Back Bench Business Committee
Those who have followed the changes internal to parliament will have noticed the creation of the Back Bench Business Committee.
I am pleased to have been elected to this committee and hope that we will be able to use the committee to strengthen parliament and strengthen the ability of back benchers to fight for their constituents in various ways.
Dealing with Labour's Legacy
The public finances will be a challenge over the next 5 years. Apart from the tax and benefit changes in the budget yesterday there are also the cuts in public spending.
All of these arise from the mismanagement of the economy by the previous government. We should have been in the situation of Germany (who went into the recession in surplus) rather than Greece.
The situation is straightforward. It compares to a household that has fallen on hard times and needs to bring its income and expenditure into line.
You can do this without external intervention. You can do this when you get the court orders and end up paying court fees. Alternatively you can wait until you go bankrupt and the bailiffs are at the door.
The bailiff bankruptcy option is like Greece.
The court orders and court fees option is like Spain.
The DIY approach is what we are doing.
The key to all of this is that by controlling public finances in a proper manner there will be less cuts than was otherwise necessary.
In terms of the details of the budget people who are on lower incomes have been protected. Those people on higher incomes will pay higher CGT rates than Labour had proposed.
There is an argument about VAT which is what the chart below is about. The chart looks at households by the size of the household budget. There are households with a low income, but high expenditure (many times the income) who are living off capital. These should not be compared to households on a tight budget. Hence the decile analysis (grouping households into 10% cohorts) by expenditure is the proper analysis.
The chart below is from the budget and demonstrates that the indirect tax changes (mainly a vat increase) are in fact progressive and not regressive - notwithstanding the claims of various lobby groups. That is because there is no VAT on food and basic costs (such as residential rents etc).
At the same time we really should not be shelling out £104,000 per year on housing benefit for one family. These excesses must be brought under control. Further it is good that the civil list will be subject to scrutiny in the same way as other public spending.
All we have to do now is to ensure that MPs are also subject to a public sector wages freeze. That, however, is left to IPSA.
Clifford Bellamy - a good judgment
The link is to a judgment from HHJ Bellamy which in my view starts to look properly at one of the ludicrous cases that many local authorities have rubber stamped by other judges.
He recognises in this that the intervention of the local authority has been harmful to the family.
This is also another case where older children who are now adult were adopted and have reinstated the relationship with their mother.
I wonder if the local authority's motivation in going after the younger children was driven by a need to justify their earlier intervention.
It is worth reading through the judgment to see what rubbish Local Authorities come up with at times.
Is One Pint too much?
There is a discussion going on about whether or not the limit for blood alcohol should be reduced from 80mg/dl to 50mg/dl.
It is argued by some that this would reduce substantially the number of people who die in road accidents.
The problem is, however, that this is not generally accepted to be true.
There are two aspects to such a change. The first is whether there is a problem with people whose blood alcohol is between 50mg and 80mg causing large numbers of fatalities. The second aspect is whether making such a change would have the effect of reducing drink driving overall - a laudable objective.
The other question is whether it is worth introducing a particularly low limit for novice drivers of say 20mg/dl which says basically don't drink at all if you are not an experienced driver. I think there is a good argument for this as it would get new drivers into the habit of not drinking and driving.
To me, therefore, the key question for the 50mg/dl change is whether that would save lives or not.
There are those that say it would. At the same time, however, a report was written by Daniel Albalate into the effects of reducing the limit in other countries from 80 to 50.
My main results show that lowering BAC limits to 0.5 mg/ml has been an effective
tool for saving lives in some road user groups. Of these groups, we emphasize
the cases of males, especially in urban areas, and all drivers between 18 and
49 years old. However, the 0.5 mg/ml BAC limits are not found to be statistically
significant for the whole population when one controls for other concurrent
policies and infrastructure quality, which can confound policy effects. Moreover,
I find some reasons to believe that a short time lag exists, and the biggest impacts
are not achieved until the third year following adoption of new BAC limits.
The only country that established a lower BAC limit is Sweden, whose limit had been 0.5 mg/ml since 1957. Sweden decided to decrease it again, to 0.2 mg/ml. Portugal also passed a reduction in 2001, in an effort to force zero consumption, but after 1 year they returned to the 0.5 mg/ml. level because of economic pressures and no significant effectiveness.
What is also important to note is that road fatalities in the UK went down substantially after the above report was produced. Given that the UK was used as a control for this research it does warrant a further review.
There is more work to be done on this, but am unsure as to whether it is reasonable to rely upon the government's research in changing the law to prevent experienced driver from drinking even one pint of beer. It is clear that the opinion is not unchallenged and it warrants a more rigorous review.
Not least we should look moreso at the question of the novice drivers. There seems to be good evidence that they are more likely to be involved in drinking and driving and, therefore, warrant some attention.
Irish report on New South Wales
The link is to an Irish article refering to what happened in New South Wales in Australia where the same mistake as being made in England was made.
Having more and more references to Child Protection services does not make children safer. All it does is to overwhelm the system.
Dispatches - undercover Social Worker
The link is to a web page on Channel 4's website about their "undercover Social Worker" programme.
This is now available on 4 on demand.
Surrey is not one of the worse childrens services units. Nothing in the programme is particularly surprising to anyone who knows much about how the system works.
In part it is also a reflection of the nature of society.
One lesson that needs to be learnt is that there is nothing to be gained by becoming harsher and harsher with individual practitioners.
This creates an environment in which people both
a) Don't want to do the job
b) Act defensively to protect themselves rather than make good judgments.
Questions have also got to be asked about how the system responds to deal with situations such as domestic violence. Rather than acting to protect the victim the system acts instead to remove the children. The psychological evidence is that removing children causes themselves psychological harm. Hence this really should not be the first option looked at.
Debts, Deficits, Structural Deficits and Interest Rates
Lord Myners spoke in the House of Lords Yesterday.
Amongst other things he said:There is nothing progressive about a Government who consistently spend more than they can raise in taxation, and certainly nothing progressive that endows generations to come with the liabilities incurred by the current generation. There will need to be significant cuts in public expenditure, but there is considerable waste in public expenditure. I have seen that in my own experience as a government Minister. I hope that the Government will pursue with vigilance their search for waste and efficiencies without making cuts which are injurious to the provision of public service. The difference between the Government and the previous Government was on the issue of timing and when those cuts should take place.
There was flawed thinking about job creation in the past. I found it very frustrating to sit in meetings with some of my fellow Ministers talking about creating jobs in the green economy and biotechnology. The Government cannot create jobs. The Government can create an environment that is conducive to the creation of jobs, but they cannot create jobs and we mislead ourselves if we believe they can. We need to create a context for competition, incentives for capital investment, protection for intellectual property and promotion of high standards of governance.
What we face is a real challenge. The challenge is to keep the interest rate that government pays for its debt as low as is practical. It is the recent discussions about ratings that drive the need for a rapid reduction in the deficit.
Some people mix up the terms deficit, structural deficit and debt as if there is no difference between them. The deficit is the government's borrowing during one financial year. The amount of that deficit that is structural is that which doesn't disappear as a result of growth. The debt is the total of borrowings for every year.
It is the debt upon which we pay interest.
NATO and the Gaza Flotilla
The link is to a post by Craig Murray who used to be the UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
He makes the interesting point that Turkish vessels have been attacked by a non-member of NATO and that Nato's prime function is a military alliance established to defend its members against attack.
It raises the question as to what extent NATO is independent of the USA. He also looks at the conflict in Afghanistan from that perspective.
The conflict is in essence a tribally based conflict where the NATO forces are aligned with a number of minority tribes.
This is dressed up as an ideological conflict. That is an error of analysis.