Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Student fee protests are offensive to the poor

Another day another student fees protest. I’m on my way up to Parliament and the Intranet is warning me of potential road closures and entrance closures as a result of another fees protest. This will be protest number three in Westminster alongside the numerous university sit-ins and yesterday’s attempted sit-in at Top Shop (nothing to do with student fees, but I believe they think that in the current climate of austerity a 10% NUS discount just isn’t enough)

Taking inspiration from the 80's their message is simple “Just say no”. Say no to pretty much everything proposed. Don’t read the proposals, which show that they are actually progressive and will result in an increase to UK government debt of £13bn at a time we can scant afford it, just say no to reform of the university finance system full stop. Oh and remember to say that this means that university will only be for the rich.

It is this point that we are constantly hearing from middle class students who feel they have to go out and look after the poor because seemingly they’re unable to talk for themselves. None of the students interviewed ad naseum on the news can say that if fees were higher they wouldn’t have gone, they just all point to the mythical student from a poorer background who will be put off by fees increases.

It is this idea that is offensive. What is says is that someone from a less well off background is unable to understand the argument and logic that says that you borrow money now to invest for the future, and that if you make the right investment you will be rewarded by a higher salary. However don’t forget it’s probably one of the safest investments around as you don’t have to pay anything at all now, and if it all goes wrong and you never earn enough money you don’t have to pay it back anyway.

A pretty simple argument, but according to the NUS and every fees protestor the rich can understand it, but those who are less well off can’t. That’s not very progressive is it?

Related Content

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lord Young vs Lord Sugar, Offensive fight off

Lord Young's comments were offensive so he had to resign. That's what everyone on both sides of the Chamber say and that's why he went ahead and resigned. If anyone in a position like his was to say something that belittled the recession and the effects it's having on people then they should do the right thing and fall on their sword. Yes?

Well clearly no, it actually depends on who you are and whose experience you are belittling. You see back in Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents" days he appointed the first enterprise tzar / advisor in the form of Everyone's favourite "businessman" Alan Sugar.

A few days into the job he was approached by a BBC journalist and asked what could be done to help businesses in that area to get out of the recession. His response? Well the clip that was played every week on Have I Got News for You said it all, "for f**ks sake" he said as he stormed off, before coming back and delivering this:
"Can't we get off this recession kick once and for all? I don't think we're in one now, ok?"
"I can honestly say a lot of problems you hear from people who are moaning are from companies I would not lend a penny to.
"They are bust. The moaners are bust. They are bust and they don't need the bank - they need an insolvency practitioner."

First off we were very much still in recession then, secondly what he said was offensive, very offensive in fact to those businesses that were struggling to raise finance to trade and improve their situation.

Was he sacked or forced to resign though? In short, no. Labour said nothing, and the Conservatives and Lib Dems were more worried about his BBC TV show and if it was right to be in government. Why? Because it's seemingly fine to say something offensive as a government advisor if you're 1) a bit of a cheeky chappy and a no nonsense sort and 2) if you're being offensive about business people. If you wear a bow tie and offend the "everyday" man though then off you go. Those business people are made of sterner stuff after all.

Related Content

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bankers Bonuses

At the weekend I read a fantastic article from Fraser Nelson which pointed out that the 50% tax bracket was the Coalition government’s most expensive policy. Perhaps Alan Johnson should direct Ed Milliband at it to help bring him around to his way of thinking.

Now I’m no fan of that policy, I agree with Fraser, and the wealth of evidence that shows that excessively high tax rates result in lower tax collection, however I understand the justification of keeping it for now.

Plus if we’ve got it let’s use it to our advantage. How? Well let’s look at Bankers bonuses. It’s reported in today’s media that the banks are in secret talks to restrict this year’s bonus pool from £7bn to just £4bn showing massive restraint and playing into the narrative that we must reduce the size of city bonuses to show that “we’re all in this together”. St Vince at BIS will be happy as he’s been warning banks that excessively large bonuses could result in a bonus tax again.

However let’s stop and think about it for a second. At the moment the UK government needs money, and bankers are heavily tax at 50%. There is no way on earth that they are going to try to put their bonuses (probably the most heavily scrutinised of their pay) through a tax avoidance scheme so that £7bn will net the exchequer £3.5bn of income tax. However if we reduce it to £4bn then George will only be getting a paltry £2bn through the Treasury accounts, a difference of £1.5bn.

So let’s put that into perspective if the government continues to push for banks to restrict their bonus pool they’ve giving up enough money to pay for 11.9 days of debt interest. The easy argument is that’s not a lot so why bother, but let’s put that in perspective again. It will only cover 11.9 days of interest, that’s how much we’re paying every day, let’s face it every little bit regardless of how small or large matters.

Related Content

Sure-Start and why the age of austerity has a long way to go

For those of you with memories that reach all the way back to the heady days of the election campaign you might remember the scaremongering surrounding Sure-Start and alleged Tory plans to cut its funding.

The real policy position during the election was that Sure Start funding was to be refocused on its original purpose of helping those that were the most needy with their children and parenting. The criticisms of the programme at the time were that Sure-Start centres had become a home for Middle Class mums who were busy getting baby massage and yoga classes for free whilst forcing out those that needed free support the most. Conservative Plans were to move funding from programmes like these to fund an extra 2,000 Health Visitors.

During the campaign I remember Labour’s view of Sure-Start was to use it as a wedge issue for Middle Class voters, a sure sign that they knew what it had become. For me this was highlighted when Harriett Harman and another Labour front bencher visited a Sure-Start Centre leading to a quote from them (I think it was on twitter) to the effect of “I can’t believe that the Tories want to cut our baby massage funding”. Cue much coughing and spluttering from the right on why the hell are we funding that in the first place.

Now though we have a new coalition government that is doing its best to implement that manifesto and of course we’ve had the CSR which has shown just how bad the economic situation is, so everything’s changed, yes?

Well actually no. This weekend we met up with some of our fellow new parent friends, one of which attends a post-natal class at a Sure-Start centre. So far they’ve done sessions on learning through play, music and song, baby massage (of course) and a few other things. So baby massage funding remains. Fair enough you might say it is supposed to have some real world benefits, but unfortunately it gets worse. In a rather embarrassed way she then told us how the final session of the course had been left free and that the health visitor running it was delighted that she’d managed to get some funding for someone to come in and give the mothers either a pedicure or an eyebrow thread. Where’s the funding from, yes that’s right Sure Start.

Now I found this absolutely shocking. As a country we’re borrowing £500m a day, the interest payments alone are costing us £126m and money is being spent on things like this. I doubt this is an isolated case and it tells us a lot about the challenges we have in making the budget cuts we need to make to turn the economic situation around.

The biggest challenge for implementing the CSR isn’t in coming up with the plan, anyone can move numbers around on a spreadsheet. I used to be a management consultant, that and making PowerPoint presentations was much of my daily work, but getting people to actually implement them is always the challenge.

Look at this instance as just a small example. Firstly the health visitor running it had to think, yes this is a reasonable use of Sure-Start funding, then someone further up the chain presumably had to sign it off and also agree that it was a good use of tax-payer funds. At some point someone even higher up will review the budget and expenditure reports and see an invoice for beauty treatments next to Sure-Start and will presumably not question it. If there was any chance they would then it would never have been OK’d from below or requested in the first place. And don’t forget the mothers, who will also be complaining that VAT is going up and everything costs more, will also have to accept these tax-payer funded beauty treatments without question.

So are we in the age of austerity yet? Economically we are, we have to be, but psychologically we’ve got a long long way to go, not just within the public sector but also within the public itself.

Related Content