Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks Andy

The toughest part of being a politician these days is that one can no longer say what one really thinks of any subject anymore, even as a purely personal opinion, for fear of outraging someone or some group, who will then proceed to fan the flames at any opportunity. More frequently than not, such outrages are taken or quoted completely out of context or simply 'parsed', so that two relatively innocent sentences can appear damning when selective quotes are placed next to each other. I'm not describing any particular incident or example here but simply reflecting my own view that the public are not well-served when our rather sinister culture of political correctness stands in the way of honesty and open debate. Once upon a time this island was proud of its national sense of open and liberal democracy but today I wonder what remains.

A friend of mine was, until relatively recently, a Member of Parliament for a northern city and not a Conservative I should add. He once complained to me that the politics of the Indian subcontinent were more pivotal in his selection process rather than local issues. This was a subject he couldn't pass public comment on and he became sufficiently disillusioned to stand-down after a single term. I don't wish to debate the rights and wrongs of what he said but rather that as a Member of Parliament he felt unable to share what some observers might perceive as a legitimate concern over a sensitive subject.

Watching the lunchtime news today, I was somewhat outraged myself by Labour's Andy Burnham playing the role of students champion and condemning the coalition for their cuts. All this without saying for one moment what labour might have done should it have won the May election.

For anyone who might have forgotten, including Mr. Burnham, as an extravagant nation we are approximately £4 trillion in debt, (that's a consolidated figure as the total national debt - accumulated over many years - is about £848.5 billion.) which is a very large figure indeed. The total public sector debt, which is now being tackled is about £159 billion and the costs of bailing out the banks totaled another £78 billion. In 2009 -2010 the last government spent more on welfare than it received in income tax and if we were to try and sell every house and flat in the UK to balance the books, we would still be a £trillion in debt. In fact, we are accumulating more interest on the last government's debt than all the country's mortgages put together! Meanwhile, Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, this weekend, praised 'heroic' immigrants on benefits who send welfare money home to family members.

Just to remind readers in conclusion, in Scotland, 61% of jobs are state-driven, in Northern Ireland, that's 73% and in Wales it's 77%. For a decade, Labour robbed the private sector to build thousands of non-jobs in the public sector and the consequence was state monopolies, a rapidly sliding education system with Sure Start a failure and standards in secondary schools have plummeting below nations such as Poland and Estonia. A health service with the worst outcomes in the advanced world and a national debt that our grandchildren will still be paying-off many years into the future. So you decide on who we should trust to run the economy given the size of the financial disaster that we have inherited and for which we have to thank the New Labour experiment.


Michael Child said...

Simon I am not quite sure where you get your £4 trillion figure from, I thought the national debt was about £1 trillion. I am not quite sure what figure you would get if you added up all of the debt in the county as this would include everyone’s mortgage, every business and personal overdraft, even if it came to that sort of figure a lot of it would be internal debt, by that I mean one person in the UK living of the interest on their savings, or investing in the countries businesses through the stock exchange, while another group of people bought their houses or financed their businesses. This sort of debt is essential to the running of the economy, no businesses or people buying houses without it.

I am not saying that a £1 trillion national debt is a good thing, nor am I saying that people, businesses or governments should borrow too much money, I am however saying that that without the economic system, that we have now, that involves an overall indebtedness figure for everything in the country, we would have no commerce or economy.

Now of course if you include everyone’s mortgage or their landlords mortgages you will have already accounted for about half of the value of the housing stock.

Taking the overall figure for borrowing in the country, assuming that you want businesses, people living in houses and so on there must be an optimal level for this and I don’t think that the optimal level is £0, Dickensian and charming though it may be.

It follows that if you are going to be part of the international community there will be elements of debt between countries and that there must be some sort of optimal level for this that also wouldn’t be £0.

Could you qualify your debt figure by saying what you think this figure should be?

DrM. said...


The £4.8 trillion comes from the BBC Panorama programme last month as total consolidated debt.

In March, the last government was reportedly borrowing £600,000,000 a day? That is 25 million an hour or £416,000 a minute. At present we have a Budget Deficit of about £160 Billion which was increasing by 4.2 Billion a week.

British debt levels started from a lower level. Other countries have much higher debt levels such as Italy and Greece over 100% of GDP

I've put in a back link in the original article as a guide for readers. Thanks for your input!

Michael Child said...

Simon I followed the link with some difficulty and it says; “We already owe more than £900 billion to investors at home and abroad. The Government says our debt will hit £1,043 billion by April 2011 and £1.2 trillion just one year later. Yes, that really is £1,216,000,000,000.”

Am I being thick here? Perhaps I missed the £4 trillion figure, sorry about pursuing this but it is a very large difference.

DrM. said...


As I mentioned a little earlier it's the figure for total national debt given by the BBC in Panorama which I assume includes the credit card debt mountain!

DrM. said...

Apologies it wan't Panorama it was Ch4

Michael Child said...

Still taking me to the same place Simon which is a site part of and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with channel 4.

Tony Beachcomber said...

Very confusing I must say.

Looking at it in lay man's terms, the Government owns the Bank of England and the Bank is accountable to Parliament. The Bank prints money and loans it to the Government. The Government is then charged interest creating a debt on the money it owns and by a bank it owns. Strange system.

Andrew said...

Somewhat surprisingly I found my self in total agreement with everything you said. I especially liked your comments on open and liberal democracy, which from the tone of your first paragraph you would seem to see as an ideal.

This therefore makes me all the more puzzled over your apparent endorsement of the high-handed consultation process being undertaken by the Council in response to the requirements of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.

The Council seems to have employed officers whose command of the English language is, to put it mildly, flexible, and seem intent on taking this consultation to conclusion without making too much effort to actually consult anyone.

Politics and politicians have probably never been held in such low esteem. This is bad for the health of the nation, since, like it or not, someone has to do it and has to do it in such a way that the electorate doesn't suspect an ulterior motive. The low esteem is a direct result of the scandalous behaviour of MPs during the last Parliament, but all who hold elected office stand in danger of being tarred with the same brush. Any deviation from a patently open approach lays politicians open to the charge of feathering their nests - and I'm sure that most of you aren't.

DrM. said...

As you will have gathered, I'm in favour of open and transparent democracy but I also believe that too much consultation can be counter productive. In a democracy with elected representatives we should have sufficient faith and trust in the system to leave the decision making to them. In cases of wider public interest, such as airport night flights, then public consultation is an important tool that aids politicians in making informed decisions. However seeking consultation over each and every issue, regardless of weight is likely to make the system of government unwieldy and expensive, which is what we are presently starting to witness.

Andrew said...

Party line - shame on you.

I agree that endless navel-gazing gets you nowhere but there has been little attempt to disguise the botched arrangements for the Governance consultation. The end result has been suggestions of vote-rigging, etc, none of which is going to restore faith in local politicians.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depends how you look at it) the procedure has been clearly laid down in the 2007 Act and any Executive in place after the 2011 elections will be of dubious legality.

1 o'clock Rob said...

Do we have all these public sector jobs because the Conservatives systematically sold or closed off our industry? Or did I sleep through the 80's and 90's and dream it all?

Ok, so it wasn't all the conservatives fault but it primarily happened on their watch.

Once you've outsourced your industry to other countries where they can produce steel cheaper than you can at the cost of the workforce who aren't protected by 'elf and safety UK style what do you expect Simon? We can't all go work in the finance industry, no matter how many billions they suck from the tax payer... oh do they now count as public servants? I mean seeing as we own nearly all the banks are they part of the 500,000 public sector workers due for the chop?

DrM. said...

What you are raising here I think is the impact of globalisation which impacted the UK as much as anywhere else in the developed world. The error lay in taxing business too much in order to create public sector jobs. The belief was that one would stimulate the other which has been discredited. Elsewhere in the world where business has been allowed to keep and invest it's profits, such as Hong Kong, the economy thrived as business grew.

This last government simply created hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs which created an unsustainable drain on the economy, with pensions commitments and zero productivity in commercial terms

Michael Child said...

Simon Andrew is talking about the consultation asking if we the voters want to elect a leader or you the councillors select one for us, the sad thing here is the council officers seemed to have misused the localism bill and associated policy of the coalition to excuse botching the consultation process.

It should have been a very cheap and easy consultation as there was only on question with two answers.

This is consultation is occurring at the moment and theoretically the council has been engaging in it for eleven weeks, so badly have they botched it that after 10 weeks only 6 people out of the Thanet electorate of 100,000 had responded.

I asked the officer in charge of the consultation some questions about the way it had been handled and he passed me to the chief executive who then passed me to the head of legal and democratic services, promising that I would get a response, well the statuary ten working days has expired and no response came.

It is a case of the money has been spent on the consultation, but the work done so badly that it was hidden from public view, still doesn’t appear on the councils consultation web page, didn’t appear in the any of the council’s publications, the explanatory notes have grammatical errors that make them incomprehensible, isn’t described in plain English where the link does appear, wasn’t advertised in the local paper and so on.

Although the consultation was supposed to start twelve weeks ago Google only cached it three weeks ago, but it has statutory timings that relate to the legality of the council’s constitution.

I think the worst result of all of this is that the council has been left open to a potentially expensive legal challenge and it leaves the validity of any leader elected or selected open to question.

I think it would have been better to have held no consultation at all than to have held one on such an important matter so badly.

1 o'clock Rob said...

Globalisation seems to have bypassed Germany and many Scandanavian countries who have remained very industrialised in the last 20-30 years. Sweden, until relatively recently, seemed to have managed very nicely. with a centre right government and a very good welfare system!

Once again Simon, what else was there to do in this once great industrialised nation? Without industry, the art of producing something of substance, all that was left was finance or service driven, only so many people can work at Tesco's and we've seen what the banks do when left unregulated...

Unfortunately this is part of the cycle that no one cared about when the whole "globalisation" ball started, everyone got rich selling off our industry or outsourcing it and offshoring the proceeds from sale. Here we are now a country that makes nothing, stands for nothing and means nothing to nearly all of the modern world... A relic of a bygone age run by politicians who are in it for themselves, with no experience other than what was gleaned at university and who couldn't really care less because even if they do cock it up they still get to retire on a nice fat pension or off to whatever business has been funding them for their time in office....

DrM. said...

Rob in the examples you quote, quality brand recognition, such as BMW and Mercedes have played a vitally important role in sustaining the manufacturing economy. Sadly, Britain, with some notable exceptions which are very niche, such as Rolls Royce failed to excel to the same level. Anyway, it's a long argument and without offshore oil, the finance industry 'Big bang' and the City of London, the UK would have gone to the wall a long time ago as successive governments failed to anticipate the skills required for the late 20th and early 21st century. Thus many of the best research brains have left for greener pastures and the big companies seek lower tax environments, such as the Irish Republic or Poland.

What alarms me as one who has 'advised' - I use the term loosely, politicians of all three parties, is the broadly poor grasp of technology and the impact that accompanies paradigm shifts of the kind we are now witnessing on a regular basis.

1 o'clock Rob said...

As an I.T. professional, who just happens to work in the public sector, I'll agree with you on the last point.

Michael Child said...

The last British brand I was involved with was Hornby, almost all of the manufacturing took place here in Thanet, not much wrong with the product or the brand. The machine tools were fairly up to date, workers paid moderately, no serious union problems.

All their manufacturing was moved to China, not sure you can really blame the government, I don’t think you relay blame the workers or management here in the UK.

I am also pretty certain that if they hadn’t moved their manufacturing when they did the company would have soon gone into liquidation.

Globalisation is a funny thing, I went to what I thought was a cheap UK printer to get a short print run, 30 copies, the cheapest quote, the books arrived ten days after I sent the electronic file, printed in the USA.

By the way Simon I think you may be missing the odd comment.

Andrew said...

1 o'clock Rob popped up at just the right time so that you could avoid answering my last - I'm sure that was purely coincidental.

Andrew said...


As I pointed out yesterday elsewhere

The views of one Councillor on TDC media and communications.

"However, we also seem to have a media & communication department at Thanet District Council that continues to fail in its delivery to the public domain"

What more needs to be said?

People will only believe that the Council is working in their best interests when they can see that this is so. Most of us are both literate and capable of weighing up facts to come to a decision and at the moment the overwhelming view being presented by the most highly educated member of the Council is that "we know best" and that hoi poloi should just get on with being led. No wonder we're all suspicious! We may not all be airplane pilots or PhDs (although you have no idea who I am or what qualifications I hold - for all you know I may be an ex-Councillor!) but there is no need to talk down to us.
You accuse Michael of spin and tell him that he presents only one side of an argument - what do you expect when the other side is hidden from view?
An nescis, mi fili, quantilla sapientia mundus regatur?

DrM. said...

No, what I'm attempting to convey is that we live in an elected democracy where what might appear as a simple issue is invariably more complex than observers might imagine, given the straight-jacket of regulation that directs our decisions and actions.

Cabinet members, in a parody of 'Yes Minister' are swamped with information, direction and recommendation by email and otherwise. In many situations we have to make decisions that run contrary to personal preference, not because we wish to but because we have to under public interest or the law or local government regulations. no different to politicians in any democratic institution large or small.

So rather than talking down to anyone and I would ask you to forgive my rather direct style, I have to ask you to trust that the decisions I make are both informed and in what I believe is the public interest.

Invariably I read vigorous criticism here and elsewhere because people simply don't have all the facts or even some of them. The Turner Contemporary Project is a good example of how many people still don't understand that we couldn't swap the gallery for a new amusement park!

Michael has his views but as he is not part of the decision making process he can only hold an opinion and frequently not one I can share.

1 o'clock Rob said...

Michael has raised many issues regarding the consultation that ends tomorrow, do you have anything to add Simon as to why it has received virtually no publicity and isn't mentioned in any of the expected locations on the TDC website?

DrM. said...

This matter is an agenda item for the extraordinary meeting of the council on Thursday.

The directions given by the Secretary of State in regard to the consultation are detailed in 4.0 'Process' and if you are interested I would invite you to attend and listen to the debate.

The documents I have in front of me also describe how the council went further than required in seeking consultation

I think its important to grasp here that the Government intend to change the legislation, possibly in May and as a consequence what is being consulted on may soon become a passing detail of history.

I have a concern that there is a suggestion being made that the public are being deprived of an important choice on governance and this simply isn't the case. In the near future I suspect that the entire local government political landscape will change beyond recognition, making the local mayoral / strong leader debate an irrelevance.

Michael Child said...

As my name appears with relation to the consultation I feel I ought to say something here, to put my side of the issue however uninformed it may be.

I should also like to make it very clear that in no way is this to be seen as some sort of confrontation with Simon, who is making an effort to explain the situation to us, when other members of the cabinet and council officers are not.

So Simon here is how I see the situation from the outside, could you kindly point out the areas where you think I am wrong?

In drawing up the consultation process and in drawing up the report for council officers attempted to foresee future legislation “the localism bill” and in this instance failed to apply their normal consultation procedures producing a poor consultation.

They also failed to apply the 2000 and 2007 acts in the mistaken assumption the relevant parts of these acts would be repealed by primary legislation “the localism bill” at some future date.

On Monday the government published the localism bill and essentially the situation relating to leadership selection and the resultant leadership structure will remain the same if the contents of the bill becomes legislation.

The officers appear to have been partly guided by advice from the sectary of state in the form of a letter that contains grammatical errors or typos to such an extent that in places its meaning is unclear.

The public consultation should have run for 12 weeks finishing on 15th December.

The normal procedures adopted by the council for public consultations don’t appear to have been followed. There was no press release, press advertisement, it didn’t appear on the council’s consultations webpage nor did it appear in the council’s publications.

The only place this consultation appeared was on a page of the council’s website, on 4th December 2001. A webpage can be published at any time and normally it would remain undiscovered until it is linked to other webpages, this process would provide public access to the new webpage, within a short space of time often seconds this page is the cached, the google cache for the consultation’s page is dated 4th December 2001.

Shortly after this date the local press picked the issue up, rather confirming that the consultation wasn’t published at the time it should have been, unless of course it was published on time and all of our intrepid local journalists and google missed it.

The ineffectiveness of this consultation process is highlighted by the council’s own statement that only 6 people from a potential Thanet electorate of nearly 100,000 people had responded by the 10th week of the supposed 12 week consultation period.

The problem here is that on Thursday the council is being asked to decide a matter of considerable importance based on a public consultation to determine public opinion.
The officers have presented the councillors with a case that the public have been properly consulted but are just not interested in the issue, so only 6 members of the public responded, I am presenting a case that the consultation was concealed from members of the public, either by accident or design so only 6 people took part.

DrM. said...


I've written previously that your view doesn't coincide with my own. I'm not a lawyer and neither am I convinced that the grammar in the Secretary of State's direction to councils presents a problem in regard to clarity.

The matter will be debated tomorrow evening and I'm sure that any deficiencies in the process will be exposed should they exist.

Michael Child said...

Simon I have to admit that the legal and grammatical side of this are not areas where I am best informed and I wasn’t really expecting your views on the legal aspects, the council’s legal bod was supposed to have explained the legal issues to me, the council’s chief exec promised he would, but he just hasn’t, there doesn’t seem to be any system in the council to deal with an officer just not replying to reasonable questions within ten working days.

On the grammatical side I will concede to your superior knowledge, but still would like to know what it was he was trying to say about mayors as it seem to just stop dead where he says “and on elected mayors” perhaps someone cut and pasted it wrongly.

Mostly it was on the ITC side that I expected your thoughts i.e either the council has been holding a 12 week web consultation and this side of the matter is above board or it has been running a 3 week consultation.

As you know I try to put up the latest stuff the council publish on their website on my Thanet Press Releases site and I hope you agree that I do this responsibly, however to this you will probably concede requires running software that notices changes in what is published on the councils website.

A mixture of the results of this and examining the google cache lead me to conclude that at the most the consultation has been on the councils website for 4 weeks in its present form and linked to anything much for a maximum of about 3.

What I had expected you to do as another bloke who has been involved in ITC for a long time was to point out the error of my ways.

You see tomorrows debate seems to based on the officers assumption that as only 6 people had replied to a consultation that had been running for 10 weeks, there was little public interest in the matter, on the other hand if the consultation had only been accessible to the public for a few days it does put a different flavour on the thing.

DrM. said...


I realise you have a keen and consuming interest in local government but I simply cannot respond to all your inquiries in the detail you appear to expect and I've said so before.

Now I would predict that when you've finished with this issue, you'll move on, within days, to another equally important issue from your perspective and it's not always possible to give you what you want, with the immediacy of when you want it.

I'll try and oblige out of courtesy when I can but I have a business to run as well as being a member of the cabinet and while in the most part inquiries are best directed at council officers, I'm really not equipped deal with your requests on a near daily basis.

Michael Child said...

Simon this is a blog thread where you mentioned my name in relation to this issue before I commented about it, “Michael has his views but as he is not part of the decision making process he can only hold an opinion and frequently not one I can share.” admittedly I had commented when you said the national debt was about 4 times what it actually is and something on globalisation, nothing to do with the council.

I don’t really think that there is another issue related to the council that is equally important, this is about how the council is governed and depending on the result it probably effects what position you hold in the next council, should you stand.

My last comment was primarily about an ITC issue, we have both been playing about with computers for some time, with me it’s over forty years and I smelled a rat here, ITC looked as though it was being used to cover up shortcomings. As you and I both know if you try to use computers in this way you need to very good indeed, otherwise it shows up as clear as daylight.

Metaphorically speaking you said, “Michael holds a view on the colour of grass” now I have said, “grass is green” you appear to be responding by saying I comment too much on your blog, and that you don’t like it.

DrM. said...


You have every right to comment and I would encourage you to do so.

What I'm passing remark on is the level of detail you often ask for and the growing size of the 'Michael Child' directory on my PC.

I will of course help or pass comment where I can and have the time available but you will have to admit that I do receive a rather large number of such requests and it's not always possible for me to assist.

Cabinet members like me, develop policy and offer direction but the process involved is much like steering a supertanker and the detail of the operation is something that is worked out by council officers.

Andrew said...


Simple answer, "Yes" or "No". Is is possible to determine when an entry appeared on a website by means of a google cache?
I also agree that the Minister's letter was poorly constructed, and unlike Michael I don't bow to your greater knowledge here.

Michael Child said...

Simon I think the problem here is that weird comments beg questions, hence more detail. Glancing at the thread I will try and explain what I mean.

Your comments at 8.45 seem to suggest that you don’t think this is an important consultation.

Do you think the leadership consultation is important?

Your comments at 9.43, you say “The documents I have in front of me also describe how the council went further than required in seeking consultation”

Do you think that there is some way that the council could have done less in seeking consultation?

You also say, “I think its important to grasp here that the Government intend to change the legislation, possibly in May and as a consequence what is being consulted on may soon become a passing detail of history.”

Do you think that the government could get the legislation through parliament by May?

Have you found anything whatsoever in the governments new localism bill to suggest that what is being consulted on may soon become a passing detail of history?

You also say, “I suspect that the entire local government political landscape will change beyond recognition, making the local mayoral / strong leader debate an irrelevance.”

Have you found anything in the localism bill that suggests the local mayoral / strong leader debate will be an irrelevance?

You see the problem is that I thought this is a democracy that we live in and then I discovered that the local decisions are made by the cabinet and reinforced by a whip on the majority, so I consider it very important that the cabinet members actually understand the decisions they are making.

This was brought home to me over the decision last year not to determine the Pleasurama development agreement, we have had another year of playing about with not starting a potentially dangerous development because of this.

Now I find the council appear to be rigging a consultation that ultimately will effect the result of an election, a few details would allay my concerns.

Andrew said...

Steering a supertanker is actually not that hard - I've done it many times.

Andrew said...

Using a little bit of computer jiggery pokery I have discovered that the "Consultation on new Governance Models for Executive Arrangements" page was published on the TDC website on 18th October 2010. That's eight and a half weeks before the Extraordinary Meeting.