June 29, 2008

MPs' snouts in the trough

On a day when the news includes Mugabe's terror thugs breaking a baby's legs, it's almost obscene to write about anything else. But what new is there to say about that bloodstained despot and his regime? It seems only the appeaser Mbeki can bring him down.

A quick gallop, then, through the storm which is quite rightly brewing about MPs' expenses. The Mail picks up the resignation of Scottish Labour MP John Marshall, suggesting it is not entirely due to health worries "after rumours swept Westminster that he was about to be engulfed in a row over expenses payments to family members". In one of the poorest constituencies in the country this will not play well.

Caroline Spellman's crafted image of a puzzled parliamentary novice trying to understand the expenses rules gets flakier and flakier. She fired Georgina Perry and Sally Hammond after spectacular fallouts. Surely it is time for her to be resigned, to devote herself to combating the allegations. She adds no visible value. A bad choice by Cameron.

Meanwhile, the Mail points out that what is an MP's second home for expenses purposes can be their first home for tax purposes, so when the MP sells it the profit is free of capital gains tax. The proposed reforms don't address this. Nick Harvey, a member of the committee which is proposing the new expenses system, confirmed the existence of the loophole and admitted that the proposed changes would not close it. But he feebly denied it was a major problem, saying: 'It is very unlikely that it happens on a widespread basis.' Which is hardly the point.

MPs should not be able to keep any profit on their second home.

When all MPs' expenses are published later this year, we shall no doubt see some filth in our public life. Which is probably why MPs want to get the new system in place before they have to face the public's revulsion.

Bring on the accountable transparency. That money belongs to the people.

June 23, 2008

Get away with it in Scotland

Hard on the heels of Louise Casey's survey telling us the public feels cut off from the justice system, The Herald reports from Scotland that serious and violent criminals have avoided court and a criminal record under a new Scottish Government initiative introduced to deal with low-level offences.
Thousands of offences, including serious assaults, have been diverted from court and treated with fiscal fines under reforms to the summary justice system that began in March. Scores of other crimes, including sex offences against children, have been downgraded to summary complaints which carry a lesser sentence.
Cases downgraded to be heard under summary complaint carry a maximum prison sentence of 12 months, which would in practice be three.
A list of these cases seen by The Herald at Airdrie Sheriff court alone, includes: l lewd and libidinous conduct against an 11-year-old girl; l assault to severe injury and permanent disfigurement; l lewd and libidinous conduct against a victim with cerebral palsy; l lewd and libidinous conduct against a 12-year-old girl.
Whatever happened to public justice in open court?

June 22, 2008

Bad news at The Observer

Green ScorpionOh dear, most Britons are "still" not convinced that climate change is caused by humans, and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem, according to a poll for The Observer.

That "still" is from the opening line of the paper's report, by the way, so we're hardly looking at a piece of straight news. Any report of a poll should include tables reporting the questions and answers so that we can see the unadorned facts for ourselves, but there is none of that here. The paper's environmental editor, one Juliette Jowit, in fact launches straight into the reactions of "shocked campaigners"
who hoped that doubts would have been silenced by a report last year by more than 2,500 scientists for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found a 90 per cent chance that humans were the main cause of climate change and warned that drastic action was needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Yes, get that in early, Juliette.

Her analysis is frankly dipsy.
The poll ... found widespread contradictions, with some people saying politicians were not doing enough to tackle the problem, even though they were cynical about government attempts to impose regulations or raise taxes.
Just maybe there is no contradiction here? Just maybe some people believe government is using eco-hype as a means to their own ends? Just maybe she should have let us see the answers for ourselves. But we're so short of space on the web, aren't we.

"Those most worried were more likely to have a degree, be in social classes A or B, have a higher income." Now if we take a few outlets, the FT and The Guardian believe in man-made global warming, whereas The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh doesn't and The Express has just published an anti-warming article by Ann Widdecombe.

And Newsnight is a believer, but (?James Whale) on Talk Sport is not, and Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 programme is balanced, and has from time to time featured Philip Stott. He's also appeared on Richard & Judy.

Now stop the sniggering at the back. This random sampling isn't scientific, but maybe it tells us something about media coverage.

However, some environmentalists blame the lower orders' doubts on a Channel 4 documentary and recent books, including the one by Lord Lawson (it's excellent, by the way). Oh please!

In response to these results (which we're not allowed to see in full) "the Department for the Environment" (would that be DEFRA by any chance?) nailed its colours to the IPCC mast. Oh dear, don't they know science doesn't work by counting votes? Did Newton, Galileo or Einstein believe in consensus in science?

So much for some shortcomings in the paper's reporting. As for the wider issue itself, you can do no better than read Philip Stott's fiercely libertarian debunking of the bien pensant philosopher kings, including the statement that
People with even a modicum of commonsense about science recognise that the very idea of managing climate by fiddling about at the margins with just one politically-selected factor is starking-raving lunacy.
Which - judging by the voting on the recent Climate Bill - excludes all but three of our MPs. "People with even a modicum of commonsense about science" are disenfranchised.

Master Cameron and government ministers should be required to commit Philip Stott's ringing cry to memory.
Here we are witnessing the true political danger, what I call the ‘Sin of Saruman’ writ large - “But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.”

Hm! Always beware ‘the Wise’! What the political classes and media ‘environmentalists’ have yet to learn is that ordinary farmers are too aware that they have been battling with, and adapting to, climate change for over 7,000 years; that people with even a modicum of commonsense about science recognise that the very idea of managing climate by fiddling about at the margins with just one politically-selected factor is starking-raving lunacy; that people are not fooled by the attempts of the ‘wise’ to control every aspect of their lives; and, that the only way to deal with constant environmental change, whatever its direction, is to maintain strong, flexible economies, while aiding and assisting the poor.

‘The Wise’ - for which read our more dirigiste commentariat and political classes - are always seeking power and control over people’s lives - for the people’s own good, of course, and to erase false consciousness. As I write on the side bar of the ‘Home Page’: “‘Global warming’ has become the grand political narrative of the age, replacing Marxism as a dominant force for controlling liberty and human choices.”
It's not as if 'The Wise' are short of problems. Security of energy supplies, anyone?

June 20, 2008

Gabbling McNulty

The latest proposals by ACPO for foundation police forces have left police minister Tony McNulty gabbling.

ACPO's president proposes that
For the issues that bother people like me and you, in our street, that should be down to us frankly to sit down with our local team, to do a deal with them about what it is they think is important and then for us collectively to monitor how that's done.

We ought to trust the public and neighbourhoods [to] direct their priorities, but I would insist that to guard against a free-for-all there has to be a standard approach to many other things, for example, the way we handle intelligence - organised crime and counterterrorism.
Note the point is that the Home Office will be out of the loop.

McNulty's response is that
We're determined to cut red tape and ensure police officers are best placed to make decisions about local policing.

That's why we've already transformed how we measure them - slashing the number of central targets and freeing them to respond to local priorities.

Chief constables already determine how they spend their resources and we are also working on a pilot project with four forces about further measures to cut bureaucracy.
His statement that "we [are] determined to ... ensure police officers are best placed to make decisions about local policing" makes no sense. It is nonsense to suggest that "we" can ensure police officers are best placed to make local decisions. That is how it is - whatever "we" do to get in the way.

Then he claims that "we have transformed how we measure them". Not much of a "transformation" if people in a position to know are calling for more.

Then the contradictory claims that "Chief constables already determine how they spend their resources" and in the same breath "we" [again] are looking at further measures to cut bureaucracy. In other words Chief Constables can't actually decide how they use their resources, because of the bureaucratic constraints "we" impose.

No acknowledgement that the thrust of the proposal is that "we" should get out of the loop altogether because local communities may actually be better at telling local police what they want in their local areas and holding local police to local account.

This has the feel of a despairing rearguard action - ducking the main issue, no attempt to explain why it's better that "we" should continue to set the rules.

In this debate Louise Casey's recommendations are merely irrelevant, accepting as she does the present top down command arrangement. Contrast several of the police quoted by Harriet Sergeant (see previous post), who also want local accountability, and the views of "Spent Copper" in a comment on the previous post. I don't support all he says, but this is where the debate is heading.
I am an ex-policeman who spent 10 yrs in the Force during which time I was a PC, PS and authorised firearms officer. Can I make some suggestions? I think that we should consider the following:

1. Scrap the current 43 Force structure for England and Wales and base each police Force on the local County or City (or town with > 250,000 residents ) it serves, so that Policing becomes locally based rather than Government mandated.

2. Appoint a democratically elected Sheriff with responsibility to the County or City who would:
a. Appoint Chief Officers of Police.
b. Run the Prisons within their area responsibility, transferring these away from the Home Office.
c. Appoint the Probation Officers and set policy for the local Probation Service.
d. Look after the resourcing and administration of the Courts in their area of responsibility.

3. Scrap ACPO and Bramshill Police College. Reform Police training to recognise that the nature of Policing is that is a practical job requiring personal qualities rather than an academic mindset.

4. Dispense with the notion that only someone who has been a career Police Officer can be a Chief Constable. Actively recruit individuals of proven Leadership ability and give them the power to hire and fire any of their employees, uniform or civilian, whom they see fit to.

5. Go through our legal data base with a fine tooth comb and scrap all those laws which are not essential. Ie, move towards the principle of having few laws, which are rigorously enforced.

6. Dispense with the notion that the application of our Laws should take into account the background of offenders and enforce the principle of equality before the law. Repeal the so called 'Hate' Crimes.

7. If someone who has come into this country as an immigrant commits an Arrestable Offence (ie for an adult on first conviction the maximum punishable is 10 years imprisonment or more) then automatic deportation for non-UK nationals should follow.

8. Abrogation of the concept of Human Rights in English Law.
Tactically it seems to me a bad move to bring 5-8 into the police reform debate. Keep it tight, focus on the core local accountability issue, and don't oblige your opponents by offering them unnecessary targets.
9. Apart from the broadest guidelines, there should be no interference in sentencing by courts. Do away with automatic early release for offenders. End the almost automatic presumption of bail and acknowledge that it is for the Custody Sargent to decide whether or not bail is granted - subject to the right to appeal.

10. Return to the concept of Unit Beat Policing with, as far as possible, Police Officers required to live in the areas which they police and be required to perform their duties on foot. Note however, the very important stipulation that adequate mobile back up is available on the hurry up if required. Return to the villages and small Country towns we have abandoned.

As an aside, I know that Polly Toynbee has sneeringly referred to this a waste of police resources with officers perhaps encountering a crime in progress once every 5000 years, but I can tell you from my experience that there really is no better way to get to know an area and the people who live and work in it.
That is the direction where the debate is headed, while junior ministers try to hold the line with tired prevarication.

June 18, 2008

The public and the police

This is the title of a new pamphlet from Civitas by Harriet Sergeant, which concludes that the Home Office needs to get out of policing. "Local taxpayers lack any power to question ever higher policing costs.... They are unable to insist on even the basics of a good service."
A local tax to pay for the Basic Command Unit and a BCU Commander who is selected and answerable to taxpayers, whether through local government or even direct elections, would give the public that power.
Safer Neighbourhood Policing, she says, has shown how effectively the police and local councils can work together to combat anti-social and criminal behaviour. "The next step is to build on this success and give it substance with local funding and accountability."

Police numbers in England and Wales are historically high, but compared with other developed countries they are low. In 2003 there were 264 police officers in England and Wales per 100,000 of the population, compared to a European average of 357. New York has 457, Chicago 467. Yet crime rates in England and Wales "are among the highest in the developed world", so officers' workload is "unmanageably large" even without the deluge of paperwork.

Sergeant never explains the contrast between these numbers and her claim that "police funding is ... the highest amongst the OECD countries".
The UK spent 2.5 per cent of GDP on public order and safety in 2004, well ahead of the US, Spain, Germany and France.
All decisions are taken by politicians and their appointees. This is the same command system that we suffer in the NHS. National decisions are taken from the top down with minimal public input. We need accountability at the local level - "subsidiarity", if you like.

It's not as if the centre takes good decisions. In their primitive central planning mindset, people and organisations react to targets mechanistically. But in reality, if you target them to detect more crimes, the organisations will force their people to find larger numbers of easy crimes to report - even though that does nothing for public safety or relations between police and public. Sergeant points out one of the early Nine Principles of Policing
To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them
And she quotes one Borough Commander
"There are some wards", he said gloomily, "where my men are doing such a marvellous job that they are not arresting anyone. And I simply cannot afford to have 150 policemen making no arrests."
And new initiatives are taken without working out the effect on police forces of having to provide staff and resources for them. There are fewer and fewer response officers to respond to calls from the public, and call centres are targeted to pass on calls quickly rather than to screen them.

In the case of the police, the general thrust of a solution is clear. This is less true for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Among other things the CPS is judged by the volume and proportion of successful prosecutions. So they prefer easy prosecutions to cases which may be more important but contested. Of course. And that biases them towards exhaustive documentation for simple cases. No problem for them - it's the police who get the unnecessary extra work. Certainly we also need more democratic accountability from the CPS.

As with the NHS, the top down central governance model assumes that a wise Whitehall knows far better than the rest of us. In fact it doesn't. We are not mindless ants. And they are slow, clumsy and ignorant.

Goodness, they couldn't even plan prison building properly. And serial failure jack Straw is still there.

Louise Casey has a new Cabinet Office paper on the justice system, containing 32 recommendations, not listed in full by the BBC. Her central thrust, though, seems to be to leave the present command model unchanged but run with fewer targets and more visible punishment of criminals. She rightly says that the system is seen as "distant, unaccountable and unanswerable". But tinkering at the edges - continuing to give communities what the centre thinks is good for them - won't solve that.

Politicians who grew up with centralised, "socialist" planning haven't noticed that society is changing. People are less deferential than they were and it's far easier to disseminate information widely.

But can the dogmatic centralisers let go? I doubt it.

June 17, 2008

Putting the jackboot into Ireland

Wolfgang Munchau's Financial Times piece on Europe's hardball plan B for the Lisbon treaty does at least have the virtue of being clear, and showing how namby pamby most UK comment has been so far in EU terms.

"Both Ireland and the EU should have celebrated their relationship", he announces, and the country now has exactly two alternatives (alternatives usually come in pairs).
One is a humiliating U-turn, consisting of a Yes vote in a second referendum without a material change of circumstances. The other is that Ireland could lose its full EU membership if the second referendum produces another No victory. Ireland's citizens would send the country back to the economic Dark Ages, from whence it emerged only a few decades ago.
Leave aside this economic judgement, which must be highly questionable, especially if and when an Ireland inside the EU is forced into line on corporate taxes. France and Germany have a hardball plan, he writes.
It seems to me that France and Germany have put some thought into how to drive the Irish out of the EU unless they fail to reverse their No vote.
A 26-1 ratification would increase the pressure on Ireland. Munchau considers a re-referendum with the same question unlikely.
Ireland has already opted out of everything it wanted to opt out of. It is difficult to formulate any specific concessions, since nobody knows what the Irish electorate wants.
Inconvenient, this democracy.
An alternative would be a referendum with a differently worded question, such as: "Do you want to remain in the EU on the basis of the Lisbon treaty?" Of course, this bundles two questions many people would like to answer separately. Yes, stay in the EU, No to Lisbon. But folding the two into a single question is politically more honest because it is Ireland's only real-world choice.
That'd teach them.

Otherwise he expects the EU to find ways to implement Lisbon without Ireland - which would happen for sure.
The biggest losers from this fiasco will be the Irish themselves. They brought the country to the brink in its relations with the EU at a time when the economy is facing the most severe crisis in living memory. I shudder to think how foreign investors are going to react, given how much Ireland relies on them for its prosperity.
Well, they're about to become net contributors to the EU. And if they left the eurozone, they'd be able to set their own interest rates again.

Anyway, he thinks the strategy most likely to be successful from the perspective of the rest of the EU is to play hardball. "This is plan B."

To conclude, an undergraduate question. Discuss the political model that underlies this analysis.

June 16, 2008

A more interesting by-election

It seems Kelvin Mackenzie won't be standing against David Davis after all, as the Financial Times predicted last week.

Potentially much more interesting, though, is the news in The Spectator's Coffee House blog that David Craig will be standing. He's the author of the interesting book Squandered, which has already featured on this blog here, here and here.

One wonders whether he will consider the by-election (cost £75,000?) good value for money.

Might Craig emerge as a new financial Martin Bell? It could be fascinating.

Meanwhile, it seems that David is still hanging around the Commons. Come on, Davis, have you no sense of theatre?

No, apparently not.

A green loony

Yes it's Mr Barking Cameron, who "has insisted that he will not be diverted from his environmental agenda by the economic downturn", reports the BBC. The UK needed to "wean" itself off its reliance on fossil fuels, he said. Protecting the planet was a "necessity" and not a "luxury". He even still seems to think that we can "fight" climate change.

Utter piffle, especially when Anthony Watts is suggesting that "it appears we continue to slide into a deeper than normal solar minima, one not seen in decades".

Mr Cameron is right to mention fossil fuels. However, the issue is not energy dependency but energy security, as Philip Stott points out today, highlighting again the baleful role of the EU.

Mr Barking claims he understands "why people might think fighting climate change seems a costly diversion".

He doesn't. "People" are right and he is wrong. Disappointingly, it seems he actually believes this guff. What is more than a shame is that he doesn't begin to understand it. Ludicrous.

June 14, 2008

A moderate anti-Lisbon view

What is it with Lisbon? The Declaration there that the EU was to become the world's leading economy in this, that and the other dribbled away into the sand, and now the Lisbon Treaty is deceased.

Or is it? Some journalists suggest that the job of the French presidency will be to smuggle through as many changes as possible and incorporate the rest in protocols to a Croatian accession treaty in a form that avoids the need for a repeat Irish referendum.

They're probably wise not to go for a re-referendum. Brian Cowan may be another Gordon Brown, a plodder in the footsteps of his former leader. So there's no guarantee he could turn the result around in a rerun, especially as the Irish economy continues to decline, and Brussels doesn't feel able to hold back indefinitely all those goodies it had kept under wraps until the Irish fulfilled their destiny.

This Eusceptic admits to enjoying his feelings of glee yesterday at the Irish result. But what now?

Philip Stott in his always interesting blog on global warming politics hails the Irish result even though "I am a strong pro-European", and that's what makes his position interesting. Like so many others, he says, he is heartily sick of
  • The EU gravy train;

  • The financial unaccountability and the failure to audit properly;

  • The lack of transparency and democratic accountability;

  • The nonsense of two parliaments and administration in three countries;

  • The constant dribble of imposed economic costs;

  • The agricultural subsidies which undermine free trade;

  • The constant undermining of European industry;

  • The blatant hypocrisies over its ‘global warming’ rhetoric; and,

  • The intrusive non-democratic legislation.

So perhaps these are the things to focus on. Opponents will say opposition to Lisbon is code for wanting to leave the EU. It doesn't have to be. We are against all those things Philip Stott dislikes.

Maybe we think the EU would implode under its own contradictions if it tried to eliminate even some of these disfigurements. Maybe we watch with bated breath as Spain continues its ever-harder high-wire act of trying to contain damage to its economy without being able to set its own interest rates - a problem also facing Ireland.

The British wouldn't describe themselves as "anti-Europe" and probably wouldn't say they were "anti-EU". But they dislike these aspects of the EU. Under the guise of "streamlining decision-making in the EU", the Labour party wants to make it easier for the EU to do more of those bad things. But sadly (because he favours a referendum) it seems Kelvin MacKenzie's unlikely to stand against David Davis.

The Lisbon Treaty may not be deceased quite yet. In a democracy it would be.

June 13, 2008

Friday the 13th?

Two straws in the EU referendum wind? If he stands against David Davis, Kelvin McKenzie says the lack of a referendum in the UK will be one of his three planks.

And in Ireland the 'No' campaign are said to be encouraged even though a bookmaker has been paying up to 'Yes' punters. Too soon to know if they're whistling in the wind.

June 12, 2008

National Fraud Initiative

Standard estimates of benefit fraud are around £700m annually. The 2006/7 report on the National Fraud Initiative (NFI), published last month, detected fraud and overpayment of £140m. Why does that suggest that the overall £700m estimate is too low?

The NFI is an exercise in comparing databases which is run every other year by the Audit Commission, a body that audits the £180bn spent by local public bodies - no fewer than 11,000 of them.

The £140m reflects only items detected. The report points out that a number of bodies apply zero tolerance to fraud while "others have not yet exploited to the full the information NFI provides to stamp out fraudsters". What the Audit Commission have done is to highlight a few startlingly positive results, leaving us to draw conclusions about the scope for further savings.

The Taxpayers' Alliance castigates the Audit Commission for not naming and shaming poorly performing councils and agencies "to spur the improvement that is so sorely needed". In practice the list would probably have been very long by comparison with the case studies highlighting excellent practice.

Auditors will be "asked" to "monitor" bodies' performance at investigating matches during the next round of NFI. This slow pace of progress towards some sort of adequacy of performance across the board will cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Future posts in the benefit fraud blog will look in more detail at individual examples of good practice (the second post is now up). We will then draw them together here and suggest why the figure of £700m -which is shocking enough - must be too low.

June 09, 2008

It will just keep failing

What are the best structures for the Nationalised Health Service? It's all too easy to get bogged down in the detailed doctrinal debates about marginal improvements when the big problem is that we have ministers - of all people - trying to run what is about the third largest organisation in the world.

Since our governments never show any sign of being any good at running anything - let alone such a humungously large organisation - perhaps the starting point should be a suspicion that one huge nationalised operation is the wrong way to provide health care.

Today's Telegraph provides two snapshots of how a man's fractured hips were treated - one in London and one in France. Needless to say, the French treatment was far better.

One swallow doesn't make a summer, but the NHS as an organisation is no longer straining every sinew to do the best for every patient. Unsurprisingly, ministers have no idea how to do anything about it. They are stuck in the mindset of trying to manage a huge organisation when an organisation this huge is simply unmanageable.

So they kill people. According to David Craig in his book Squandered, the NHS itself estimates that 34,000 people a year die in its hospitals unnecessarily, with a further 25,000 unnecessarily disabled permanently. He calculates the total cost of the bureaucrats most directly employed to ensure we receive good healthcare at over £722m a year. Yet the NHS spends more on management consultants than the whole of British manufacturing industry. We have about half the number of hospital beds per 100,000 people that they do in France, Holland or Germany, giving the UK bed occupancy rates of over 85% compared to about 65% in some other European countries.

Drug rationing means you can't get cancer drugs on the NHS in Dover that you can get in Boulogne. And don't take Gordon Brown's pledge of personalised health care seriously. If you want to contribute to your treatment by buying a drug which the NHS won't afford, our masters running the NHS with what is after all our money decree that you must pay for all of your treatment, since their rigid ideological purity would be offended by the notion that some British NHS patients might receive treatment as good as they might be entitled to in other countries. Better that Britain should be a modern East Germany and treat all of its subjects with equal inadequacy.

We are not coming at this from an ideological standpoint, but starting from the evidence. The Nationalised Health Service is failing and it will continue to fail, simply because it is too huge to be managed properly.

However unpalatable it may be, you have to listen to what the evidence is telling you. The NHS will never deliver excellent healthcare economically.

Just as comprehensive schools don't deliver good education, so a monolithic NHS does not and will not deliver good healthcare.

June 08, 2008

Who wants to be a junior minister?

Why would anyone want to be a junior minister? You're required to defend to the hilt government policies that you've had no part in forming. Regarding your own department's policies, you're expected to maintain publicly that black is white in the teeth of universal scepticism, as in (for instance) "school exams standards have not fallen". Presumably they have no self-respect.

One of these people - you can't call them unfortunates, as they chose the role for themselves - is James Plaskitt. His job is to go around telling people that benefit fraud doesn't pay and you are bound to be caught, which is manifestly untrue. Yet he's an intelligent man - he lectured in politics at Christ Church Oxford, after teaching for four years at Brunel University.

These observations are prompted by the news that Gary Whittaker from Blackpool, who claimed he was too ill to work, cheated the benefits system out of £32,785 over four years in incapacity, housing and council tax benefits while working as a sugar boiler at a sweet factory.

This only came to light when the DWP and Blackpool Council launched a joint investigation into workers at the Hornby and the Parterre confectionery factories in Blackpool. In other words, this unsophisticated man - a drug user to boot - was able to cheat the system for four years, and seems to have been unlucky that there was a raid on the factory where he worked.

(Incidentally, the penalties for this sustained theft weren't great. He was sentenced to 24 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months, put on a three months curfew during which he must remain inside his home between 10pm and 6am, given 12 months supervision, and ordered to pay £50 costs.)

Now if the checks can't stop a Gary Whittaker in his tracks, what chance does it have against calculated, organised crime? We saw how the Manchester grandmother was only caught by accident. But organised crime seems to have been tripped up in Ipswich, according to the Evening Star, with a series of arrests in connection with a multi-million pound property fraud involving scores of flats. The gang is suspected of similar frauds in connection with property developments in Thamesmead, Leeds and Nottingham. The mortgage frauds were done in a basically traditional way, suggesting lenders may have been economising on their checks, and they may have cost them over £40m.

But the gang also targeted district councils by making false benefit claims on behalf of bogus people said to be living in the flats, and that's where they seem to have come unstuck, thanks to a vigilant fraud investigator. Some of the arrests, though, date back to May 2006, making one wonder if anyone will ever be brought to trial.

The fraud investigator's full account can be read on the paper's website at the link above. In summary he says they received some claims for housing benefit where there seemed to be a discrepancy with the National Insurance number on one of them.
I had to sift through various suspect claims and found there were links between them using a process of cross-matching the data and linking information on them.

The whole process of investigation cannot be revealed, for obvious reasons, but one example I noted was that birth dates of claimants all had the same numbers ­ but in a different order ­ and this led to understanding the minds of the person or people behind the fraud.
The outcome of this was that a trail was now being uncovered of false identities, bank accounts, employment records, wages and landlords.
I had identified the gang responsible for the fraudulent activity and who their key players were with one person ... using no less than 16 different aliases and owning at least three passports in different names.

In the end, we were able to prevent £51,000 being swindled out of the council.
This was well spotted. But how much more is being systematically looted from a creaky system?

Yet it is Mr Plaskitt's job to tell us that benefit cheats are bound to be caught.

Day to day posts on benefit fraud now appear on my benefit fraud blog.

June 05, 2008

Unwrapping WRAP

What are blogs for, Richard has been asking? This blog tries not just to précis pieces from mass circulation newspapers, though it may sometimes enjoy placing contrasting items side by side. There can be interest from collecting news items on a particular topic in one place. Patterns can then emerge. Peter Troy and I did this when Charles Clarke proposed swingeing mergers of police forces, and were able to identify some trends from local news coverage.

After running a series of posts here on benefit fraud, I've started posting them on a dedicated blog, in the hope that readers interested in the subject may find that more useful.

Blogs have been the main source of information and discussion concerning the case against man-made global warming. Blogs can flow around the obstacles of bien pensant censorship and almost become a world-wide samizdat.

Blogging also allows Wat Tyler to produce concentrated pieces on How Government Spends the Money We Earn and How We Can Stop Them. It allows Richard to hole media articles below the waterline. The Good Ship North never seems to run low on ammunition, and its guns produce withering fire.

Bloggers can also write at more length about items which aren't in the headlines. Obviously not in the same league I wrote recently about WRAP. Another useful feature of blogging is the chance to draw comments. In the WRAP post I was stuck because I couldn't find their accounts, but an anonymous comment pointed me to the accounts to 31 March 2007 at Companies House.

They're not without interest. "WRAP [Waste & Resources Action Programme] works in partnership to encourage and enable businesses and consumers to be more efficient in their use of materials and recycle more things more often (sic). This helps to minimise landfill, reduce carbon emissions and improve our environment", we are told.

In the year 2006-2007 they received grants for this - our money - totalling no less than £67.7m. Of that, £10m went on staff costs.

Leave aside that the carbon emissions policy is misconceived, and the refuse policy is set at the behest of the EU elephant in the room, so that arguably the thrust of their work is valueless. Can working "in partnership to encourage and enable" anything with anyone really be worth over £67m? It sounds like hot air to me, and that probably falls foul of the warmists.

The Chairman's introduction also carries a surprising statement about the vexed issue of fortnightly collections. Back in June 2007 he writes
If they are introduced there should ideally be a weekly collection of food waste accompanied by alternate weekly general refuse collections.
This is not the policy we have been hearing about lately, so it will be interesting to learn how we have got from there to here.

Journalists, please note.

The politics of tax

What should the Tories do about tax? The always interesting Allister Heath proposes in The Spectator that they should take a lesson from Ireland and lower corporation tax significantly.

We can certainly agree that
The plans outlined by George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, to cut corporation tax to 25 per cent, remain singularly unambitious and are still based on plans to hike green taxes, a policy which now looks as dated as kipper ties.
Between 1994 and 2003, he writes, Ireland cut its corporation tax from 40% to the current 12.5%.
In 1993, income per capita was 28 per cent higher in Britain than in Ireland. The Irish economy then took off, with average real-terms economic growth between 1994 and 2006 of 7.4 per cent. In contrast, Britain managed just 2.9 per cent real-terms growth in the same period. Today the Irish enjoy income per capita 20 per cent higher than in Britain.
Recent research has modelled the impact of pre-announced, phased corporation tax cuts of 2 per cent each year until the Irish level of 12.5 per cent was reached.
Their findings were striking. By 2021, by which time we would be in a third Tory term of office, GDP would be 8.7 per cent higher than it would otherwise be; investment 60.9 per cent higher; employment 8.7 per cent higher; and wages 13.5 per cent higher.

Although this plan would cost £3.8 billion initially in reduced revenues (in fact barely more than Brown’s partial U-turn on the abolition of the 10p income tax rate) by 2021, revenue would be £28.7 billion higher. Within eight years, revenue would be higher than without corporation tax cuts: in other words, tax cuts would actually pay for themselves.
But it wouldn't be a populist manifesto commitment, and Labour would certainly argue it showed the Conservatives were on the side of big business. And we know the French favour 'harmonisation' of corporate taxes in the EU (which they're welcome to do in the Eurozone of course).

But if any of this is politically possible, will it be economically possible? In the same issue Fraser Nelson argues that if Brown is sure he is going to lose the next election he may as well spend profligately in pursuit of his policy goals and leave the next Conservative government to pick up the bill.

June 02, 2008

Benefit fraud posts move to a new home

Future benefit fraud posts will appear here.

Down with the greenies

Green ScorpionPhilip Stott's already excellent blog just gets better and better.

He has picked up on the coverage in The Times of Bjørn Lomborg's dogged pursuit of the Copenhagen Consensus.

Lomborg is a voice of sanity in a world of preening know-nothing politicians, in the EU and elsewhere.

Unlike the Bishop of Stafford, who has written that
Josef Fritzl represents merely the most extreme form of a very common philosophy of life: I will do what makes me happy, and if that causes others to suffer, hard luck.

In fact you could argue that, by our refusal to face the truth about climate change, we are as guilty as he is - we are in effect locking our children and grandchildren into a world with no future and throwing away the key.
Stott also highlights coverage of the technology that can convert coal to oil.

Is that enough commonsense heterodoxy for one day?

June 01, 2008

How we are misgoverned

Commendably The Telegraph has made front page news out of Labour's concealment of a report highlighting the health risks of fortnightly rather than weekly waste collections. Common sense, you'd think, but the government commissioned a report which inconveniently stated the obvious and therefore decided not to publish it.

The real scandal is buried at the foot of the article, which is fair enough, because it's old news.
Official guidance from the government quango, Wrap, has told town halls how to get rid of weekly collections and overcome "public resistance".

It advised the cuts should be done after local elections to stop people voting against them, and in the autumn or winter so that residents would not immediately notice the extra smells and vermin.
It's government policy that this is an acceptable way to behave.

WRAP stands for Waste & Resources Action Plan. Their website doesn't seem to tell us how much they cost, but in 2007 the Sunday Express said that "the quango’s pay bill has soared by an incredible 561 per cent in the last five years". Their site says that "established as a not-for-profit company in 2000, WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland". If the site shows the company's full name, it's not obvious.

According to a Daily Mail piece in 2007 about nappies -
After a three-year campaign that has cost taxpayers at least £30million, it has been decided that the two types have the same impact on the environment.

As a result, ministers at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have quietly dropped the lavishly-financed Real Nappy Campaign.

The decision follows a four- year research project which found that the impact of burying disposable nappies in landfill sites was matched by the energy consumed and greenhouse gases generated by washing reusables or transporting them to laundries.
But no one has told WRAP, which is still happy to link to the (presumably still government funded) Real Nappy Campaign, which may be able to get you "£30 off your first real nappies!" (sic). Local authorities can order a Real Nappies Resource Pack, and parents can search for an incentive scheme - "a scheme where a local authority provides either a voucher for the purchase of real nappies, a free laundry trial service or a free sample pack of nappies".

WRAP has recently joined 'Together'. "'Together' is a unique coalition of business leaders, brands, government and civil society organisations that are dedicated to helping consumers ‘go green’", and its website claims that "It’s easy to deal with climate change if we do it Together". Presumably taxpayer-funded WRAP is now helping to fund these eco-clowns.

Can we now look forward to WRAP donating to a Campaign to Subvert Democracy?

WRAP is also advertising for employees. The role of the Business Account Manager Wales (salary £35k + benefits) will be
To provide a competent, integrated support service to businesses within the recycling sector to facilitate their growth, and to manufacturers to enable them to source and use more recycled materials in production. The Account Manager will assess businesses' requirements and identify and secure appropriate support from WRAP's existing programmes, from other agencies and WAG Departments. They will subsequently take a lead role in managing the ongoing process on behalf of the client as appropriate, and maintain an ongoing relationship, both to ensure that desired outcomes are achieved, and to identify further opportunities.
WAG's probably do generate a lot of refuse. That person will report to the Programme Manager - Wales, whose job will be to
Work with Director of Business Growth to develop the delivery plan for Wales and then take responsibility for successful implementation. Success will be achieved by working closely with Welsh Assembly Government, stakeholders in Wales and WRAP's staff throughout the UK. Key to effective delivery will be building productive and collaborative working relationships with other resource efficiency delivery partners in Wales. The role will require a creative approach based on an appreciation of eco-design and lifecycle thinking to delivery innovative programmes and projects.
This is obviously a more senior role and so commands a salary of £50-55k plus benefits. If you want to be Communications Manager - Retail you can have a salary of £38k plus benefits, based at the head office in Banbury, which is a very pleasant part of the country, while a PR Manager - Programme Support is offered c£36,000 plus benefits (naturally) and, more mysteriously, a discretionary bonus. Two key competences are required - "creating the future" (eh?) and "delivering results" (well yes, but in true public sector style only one of the eleven sub-headings to this competence [11!] concerns "achieving targets").

Time to give this burgeoning post a WRAP. Oh, and what's the picture of the elephant doing here? Just a reminder that this quango is implementing an EU policy.

Give us justice

Surrey police are apparently leading the charge against too much paperwork. Can this be all it seems? It's impossible to imagine that they sprang this on the Home Office. Discussions must have been going on for some time. The very fact that
Surrey Police will be joined this weekend by the Staffordshire, Leicestershire and West Midlands forces in returning to what they call “commonsense policing”
confirms that this isn't a momentary whim by Surrey's Chief Constable. They must have spent time urging the Home Office to back away from some of their targeting - and failed. Yet they still went ahead.

Politically the timing looks good. The government is weak, and seemingly getting weaker. The Home Secretary lacks probably authority in the country generally, doubtless amongst the Conservative folk of Surrey, and certainly among the police rank and file.

What The Times calls "the red tape rebellion" may be quite limited.
The forces will abandon government performance measurements that require them to record playground fights as criminal offences. Instead, their chiefs have told The Times, they will give the bobby on the beat the discretion to treat minor offences as minor offences.
But the paper has spoken to the police forces, there seems to be no mistake, and we can only see what the wielder of the clunking fist will make of it.

Further along the justice chain, Liam Halligan is blaming Gordon Brown for the shortage of prison places. It's not just opportunist politicians and columnists making this claim.
Last week, we learnt that the number of prisoners in the UK has topped 83,000. But our prison capacity is only 83,423 – including 400 police cells which cost taxpayers £400 per prisoner per night.

Senior prison officers report suspects are going free due to a lack of jail-space. The Chief Prisons Inspector says overcrowding is causing “unrest”. And a former Lord Chief Justice warns of a summer of prison “riots”.
At the Treasury, says Halligan, "Brown obsessed about neutralising rivals for the Labour leadership. He often pulled this country’s purse strings to that end, not least when it came to prison-building".
Since 1997, Labour has ordered and built only two new prisons. No wonder Messrs Straw, Blunkett, Clarke and Reid all had their authority badly dented by scandals about limited prison capacity – just as the Treasury wanted.
"Pretty soon", he concludes, "Brown will face that fate too – as yet another policy boomerang whacks the back of his head". This, remember, was the man who claimed competence as a hallmark of his government.