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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Thursday
Mar 8,2012

The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just been published.

Its key findings are that:

  • There is no evidence that the NSS has influenced decisions made since the Strategic Defence and Security Review. If the current strategy is not guiding choices then it needs to be revised.
  • There should be an “overarching strategy”, a document designed to guide government decision-making and crisis management both at home and on the international stage.
  • The Government’s assertion that there will be no reduction in the UK’s influence on the world stage is “wholly unrealistic in the medium to long term” and the UK needs to plan for a changing, and more partnership-dependent, role in the world.

The Committee also expressed concern about the operation of the National Security Council concluding that it did not operate always at an appropriately “broad and strategic” level.  For example, it became deeply involved in essentially operational issues during the operations in Libya.  Moreover, it failed to consider the national security implications of the Eurozone crisis or the possibility of Scottish independence.

Tuesday
Mar 6,2012

Dave Hill’s London Blog in The Guardian can usually be relied on for serious comment and analysis of London issues. And last week he posted two important posts on the issue of serious gang-related violence in London.

The first highlighted the post-code rivalries between gangs in North-West London:

“Page 81 of my London A-Z shows the streets, parks and stations at the intersections of north Westminster, north Kensington and Brent. But it offers no clues to the alternative cartography that shapes the lives of many people living there – an unofficial map of an urban landscape scarred by violence and divided by fear. …

Territories have been defined and the borders between them guarded and sometimes breached. Incursions resulting in chasings, beatings and robberies are frequent. …

Some who live in the area concerned, including some who are young, are barely touched by this wired, short-fused youthful world. They and it are largely invisible to each other: people move freely and routinely to and from work, local schools, community facilities and places of worship just like anywhere else. Yet an awareness of that other side of neighbourhood life has filtered down even to primary school children. And on the streets young people in particular, even if they have little or no direct connection with it, are acutely conscious of it: at worst, cowed, menaced and controlled. …

 In this increasingly less subterranean world the streets are an excitingly dangerous playground – a place that’s more available, more plausible and more rewarding than the alternatives of education, conformity and long-term, steadier rewards. Yet though that playground may be larger than those at primary school, it is both limited and limiting too. The horizons of those playing crazy, deadly games there don’t extend geographically, intellectually or emotionally even as far as A-Z pages 80 or 82.”
The second cited a report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College, “Young People, Knives and Guns”, which concluded that:
“focusing on weapons themselves can be a distraction from addressing the underlying causes of violence and that the most effective interventions engaged instead with “the big questions of disadvantage and social exclusion” along with addressing individual, family and neighbourhood problems. It also found that in the United States locally-based strategies where a variety of agencies work closely together to combine different prevention and suppression approaches have been more effective than “enforcement-led interventions by agencies operating in isolation.””
Later in the same post, Hill describes the experience of youth and community workers he had met:
“There was a strong consensus that every neighbourhood affected and individual involved is different, and that responses should be tailored accordingly. A unified view was also expressed that police officers with listening ears who know a neighbourhood well are an asset, but that vanloads of territorial support group members sent in from elsewhere to conduct stop-and-search blitzes can cause more problems than they solve. Far better that police energy was put into co-ordinating activities across borough lines and building trust with the communities they serve.

There was a general frustration that funding for anti-youth crime and violence projects is too often short-term and under threat, making the sustained action required far more difficult to implement. Outreach work, personal development and gang mediation schemes were all thought to have beneficial effects, so why couldn’t they be backed with more consistency and on a larger scale?”

Certainly my perception for what it is worth is that gang-related violence seems to have got significantly worse in London in the last couple of years or so.  This is not intended to be a political point because I am not sure that there is a simplistic cause and effect between political decisions or for that matter policing decisions and changes in the levels of violence or gang-related activity.
I am also told that at least one magistrates court in London checks through the lists of cases coming up so as to ensure that cases involving rival gangs are scheduled on different days to stop fights breaking out on court premises.
However, what is clear is that a number of things that are happening will clearly be making the situation worse – what the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies call “the big questions of disadvantage and social exclusion”.
Thus, a worsening economic situation with fewer opportunities for young people will create an increasing sense of hopelessness and futility fostering a breeding ground for both extremism and for gangs.  In this context, scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance seems a particular folly and which is why Ken Livingstone’s pledge to restore it in London makes sense.
Similarly, cutting local authority budgets will both increase local joblessness but is also likely to mean that specialist youth and community provision will be lost – again hardly helpful in this context.
Tackling the environment in which gangs flourish is the key.  Too often in too many parts of London for too many young people being part of a gang is the only way of having any security – both physical and emotional.  These are not easy issues to tackle, but it is obvious that some policies will make things worse.
Friday
Feb 17,2012

There is an excellent article in the New York Times that explains the behavioural psychology that is now linked to supermarket loyalty cards and on-line shopping patterns to target and personalise adverts and offers.

It describes an incident in a Target store (a major US chain) as follows:

“a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

I suspect these systems are now so sophisticated and analyse so much data about individual’s behaviour that they far surpass even the databases held by the most anti-civil libertarian governments.
But for some reason you don’t hear so many complaints ….
Monday
Jan 30,2012

At the end of last week, I reported that Andrew Lansley was planning to change the status of the new local HealthWatch organisation so that patient representation could be put out to competitive tender.

The Department of Health has form on this: the organisations acting as “hosts” for Local Involvement Networks were selected following a competitive tendering process in 2007 and bids were sought from throughout the European Union and here, so I am told, is the text of the advert in the Uzbechistan Times:

Gloucester: health and social work services

Takliflar

Umumiy ma’lumot
Davlat: ??????????? ???????????
Shaxar/axoli punkti: GLOUCESTER
Kontrakt yoki xabarnoma raqami: eu:281809-2007
Chop etilish sanasi: Noy 30, 2007
Amal qilish muddati: Yanv 7, 2008
Xaridor: GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
   
Original matn tili: ??????????
 
Bog’lanish uchun ma’lumot
Manzil: GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
GLOUCESTER , Gloucestershire
??????????? ???????????
Veb-saxifa: http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=14857

 (I am afraid the cyrillic script doesn’t come out very well in WordPress.)

The fact that the previous Government allowed this function to be tendered doesn’t make it right for the proposed new system, particularly as Ministers have complained about the cost of administering previous patient representation structures which were based on this “hosting” principle.

All in all it looks like “dogma gone mad” with no regard to the cost or to whether it will deliver more effective patient representation.

I have this afternoon tabled two Parliamentary Questions on the subject:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government:

    1. What would be the cost of requiring local authorities to put out to competitive tender contracts to run local HealthWatch organisations?
    2. What was the cost of putting out to tender contracts to act as hosts to Local Involvement Networks?”
Sunday
Jan 29,2012

John Naughton in today’s Observer has an interesting article on the proposed new EU data protection directive and the way in which Facebook is getting “its retaliation in first”.  The proposed “right to be forgotten” is likely to conflict with Facebook’s newish “timeline” facility.  And the retaliation?  This is how John Naughton puts it:

“The day before the commission made its announcement, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, gave a speech to a technology conference in Munich. Her menacing subtext was neatly summarised by the New York Times thus: “Concerned about privacy? Maybe you should be concerned about the economy instead.” Translation: mess with us, Eurotrash, and we’ll screw you.

Sandberg’s speech was revealing because it exposes the line of argument that Google, Facebook, et al will use to undermine public authorities that seek to control their freedom to exploit their users’ identities and abuse their privacy. The argument is that internet companies create lots of jobs and are good for the economy and European governments shouldn’t stand in their way.”

Apparently, to back this argument Facebook referred to a report that they had commissioned from Deloitte which concluded that Facebook had  indirectly helped create 232,000 jobs in Europe in 2011 and enabled more than $32bn in revenues.

John Naughton is sceptical pointing out that Facebook itself only has about 3,000 employees world-wide and he continues:

“Inspection of the “report” confirms one’s suspicion that you couldn’t make this stuff up. Or, rather, only an international consulting firm could make it up. Interestingly, Deloitte itself appears to be ambivalent about it. “The information contained in the report”, it cautions, “has been obtained from Facebook Inc and third party sources that are clearly referenced in the appropriate sections of the report. Deloitte has neither sought to corroborate this information nor to review its overall reasonableness. Further, any results from the analysis contained in the report are reliant on the information available at the time of writing the report and should not be relied upon in subsequent periods.” (Emphasis added.)

Accordingly, continues Deloitte, “no representation or warranty, express or implied, is given and no responsibility or liability is or will be accepted by or on behalf of Deloitte or by any of its partners, employees or agents or any other person as to the accuracy, completeness or correctness of the information contained in this document or any oral information made available and any such liability is expressly disclaimed”.”

Although Deloitte is normally regarded as a respectable organisation, these caveats plus the rather tendentious conclusions should raise alarm bells.

Or as John Naughton puts it:

“The sole purpose of “reports” such as this is to impress or intimidate politicians and regulators, many of whom still seem unaware of the extent to which international consulting firms are used by corporations to lend an aura of empirical respectability to hogwash.”

Yet reports like this with sensational conclusions seem a particular feature of commentary on the internet.

And especially so in respect of information security, last year the UK Government published figures saying UK cyber crime was costing £27 billion per year and not to be out-done Symantec suggested that the global figure was $388 billion.  The reality is that all these figures are unverifiable – and whilst I am quite clear that cyber-crime is a very serious problem for the world economy these estimates are, to use John Naughton’s word, “hogwash”.

Spurious precision – whether it is Symantec’s $388 billion or Facebook’s 232,000 jobs in Europe – should always be treated with caution.

Wednesday
Jan 25,2012

I was in meetings most of the day and did not get a chance to catch up on Prime Minister’s Questions.  Having seen the letter that Ed Miliband has sent to the Prime Minister, I am not sure I’ll bother.

The list of inaccurate claims made by David Cameron is extraordinary.  If any other politician was this “misleading” in their answers, they would be pilloried in the newspapers the following day.  However, I am not holding my breath.

Here is the text of Ed Miliband’s letter:

“Dear Prime Minister,

I wanted to write following this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions to draw your attention to some inaccurate claims you made today.

In an answer to me, you said that “There are more people in work today than there were at the time of the last election”. In fact, the most recent employment figures from the Office for National Statistics show that total employment between May-July 2010 and September-November 2011 fell by 26,000.

In an answer to Lindsay Roy MP, you said that the Merlin agreement “actually led to an increase in bank lending last year”. In fact, the latest Trends in Lending report from the Bank of England, published last Friday, said that “the stock of lending to SMEs contracted between end-April and end-November 2011”.

In an answer to Paul Maynard MP, you spoke of “the real shame… that there are so many millions of children who live in households where nobody works and indeed that number doubled under the previous government”. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of children living in workless households fell by 372,000 between April-June 1997 and April-June 2010.

In an answer to Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP, who said that your Government was planning to cut benefits to disabled children, you said that “The Hon Lady is wrong”. In fact, according to page 28 of the Department for Work and Pensions’ own impact assessment on the introduction of universal credit, your policy of mirroring for disabled children the current adult eligibility for Disability Living Allowance means that the rate paid to those disabled children who do not qualify for the highest rate of the DLA care component “would be less than now (£26.75 instead of £53.84)”.

I am sure that you will want to take this opportunity to correct the record.

Yours sincerely,

Ed Miliband”

And  – just for the record – here are the sources:

1) Employment statistics: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/january-2012/table-a02.xls  And see also: http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-cameron-nailed-on-job-claims/9250

2) Bank lending – Bank of England “Trends in Lending” report (see p.4): http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/other/monetary/TrendsJanuary12.pdf

3) Figures for children in workless households: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/working-and-workless-households/2011/table-k.xls

4) Disabled children’s benefits – DWP impact assessment on universal credit (see p. 28):  http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/universal-credit-wr2011-ia.pdf

Sunday
Jan 22,2012

The Government’s e-petition site has rejected an e-petition calling on the Government to improve “the flow of passengers through busy London Underground stations” by installing slides in place of escalators.  The e-petition also suggests that:

“Small prizes should be available for those reaching the bottom in the fastest time. These would be paid for out of the savings of not having to maintain and operate down escalators.”

The e-petition has been rejected because this is a matter for a devolved authority – in this case the Mayor of London – and therefore it is for the Mayor of London to consider this proposal.

Tuesday
Jan 10,2012

Just in case LibDems in London were in any doubt about Tory triumphalism, the LibDem role as (very) junior partners in the coalition and what the Government’s stance on Europe is all about James Cleverly AM, Leader of the Tory Group on the London Assembly, has spelt it out:

The Indi is running a story about a potential “rift” between Clegg and Cameron over Europe and the veto.  This is such a non-story, Clegg’s position on Europe is well known.  Cameron’s position on Europe has been made clear and is much more in tune with the wishes of the British people.

David Cameron is the Prime Minister and his position is both right and popular.  Nick Clegg is not Prime Minister and his position is wrong and unpopular.  Bets please on whose views will win out.”

Squelch!

At some point, the LibDems are going to realise that their post-General Election sell-out to the Tories is getting them nowhere …..

 
Monday
Jan 2,2012

Michael White, the Guardian’s veteran Assistant Editor, has an article today assessing the shape of UK politics over the year ahead.  Although sometimes verbose (a problem I am well aware that I suffer from myself), he is usually extremely perceptive.  Today’s article is therefore well worth reading and I agree with many of his conclusions.

However, there is one line in it that is total nonsense.  After pointing out the threat that reinvigorated Boris Johnson would present to David Cameron if re-elected to the London Mayorality in May, he goes on to say:

“If Ken beats Boris he will make Miliband’s task harder.”

The reality is the exact opposite.  So much so that David Cameron has recognised that his number one priority in 2012 is to ensure that London’s City Hall must remain in Conservative hands.  Not the economy; not the growing housing crisis; not Europe and the Eurozone; but London.  That is the Prime Minister’s priority for the coming year.

Why?  He knows that a Ken Livingstone victory in May would be an essential first step for the Labour Party to win a General Election in 2015.

He also knows that Ken Livingstone’s flair for articulating the impact of Tory policies on the people of London would resonate with millions elsewhere in the country.

The Prime Minister’s grasp on history is probably a little shaky, so he may not be aware that a Labour-run London County Council in the 1930s laid the groundwork for the victorious and reforming Labour Government of 1945: trialling and showcasing how the power of Government can be harnessed to boost the chances of the vast majority of the population.

However, Cameron’s instincts will tell him that a Labour Mayor in City Hall would demonstrate that there  is an alternative to a Conservative-led Government more concerned with the interests of a privileged minority than the rest of society.  (A Conservative trait also shown by Mayor Johnson and his penchant for meeting bankers and representatives of the financial services in preference to other interests in London.)

So if Cameron is so desperate for Ken Livingstone not to be elected in May, it follows that Ed Miliband is, if anything, even keener to see the Conservatives turned out of City Hall in four months time.  This is where Michael White is wrong and dwelling in a 1980s past.  Ken Livingstone has more positive and supportive relations with the national Labour leadership than ever before.

A Livingstone victory will be a boost for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.  It will be a sign that the people of London have rejected not only a Conservative Mayor but also those Conservative policies being pursued by his friends holding national office.

Saturday
Dec 10,2011

Earlier tonight I had the opportunity to enjoy Rory Bremner’s updated rendering of Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” at the Young Vic, but you only have one more day to do the same.

It really is a satire for our times and a reminder of the importance of the wider remit of the Leveson Inquiry.  Throughout the action is influenced by “Public Opinion” a sanctimonious voice akin to the Daily Mail, terrifying and manipulating celebs (in the shape of Orpheus), while the Gods are being required to be “transparent and accountable” and show that “We’re all in this together”.  You will be sorry to have missed it.