Friday, September 30, 2005

Public school lefties

Here's an amusing post and comment thread over at James Bartholemew's site. James is taken to task for using "statistical bombardment" to support his arguments by the apparently socialist inmates of St Paul's School in London.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dunblane inquiry documents to be released

The BBC is reporting that the files relating to Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Dunblance massacre are going to be released to the public. This overturns the 100 year restriction on their release which was imposed at the time of the inquiry.

There have been all sorts of allegations bouncing about the internet about why the murderer Thomas Hamilton was able to retain his firearms licence despite his background as a paedophile being well known. Among the accusations made is that he was a freemason who was protected by his fellows in Central police or that he traded pornography with officers in return for protection. See for example this.

The documents which have are to be released have been edited to ensure that they do not identify any of the victims. Additionally however documents have been released so as not to distress the relatives.

With my suspicious mind this strikes me as grounds for the Lord Advocate to withhold documents embarrassing to the authorities.

Another country looking at flat tax

Via Peak Talk, the Dutch are now looking at a flat tax regime too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flat taxes and formation of government policy

Martin Stabe has now had a reply from the Treasury to explain why they censored large parts of their FOI disclosure about flat taxes. I had speculated that they would be claiming exemption under either the Parliamentary Privelege clause or the clause relating to formation of Government policy.

In the event I was partly right Two exemptions have been used. Surprisingly section 27 on disclosures that would affect relations with foreign countries has been invoked. As Martin Stabe points out this can only relate to the information provided by the Estonian Government on their own flat tax scheme. A quick review of the FOI disclosure shows that the excisions from this paper are minimal. There is one paragraph missing from a section on the overall tax regime in Estonia and the name of the paper's author has also been obscured.

This looks fair enough.

The rest of the excisions have therefore been made under section 35 on information relating to the formulation of Government policy. This again is fair enough - the exemption is in the legislation. But as has been noted by both myself and Martin Stabe, the only parts excised from the disclosure are those parts which support the idea of a flat tax. On the face of it this is extremely odd. There urgently needs to be some explanation of why the Treasury feels these parts fall foul of section 35 but the sections critical of flat tax do not. One can only assume that they feel that their duty is not to embarrass the Government.

This seems to me to put the whole reputation of the civil service on the line. If civil service briefings to ministers are to be released to the public only in so far as they support the Government's position then the civil service becomes a political body - an arm of the Government rather than servant of the general public. There are enough instances already of "civil servants" doing party political work (think Alastair Campbell) without other parts of the bureaucracy being politicised.

At the end of the day the section 35 exemption has been included in the legislation for the convenience of government rather than the benefit of the public. We would be better off without it, particularly if it is going to be used as a weapon of Government propoganda.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bollocks to Blair

Could I just say to anyone of a Labour party persuasion who might come to this site that it's time to get rid of Messrs Blair, Clarke and Blunkett.

Read this.

Via The England Project


The Times reports today that truancy is up by 43% despite the government having spent a billion on anti-truancy measures.

The impression gained from the word "truancy" is of scruffy teenagers hanging around on street corners having "done a bunk" from school for the day. Where this is the case it is probably reprehensible, although if the children are avoiding bullies or bad teaching one can at least sympathise.

But of course a large number of these cases will be of children who have gone on holiday in term-time with their parents. In many cases they will have got more from a fortnight in the sun than they would have done from a fortnight in school - a chance to think, a chance to try out a foreign language, to meet people from different countries. Perhaps just the opportunity to spend some quality time with their parents.

The school year is structured around the agricultural calendar of an earlier age - long summer holidays are designed to coincide with the harvest so that children can help in the fields. That this should be dictating the way parents and children live now is clearly ridiculous.

If you were starting from scratch now you would have a school day that ran from 8am to 1:30pm so that one parent could at least work part-time, while the other was full time. The school could run non-academic activities in the afternoons for those children whose parents both worked. You would have holidays at Christmas only. Apart from that parents could take their children out of school for any other six weeks during the year. The school would have the job of helping the children catch up with the work they had missed. They could use their share of the £1bn spent on anti-truancy measures to recruit extra staff to do this. (£1bn would get nearly 30,000 teachers at £35k each.) The teachers would argue that this is impossible, to which I would say that they manage when children are off sick, so it should be possible to do it when they are off on holiday.

It's so simple it's amazing no-one has thought of it before.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Part 2

Following the roaring success of the ODPM part 1 post in which nearly a billion pounds of cuts were identified from just a single budget, I am now hoping for big things from the rest of rest of the departmental budgets.

There are two more to look at: Resource Investment and Capital. Now that I've worked out how to get a spreadsheet onto blogger, I've presented all three budgets - the two new ones, and the resource consumption one from the last post - in the image below. If anyone can tell me how to make the image larger that would be helpful. Click on the image to get it up to readable size.

When I started the project, I said that we were looking for annualised savings of £50bn - implying that selling the family silver was therefore not an option. Despite some wonderfully constructive attempts to get me to sell off bits of the national heritage in order to help us reach the target, I'm not budging on this. However, where I am closing down a programme completely, I am going to take the capital budget of the relevant department into acccount when calculating the savings. This assumes of course that the same capital budget is available every year. While this may not be true in every case, hopefully the over- and under-estimates will even themselves out.

Having brought into account the investment and capital budgets for the programmes already identified for closure we now have chalked up a total of £3,049 million. I'm not proposing to close down any of the other programmes which have appeared on examining the new budgets. The only significant area which is new is "ALMOs". This stands for "Arms Length Management Organisation" and seem to be something to do with funding social housing. This falls into the "politically controversial" category and is therefore off limits.

However, we are 6% of the way to our target and we've only been scratching the surface. It may be that this is an easier task than I thought.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Education disaster in Burundi

The BBC reports:
Burundi's primary schools are struggling to cope with a huge increase in numbers of pupils on the first day of term after fees were scrapped.
The move is in line with the UN's plans to make all primary schooling free by 2006 and for it to be universal by 2015. While the aim is laudable, the research of the EG West Centre has shown that in those countries where free provision is available, its introduction has destroyed high quality private schooling and replaced it with poor quality state education.

Free education for Burundi looks like a good thing. It will almost certainly be a disaster.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Part 1)

OK, here, after much struggle, is the first posting for my £50 billion project. I've picked on the Office of the Deputy PM for the simple reason that a commenter in my original posting on the project suggested that the whole department should go. Now, while this would have a certain emotional resonance, I can't help feeling that someone, somewhere in the ODPM must be doing something worthwhile, so this is my attempt to find them.

The level of financial information in the ODPM annual report is pretty rudimentary. It's clear that the main purpose is self-justification rather than provision of useful information, but there is enough for us to have a stab at identifying some savings.

What follows below is the Resource Consumption budget for the department. A later posting will cover the other budgets. I've highlighted in red those areas which I think could be cut completely.


Regional development agencies

Corporate welfare


Supporting people

Support for good causes like housing the deaf and blind, as well as less obviously deserving cases like ex-prisoners and travellers. I may revisit this if I need further savings later in the process.


New Deal for Communities

Gives grants “to community-based partnerships for neighbourhood renewal.”


New Ventures Fund

Bit of a mystery this one as even the ODPM’s website tells us very little about it. I think it’s part of the regional regeneration boondoggle and therefore gets cut.


English Partnerships

Regeneration again.


Thames Gateway and other growth areas

Regeneration again.





Left in because of the political difficulty in reform of planning rather than any enthusiasm for planning on my part.


Other Housing


Housing Corporation

Regulates and funds social housing.


European Regions Development fund

Regeneration again.




Other Sustainable Communities

Regeneration again.



Planning for major disasters


Other programmes




I've taken the line of getting rid of anything that looks like non-job creation schemes or corporate welfare. All development agencies and the like are out. I'm shying away from anything to do with welfare to the poor individuals at the moment. The slash and burn approach which I'm taking here is not appropriate when you are dealing with these areas.

The "Supporting people" spend is very tempting, but it's not easy to identify exactly how much of this is meaningful welfare and how much is subsidy to favoured groups. It goes without saying that welfare needs to be reformed, but I'm trying to reach £50bn without frightening anyone, so I'll leave this alone for the mo'. If I come up short of the target I'll come back and take another look.

So there you have it. One budget of one department. Total savings identified: £957 million.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The 50 billion pound project

One of the regular objections to the introduction of a flat tax is that it will leave a gaping hole in the public accounts. The naysayers point mainly to the ASI proposal which suggests a £50bn (or was it £60bn?) shortfall if FT were implemented with a 22% rate and a £12000 threshold. They miss (or ignore) that this is just one possible combination of rate and threshold, and that different sums of money can be raised by varying these according to ones inclinations.

But so what? 22% and £12000 has a nice ring to it, and I'd like to live in a country with that kind of tax regime. So the question is then how to plug a £50bn gap. According to the ASI, the boost to the economy from flat tax is likely to form most of the answer, but I thought it might be interesting to see what reforms could be brought in to save enough money to make up the difference. And hence the idea of the 50 billion pound project.

I'm setting myself a few rules.
  1. All proposed reforms need some reasonable costings with evidence to back up the figures. We are looking for annualised savings of £50bn, so selling the Forth Rail Bridge to the Americans or Ken Livingston to the Arabs is not an option.
  2. All must be politically realistic to the extent that a government with a reasonable majority could be expected to push them through parliament.
  3. If leaving the EU is necessary to bring about the reform then it is adopted as policy regardless of whether it works, or will produce any savings.
  4. As this is a blog, it goes without saying that I'm the final arbiter of absolutely everything.
Suggestions for areas to cut or reform would be welcome. Alternatively, if you think I am getting it wrong and cutting something vital then feel free to tell me too.

The first post will follow in due course.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Flat taxes - views from the left

Jarndyce has a really good post explaining why the left should be in favour of flat taxes. Mind you, he is showing signs of having hung out with too many libertarians with comments like this:

Finally, Pearce clings unapologetically to the line that government is the friend of the poor. He should read a bit of history. It was the market that crushed feudalism in England after the Black Death and the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. It's the market that prevails in every rich country in ther world today. From government siding with the landlords in the fourteenth century, to various experiments in state-sponsored impoverishment in the twentieth, it ought to be clear by now that the state isn't the unequivocal friend of the poor.
Definitely read the whole thing.

Bloggers for Labour in the meantime seems to have gone off the idea and instead wants to tax economic capability:
[I]s it fair to tax merely according to one's economic assets, blind to their non-economic ones (mental, cultural [did you pick up on this, folks?], or political), and the impact these have on the individual's overall "economic capability"? Capability - the ability to apply one's talents and resources for one's own economic advancement - is surely what the authorities ought to be watching/equalising/taxing, rather than merely one's income, let alone one's wealth.

I can't see it catching on myself.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

State jails mother "by mistake"

From Abolish the TV Licence:
Two weeks ago my daughter had a warrent posted through her door saying that she is going to be arrested over the tv licence fine of £245.

She contacted the tv people again and said this was all wrong and they again said they would sort it.

Tonight she has been arrested and taken from her little children at 9.15 pm to appear before the courts tomorrow, she showed the arresting officers all the paperwork which she has kept and they agreed that this is all a mistake and yet she was still locked up.
I really, really hope this isn't true.

More on guns

In my earlier posting on gun control, commenters suggested that relaxation of the gun laws would lead to an explosion of gun crime.

Today the BBC reports a police officer's take on the availability of firearms:

Brent's borough commander, Chief Supt Andy Bamber, said the availability of firearms in the borough was "absolutely horrifying".

"People can easily get a firearm and the age group of those getting involved is coming down," he said.

If guns are easily available to criminals, then the only people who will benefit from the relaxation of the gun laws are the law-abiding.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Via Spy blog

Six NO2ID peaceful protestors arrested for "conspiracy" before they even get near the EU Summit

To defend themselves against a claim of wrongful arrest the police would have to show that they had reasonable grounds for suspecting conspiracy. Given that NO2ID have no record of violent protest, this will be difficult.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

BBC tries to spike flat tax proposals

In the comments thread on a post over at Guido's, someone has pointed out the BBC's example of a flat tax.
Fivelive had 3 examples this morning:

14k would pay £100 more
30k would pay £300 more
60k would save 3k!

On an example of starting to pay tax at 7k and at 25%
Sadly it is completely predictable that they would choose an example which presents the reform in a bad light.

The BBC is a disgrace.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Liberal Democrats and the flat tax

Tucked away at the end of a piece in today's Times about Conservative flat tax plans is a sneak preview of the way the Liberal Democrats are responding to the reforming wave from the east.

The Times has also learnt that the Liberal Democrats are considering a radical new tax policy dubbed the “double decker”. This hybrid of a flat tax would cut demands on the low-paid and middle-earners but progressively squeeze the better-off.


The Lib Dem plan, to be put to activists at next month’s party conference, is a hybrid of the flat-tax principle increasingly in vogue with right-wing thinkers.

It would have a basic element of a flat-tax system with a much larger personal income tax allowance of, say, £10,000. The “double-decker” element means there would be two tax rates. The standard rate tax would stay at, or close to, the current threshold of 22 per cent, with a top band at a substantially lower level, perhaps at around 30 per cent.

Many middle-income earners could enjoy tax cuts because of the doubling of their personal allowance. But the plan would also scrap the upper earnings limit for national insurance contributions.

One can't help but think that it would be simpler to just increase the personal allowance and be done with it. The whole point of flat tax is to simplify the tax system. One rate not two. One tax (national insurance is just another tax, remember) not two. One bureaucracy not two. One set of tax advisers not two.

Instead of reform they are going to discuss an idea which amounts to no more than tinkering with the existing system. There is nothing here which will help the country's economic slide - it's 1960s thinking.

The Times' description of this shambles as "radical" is ridiculous. The "double decker" name for their bright idea is apposite though - you wait an age for a tax system with a single tax rate and suddenly the Liberal Democrats turn up with a system with two.