John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Friday, December 31, 2004
 

Stealth Taxes and ID Cards


This is the ID Cards Bill

Anyone who thinks they support the legislation should read the bill. This is intended over time to apply to everyone over the age of 16 in the UK except:

a) Those who are in the country for less than 3 months
b) Those who have no right to stay in the UK

The government's argument for it is that:

"Ministers say the cards can help tackle terrorism, make national borders more secure, and prevent abuse of benefits and public services. "

On Terrorism:
Spain has compulsory ID cards, but that did not prevent the Madrid Bombing.

On Making Borders More Secure:
People don't have to have ID cards to pass through the borders and can always claim they have been here less than 3 months. Asylum Seekers generally won't have to register.

On preventing the abuse of benefits:
1 in 20 of cases of benefits fraud could be affected by this leaving 95% unaffected. More effective work on National Insurance could deal with this.

It is not ID Cards, but a register


The reality about the scheme is that it is not about ID cards, but instead about another national ID register. This is a register that the law-abiding people will have to work with. Criminals will be able to ignore it with impunity.

This means new offences for you

If you don't register they government will fine you £2,500
If you forget to tell the government when you move home they government will fine you £1,000
If you don't turn up to be photographed they will fine you £2,500
If you don't allow the government to take "biometrics" they will fine you £2,500
If you don't tell the government if your card is lost, stolen or damaged the government will prosecute you.

[check it out in the bill cited above]

Although the bill itself is not about cards so much as a national identity register, the truth is that it is about the General Election and political posturing. Rather than govern the country properly the government are posturing that they are "tough on crime".

Making law abiding people follow more unnecessary laws is not being "tough on crime".

The cost of £5,000,000,000 would be far better spent on law enforcement. In the mean time the government are funding schemes which teach graffiti artists to be better at doing graffiti. Is that "tough on crime"?

We already have the National Insurance register, Health Service register and DVLC. I have no problem having a photographic Driving Licence and would have no problem having photographic provisional licenses. The National Identity Register is about changing the balance of power between the individual and the government - not for the security of the individual, but for the convenience of the government and because Tony thinks it is popular.



 
Thursday, December 30, 2004
 

Spending Review 2004


The government are not guaranteeing any of the figures in the spending review which
is available here.

There is no question, however, that Gershon is tightly bound into the assumptions of the Spending Review.

The irony is that the DFES requirements for schools to do an efficiency audit is likely to put up costs.

 
 

Gershon, Bezhti and the Piano


Today was another financial review looking toward the 2005/6 budget. Most worries lie out in the medium term. Something Birmingham has not concentrated on is the
Gershon Report into public sector efficiency.

Para 3.5 is the challenge for local government arguing that by 2007-8 savings of £6,450,000,000 per year can be found from local government. This is out of a total forecast figure of £21,480,000,000. (This is apparently an agreed figure. Noone asked me to agree it for Birmingham.) When you look at the appendix this is just a figure of 2.5% (per year) extrapolated to 2007-8.

40% of this is supposed to come from schools, 10% from policing and 35% from other procurement. Where the other 15% comes from (what's £967,500,000 between friends) is not clear.

Still I don't think anyone has told Mr Tony "Education, Education, Education" Blair that he is going to be looking for savings (cuts) of £2,580,000,000 per year by 2007-8 from schools.

C3 explains what this means including:
enable frontline professionals in schools, colleges and higher education institutions to use their time more productively to generate around 30 per cent of the total efficiency gains, enabling institutions to achieve more with their resources.
Benefits will be generated through workforce reform, investment in ICT and
reducing administrative burdens;


Pull the other one. (This 30% is 30% of £4,300,000,000. =£1.29bn) Are we really talking about replacing teaching staff with computers.

Interestingly, however, this will also be at the time when central government is more directly funding schools. Hence central government will not be able to blame local councils for the effects of budgeting for savings that people cannot make.



I also spoke to some of my staff about Bezhti today. One 2nd generation Sikh woman who works for me went to the Saturday production that was "stormed" - before the production had started. She made a number of interesting points. She found it interesting that some papers had blamed Muslims for the event when she saw Sikhs, white people and black people demonstrating, but no Muslims. She saw one hooded white person smashing a window.

We were wondering whether this was:
a) The BNP trying to cause racial stress
b) Rent a Trot
c) Some drunk from Broad St

Difficult to tell really.


I also moved my piano today. I have had a piano in my office since I decided it was too risky to lend a keyboard to Bread and Roses (which had an old worn out piano which may have only cost BTUC £80 but required about £1000 of refurbishment to make it playable). My piano at home, however, is now quite worn so I thought I would take the office piano home. I didn't find much time to play it in town in any event. I find the children are more enthusiastic about playing this keyboard than the standard piano.
 
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
 

Strategies vs Results


Local and Central government is full of thoughts about strategies and a "strategic approach". Looking at dictionary.com we find:

A plan of action resulting from strategy or intended to accomplish a specific goal. See Synonyms at plan.
or
The art or skill of using stratagems in endeavors such as politics and business.

Are probably valid.

Ignoring the military definitions a strategem is defined as:
A clever, often underhanded scheme for achieving an objective. See Synonyms at wile

Alternatively we have:
n 1: an elaborate and systematic plan of action

So assuming that strategies are not supposed to be underhanded. What we have is a big detailed plan.

The real problem is that what people try to do is to have big strategies that are long documents with lots of things in them.

Then it comes to implementation of the strategy and what happens is that the people doing things decide what they want to do and then work out how it fits to the strategy.

In other words the bigger and more elaborate the strategy the less effect it has on reality.

On the other hand government likes big strategies.

So we now have a situation in which a large amount of effort goes into writing documents that actually have very little effect.

Par for the course really.

One of the things we have tried to do in Birmingham, however, is to stop having contradictory strategies. We have set up a database of "policies" or "things we want to do" and will generate the strategies from those. Clearly a sensible approach is to ensure that you don't have contradictory objectives.

It does, however, sadden me as to how much effort goes at great length into producing massive documents. Once there was a document which got as far as full council before anyone noted that the typist had put some intentional errors in it.

That showed that hardly anyone read it.

I did once move a resolution that "reports should be shorter" - it split the Labour Group. There is, of course, a balance in these things. However, having strategies that are inches thick and full of vagues phrases is not that productive.
 
 

Lib Dem Watch 0 : Me 10


After weeks of trying Lib Dem watch have failed totally to demonstrate one example of the Birmingham Liberal Democrats being opportunistic.

Yes, the judge in a recent libel case did say we could not be sued because we did not exist in a legal sense (having no legal personage). However, I contend that although the party is a campaigning party it campaigns on the basis of principles rather than merely being opportunist.

Dictionary.com defines an opportunist as:

One who takes advantage of any opportunity to achieve an end, often with no regard for principles or consequences


In particular it implies someone who changes viewpoint with the wind. I accept that Lib Dem watch have allowed an edited right of reply for some of their allegations. However, they did encourage me to have another go at blogger which is now far more reliable than it used to be ... hence this blog.

Dealing directly with their points.

The party does campaign on the basis that the war in Iraq was wrong. "All politics is local" - Tip O Neill. However, in working with the Conservatives on Birmingham City Council we are not saying that we support a second runway at BHX, nor are we saying that our views on the ward in Iraq have changed. Simple really.

Nicola Davies does work for the Mobile Phone industry. Labour seem to make that something to be ashamed of. Unless one believes in banning mobile phones (which we do not) then it is reasonable to have a Mobile Phone industry and for candidates to be people who work for that industry.

Since 1990 I have not taken funds from the city council for any purposes other than expenses (mainly the rent on 1772 Coventry Road) and donations to charity.

Ron Whitehouse was upset that we would not have him as candidate for Directly Elected Mayor. He, therefore, left the party. He was also upset that we supported Amir Khan (an ex-Labour Councillor) as candidate for Sparkbrook (a ward in which we now have two councillors) because Amir Khan was also a PJP candidate. Cllr Dilawar Khan was also a PJP candidate previously. The PJP consisted of a wide range of people some good, some not so good. Some of the good people have joined us.

The current administration is spending something over £1,000 less per week on catering than the previous Labour administration.



 
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
 

resistance is futile,


Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Western Europe. It has a gross budget of about £2,400,000,000 and employs (including teachers and school staff) over 55,000 people.

When I became Deputy Leader of The Council in June 2004 I had already been a City Councillor since 1990. I had a reasonably wide experience of organisations including the company I founded in 1983 jhc plc (Aka John Hemming and Company) which now has around 100 staff (including partners) and turns over about £6 Million.

The organisational dynamic is quite interesting. For those people who liked "Yes minister" being a fly on the wall during some of the internal meetings in the City Council would be quite entertaining. The Standards Board for England prevents me from telling all the truth about the city council.

It is quite clear that the previous administration did not try to manage the authority. The leader Cllr Sir Albert Bore did manage to control some things. Other members of the executive had some influence, but generally the paid full time staff "The Officers" ran rings around them.

One of the most interesting stories about the difference between the current administration and the prior administration comes from one of the secretaries who said of the department that she was secretary to the executive councillor "They take notice of us now". It makes a clear statement that under the prior administration the bureaucracy ignored the executive councillors. On that basis they would then ignore the citizens as the elected politicians are there to be the voice of the citizens.

There are lot of techniques used by some in the bureaucracy to mislead the executive. Let me be entirely clear, however, there are some really very good senior officers who do a very good job. These people are a dream to work with as they tell you the unvarnished truth and work to improve services. There are others, however, who hide and hope we will go away.

The challenge for the new administration is an interesting one. In part it is changing the culture of the organisation. There are some interesting stories I could tell about how this seems to be happening, but if I did I would probably be referred to the Standards Board for England and on balance I shall have to keep the stories out of print.

I will, however, give more details of the techniques used by people to avoid doing what they are supposed to be doing. (Something that is not unique to the public sector and also exists in the private sector).


 
 

ZWAS


The "Zero Waste" Achievement Strategy
One of the changes implemented by the concordat has been for Birmingham City Council to aim for Zero Waste. Zero Waste is a concept initially developed in New Zealand that aims to see used resources as a resource rather than waste. After a tussle with the bureaucracy* Birmingham's Municipal Waste Management Strategy is now the Zero Waste Achievement Strategy. Birmingham has historically been an authority that is difficult to change. The new administration has now, however, got its hands on the levers of power and is starting to manipulate them.

Birmingham used to be quite good on dealing with rubbish. The department was called the "Salvage" department - which is the right attitude. However, after the Heath Government created the West Midlands County Council one of the County's first actions was to say "landfill is cheap - lets fill up the landfill sites". This undermined what was actually a reasonably progressive approach to waste.

We now have the concept of "Urban Village Environmental Partnership" involving the City Council, Brumcan and CSV Environment. The bureaucracy is fighting a rear guard action on this. However, resistance is futile, we will implement a partnership approach to a zero waste strategy.

Labour had been rather ineffectual on sustainability issues, this gives the city an opportunity to use best practise to leapfrog other cities. I have created the Sustainability Action Team to assist in pushing forward this agenda. We have done quite well now having made considerable progress down the line on this (with one SAT meeting and one recycling working party meeting).

*tussle with the bureaucracy
Over time the various ways in which the bureaucracy resists change will be cited - within the constraints implied by the Standards Board for England and its rules.



 
 

Geology vs Economics - the Match of the Century


I must admit, I put my money on the geologists.

There is an important debate between Geologists and Economists as to the importance of fossil fuel depletion. Geologists take the view that "once its gone its gone". Economists take the view that as the price goes up alternative sources will be found.

To some extent they are both right. The difficulty is that we need to get the starting Joules from somewhere which is what tips the balance to the geologists. Fossil fuels are a reserve of solar energy that has been hanging around for millions of years. People think that hydrogen or electricity will be a source of energy. However, you need energy to produce electricity or combustible hydrogen so that is a complete non-starter as a source of energy. It can be used for temporary storage, however.

One of the biggest ironies is that there is a perspective that there is insufficient fossil fuel to even fuel sufficient to meet the Kyoto limits going up.

Hard Scientists accept that there will come a point at which the annual production of fossil fuels will peak. The question is when.

The UK's production of conventional crude oil peaked in 1999. Oil depletion has hit many countries who have now hit their peaks. Countries such as Venezuela are hitting the economic consequences of this.

One of my favourite sources of information is Colin Campbell's spreadsheet looking at depletion country by country. There are various places this can be obtained from. Starting at Hubbert Peak.com is a way of finding out a bit more. There are those that argue the peak was in 2004. Alternatively it may be later this decade (for conventional crude oil). Gas is a bit harder to move around requiring either a pipeline or inefficient liquefaction.


There is then the question as to whether or not peaks in prices cause recessions. I am with the empiricists here. Generally price hikes have led to recessions. The implication, of course, is that once we get into general reductions in energy availability we will get a different economic paradigm.


The irony, of course, is that the war in Iraq has partially caused a peaking of prices as a result of reducing the oil exports from Iraq (from about 2.5mbd before the war to about an average of 2 for the first 9 months of 2004, 2003's average was 1.3mbd - source EIA - US Govt). Another example of the law of unintended consequences.

 
Monday, December 27, 2004
 

Tribes, Culture, Religion and Politics


One of the greatest problems faced by the world is that which results in a failure to understand the nature of the political anthropology of different societies and cultures across the world.


This demonstrates itself in the culture clash over the play Bezhti just as much as it demonstrates itself in inner city gang culture and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.


The first challenge is to separate religion from culture. It is entirely possible for people to have the same religion, but an entirely different culture. At the same time people can have the same culture and a different religion.


From an anthropological sense most human cultures develop around the family and the extended family. This can build up a sense of "tribe" or "clan". In many countries this segmented structure for society is the key structure. Most tribal structures are based around patriarchy and frequently property is more held in common by the family rather than being based around the individual.


Analysed from the segmented perspective, therefore, it is quite straightforward to understand what drives many disputes in the world. The root human emotions are quite strongly orientated towards tribal allegiances. This can apply to a clan or it can also apply to supporting a football team. When someone attacks a member of the clan there is an emotional need for revenge. The problem, of course, is that the cycle of revenge and retaliation frequently gets people nowhere.


Gun Crime and Gangs


Birmingham recently (in common with many large cities) has had a problem with gun crime. This is actually symptomatic of a gang culture rather than being an isolated problem in itself. There are normally three types of shootings (making the assumption that the shooter is actually accurate):

Tribes and Politics


The tribe has the ability to "get the vote out" and you will find that generally tribe members will vote for the same candidates. Tony Blair has made it a lot easier for patriarchs in the UK to ensure that the family all votes the same way because he has given them the tool of the postal vote which can all be filled in by the patriarch or even handed blank to the chosen candidate for the candidate to fill in him or herself.


Two recent elections in the Ukraine and in Palestine have had a substantial tribal element to them. In the Ukraine the main distinction between camps was the language spoken. Similarly in Palestine different clans would support different candidates (often a mixture from different parties).

The evolution of political anthropology in the UK


Over time the UK moved on from a basic tribal political division to a class based system. For most of the 20th century political divisions occurred on the primary basis of class allegiance. This started fading in the 1960s and has now substantially faded particularly with the activities of the Blair government. As a motivation for voting, however, it still exists to a great extent in many areas of the country and with some voters. This class allegiance is moving to a far less stable and unstructured system. With the weaker bonds in society also occurs a lower turnout as the structures to link candidates to voters are weaker. The structure of society mirrors this becoming pseudo rational rather than class based and with a popular worshiping of celebrity and material hedonism rather than any more complex value system.


In the UK and US, therefore, as class allegiances fade political loyalties are more driven by individuals than parties although the party influence is still particularly material in general elections.


 
Sunday, December 26, 2004
 

Social Capital


I don't have a lot of time for governmental buzzwords as they often have little relevance on the ground. However, I make an exception for "social capital".

Social Capital is well described in Robert Puttnam's book Bowling Alone it is a measure of the values in society beyond those which are purely financial. The statistic used to measure Social Capital is generally that proportion of people who trust strangers in different circumstances. It is important as a society in which people can trust each other is one in which people don't have to spend too much time protecting their backs. That means that people can work for a good quality of life for a higher proportion of their time/effort.

It is the concept of Social Capital that exists behind civil renewal (one of ODPM's buzzwords). Like many things, however, ODPM then through organisations such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit often work against their defined objectives. The NRU has gone around the country funding bodies called "Community Empowerment Networks". In Birmingham we have a particular problem with the pattern of behaviour of the CEN in that it is not democratically accountable, but instead is dominated by personal interests and friendships. It makes decisions which are skewed by conflicts of interest. It is, therefore, something that actually undermines Social Capital and discourages voluntary activity.

This is a general problem in the Community and Voluntary Sector where frequently bodies act improperly according to the Committee on Standards in Public Life The principles of handling conflicts of interest have been around for years.

People wonder why I get stressed about public funds being handled in a manner which involves people doling out funds to their mates. That is because this pattern of behaviour destroys Social Capital. It always has to some extent been important "who you know" as well as "what you know". However, in the public sector particularly this should not be the case. Things should be fairly decided and seen to be fairly decided. The failure of regeneration in part comes from the fact that the processes of allocation of funds are often mildly corrupt or even moreso.

The fact remains, however, that even at the level of Birmingham's corporatist City-wide Local Strategic Partnership (aka the City Strategic Partnership, aka the Birmingham Strategic Partnership) that the principles of "snouts in the trough" operate where funds are doled out to bodies with representation on the board. As the current chair of this body I am trying to resolve this, but am encountering resistance from the government.

It is, in fact, the existence of conflicts of interest that causes substantial damage to systems of government that have a corporatist (traditional) style of governance and lead from relatively anodyne conflicts of interest leading to substantial corruption over time.

Over time the UK has developed checks and balances to handle these conflicts. However, Tony Blair's third way (historic corporatism) is undermining these processes whilst the whole thing is ignored by the mainstream media.

Human beings are relatively easily corruptible. If you put people in situations which are likely to corrupt them then they will generally get corrupted. The real scandal of Blairism is that relatively secure systems of governance have been undermined to place people into positions in which the encounter pressure to be corrupted in their actions.



 
 
Bezhti

At the time of writing the matters relating to the play Bezhti which is Panjabi for Dishonour are still moving on.

The situation with Bezhti is, however, not in any way unique. JM Synge wrote a play called "The Playboy of the Western World" http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/curtainup/story/0,12830,937744,00.html
describes how the play broke up in the second act at the mention of the word "shift".

The situation with Bezhti had, in fact, moved on from demonstrations outside the play to a situation in which demonstrators had bought up the spare tickets at the point at which the play was curtailed. To that extent Bezhti never actually got to the state that "The Playboy of the Western World" got to - much that the representations in the media would indicate otherwise.

The only other thing I am saying publicly at the moment is the joint three leaders statement as follows:
Birmingham City Council has said in a joint statement from the 3 party leaders,
Councillor Mike Whitby, Councillor John Hemming and Councillor SirAlbert Bore:

In response to Birmingham Rep's decision to curtail the performances ofBehtzi:

"We welcome the Rep's decision to end the current run of Behtzi because of the fears for the safety of the public attending the theatre and other venues. However we deplore the acts of violence by some of the protestors on Saturday that has led to this decision.

"We will continue discussions with all community leaders across the city to ensure that sensitivity to community values and expectations can co-existw ith the freedom of artistic expression.

"Cultural diversity must reflect both the ethnic and faith make-up of the city and the range of artistic and performing organisations which makes Birmingham a 21st century cosmopolitan city.

"We are confident that Birmingham can continue to celebrate together Birmingham's huge strength: that is its cultural diversity and appreciation of the many faiths living in the city."
 
Saturday, December 25, 2004
 
Labour's destruction of democracy

One thing that has not had much public comment is the way in which the Labour government have been whittling away at democracy. There are number of areas in which they have done this:
 

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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