardian, here:

As Tim Worstall points out, the article is not entirely accurate, but leaving that aside, I'd be very surprised if Adele did have to pay 50% tax.

The agreement that she has with the record company will say that she gets x% of the sales of her album. I've no idea what x is, but bear in mind that all CD sales are subject to VAT.  This is at 20% currently, added on to the pre-VAT price, so effectively removing 16.67% of the money long before Adele sees it.  For a given amount of sales, where Adele would have earned £100, she's now down to £83.33.

Then there's income tax and NI.  Adele mentions paying £4m in tax.  I'm not entirely sure whether she's treated as self employed or as an employee of the music company, but I'd assume the former, meaning NI is 2% and income tax is 50% on the vast majority of the income.

(Of course it'd be better if she was set up as a small company and paid herself dividends, in which case the income tax is 42.5% and I don't think there's any NI - I could be wrong though.  It's worse if she's a normal employee, because then there's Employer's NI, Employee's NI and income tax to worry about.)

This means that of the £83.33 that she would theoretically get, she'll only actually receive £40.00.  This, the actual tax rate that she's paying is more like 60%. 

The money that she will still have to spend VAT on anything she spends on "non-essentials" (and I never really understood how clothing is non essential, but books are essential?), making the effective rate for the money spent thusly 66.67%.  If she spends any money on things like cigarettes or alcohol it's considerably worse.

So there you have it - Adele's tax rate is really more like 60%

Why the Laffer Curve shouldn't matter

The Laffer curve is often cited as a reason not to raise taxes.  I think this is a disingenuous argument that rather misses the point.  Let me explain...

For those of you who don't know, the Laffer curve is a theory that says that there is a level of tax that maximises revenue.  If you raise the tax rate too high, people will be more inclined to avoid the tax, whether by using off-shore arrangements in the case of VAT, by becoming self employed and paying dividends in the case of NI and income tax, or even simply by working less (as each hour worked is worth less to the individual as the government's take rises - there comes a point when it's not worth the bother). 

Further to the above, it has been suggested that the new 50% rate of tax will not increase tax revenue as it is too high - people will work less, employ accountants to avoid the tax or leave the country to avoid paying it (and the people being taxed are those most able to do these things).

I think that this misses the point.  The whole idea behind taxes is that there are some things that we can't buy efficiently as individuals.  Taxes are levied so that government can provide us with the things that only government can provide, while inconveniencing us as little as possible (in an ideal world).

If this maxim were followed, the total size of government would be much much smaller, and thus much less tax would be required to fund it.  The Laffer curve is irrelevant because the purpose of taxation is not to raise as much money as possible, but to provide essentials only, and so we should never get anywhere near the point where we suffer from diminishing returns.

Consider the damage done to our economy by the government taking fully 50% of the fruits of our productive labour and pissing them up the wall...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

That LPUK report

So, I've just read the report that was published regarding the whole furor over the post on Anna Raccoon's blog about Andrew P Withers.  It's in a few places on the web, but the version I read was here:

My thoughts:

It does come across as a bit of a hand-wave.  Take point 7 for example, which is I think the thing that most people are worried about.  There's no consideration of whether the accounts have been suitably managed, and the fact that it's taken over four months since a new treasurer was appointed and the books still haven't been handed over is "far from ideal and must not be allowed to happen again."  This is something that crops up a few times in the report - things aren't ideal, mustn't happen again, but there's nothing to worry about.

The thing that really got me about point 7 was the complete indifference to the contents of the financial records.  Apparently there are two options, either "The NCC may take the view that as the Electoral Commission has given the accounts submitted to them a clean bill of health (A1 in Andrew's words), there is no more to be said and we should consider the matter closed" or they could have someone carry out audits of the accounts over a number of years (which would be costly).  The thing is, the Electoral Commission will sign off the accounts as long as they look ok, but they have no real idea what they're looking at.  If someone puts down that they took thousands of pounds of expenses that sound legitimate (which is what worries people), the Electoral Commission will likely take them at their word - they're not going to request receipts or go over the accounts with a fine-toothed comb.

At the very least, whoever did the report should have looked at the accounts.  Money in should be donations, membership subs and loans, and money out should be payments on loans and genuine expenses (and the expenses should ideally be documented with receipts on file).  Furthermore, we're always campaigning for more transparency on expenses from MPs, at the very least we should do the same with the party - is there any valid reason not to publish the money in and out?

The rest of the points in the report don't seem to actually say a lot.  For example, point 8 says something was done wrong and "should be regretted".  Point 9 says that the matter should be investigated thoroughly, "... and, if true, not allowed to be repeated. It is the antithesis of libertarianism." Similar phrases can be found throughout.

Point 10 rather misses the point.  Yes, the party should ideally have it's own address, but if the person who runs the website is the same person that deals with the post, then we'll still have the same problem.  Ideally, the whole of the NCC should have their email addresses on the site as a minimum so that people can raise concerns.  I know that people are busy, but we can't afford for one person or a small group to have a stranglehold on the communication channels.

The party is in dire need of some help.  Right now it's falling apart, and without transparency, honesty and good communication I think it's days are over.

I was a member - My membership lapsed last year.  I was planning to renew once I had a bit more money (I got married a little after becoming a member and money has been rather tight ever since) but now I don't know if I'm going to bother.

I really want there to be a Libertarian Party - problem is that the more I hear from some of the people involved in this fiasco, the less sure I am that this ever was a Libertarian party...

Monday, 23 May 2011


I saw this story in the Guardian the other day.  Well, I say that I saw it - more accurately, it was brought to my attention.  I don't really read any dead-tree papers, and stick to the Telegraph about once a week on the interwebs - that's all the news I can take.

Anyway, the story.  A few points struck me as interesting:

Politicians came under siege as hundreds of women gathered at parliament to protest at plans to increase the state pension age more quickly.

The protest, organised by charity AgeUK, coincided with the second reading of the pensions bill, which included a revised timetable for changes to the state pension age.
 Ok, so there are some people campaigning against the changes to the pensions bill.  The country is in a proper black hole right now, as far as debt goes - where do they recommend that we find the money?  No clue - they just don't want to be personally impacted.  I can understand that.

Do any of our elected representatives have a view?

Annette Brooke, who has 1,400 female constituents who will be affected by the proposed changes, spoke against the changes at a debate in Westminster Hall last week.

She said: "Historically women have often suffered injustices in the pensions system. Whenever you have a sharp cut-off date there is an injustice. The proposed reforms will mean that women born between 1953 and 1954 will be caught out. However, it is not too late to have another look at these reforms, to ensure that once again women, and this age group in particular, do not disproportionally lose out. It is not fair to keep moving the goalposts as people get older. 

"We know this is not about a large number of people, so money could be found by the coalition government. We need to know how much it would cost to even out matters. This is an opportunity for the coalition to say, 'We really do care about giving equal treatment to the citizens of this country.'"

Right, so Annette Brook (who coincidentally has a fairly slim majority and more women in her constituency will be affected by this than make up her majority) reckons that women have suffered injustices in the pension system.  Well, I'm not saying that they didn't, 50 years ago, but nowadays things are pretty peachy for them.  In fact, as women live longer than men, any Defined Benefits that they get (such as final salary pensions or the state pension) are worth more to women than they are to men (because they get to draw them for longer).  Add to that the fact that they still have a lower state pension age than men, and we can see things are definitely not equal.

(And incidentally, that's something that annoys me.  The Barber judgement said that all pension schemes had to provide the same benefits to men and women - including giving them the same retirement age - from 17 May 1990.  This Judgement didn't apply to state schemes, for some reason - I want to know why not?)

That last sentence is the craziest - she wants the government to say: "We really do care about giving equal treatment to the citizens of this country."  Surely the best way to do that is to give all the men and women the same retirement age (just as they're planning to do) - hell they could go even further and spend the same on all men and women when they reach retirement age, so that they can buy an annuity - I doubt that Annette would approve of that though, as the women would get less per year than the men...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

How much is a human life worth?

A lot of people seem to hate any discussion of costs.  You'll often hear "if it saves just one life, it will have been worth it" but this really isn't practical.  If it was, we'd all be wearing full body armour the whole time, and never driving faster than 10 mph.

I freely admit that I admire capitalism.  I think that markets provide a fantastic way of getting the most bang for your buck, and I'd like to consider how market-based thinking can be used to save more lives.

Consider this completely made up example - you have a hundred people who are ill.  50 of them have illness A and 50 have illness B.  Illness A reduces your average lifespan to 5 years and costs £100,000 to treat, whereas illness B reduces average lifespan to 10 years and costs £50,000 to treat.  Suppose that the average lifespan for one of these people who had no illness would be 40 more years, what is the cost of a life?

Treating Illness A gives you an extra 35 years, for a cost of £100,000 - or £2,857.14 per year.  Treating Illness B gives you an extra 30 years, for a cost of £50,000 - or £1,666.67 per year.

Thus, Illness B should surely get funding before Illness A.

The reason being that the money we spend on healthcare is limited.  It comes from somewhere (the taxpayer's pocket) and there isn't an infinite supply.  In an ideal world (one with infinite energy and resources perhaps) we'd treat everyone that's ill, but in our world we have limited money, and spending money treating Illness A costs 70% more than treating Illness B for the same result.

What I'd like to see is a proper evaluation carried out on the various things that we do, looking at (among other things) quality of life, cost/benefit ratio, success rates, recurrence rates, etc.  Then we can build a picture of what it really costs to treat the various problems that people have, and we can figure out how to spend our healthcare money most efficiently.

Pros: More lives saved for less money spent
Cons: Might lead to bad press

One big problem I can see.  If the system is taken to extremes and every case looked at on it's merit, treatment for the elderly would be seen as considerably more expensive than treatment for anyone else (largely because you don't get that many extra years from successful treatment).  This could be offset either by not breaking it down at an individual level (which is sort of against the whole point of this) or by the government funding part of the treatment (well, if you had Illness B we'd pay for it and that costs £50k to treat, so we'll put £50k towards the cost of your treatment if you can pay the rest).  This would likely encourage private topup insurance.


There's a woman in the office where I work who's almost completely deaf.  She's very friendly, always has a lovely smile for you when you come in, and can just about get by with lip reading - but when she speaks, her voice is very slurred and can be hard to understand.

I've never really had a lot to do with her (we're in completely different departments) but recently she had a problem with her computer and I had a look and fixed it.  She sent me several files by email, and re-reading them now, I'm struck by how differently she sounds in the email and in person.  Her emails almost sound as if they could have come from my mum, but talking in person it's such a job for her to understand me and for me to understand her that any sort of additional content is dropped.

I know I shouldn't find it surprising, but it just really struck me that an awful lot of the time we define people by the things that make them different and don't look through to the things that make them the same as us, or those we love.

In an attempt to keep this vaguely related to the normal topics of the blog (such as they are), I was wondering how this could be applied to politics, but it didn't work so well:

Don't view Labour as statist control-freaks, rather see them as the folks who introduced FOI (and now regret it), and who were at least partly in favour of AV...

Hmmm - not sure that really works...

Friday, 6 May 2011

The people have spoken - now they'll have to live with it

So, the results are in, and the people have said No to AV.  As predicted, a number of people are viewing this as Yes to FPTP.

'David Cameron ... said the referendum had delivered a "resounding answer that settles the question" over electoral change and people now wanted the government to get on with governing in the national interest.

'The director of the No campaign, Matthew Elliott, said he had been "astonished" at the scale of the No victory: "I personally believe that this result will settle the debate over changing our electoral system for the next generation."'

Oh well - I guess I might get a chance to get proper PR one more time before I die...

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why I'm Voting Yes

I suspect most people will have already cast their vote before reading this, but figured it was worth putting out there anyway, if only to show how I think.

I'm voting Yes to AV.

Democracy - which we like to believe that we have here in the UK - relies upon the will of the people.  The people often don't really know what they want, and only get to express their will every 4 years, but what the hell - we'll accept this idea that the will of the people determines who governs us. 

But we don't look at the will of the country overall - that sounds far too much like PR, and would mean that the BNP and UKIP would get seats.  No - we look at it on a constituency basis.  In each constituency, the people are asked who they want to rule, and they collectively decide.

Now, we're accepting here that the people have a collective will, and that it can be measured.  Then what we want to do is measure it as accurately as possible, in order to represent them as accurately as possible.

Consider an election with only two people running.  We'll call them A and B.  Now, suppose that A gets more votes that B.  We know that the people would rather have A running things than B.  Under FPTP and AV, the result is the same as there are only two candidates.

Now, consider what happens if a third candidate is introduced (and we'll call them C, just to keep it simple). As this is a thought exercise, let's suppose also that C is not very well liked and will get less votes than either A or B, but will get some votes. If C has policies that are closer to As than Bs, then more of the A voters will change from A to C.  In this way, it's possible for B to win under FPTP, thanks to the extra candidate - despite the fact that we know the voters prefer A to B.  Under AV, C would be eliminated and the votes redistributed to the people's second choice, leaving us with the A vs B situation again. 

Another way of thinking about it would be to consider a seat under our current system.  In the last election, the constituency that I'm in (Croydon Central) returned a conservative.  The Conservative had 19,657 votes, and the next best was Labour with 16,688.  For the sake of brevity, I'm disregarding everyone else except those who voted for these two (not least because we have no way of knowing where the second choice votes would have gone). Imagine if noone changed their opinion of which party to vote for, and the election were run again, but the conservatives (for some reason - miscommunication perhaps?) ran two candidates.  They'd get about 10,000 votes each, but the Labour candidate would still have 16,688, and Labour would win with twice the majority that the Conservatives currently have, despite the people still preferring the Conservatives overall.  With AV, the 10,000 votes each would most likely have the other conservative candidate as the second choice, so as soon as whichever one gets least votes is removed, the other wins, and the collective will of the people is once more triumphant.

That's why I'm voting Yes.

Transferrable allowances?

I was reading a post on Tim Worstall's site that started out as an indictment of the taxation system but some interesting points came up in the comments.  People were talking about making the tax free allowance transferable within a household - if one person works and supports another who doesn't, then why shouldn't they be able to share their tax free allowance.

It's something that I've considered before, but I'd take it further.  Why stop at household level?  Why not make the tax free allowance saleable?

Consider: If I pay 20% tax and my tax free allowance of £6750 (or whatever it is these days), then that allowance is worth 20% x 6750 = £1,350 to me.  To someone paying 40% tax, it would be worth £2,700 - so if I sold it for £2k, I'd be £650 better off, and the purchaser would be £700 better off.  Everyone wins (except the state - but the state needs cutting back massively anyway).

Now, there's only so many people earning enough to put them at the 40% rate of tax, and it may well be that the total allowances from everyone in the country is enough to reduce all of their incomes below the 40% level - in which case those people who didn't get off their backsides and sell their allowance quickly would lose out.  So why not just scrap the higher rate tax and the tax free allowance altogether and dish out some sort of citizen's income (while taxing all other income) instead.  If you made it big enough, you could even wipe out most of the welfare state.

So - transferable allowances could lead to flat rate taxation and citizen's income - what's not to like?  :D

(do please note that hte proposed merger of NI and Income tax would change the numbers significantly, but don't change the argument)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Pension Postcode Lottery

Once again justifying it's "Daily Fail" title, the mail prints this article.

If someone said to you: "I'm going to give you £100, if each year you then give me a certain amount back until I die." What questions would you ask before accepting the offer?  Certainly, how long they're likely to live would be one of them...  If someone's on their last legs and the doctor thinks they've only got a couple of years left in them, you'd give them a lot more than if they're hale and hearty and likely to live for 40+ years.

According to the mail, this is unfair. 

It's a well known fact that people in different areas live different lengths of time.  How is it wrong for insurers to take this into account?  The EU have already said that they can't take into account the fact that women live longer than men (which - if it's anything like the last big change to pensions back in 1990 just means that most people will now get the lower rates), so the insurance companies need to take into account other factors.  Isn't it fairer that everyone gets a reasonable return on their money over the whole period of the annuity, rather than the people in the affluent, healthy areas getting a lot more money than the people in the crappy areas (over the length of the annuity)?

"Fred Ford , 67, a finance director and semi-professional magician, lives in Biggleswade, Beds, with his wife Dorothy (pictured above)... living in Basildon, Essex, would have boosted his income by almost £300 a year. He says: ‘I think it’s unfair. It should be about the lifestyle you choose as an individual, not where you live.’"

I wonder if he's quite cottoned on to the fact that people in Essex live shorter lives.  Would he be willing to make that exchange?  (Imagine if an insurance company did offer lowered rates, in return for your taking a daily cyanide pill, or somesuch...)

Incidentally, if you're applying for an annuity, do make sure to tell the insurers about all of your vices.  If you smoke, for example, most insurers will offer an enhanced annuity rate - although they do periodically check up on these things, so don't be tempted to lie...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


According to a recent survey, the great British public believe that welfare shouldn't just be handed out willy nilly, people should get off their backsides and do some work, and that a life on benefits is not something to be proud of.

Can't say I disagree...

Monday, 25 April 2011

New site - worth reading

The Orphans of Liberty site has just been launched.  As I already read a lot of the contributors, I plan to follow this site and see what the others are like, and it all looks great so far.  Check it out:

Thursday, 21 April 2011

What gender pay gap?

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the male-female wage gap.  Apparently there isn't one...  I've not seen it reported elsewhere so thought I'd encourage others to go and read :-)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Just got back

I've just got back from holiday in Scotland - we had a lovely time, but there was a lot of driving (1600 or so miles in the last week).  I'll be posting more this week, but in the meantime here are a couple of pics of our little pup after the break (click for higher resolution):

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Law is an Ass (aka an example of how government writes laws without understanding how and why laws work)

As some of you may be aware, I work in pensions.  Currently my job title is Subject Matter Expert Project Technician, which doesn’t mean a lot to anyone.  It may help shed a little light on the subject if I tell you that my Subject Matter is Defined Benefit pensions, particularly those in wind up or in financial difficulty.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Android app

Just a quick aside to mention that my android app is now on over 100 phones :-)

more details here if anyone's interested

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Budget: Take with one hand and give with the other?

According to the BBC:

George Osborne has cancelled next month's 4p rise in fuel duty in what he has billed his "Budget for growth".
A further 1p will be cut from pump prices at 6pm - all paid for by a £2bn tax on oil companies.
Now I could be wrong, but my guess is that the oil companies will need to find the money for this from somewhere.  And what's the most likely source of this revenue?  My guess would be petrol price increases.

So the government are reducing fuel duty by creating more tax for oil companies to pay - which is likely to push up the petrol price.  Anyone else see the problem with this? (or am I somehow reading it wrong?)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Now Hunt Saboteurs are protected by Law - what next?

Ok, I know that it's in the daily fail, but this story seems slightly bonkers to me.  Surely if his "deeply held" beliefs "that people should live their lives with mindful respect for animals and we all have a moral obligation to live in a way which is kind to each other, our environment and our fellow creatures" are that important, then so are any other strongly held beliefs.

So what about cases like this, this and this. As far as I know, it's still illegal to be a BNP member and a police officer - what about the "deeply held" beliefs of BNP members?

(And I do feel that I should mention here, I am not in the BNP, nor do I approve of their stance, but people can believe whatever the hell they want to believe.  Free speech is more than just a soundbite - it's something that's sadly absent in the UK.  And think about it: a police officer who was a BNP member would have to be extra careful not to engage in anything that might look even slightly racist while on duty, else the defense in court would have a field day with him - so if anything, he'd be less racist than the average police officer.  I think the best way to deal with groups like the BNP is to let them have their say, then debate it with them...)