November 28, 2006

In Greenland's icy air

Scientists have managed to retrieve air temperature data for Greenland going back to 1784, says World Climate Report (hat tip to John Ray again).
As the popularized side of the debate has led us to expect, the authors found that the coldest year (1863) and the coldest decade (1810s) are early in the record, well before the ballyhooed warming of the 20th century. Problematic from a climate change standpoint is the fact that the two distinct cold periods that made the 1810s the coldest decade followed an 1809 “unidentified” volcanic eruption and the eruption of Tambora in 1815 – unusual geologic events that defined the climate. However, of greater importance is the fact that the researchers found the warmest year on record to be 1941, while the 1930s and 1940s are the warmest decades on record. This represents very bad news for climate change alarmists, since the warmest period was NOT the last quarter of the 20th century. In fact, the last two decades of the 20th century (1981-1990 and 1991-2000) were colder across the study area than any of the previous six decades, dating back to the 1900s and 1910s. When examining the instrumental records of the stations it is apparent that no net warming has occurred since the warm period of the 1930s and 1940s.
Ouch. The note concludes -
In a region of the world where climate models indicate that the greatest impacts of CO2-induced global warming will be most rapid and most evident, this recent extension of instrumental surface air temperature records produces a climate history that seems to suggest otherwise. If global climate models are correct, the increase in CO2 concentration since 1930 should be evidenced rather dramatically in air temperature across a high-latitude region of the Northern Hemisphere such as Greenland. The evidence provided by the instrumental record of air temperature along the western and southern coasts of Greenland produces doubt in the degree to which increased CO2 concentrations impact high latitude climate as represented by the climate models upon which climate change alarmists are hanging their hats.
What's fascinating to this layman is how new observations are still being made which seem to challenge what is evidently not at all a settled body of theory.

And that theory - and a dodgy discount rate - are a basis for major action?

It's the sun wot done it?

No, not the paper, but warming the globe. John Ray has picked up commentary from the New Zealand Institute for Liberal Values. Two scientists studied the global surface temperature for the last 400 years. They "find good correspondence between global temperature and solar induced temperature curves during the pre-industrial period such as the cooling periods occurring during the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715) and the Dalton Minimum (1795-1825). The sun might have contributed approximately 50% of the observed global warming since 1900."

And ""During the 20th century one continues to observe a significant correlation between the solar and temperature patterns: both records show an increase from 1900 to 1950, a decrease from 1950 to 1970, and again an increase from 1970 to 2000." The rest of the warming may or may not be man made. So in essence they think that about half of all observable warming can be attributed to solar activity.

And hurrah they have noticed the cosmic rays research which The Economist missed.
So exploding stars in distant galaxies bombard us with cosmic rays which help produce clouds which induce cooling. "Cloud cover increases when the intensity of cosmic rays grows and decreases when the intensity declines." And over the last century, the century of global warming, our Sun's magnetic field which shields Earth from cosmic rays more than doubled, thereby reducing the average influx of cosmic rays. The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century.
The paper points out that this is a mechanism which has been ignored until now.
What percentage of global warming is due to the reduction of clouds caused by the reduction of cosmic rays hitting the Earth? The computer models used to estimate man's role in global warming have simply not had this information in the past. So how accurate is their estimate that what we are seeing is anthropogenic?

Even Blair doesn't believe Blair any more

Yet again Blair has pledged deregulation to the CBI. The Financial Times reports he pledged that "Whitehall would in the next few weeks set a target to cut the administrative burden imposed by government on business by 25 per cent". This is in line with Denmark and Germany, who are following The Netherlands. The paper adds that these simplification plans from 18 departments and regulators, due to be published by the end of the year, will pledge a net 25 per cent reduction in regulation by 2010.
The reduction in form filling and inspections would be worth "up to" £2.2bn a year to business and third sector organisations, Downing Street said yesterday.
How right the paper is to mark that "up to". What does it mean? The paper goes on, even more pointedly
The announcement is only the latest in a long line of government pledges to tackle red tape, stretching back to the previous Conservative administration. Mr Blair admitted his latest commitment was bound to be met with a degree of business scepticism, telling delegates: "I talk about it every time I come to the CBI." But he said the decision to impose challenging targets on departments was designed to achieve concrete results this time around.
He seems to admit quite casually that it was all hot air last time. And indeed it was, as the government set up bodies to tinker with the notion of "better", not less regulation without upsetting anyone terribly much. A recipe for failure Sir Humphrey would have recognised.

Now, does this figure of "up to" £2.2bn a year imply a business regulation burden costing the economy "up to" £8.8bn a year?

Not according to the British Chambers of Commerce. As Wat Tyler reminds us, "researchers at the British Chambers of Commerce - using the government's own figures - calculate that it now stands at £50bn pa. Labour alone has increased it by £39bn pa since 1998".

November 27, 2006

Reform's welfare state numbers

Probably people will rush to offer their own solutions. But Frank Field and others are right to say that this should be the start of a debate.

So that the debate can be taken seriously, it's important to look into the pit and realise just how awful the numbers are.
  • UK spending on social security and tax credits (excluding pensions) last year amounted to £79 billion. This is 15% of total public spending - more than is spent on education and more than twice as much as is spent on law and order

  • Over 80 per cent of the system (£64 billion) remains entirely rights-based

  • Over 71 per cent of all claimants remain on benefit for longer than one year

  • 5.4 million people of working age currently do not work, and live on state aid (14% of the working age population)

  • 5% of British men aged under 50 are classified ill or disabled. Millions of people are "parked" on incapacity benefits, which artificially suppress the unemployment rate and are producing a generation for whom being "on the sick" is a way of life.

  • The UK has the highest penalties for increasing income or increasing hours worked (“the poverty trap”) of any developed country

  • Tax credits, which were meant to encourage work, are pointlessly paid to people earning nearly £60,000 a year in an astonishing merry-go-round of money taken in tax and given back in benefit at vast administrative cost.

  • People working for just 20 hours a week on the minimum wage pay tax, only then to have to apply for benefits to help cover housing costs that might have been affordable if the tax had not been taken to start with.

  • The New Deal costs more and achieves less than other similar schemes

  • The system is too complicated. In 2005-06, there were 51 separate benefits. The official explanation of how to determine a Housing Benefit claim is now over 8,000 words long.
To start with let's just concentrate on this appalling value for money.

And let's be clear, this is Brown's scheme. Its crabbed complications bear his hallmark.

Philip Johnston points out that
Only last week, [Mr Blair] was lamenting the breakdown in the traditional social networks that used to hold communities together, applied a brake to bad behaviour and offered a helping hand to parents with difficult youngsters.

It must have crossed his mind that the principal cause of this collapse has been the fecklessness and lack of ambition spread by a dependency culture that he once promised to do something about.
And, whistling in the wind, he concludes
Here, then, is an opportunity for the Conservatives. David Cameron, who last week called poverty "a moral disgrace", should look again at those radical ideas for its mitigation that were being debated 10 years ago and which are more relevant today than ever. And hand in glove with this is the moral case for low taxation that feeds both a desire for smaller government and for greater personal freedom.

It is all of a piece; but it has never been understood by those on the Left to whom Tory strategists apparently now look for inspiration. What people who are poor need is the chance to move out of poverty, not to be trapped there reliant upon handouts. Mobility is what the Tories should be talking about, not equality.

November 26, 2006

No cats, please, we're from Surrey

This is the Evening Standard's amusing heading to an astonishing development in the already astonishing tale of the dispute over protecting the Dartford Warbler, which I blogged in April.

Now, under the plans to safeguard the birds' vulnerable nests, families buying homes in a 300 square mile swathe of the Home Counties would be forced to sign an agreement never to own a cat. An alternative proposal from Natural England (formerly English Nature) would prohibit development within 440 yards of the nesting grounds - a distance deemed to be the 'roaming range' of cats. But - of course - "experts" are disputing this.

Discussions involving politicians, planners and developers continue. You couldn't make it up.

Farming and regulation

Someone calling himself "gordonilla" quotes from a feature on bureaucracy on the BBC's Farming Today.
"Farming Today" is quite interesting, but as ever with BBC Radio, when a Government minister is on the programme, they never seem to fully answer the questions that are asked. Today, there was a series of examples of Bureacracy gone mad:

A farmer who produces jam (50% fruit & 50% sugar) must sell the jam in sizes of jars which match the products of large producers of jam. His costs become more expensive because he has to source jam jars (227g) which are always costly. Why? The Food Standards Agency says he must. [Surely that is an EU diktat.]

A female farmer also runs a farm shop, in which she sells items for people to use to fee wildlife in their gardens in towns. One government agency has told her she must label bags of nuts for birdlife as containing nuts; yet another government agency says she does not neeed to as they are not for human consumption.

The item also noted that each day there are 15 new pieces of process and regulation introduced in the UK - generated from the EU and the UK Government (and agencies).

When the interviewer challenged the government minister, he said he did not want to comment on specifics, but said that the UK played by the rules and if people saw others not follwing rules they had to report them to the authorities. I think this Minister is very naive to say the least.

The big scandal of English government

So a Telegraph poll shows majorities for a breakup of the United Kingdom. Scots favour independence by 52% to 35%, while Scottish independence is favoured in England by a greater margin, 59% to 28%.

Perhaps the truth is that we English don't care that much. A devolved English parliament (to be like the Scots parliament) is favoured by 68% of the English and 58% of Scots.

There's some amusement value to be had from politicians' reactions. Mr Brown is quoted as saying
"There is a debate to be had about the future of the United Kingdom. But I think when you look at the arguments — at the family ties, the economic connections, the shared values, the history of our relationship which has lasted 300 years — people will decide we are stronger together and weaker apart."
Translation - this contradicts the facts but I want to be Prime Minister.

The quote from David Cameron is
"The union between England, Scotland and Wales is good for us all and we are stronger together than we are apart. The last thing we need is yet another parliament with separate elections and more politicians spending more money."
Translation - eek, someone wants me to have a policy, that might upset someone. Actually David Davis has solved the money question for him, by suggesting English MPs should sit in the Commons to consider English matters.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem leader, called for a "calm rational debate" on the role of MPs from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales at Westminster. "The last thing we need is knee-jerk opportunistic political responses."
Translation - I don't know what to think.

Just a few facts. Scots MPs can vote on matters which affect only England, and public spending per head is higher in Scotland than in England. The population of Scotland is 5m. Wales has 3m, the benighted place that is Northern Ireland has 1.7m. England has 50m.

The bigger scandal is the result of the 2005 general election. Labour got fewer votes than the Conservatives, but 92 more seats. Labour do not have a democratic mandate in England.

Energy saving lightbulbs?

Jeff Howell (not on the Telegraph's site yet) talks this week about energy saving lightbulbs.

He comments that -
  • They lose light intensity after a few months

  • The waste heat from standard bulbs warms the room, which in winter should reduce the load on thermostatically controlled central heating

  • They contain mercury [will this still be legal under EU rules?] so they have to be disposed of as hazardous waste (adding to costs) and not dumped in landfill, where they might contaminate the groundwater.
He discusses some numbers and concludes that "the energy saving is, at best, marginal".

Was it David Miliband who suggested a tax on standard lightbulbs?

November 25, 2006

We don't even know that much about methane

Astonishingly, the Financial Times reports that levels of atmospheric methane - an influential greenhouse gas - have stayed almost flat for the past seven years, following a rise over 20 years.

The paper reports that methane, the big component of natural gas, warms the atmosphere through the greenhouse effect and helps to form ozone, an ingredient in smog.
Since the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s, atmospheric methane has more than doubled. About two-thirds of methane emissions can be traced to human activities such as fossil-fuel extraction, rice paddies, landfill sites and cattle. Methane is also produced by termites and wetlands.
Apparently, scientists believe one reason for the slowdown in methane concentration growth may be leak-preventing repairs made to oil and gas lines and storage facilities. Other reasons may include a slower growth or decrease in methane emissions from coal mining, rice paddies and natural gas production.

Surely this can't be an adequate explanation? I don't have one to offer, but with industrialisation of places like China and India proceeding apace this just does not feel plausible.

Thus a new discovery - methane stability - leads to a new question; how the hell is that happening?

And science at this stage is a basis for wholesale change in society?

More green thoughts

John Ray on his useful Greenie Watch has picked up an Economist piece about research into cosmic rays. It starts with the standard tale of Sir William Herschel
SIR WILLIAM HERSCHEL, an 18th-century astronomer, is credited with being the first person to notice the effect of variations in the sun's activity on the Earth. In 1801 he observed that when the sun had many spots on its surface, the price of wheat fell—a connection he attributed to the weather being more temperate. Over the next 200 years scientists tried, without much success, to understand exactly how these transient sunspots might affect the climate. Now an experiment has begun that could explain what is going on.
and concludes -
When the sun is at its most active, which is when it is spotty, the solar wind is stronger and fewer cosmic rays penetrate. Conversely, when solar activity is less intense, more cosmic rays get through. A study using data on cloud cover taken from satellite images dating from 1979 found that 65% of the world's skies were covered by cloud when cosmic rays were weakest and 68% when they were strongest.

Scientists modelling climate change have ignored cosmic rays up to now because there was not enough evidence about how they might work. However, the results of this experiment, expected by summer 2007, could show how nature periodically sticks her oar in.
Which is odd, because Ruth Lea reported a study last month.

John also reports Piers Corbyn disputing the global warmers' claim that current extra CO2 causes warming which gets dangerously magnified through the greenhouse effect of extra water vapour in the atmosphere, consequent to the temperature rise. The sea, he says, absorbs extra CO2.
Furthermore, increased transpiration - cooling by enhanced growth of plants, which is caused by extra CO2 - cancels out the extra greenhouse warming of that same CO2. Increased greenhouse heating due to doubling CO2 is 3.7 watts per sq metre. This is negated by about the same amount of enhanced transpiration-cooling of plants, all of which grow faster in extra CO2. Therefore there is no CO2 driven net heat flow and surface temperature rise. Temperature and climate change in our epoch is therefore driven by other factors, especially solar particle and magnetic effects.
So, he asks, So can action against climate change make a difference? "Even if temperature trends can be changed there is no evidence of connected change in weather extremes or useful outcomes." And his conclusion provides food for thought.
Let's save the planet from real chemical pollutants, but CO2 is not one of them. Wouldn't it be better to work to predict climate than make vain attempts to change it?

Too much English on the web, say experts

That's the headline on an euobserver piece reporting that "Experts from around the world gathering for the first Internet Governance Forum in Athens have criticised the predominant use of English on the World Wide Web".

Their opinion on this is no better or worse than mine. Linguistic diversity has its points, but bloggers will use the language which gives them the biggest reach to the audience they're aiming at.

This won't always be English, of course. But when it is, that's the blogger's choice, and no alleged expert is entitled to gainsay it.

Yes, you can cut taxes

The TPA picks up two cases from the Anglosphere.
An interesting plan from Canada is reported in today^s Financial Times. The Conservative government has pledged to pay off the federal debt in 15 years, and return to taxpayers every penny of the money saved on debt interest payments each year. In addition, the government has promised to steadily lower federal corporate taxes, meaning that Canada would have the lowest tax rates on new business investment among the major industrial countries ....

Such a programme has worked well in Australia, which has completely paid of its national debt, cut personal and corporate taxes, increased government spending, decreased unemployment, and enjoyed strong economic growth - all at the same time.
No chance here, with the unConservatives wanting to go down the highly expensive path of tackling relative poverty, which means reducing inequality, which is a very high tax option.

Like many politicians' ideas, it can be made to sound fuzzy and attractive, as long as there are no numbers present.

Value for money from the police?

Are the police good value for money? The Taxpayers' Alliance returns to this. Certainly the impression is of a police force with the wagons circled against public scrutiny.

In The Policeman's Blog are examples of some of the pointless ways the police are forced to waste their time and ours.

Not in my name, and I suspect not in the name of their communities. Local democratic accountability would probably be a lot less comfortable to the senior hierarchy. But maybe the bobbies on the ground might welcome it.

November 24, 2006

What does MiFID cost the UK?

I have blogged this on the eucosts blog.

Nick Clarke will be much missed

Nick Clarke of The World At One has died at the age of 58. He was one of the very best at his craft.

Commentators have made much of his voice, and that was an added bonus. But he was a superb interviewer. He was fair and he was self-effacing - he tried to tease out the basis of his interviewee's thinking rather than to put across any view of his own. He always listened carefully to interviewees, and took them up on what they'd said rather than proceeding down a list of questions as so many interviewers do. Added to this he had great economy and precision of expression - again surprisingly rare among interviewers.

Under Nick the programme was unpredictable. It never bowed down to the god of rolling news. Sometimes it covered several items, sometimes it spent all its time on one story - not necessarily the main headline - carefully briefing its listeners but never patronising us.

All right, yes, the voice was a part of it. He would make a point economically and then his voice would die away, giving space to the interviewee, who'd been given very little time to think because the question would have been so clearly but sparingly phrased.

At times he sounded like an Oxbridge tutor, listening courteously to what was said and then asking the key question deftly, courteously - and sometimes, one felt, with inner amusement.

If he had heard yesterday's tributes, his enquiring mind might have wanted to explore with the presenter how the programme could have become so unmissable in political circles when scarcely a minister wanted to appear. And he would have made it interesting.

He was a top man at the top of his game and radio - that intimate medium - is poorer for his death.

November 23, 2006

Hoon - method or madness?

I've long wondered whether Hoon's perversity reflects stubborn dutifulness or stupidity. Maybe it's just both.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that him arguing that people who believe the cost of regulation now outweighs the benefits of the single market under-estimate the benefits.
“Some people who support the removal of EU legislation may do so because they believe somehow that national legislation would be better. But it would be crazy to go back to 27 different sets of legislation. However, we have to be practical and sensible about regulation."
This of course is not the argument. The UK debate is not about how the EU should conduct itself in future. It is hopelessly addicted to regulations - indeed, according to the Financial Times, European employers are fearful of a new wave of EU labour market regulation reminiscent of the 1993 Working Time Directive following the release of a Green Paper designed to ensure “flexibility and security for all” in the workplace.

There is no prospect of the EU weaning itself off its regulation addiction. So the argument is that the UK should junk (most of) the rising costs of membership, and keep most of the (smaller) benefits. Let the EU then pursue its own regulatory path.

Mr Hoon as reported thus avoided the question.

And oh look, here's another regulation. The Daily Record reports that EU regulations will ban large vans from driving in the outside lane on motorways and they will be forced to stick to a limit of 56mph – the same as heavy goods vehicles.

Why is this a matter for the EU rather than for individual countries?

In addition, van owners with vehicles over 3.5 tonnes will have to pay to have their engine recalibrated to stop them exceeding this easily memorable 56mph (which is, of course, a round number in kph). The Freight Transport Association has warned that the move will create traffic problems on motorways as vans will find it difficult to overtake lorries. They also predict that many companies will be forced to buy new, smaller vans in order to keep up with tight delivery targets.

More costs, then. Care to justify that, Geoff?

Hey, big spenders

John Prescott has treasury permission to spend £1.96m on administration even though he no longer has a government department.

Writing letters and filling out general paperwork cost the Metropolitan Police £122m last year. This does not include administrative duties related to specific crimes and incidents. By contrast, the force spent £48.75m tackling domestic burglaries.

Patricia Hewitt says overspends in the NHS have been partly caused by taking on too many staff too quickly, reports the Financial Times.
The NHS plan, published in 2000, envisaged that the service would take on about 38,000 clinical staff over the five years from September 1999. But by last year, she said, the NHS had added 268,000 total staff, she said, achieving most of the targets for more doctors, nurses and therapists early and then exceeding them.
The National Audit Office's report on the troubled west coast main line upgrade says that in future Network Rail should write a business case exploring the costs, benefits and potential problems of new technology before being allowed to introduce it! - pretty basic, one would have thought.

A series of new technologies destined for the upgrade - including two untested signalling systems! - proved impossible to install, reports the FT (subscribers only). It is now expected to cost £8.6bn with the new specification, against £2.5bn originally projected.

Roll on the olympics, where advisers with the job of reducing costs will add £400m to the bill. Sit back and watch the disaster happen. Jowell is grinning out of her depth - Mandelson (he of the dome) would be proud.

November 21, 2006

Scattering the waste about

It can't be said too often that much government spending is wasteful - this is a key part of the argument for lower taxes. Wat Tyler has three more examples here.

Emissions trading not working?

Lord Lawson commented in his CPS lecture how green economic measures might well turn out to be perverse. Open Europe reports that -
The Environment committee have got the Environment Agency to fess up that the EU's Emissions Trading System isn't working. Responding to questions from the Committee this morning, the Environment Agency was unable to name any individual case in which a firm had reduced emissions as a result of the scheme, saying “it’s not clear whether we’re seeing any environmental benefits as yet”.

The Committee alluded to the fact that the ETS had cost businesses £500m so far, and then asked whether the ETS has had any tangible effect in reducing carbon emissions. Pressed further on this the people from the Agency said “we have not been aware of any significant impact”.

The Committee then went on to cite Open Europe’s research on the costs of complying with the ETS for the NHS. The Agency expressed concern over “the proportionality of allocations” and admitted that including smaller activities in ETS may not be appropriate: “There is a case for changing what’s in it…excluding smaller activities”, arguing that excluding such activities from the ETS would have a “negligible” effect on the levels of emissions. Asked whether they agreed that the allocation of carbon emissions has been "inherently irrational” the Agency said “we can only agree with that”.
Good gracious, a green impost that's not working. And the government's policy? Let's have more.

What should the Opposition be doing?

I don't care much about the Tories, but there's much excitement on the blogs (for instance here and here) about Irwin Stelzer's Telegraph piece castigating Cameron for opposing tax cuts.

Most Oppositions know they will face the Prime Minister in the general election, and therefore what the thrust of the manifesto is likely to be. In this case they know they won't be facing Blair.

Brown is sure to bring in lots of detailed policies. The Tories don't know yet what they will be. Therefore they have to stay general, and not take positions - for instance on tax. Because if they do, it's too easy for Brown to undercut them.

The political columnists may not approve, but that's their tough luck. The Opposition's role now should be to oppose, and keep their policy powder dry. That does mean understanding issues, though.

November 20, 2006

More green topics

"GM cottonseeds could feed world's starving millions"
SCIENTISTS have genetically modified the cotton plant's naturally toxic seeds to turn them into a potential food source for millions of people. Researchers have found a way of reducing gossypol, a powerful toxin in the seeds, to a negligible level that allows them to be consumed by humans. At present they are thrown away or fed to cows....
"'Peak oil' theory takes a dive"
The Israeli process for producing energy from oil shale will cut its oil imports by one-third, and will serve as a guide for other countries with oil shale deposits, according to one company. A.F.S.K....
Two interesting stories at John Ray's Greenie Watch.

Royal arouses passions but has a good idea

This is Ségolene, not the Duke of Edinburgh. Open Europe reports two contrasting views -
Martin Kettle, writing in Saturday’s Guardian, criticised the British Labour party for not backing Royal, arguing that the Socialist candidate “represents a general break from the failed past. This is most obvious in her gender and her nice smile”. He argued that Britain’s closeness to the Bush administration has ”perverted” the UK’s European policy, and concluded “Let Blair and Brown root for Sarkozy. The rest of us should embrace the most hopeful development in French politics for a generation.” A leader in Saturday’s Telegraph argued that Royal is a “woman who not only talks in clichés, but thinks in them. The slogans flow like tepid bathwater”, and went so far as to say that rising support for Jean Marie Le Pen shows the French are “not so much endorsing the Front National as spurning the clique of smug, self-serving, Euro-fanatic, corrupt énarques who run the republic.”
Her foreign affairs adviser says she “believes, like all the French, that Europe should be more protective and should defend itself better”. He wants a new EU treaty which would include increased protectionism, an EU Foreign Minister, convergence on tax rates and moves to create a European army. Under Royal’s plan, if Britain rejected the new deal, then France would agree a new treaty with other key powers such as Spain, Italy and Germany.

Bring it on, as long as we can't be forced into it clause by clause through the ECJ.

EU "terror tax" on businesses?

I blogged before (here and here) about the proposal for an EU scheme of so called "secure operators". There has been an update in The Times.
Business leaders have warned that draft legislation on supply-chain security — currently in the pipeline in Brussels — could cost between £2,000 a year for micro businesses and £91,400 for medium-sized businesses ....

The new standard would require increased surveillance and new vetting procedures for millions of lorry drivers and warehouse staff.
Doubtless it will achieve less than it costs. So what would it cost?
An independent impact study released by the Norwegian consultancy DNV in October puts the total cost of a mandatory scheme in Britain at £215m for the initial audit and £92m annually.

A separate EC study puts the annual cost burden of a voluntary scheme for EU countries at £60m, which it suggests could be paid for by industry at an average cost of £426 per company.

Smaller firms fear they will bear the brunt of the new measures. Of the 4.75m companies that will be affected by the proposal, 4.73m are small and medium-sized businesses.
UK MEPs are opposing the proposal, but the European Commission said it was standing by it. “We want one system instead of 25 different ones,” it said.

Well that's tidy, but what benefits would there be to set against the costs - including enforcement? In the UK the Federation of Small Business says
“This is an example of how not to regulate. Small businesses would have to invest in surveillance equipment, extra security measures and even new premises as well as vetting all staff. In short, this proposal is unworkable in the real world.”
This, remember, is from the Commission which lies that it favours less regulation. There is no hope for a less regulated EU. None.

Support for Open Europe

The Sunday Times reports
Open Europe is the lobby group that helped fend off the euro and the EU constitution. If you have ever wondered why it is so successful, you should have seen the fundraising auction after last Tuesday’s annual dinner. Icap’s Michael Spencer donated a trip on his boat, above, snapped up by M&S’s Stuart Rose. Stuart Wheeler of IG Index gave a week in his Moroccan villa, Jardine Matheson’s Simon Keswick gave a day’s shooting, and Baroness Thatcher signed a bottle of wine. These four items raised £65,000. Then there was a raffle with prizes donated by Sir Rocco Forte, Sir Tim Rice and Lord Salisbury. Brussels — bonne chance.

UK opposes REACH

An interesting take on the REACH directive (which I've discussed here and here) in The Independent, which claims that "Ministers are sabotaging laws to control toxic chemicals despite fears that they are causing a "silent epidemic" of brain disorders in British children".

The article explains that
The law is the first attempt to regulate more than 100,000 chemicals in use in Europe. There is little or no safety information on 85 per cent of the ones in common use: the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (Reach) directive aims to get companies to carry out safety tests on chemicals - and to control the most dangerous ones.
Researchers are claiming various chemicals in common use are dangerous, but nowhere does the article consider the question of quantities.

Of course it is all a cynical plot -
Britain originally supported Reach, but after lobbying by the Bush administration - which fears it will damage US exports - it switched to denouncing it as "dangerously wrong".
The implication is that no body will stop manufacturers using chemicals which have been shown to be dangerous. This is surely nonsense, especially as regards food in supermarkets.

If regulators aren't doing their job, the solution is not to create a new expensive regulator.
Britain has persuaded Europe's governments to resist the measure. If no deal is reached, the entire directive is likely to be abandoned.
So the French just rolled over to protect imports from the US? Pull the other one.

Caution in the North East

The North East Taxpayers' Alliance (NETPA) has obtained numbers about cautions administered by local police forces, which have made the front page of the Newcastle Journal. Under the headline "Letting them off lightly?", it reports
One in seven criminals who admit to assault, robbery and shoplifting in the North-East are handed just a caution by police.
One spokesman argued that the courts would only have imposed a similar penalty anyway, so this is cost-effective. The TPA comments
But what does this mean for the victims – many of whom will have been traumatised by the crime (we deliberately excluded “minor” crimes that caused no injury in our request)? And what signal does it send to young criminals about the seriousness of the criminal justice system? The fact that courts do not impose sufficient sanctions that deter is no excuse for the police not to pursue those guilty of violent assault, robbery and other serious crimes. It only goes to show how perverted the whole system has become that each component of the criminal justice system blames the other for systemic failure.
What has this got to do with tax? At first sight the TPA has strayed right off its brief. In fact its thrust goes well beyond just cutting taxes. It wants value for money. One theme is that people should have more say over the local services they are paying for.

This comes through in a quote from the TPA in the newspaper report.
"How can we hope to make our streets safer if the police are refusing, for whatever reason, to charge criminals for serious offences even when they manage to catch them?" ... Calling for elected mayors with power over police forces, [the TPA] added: "Giving burglars and violent criminals a caution is a disgrace. These are serious crimes."


The Telegraph reports that "dawn till dusk" care in schools is under threat from red tape, which requires staff who run after-school clubs to hold a "play qualification."

It claims that "workers with years of childcare experience" have been barred from leading activities, or demoted to assistants, until they pass an NVQ in ... wait for it ... playwork. Apparently "the NVQ play qualification is aimed at "supporting and facilitating the play process".

The bureaucrats' stance seems to be that any activity must be bureaucratised and regulated, and that people can only manage to do something if they have some sort of qualification and then have special bureaucrats looking over their shoulders to see if they are doing what it says in the book.

Until the assumptions in this mindset can be brutally snapped, bleating about less regulation will continue to be just that.

November 18, 2006

Back on the roads

Wat Tyler has the tale of a Hertfordshire man who discovered a pothole inadequately repaired. He concludes
Last year English and Welsh local authorities paid out around £70m compensation for accidents and vehicle damage caused by potholes and other poor road maintenance. And thanks to Mr Tyler's investigation we now know we're not even saving on the skimped maintenance. In effect, we're paying twice.
As I blogged last month, "Channel 4's Despatches showed how road mending contractors try to rip off Devon council, and claimed that other councils don't employ anyone to do the checks that Devon makes. So how much are other authorities being ripped off?"

Quite a lot.

November 17, 2006

In praise of bloggers

Helen Szamuely takes a whack at Matthew Taylor, who seems to wish that we peddlers of our views on the internet would stick to the agenda of the establishment and the government, rather than making political discussion untidy by picking our own agendas. (The Scorpion's agenda - sadly - is not that of any political party.) She concludes -
Maybe we shall stay in that appalling frame of mind that still thinks the establishment has no particular rights not to be criticized for all its mishandling of important matters; that prefers the government to be accountable to the people rather than the other way round; that refuses to allow some jumped up quangoista to define in what context people can have liberty and power.
Bravo. Don't let them set your agenda. If, for instance, you think the BBC has a routine (if unconscious) bias, you won't find that discussed in polite society, but you won't be alone here.

The Taxpayers' Alliance picks up a speech by someone called Donal Blaney (apparently I should have heard of him) asking "Why is it that at the same time our conservative cousins have been so successful across the wider Anglosphere – most notably in the United States, Australia & Canada – the British Conservative Party has languished in the polls and lost three successive general elections?"

Comparing the UK to the USA, he points out that the "American Conservative Movement" is far less centred on a political party than it is here. His account of the US system is somewhat Pollyanna-ish. And while his "suggested lessons for British conservatives" (among whom I don't care to count myself) are interesting, they don't take account of the different political institutional hierarchies in the two countries.

Thus, he claims, one element in the US is "a non-dictatorial central party machine that truly tolerates debate and divergence of views". Well, that's because they have little choice in the matter. In a huge country like the US, political cultures differ across the continent, and national parties are truly coalitions of people who often have local power bases which are half independent of the party at national level. So the party has little choice in the matter of tolerance.

In the UK, by contrast, central party machines have a far firmer grip over political power and preferment, so political debate has tended to be less fluid.

In this context it will be interesting to see how successful an organisation like the Taxpayers' Alliance will be in influencing the terms of the political debate in the UK.

It doesn't fit within the terms of the political establishment's debate. All the more reason, therefore, for this blog at least to add its trivial but evidently (and gratifyingly) inconvenient support.

Hurrah, an attack on the HSE

Thanks to Tim Worstall for pointing to Simon Jenkins' attack on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

He picks up the case of the HSE pursuing the National Trust because of a tragic accident in a high wind when a tree fell on another tree, and that tree killed a boy. No point in paraphrasing his account of what happened, but he's interesting about the HSE's untouchability.

Comments on his piece are also worth reading. Jenkins writes of the HSE that "It constantly points out that 212 people die each year in industrial accidents (against 2,300 outside its remit on the roads)". What is the HSE's budget? "SteppenHerring" makes the point that
NICE already uses the criterion: one extra year of life is worth £30K. It should be fairly simple to apply this to publically funded H&S activities.

The matter of negligent employers is, I think, a separate issue. Millions of pages of regulations aren't going to stop them. A proper corporate manslaughter law might.
Jenkins suggests that -
The HSE is like the Child Support Agency, the Criminal Records Bureau and the Rural Payments Agency, a state body whose introverted culture has polluted its own reason.
No surprise there - the HSE is likely to attract people who consider its role to be particularly important.

Where is the accountability of these bodies?
This body operates beyond the realm of government and can sue on its own behalf. Its accountability is to a minister, Lord Hunt, who is not even in the House of Commons.
And where is the opposition to this creeping - and doubtless expensive - regulationism?

Inadequate prison sentence

Martin Walsh pleaded guilty to raping a woman. He's been given a life sentence with a minimum period of six years. The judge said -
I regard you as extremely dangerous. It's clear you pose a significant risk to the public and in my judgment qualify for a life sentence of imprisonment.
Referring to the minimum tariff before Walsh can be considered for parole, Judge Hewitt said: "It may seem to the public to be a short period but it is the result of statutory guidelines".

As this blog has said before, if the guidelines are wrong - and in this case they clearly are - change the guidelines

Something we didn't know about climate change

John Ray on his interestingly titled Greenie Watch has picked up a study of northern coniferous forests. Lo and behold, forest fires can help to reduce global warming.
In the long term the loss of trees means that more sunlight is reflected away from the Earth. This is because more snow, which is highly reflective, is able to cover the ground.

There is a similar effect when new trees start growing their light green leaves, which reflect better than dark foliage. "The reflectivity effect in the long run is larger than the carbon effect," Michelle Mack, of the University of Florida, said.

Local government warns on recycling costs

The Local Government Association (LGA) fears that businesses will refuse to pay the cost of recycling electrical goods - leaving Council Taxpayers to pick up the bill, reports The Huddersfield Daily Examiner.
From next July, retailers and manufacturers will have to pay for the recycling of more than a million tonnes of TVs, computers and mobile phones - equal to 2,500 jumbo jets.

But the LGA claims local authorities are being offered just £6,500 per site to upgrade their recycling centres.

Spokesman Clr Paul Bettison said: "It is totally unacceptable that the Council Taxpayer should be expected to shoulder the burden of new schemes that businesses should be paying for.

Enlarging the EU's sway (again)

Yesterday we had proposals on divorce and inheritance. Commissioner Viviane Reding has now proposed that a single European telecom regulator should replace the existing system of 25 separate national regulators. Cellular News reports that she sees her fight as a way of reining in national governments trying to protect their national telephone companies.

Local council wastes money shock

Stevenage Council has admitted it was wrong to broadcast adverts promoting its services in the run-up to a local election, reports The Comet.
Three adverts commissioned by Stevenage Borough Council were broadcast on Hertbeat FM in April and May this year.

The ads boasted that 75 per cent of residents were happy with the council's services and 81 per cent found staff helpful.
The council is now to discuss how to recover the £763.75 it spent. One councillor said, "I have ... spent hours talking to the officers about it and I am as sure as I can be that it was a mistake not a conspiracy".

Hours? Not a good use of time. But if it was a mistake, what does it tell us about the mindset of the people who thought this was an acceptable way to spend taxpayers' money?

Of course central funding of political parties would authorise them to buy propaganda at taxpayers' expense.

November 16, 2006

A sceptical view of global warming

It comes from UKIP.

Obviously a short, non-technical note can't cover all the concerns, but it's an interesting read.

What is the EU for?

Spotted by Open Europe -
If you were wondering whether the government's "strategy" of making green issues the new rationale for the EU was driven by (a) massively cynical politics or (b) genuine heartfelt environmentalism, wonder no more.

This from Milliband on the CER site:
For my generation, the pursuit of peace cannot provide the drive and moral purpose that are needed to inspire the next phase of the European project. The environment is the issue that can best reconnect Europe with its citizens and re-build trust in European institutions. The needs of the environment are coming together with the needs of the EU: one is a cause looking for a champion, the other a champion in search of a cause.

After divorce ... wills

MEPs have called on the European Commission to draw up rules to tackle disputes over wills and testaments involving estates in other countries, reports euobserver.
A commission justice spokesperson said it was "too soon" to look at what power base the commission would use to justify taking action in this area which belongs in member states' domain.

The MEP report suggests an article in the current treaty on "promoting the compatibility of the rules...concerning the conflict of laws and of jurisdiction" would be a good basis.

It is not the first time the EU is moving into controversial law areas. It recently proposed simplifying the rules for divorcing couples from different member states.

Standards Board gags another councillor

One of Midhurst's two district councillors has found himself gagged from speaking about car parking charges, reports the Midhurst and Petworth Observer.
Brian Weekes who had intended to address this week's Chichester District Council's decision-making executive board, instead found himself at odds with the Standards Board for England, which lays down rules for councillors and investigates any breaches.

He left the crucial meeting on Tuesday, choosing to take no part in the proceedings after seeking advice from the Board.

They decided he should no longer attend or involve himself in any meetings to discuss the controversial issue of car parking.

Mr Weekes is perceived to have a prejudicial interest in the matter because he is also the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

This week the chamber added its own voice of dissent over the controversial car parking proposals, warning that it could have dire effects on the town.
In other words, the Chamber of Commerce opposes car parking charges, so its chairman, an elected councillor, can't speak at an executive board meeting.

Another denial of democracy by the Standards Board for England.

Divorce EU style

The liars at the European Commission who claim they want less lawmaking put up a proposal (Rome III) last July - setting out which national legislation should apply in the case of a couple of two nationalities or a not couple living in their native country.
The commission argues it will give clarity and prevent disputes related to "shopping" for jurisdictions, so that if a couple could not agree which divorce law to choose, Rome III would impose the law of the country where they live or have the strongest ties to.

In cases involving non-EU citizens or non-EU states, Rome III would also favour a legislature to which both spouses have a strong connection. The Swedish justice ministry has set out a potential scenario in which European courts might have to deal with a dispute using Iranian law.

Attitudes to divorce differ widely in EU countries. euobserver tells us
it is illegal in Roman Catholic Malta but quick and easy in Sweden, while other member states require different lengths of time of separation prior to divorce or different "bases of fault" on which to legally split.

Ireland plans an opt-out -
"If Ireland were to adopt and implement this measure, this would allow EU nationals resident in Ireland to obtain a divorce in our courts on substantially different and less onerous grounds than that provided for in our constitution".
The UK also plans to opt out.

But is this good enough? How long would it be before the European Court objected to EU citizens being treated differently in different countries?

Which countries - if any - would actually support this proposal?

Indeed, why was the proposal made at all, when the whole area of family law should surely be dealt with by individual member states.

The proposal smacks of bureaucratic, legalistic tidying up where none was required. Satan making mischief for idle hands.

November 15, 2006

The cost of the EU rises

This conclusion emerges from a piece in euobserver headlined "EU announces shift in approach to law-making".
The strategy aims to slash member states' administrative burden by 25 percent, something the commission estimates will eventually represent a saving the equivalent of 1.5 percent of the bloc's GDP - or around €150 billion.
Well it's not a strategy, little more than an aspiration really, and one that flies in the face of Commissioner Verheugen's failure to implement even his feeble programme, which would be dwarfed by this new so-called strategy.

Yesterday he reportedly said that alone "information requirements" such as filling out EU forms cost the bloc's economy around €350 billion a year.

Previously he had said
New evaluation methodology of the administrative costs of EU legislation - including "gold plating" of laws by some member states - put the annual burden for business at up to €600bn ... compared with the original estimate of €320bn. That figure does not include the compliance costs of the laws.
If the "information requirements" alone are now said to cost €350bn a year, the total cost of regulation must be far, far above €600bn. I'd suspect double €600bn, at the very least.

Remember that in 2003 the Commission published its assessment that EU GDP in 2002 was around €165bn higher than it would have been without the Single Market. Even after allowing for the extra GDP growth since 2002, this means (as Ruth Lea and others have pointed out) that the benefits are far less than the regulatory costs, even at Verheugen's previously lower level, and even before you add in all the other costs.

So what will happen?

Open Europe picks up a report in Tageblatt that Angela Merkel said yesterday in Luxembourg that her presidency of the EU would aim to make Europe “less bureaucratic.” She said, “I wonder whether the directives and the ‘acquis communautaire’ are monuments that we cannot destroy.” She said “it should be possible”, when proposed directives are not adopted in the European Parliament to “put them aside.”
The paper also reports that the European Commission said yesterday that it wanted member states to have a common objective during the German presidency to reduce the administrative burden on businesses by 25% by 2012. Le Figaro reports that this will result in savings of €150 million, or 1.5% of GDP. Internal Market Commissioner Gunther Verheugen said the Commission would present concrete proposals in January, and that the Commission hopes to scrap 10 more legislative proposals in 2007. According to Le Figaro, France mocked what it called the Commission’s “advertising hype” and is concerned that under the guise of administrative simplification Brussels will end up dismantling the ‘acquis communautaire’. French employers’ federation Unice said it was also sceptical, arguing that the measures would actually generate more bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Danish daily Politiken points out the Commission in its proposal referred to successful Danish practices which have led to reductions in Denmark’s bureaucracy.
This tells us that at the EU level the policy is a dead duck.
  • Verheugen is already failing with a trivially small deregulation programme

  • The Commission has complained in the past that individual governments often oppose repeal of a regulation

  • France will be an important and stubborn opponent of deregulation

  • Even if governments don't oppose repeal, busybody MEPs often do

  • Meanwhile the regulatory burden will go up, as measures such as RoHS and REACH are introduced, not to mention additional regulations about energy inputs that everyone seems to favour.
So - despite what the French call the "advertising" - the burden of regulation will continue to rise.

The so-called strategy is doomed. The Commission doubtless know that. And the net cost of EU membership will continue to rise.

Back to the Regions

Yesterday I mentioned the campaign by my local MP, Grant Shapps, to highlight the cost of government Regions. I suggested it should be Conservative policy to abolish them, and Grant commented that it is.

Edward Huxley writes to The Telegraph today -
Unfortunately it is not possible to do anything about these unelected talking shops while Conservative councillors continue to serve on them. If they resigned en bloc, the whole thing would collapse. They would, of course, lose their allowances and expenses.
An interesting angle, and if the Regions are valueless why do Conservative councillors and councils support them with money and time? This point is also picked up by Peter Bowman -
There was no mention in your reports of the creation of the European regions, one of which is Arc Manche, covering south Belgium, northern France, Normandy, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset and part of Devon, which came into existence, with its own secretariat and president — Alain le Vern — in Paris on October 17.

I doubt if many ratepayers know of this, despite the fact that their county councillors have been active in the creation of the administration. This will add yet another cost to the existing £41 million per day that our European government is costing us.

Also noticeable is the deafening silence from the Opposition benches, who claim they wish to devolve power back to the local councils and do away with regional assemblies. When will someone speak out and tell us all just what is going on and allow the people of this country an opportunity to give their opinion. Or is the gravy train just too rich to miss?
There may be a Conservative policy to abolish Regions, then, but Conservative councils still engage with them. Maybe Caroline Spelman is keeping too low a profile.

So here are some questions for Grant Shapps, or even the official spokeswoman.
  • Is it Conservative policy for Conservative councillors and local authorities to support the Regions?

  • Would abolishing the Regions be compatible with membership of the EU?

  • And if a Conservative government did abolish them, would the full £1m a day be saved?

November 14, 2006

George Monbiot on the Stern Report

The UK is responsible for 2% of global emissions, but that doesn't stop Monbiot wanting to change society. Just a few examples.

We have individual carbon allowances as proposed by David Miliband -
Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It's a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU's emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.
He also proposes to "ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies". And -
Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.
But ... a full journey takes you from where you are to where you want to be. The coaches won't do that and won't leave just when you want them to, so they won't be "as fast as journeys by car". Maybe there's an argument for them, but this is not it.

Oh yes, and the government should "legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system".

Just a few examples of what one greenie proposes in order to achieve an almost unmeasurably small change in carbon emissions.

You misguidedly want a green revolution? Is this the society you want?

Forests and prosperity

Tim Worstall has picked up a paper including the information that that in all countries with average GDP over $4,600 forest cover is growing.
What makes this all so important of course is that as the Stern Review points out, land use changes (mainly deforestation) are responsible for some 36% (or is it 38%?) of emissions, more than the entire global transport sector.
This is another argument for the Bjorn Lomborg thesis that the best way to cut pollution by the developing countries is to help them get richer. Tim suggests a few policy conclusions, but they'll hurt some EU voters, are sure to alienate the Green lobby, and don't involve raising taxes. So I can't see that UK politicians will be interested.

The cost of Regions - more government waste

The scorpion's busy local MP, Grant Shapps, has shown that the administrative cost of regional bodies has nearly doubled over the past five years, to £345m.
Over the past five years, the running costs of Regional Development Agencies have rocketed from £81.5 million to £194.3 million.

There has also been a huge increase in the cost of Regional Assemblies, whose administrative bill has shot up from £5 million to £17.9 million over the same period.
Of course these bodies are unelected, and the North East famously spurned the chance to have an elected Regional Assembly in a referendum.

A half decent Opposition would promise to abolish them. As it is, all they have done is criticise the government. But would they do any different? Ooh, that's policy.

P.S. Indefatigable campaigner and local MP Grant Shapps has indicated in his comment that this is Conservative policy. It's a shame that The Telegraph didn't quote either MP saying this.

November 13, 2006

Combatting climate change fanaticism

Many people seem to think the general principle of green taxes is reasonable. This will probably last until specific proposals emerge.

The science of alarmist climate change is arguably wrong. Greener behaviour probably doesn't make scientific sense; and if it does make scientific sense, it probably doesn't make sense economically.

Green UK taxes disadvantaging a country producing 2% (and falling) of the world's emissions are a scientific and an economic nonsense. Matthew Sinclair is right to be concerned that all the UK's main political parties are on the wrong side; but once people look at specific proposals to make them poorer, public opinion will change - despite the advocacy of extreme positions in BBC1's Spooks tonight - not as trivial a point as it seems, as it helps the argument to seep into public consciousness.

But once people understand what Mr Miliband means when he talks of individual carbon allowances - the people stuck in traffic jams because the shops are strung out around the town ring road - once they understand the curbs Mr Miliband wants to place on their freedom for no measurable benefit to the environment at all - that is when they will become more receptive to the arguments.

Regulation and the Tories

So far the Tory line on business regulation has been, Yes, we may deregulate a bit, if you give us something in exchange, like greener behaviour (even though it probably doesn't make scientific sense, and if it does it probably doesn't make sense economically).

But in Enterprise Week we have a different emphasis from a junior shadow minister in The Telegraph.
Reforming our tax system is long overdue. We need to make it simpler, fairer and flatter, enabling business to invest with confidence. We need to make regulation the last resort in Whitehall, not the first. And we need regulators to be accountable to British business. That's why it's time we opted out of the EU Social Chapter.

We also need a fundamental reform of business support schemes. Business advice should be borne of practical experience and financial support should deliver measurable gains. Each of these reforms reflects what business wants. The Conservatives are committed to these reforms. We want to make every week Enterprise Week.
This looks just a wee bit too naively and enthusiastically business-centric. Most regulations aren't put there for business, but for their workforce or wider society.

Maybe Mr Prisk needs to think this through.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether the body politic can resist the urge to impose new regulations in the light of the Farepak collapse.

The EU question

Ruth Lea has another article this week about the case for leaving the EU. It's interesting how the case against the EU can be made in a few paragraphs, but the case in favour of it ... when did I last see a piece making a case for continued membership?

It's excellent if the case for leaving can become the journalistic norm and gradually take the high ground. More repetition, please!

That booze tax

When Ed Balls looked forward to the EU playing a greater role in future UK policies, he must have known that the European Court might be about to make customs duties on purchases from other EU countries illegal.

One estimate is that the ruling could cost the Treasury £7bn a year (equivalent to 5p on basic rate income tax).

That's just for booze and fags - but why should it stop there? (Cars, anyone?) And all those long distance deliveries should be excellent for boosting carbon emissions.

So the first tax competition isn't going to come in business taxes, as expected, but in excise taxes. For high value, low volume goods it will pay a small country to have a low rate of VAT, so that purchasers from across the rest of the EU choose to use its jurisdiction, and it gains the tax revenue.

The larger countries will have to make up their shortfalls from direct taxes - or maybe from those useful green ones.

Gordon must be spitting blood. He hates having his autonomy threatened. Much more of this and he'll be calling in Ruth Lea to explain the Swiss solution.

November 12, 2006

More government waste again

The usual hat tip to Wat Tyler

£1bn pa NHS drugs rip-off- " The NHS spends 22 per cent more than France and 28 per cent more than Spain. Critics blame the rip-off on the cosy relationship between health chiefs and the big drug firms - and urge NHS bosses to demand a price cut. Branded medicines make up more than 70 per cent of the NHS drugs bill of £9.25billion - so slashing prices to EU levels could save taxpayers £1billion." (People 12.11.06)

Easy pickings then for the US firm with a colourful past which the NHS proposes to empoly for its purchasing.

£12 grand nibbles for councillors- "PECKISH councillors and council staff munched their way through the equivalent of a £50 buffet spread THREE TIMES a week. Last year taxpayers footed the bill for almost £12,000 worth of finger nibbles and sandwiches... According to the information provided, the borough council spent £11,773 on buffets for 178 events between April 2005 and March 2006. Of these, 150 were devoured exclusively by councillors and staff at a cost of £7,758 - around £51 a pop. Just 28 were also open to the public, accounting for £4,015, or £143 each." (Welwyn & Hatfield Times 8.11.06)

Wat omits the rest of the report. The chief executive at the council, told the paper he didn't think the amount was "extravagant".

He said: "Buffets for councillors and employees usually take place in short lunch breaks during training days or in the evening before meetings, namely at occasions when, if food were not provided, councillors and employees would not have time to eat.

"These buffets take place in a work context, they are not social events. I can assure residents that money is not spent extravagantly."
£200,000 on another boonie for MEPs- "GLENYS KINNOCK, champion of the Third World poor, is to lead 70 members of the European parliament to a Barbados resort for a conference debating development and deprivation. During the five-day trip, costing taxpayers more than £200,000, the MEPs will meet politicians from some of the world’s poorest nations. Kinnock, who co-chairs the African Caribbean Pacific-EU joint parliamentary assembly, will be offered accommodation in the island’s exquisite hotels, including the Amaryllis Beach, Tamarind Cove and Turtle Beach. The assembly kicks off with a “project visit” next Sunday. According to sources at the Barbados embassy in Brussels, this is an EU euphemism for a four-hour chartered cruise aboard the Harbour Master — a 100ft ship billed as “the longest floating bar in the Caribbean”. (Sunday Times 12.11.06)

£1m on police killer's legal aid- "THE terrorist who stabbed police officer Stephen Oake to death has run up a legal aid bill that is about to soar over £1 million - while his victim's family have had just £13,000 in compensation. Kamel Bourgass, who murdered Detective Constable Oake during a raid on a flat where he was plotting a terrifying mass poisoning of Londoners, is launching a second appeal despite overwhelming evidence against him. Half the annual criminal legal aid bill of £1 billion goes on high profile cases such as terrorist trials. A Legal Aid spokesman said yesterday: "We are taking steps to reform the system." (Mirror 10.11.06)

And I am not holding my breath.

November 10, 2006

Standards Board jottings

Christopher Booker has written about the ridiculous and anti-democratic Standards Board stance on pre-determination. The Blackburn Citizen reports another example of the doctrine.

Councillor Browne was said to have broken the rules over a proposed a takeaway in Bridge Street, Darwen - the plan for which has since been refused. The paper summarises its understanding of the rules.
Under local government rules, councillors on the planning committee are not allowed to make up their mind about an application before a meeting.

A councillor found to be breaking the rules could face suspension.
Before the application went to the Planning Committee, the Councillor had told a paper the town did not need any more takeaways. He then spoke against it at the planning committee hearing, and was accused of breaking the rules.
Coun Browne said a letter sent to him stated the allegations had been dropped on the grounds that his input could not have swayed the vote as the application was recommended for refusal anyway. And he vowed not to be silenced from representing his constituents and having his say.
Surely it's desirable for a Councillor to tell his constituents what his views are beforehand. That gives them the chance to say whether they agree or not.

Meanwhile, in North Devon MP Nick Harvey has called for the abolition of the Standards Board, reports the North Devon Gazette. He is arguing that it has spent time and money on petty squabbles between councillors. The paper then reveals that an investigation into a local councillor's conduct has cost £5,000 - which is paid from the local council tax.

The Eastern Daily Press tell us that the chairman of Breckland Council could face an investigation by the government standards watchdog over allegations that he used foul language to tell a Midlands developer to get out of a Norfolk village.

This is an easy way for self-important people to puff up trivial local complaints. And who pays? Why, the taxpayers.

Charlemagne quacks and ducks

An oddly tentative piece in this week's Economist Charlemagne column. It starts by telling Economist readers facts they will know and then points out that "the single market means different things to different people".
To the British, it is about removing non-tariff barriers to trade so as to create a market in which companies can compete. Theirs is a classic free-market position; it stresses deregulation and economic efficiency. This is a view held not only by the British, but also by the Irish, the Dutch, the Scandinavians and most new members from central Europe.
The paper claims this view "is also shared by most, though not all, European commissioners".

If that were so, then they would be singularly ineffective in their jobs. But in fact, as this blog has argued before, this is a lie, put about to placate the freemarketeers.
To many continental Europeans, the single market is not about free but about “fair” trade. Indeed, it is not primarily about trade at all, but rather about regulation and integration.... On this basis, the single market is not meant to be a competitive, deregulated one, but one that is united by regulatory standards and common levels of social protection.
The paper reminds us that when he arrived, Commissioner Barroso said that the “Lisbon agenda” of economic reform would be his top priority, rather than some grand institutional leap such as the European constitution, although he wanted that too. Strange then that the Lisbon agenda - hailed by Blair but vacuously pious from the outset - has sunk without trace, while the EU keeps talking about trying to revive the Constitution.

Indeed, even The Economist concedes that the Barroso commission's early years may have been what it calls "a high-water mark" in the British version of the single market. Huge new regulations like REACH have not been stopped, and Commissioner Verheugen's deregulation initiative looks increasingly like an embarrassingly inadequate figleaf.

And so - after this canter through a scenario which most Economist readers readers could probably recite in their sleep - we reach the crux of the article. "Worse, the benefits of the single market seem surprisingly modest to many".
And Mr Verheugen himself has put the cost of complying with EU regulations at as much as €600 billion a year. No wonder a recent poll of British businessmen found a majority claiming to believe that the costs of regulation outweigh the benefits of the single market.
Well, The Economist often does numbers, there is a broadbrush number out there for the benefit of the single market, and it's nowhere near €600bn, as Ruth Lea among others has been pointing out.
The Single Market's regulations do not come cheap. Günter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enterprise and industry, recently announced that EU regulations were costing the European economy some €600bn a year (this was almost twice as high as previous estimates). €600bn is some 5.5pc of total EU GDP, equivalent to the size of the Dutch economy....

In 2003 the Commission published its assessment that EU GDP in 2002 was around €165bn higher than it would have been without the Single Market. Even after allowing for the extra GDP growth since 2002, this means that the benefits are less than a third of the costs.
Yes, I've cited this crucial number before, but No, The Economist doesn't seem to have seen it anywhere.

The paper argues that "it is fair to concede that there are doubts about all cost-benefit calculations applied to regulation". Well Commissioner Verheugen told the FT only last month that
New evaluation methodology of the administrative costs of EU legislation - including "gold plating" of laws by some member states - put the annual burden for business at up to €600bn ... compared with the original estimate of €320bn. That figure does not include the compliance costs of the laws [my italics].
Now, as I remarked at the time, I'm not sure what "administrative costs" includes and excludes (apparently it excludes compliance, for starters). But total costs are likely to be higher by an order of magnitude.

The Economist argues that "the EU is more than just a single market; there are many other benefits to membership" - though it does not suggest just what these other advantages might be, let alone countenance the heretical thought that there may be other disadvantages too.

And it limply concludes -
Still, it is plain that the benefits of the single market have been less than enthusiasts hoped, and the costs may have been bigger. And, to judge by the changing climate of opinion about the single market, few people are ready to do anything about this.
An élite business paper should be able to do far better than this. Or are they - like Open Europe - scared of where the argument is leading them?

The regulatory mindset

Two MEPs (one UK Labour) write to the FT to deplore the UK stance on the Working Time directive. "Once again, we missed an opportunity to ensure that workers not only in the UK but across Europe are properly protected against the dangers of irregular hours and over-work" (my italics).

Er, doesn't the market do that? If workers are unhappy, they can move on. Only this week a UK bus company has confirmed that it is recruiting drivers in Poland because they stay in the job longer. (To help Polish recruits with their English they send them DVDs of "Only Fools and Horses". If they're going to work in Essex they also have to view DVDs of "Birds of a Feather". Yet they still want to come.)

Anyway the regulations don't stop a worker working longer hours. They only affect hours in one job. So it's perfectly legal for workers to exceed the limit provided they have more than one job.

But I digress. These nannies are at pains to stress that -
In fact, workers in the EU are free to work more than 48 hours in any given week. The 48-hour figure is an average and what is crucially important is the length of the period over which the average is calculated.
If you're a busy owner of a small business, I bet that's clear as mud so far. So read on for the explanation.
The original working time directive laid down a normal four-month period that could only be extended to 12 months by collective agreement. In the European parliament's first reading on the proposed revision of the directive we made 12-month averaging available to all without collective agreement. This means that any European worker would be able to work 60 hours a week for 24 weeks of the year as long as they averaged no more than 36 hours a week for the other 24 weeks.
So dead easy to track, monitor and police then. A doddle really, what's everyone moaning about?

The MEPs see the Working Time Directive as "a health and safety law laying down minimum rest periods". And - heroic, this - "an opt-out from a health and safety law is wrong in principle".

And they conclude that "Without an agreement, the use of terms like "flexicurity" and "reconciliation of working and family life" are meaningless as far as workers are concerned".

"Flexicurity" seems pretty meaningless anyway (my nice new built-in Firefox spellchecker will have none of it - but then it doesn't recognize "spellchecker" or even "Firefox" either).

Working life and family life may have to be balanced, but do they have to be reconciled? What does this mean, and does it require detailed government rules?

Stephen Hughes MEP is "Socialist Co-ordinator on Employment and Social Affairs". He gives no indication whether his lives are reconciled. I suppose there is no hope for that now, with the opt-out continuing.

November 09, 2006

Property tax

Reportedly a Scottish commission is about to recommend local taxation of 1% of the value of a property. This will represent a huge tax hike and will take no account of people's ability to pay (for example, those on fixed incomes).

So I'm pleased to read that
The TaxPayers' Alliance will be developing a significant nationwide effort in advance of any council tax reform plan to keep this issue at the top of the agenda in Britain. We will be mobilising grassroots opposition to any new scheme based on property values (or the desirability of a neighbourhood) that will clearly be nothing more than a huge tax grab masquerading as “overdue reform”.

How to label a goat - 2

The author of this new book about regulation has a piece in The Times today.

He points out that recent legislation
is remarkable not just for its bulk but for how tiny a proportion of it is ever debated in Parliament. The 29 Acts of Parliament that became law in the 12 months to May 31 this year are dwarfed by the 3,592 statutory instruments — orders and regulations introduced without reference to our elected representatives.
Even changes billed as cutting red tape usually introduce more onerous requirements for businesses.
I have studied enough previous “bonfires” of red tape to know what the outcome will be: the only red tape that goes up in flames will be that which makes life inconvenient for the Government.
Looks like a useful source book. But who is going to keep getting the message out there?

And will the book explain how little freedom of action the UK government actually has? I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Reportedly EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy was given a less than charitable reception at a top level City of London dinner last night. His claims that the EU was providing light touch regulation went down very poorly.

November 08, 2006

How to label a goat

This soon to be published book about the lunacy of over-regulation sounds like a must read. At a guess there will not much there that is new, but it will be handy to have lunacies brought together, and if it generates more press articles that will be welcome too.

Good also to see the EU mentioned in the review, and it will be interesting to see how largely it figures in the book.
In the 12 months to May 2006, the Government passed 3,621 separate pieces of legislation. That's 72,400 pages, plus a further 26,200 pages of explanatory notes – around 100,000 in total. Just 29 were acts of parliament, while 3,592 were so-called 'statutory instruments', new laws passed without any reference to our democratically-elected representatives. Red tape, arbitrarily handed down from on high.

In September 2005, Jose Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission, announced a crackdown on nonsense regulation. He said 69 proposed laws would be reviewed and some might be scrapped. This piffling bureaucratic bonfire will leave around 22,000 EU regulations, a number that continues to rise exponentially.
I'm hoping the book will add that Commissioner Verheugen can't deliver even this pathetic aspiration.

Sarkozy wades into the environment

Open Europe reports a comment by Nicolas Sarkozy that in order to compete with “polluting products coming from those countries refusing to apply the Kyoto protocol, the EU should think about a tax on imported carbon and de-tax its exported products.”

Now this has probably lost something in translation from Le Figaro. The Kyoto protocol may be pointless, but we know (from the RoHS directive) that the EU is perfectly capable of swingeing regulation on the back of bad science. Furthermore, what is good technological practice can quickly become outdated but new better practice can still fall foul of bureaucratic law.

So what is Sarko up to? Does he really intend that every product should be policed individually? Or would he work on a country by country basis, taxing products from developing countries in order to subsidise EU exports?

That would play well in the Franch elections, but one suspects it might just fall foul of WTO rules.

Goodness, campaigning for the French presidential election hasn't really started yet. What greater lunacies are still to come?

Immigration hardly benefits the host population

Migrationwatch notes a ministerial statement that "the Treasury estimates that migration has increased output by at least £4 billion and attributes 10 – 15% of economic trend growth to immigration.”

And they add
What she failed to say is that immigration also adds to population to the same extent so the benefit in terms of GDP per head is roughly zero – that is there is no significant benefit to the host population.

This is further confirmation of the statement by Professor Robert Rowthorn that “all the research suggests that the benefits (of large scale immigration) for the existing population as a whole are either close to zero or negative.” (Telegraph 2 July 2006)
Migrationwatch have also summarised the government's specious arguments that immigration benefits the existing population.