Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lisbon treaty referendum....

I'm annoyed at the inherently undemocratic way the UK has ratified the Lisbon Treaty (essentially, Labour and the LibDems broke their election promise of 2005 to hold a referendum).

David Cameron promised that if a Conservative government was elected before the treaty was ratified, he'd hold a referendum on the treaty. The treaty is now ratified.

If he were therefore to hold a referendum on Lisbon now - it wouldn't have any effect - the UK can't simply renege on a signed, ratified international treaty. Simply running that referendum is going to be the behaviour of those who can't accept reality.

That's not to say a referendum shouldn't be held on something - merely that Lisbon can no longer be the subject of the referendum per se. We're told an announcement will take place this afternoon - it will be interesting to see what happens.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Maternity Leave and the pay gap....

There's been a fair amount of debate over the last few days after Nicola Pease's comments about maternity leave and the fact it may be indirectly hurting women's advancement in the work place.

Julia Llewellyn Smith has an article in the Telegraph today in which she discusses the impact of extended maternity leave on mothers. Much of the article is anecdote about mothers, who have high flying compensation packages and don't hesitate to exploit them to the full (while simultaneously complaining about welfare scroungers). The one piece of data though is "studies show three female doctors have to be trained to produce the same 'work time output' as two men."

We're constantly told that there is a pay gap between men and women - there are a number of reasons for this, and it's certainly not as simple as plain sexual discrimination. According to the NSO, there were 28.9 million people in employment in the UK last year. Let's assume that 15 million of those are men.

Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Frank Lampard between them earn over 400k a week - or alternatively, three footballers earn 20 million a year between them as a base salary (before bonuses or other endorsements). I make that those three men alone add £1.33 to the average male salary in the UK. When you include the rest of the Premier League - that suddenly adds a lot to the gap. But the fact that Premier League footballers earn a lot is hardly news - nor does it really make that much difference to what the man on the street earns. The reality is that the really well paid entertainment stars up the rate, and it does seem the bulk of them are men (women's football is not as well paid, and girl groups don't appear to have the staying power of boys groups - see the X Factor voting patterns).

But even when you bring it down to the level of somewhere like the NHS, where salaries are set according to bands which you have to work your way up through. The overall cost of hiring a man of 25 on 25k a year is less than that of hiring a woman of 25k. This is because the cost of hiring the woman is increased by her maternity benefits - this does carry a cost, in terms of paying her for the nine months she might not be working as well as paying her replacement. In addition, this is exacerbated by the pension costs - many women are entitled to receive pensions at 60, whereas men have to wait 65. As women tend to live longer, the cost of supplying a pension of X to a woman is more than it is for a man of the same age, never mind how much more it is if you allow the woman to claim the amount five years earlier.

None of this is to suggest that sex discrimination doesn't happen - but it's to point out that there are often hidden financial costs to legislation that is meant to level the playing field. As has been pointed out elsewhere (and in much fruitier language - don't read if easily offended) if the results of the legislation you pass creates perverse and unintended incentives, why then express surprise that people act on those incentives?

As for the idiotic idea that childless women should somehow be entitled to "maternity" leave, words fail me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cuts in public services.

Via a friend on Facebook, I was pointed to this article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. In which she asks why the public sector should pay the price when "reckless banks" are to blame for the deficit rather than "state extravagance"? She calls the idea that the state sector might be to blame "poisonous".

In a sense, she is right. The current recession isn't the fault of the state sector. However, the deficit quite clearly is.

Deficits occur because the government spends more money than it receives. (I know this should be obvious, but Toynbee appears to believe that taking money from people and spending it through an inefficient public sector somehow drives growth, so I can't assume anything). If we are run to deficit in the bad times (Keynsian economics), then the counter side to that is during the good times, you run a surplus, in order to be prudent and have some money in the bank to pay for the deficit in the bad times. The problem is that over the last 12 years, the government haven't felt the need to do that, spending it all on a splurge of increased public spending - believing the solution to any problem was a combination of top down targets and throwing more money at it - while simultaneously increasing the tax burden (the removal of the cap on NI, the increase in NI, the abolition of the 10p tax band) - all of which was presided over as Chancellor by the current Prime Minister (whose arrival in number 10 was greeted with such huge enthusiasm by Toynbee).

It may not be fair that the public sector might be carrying the can for a deficit that wasn't their fault - but nor is it fair that in the private sector there are hiring freezes and staff reduction programs in large companies for employees who aren't responsible for the recession either.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Um... it's called democracy...

The Telegraph reports that despite the attempt to railroad the Lisbon Treaty through by holding a second referendum in Ireland it may be delayed until after the British general election because the Czechs have some legal issues to be resolved.

Particularly intriguing is this quote:

Mr Sarkozy then threatened the Czech leader with unspecified "consequences" if Prague allowed the delay to trigger a British referendum that would probably lead to the Lisbon Treaty's rejection.

So, thats the clear admission then. The attempt is to get this Treaty through before the Tories can "wreck" it by actually reflecting the will of the British people on the treaty (anti Lisbon parties easily took over 50% of the votes in this years Euro elections).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dell update

Here's the email I sent Dell last night on arrival back from Belgium (a subject on which I shall write more later). I've removed the name of the customer service agent I've been dealing with via email. Apologies for any formatting issue, probably to do with Chrome, Gmail and Blogger not playing nice with each other. I blame Dell, as I'd actually bother to work this out properly if I was using my new shiny laptop!


I have now returned from my holiday, and despite this being about the
eighth promise of an update, I notice there is still no news, despite
the fact you mailed this promise on Wednesday.

To be clear, I have been made the following promises:

1. On August 18th, I was promised a response by the end of the day.
2. Having called at 5pm that day, I was then told the response would
be on Thursday August 20th.
3. On August 20th, I called and was told by the supervisor that a
response would be forthcoming by the close of play on Friday August
21st. The supervisor assured me that the matter had been "escalated
with the courier".
4. I called at 5:15pm on that Friday, to be assured an updated would
still be forthcoming that day.
5. As you can see from the email thread below, you emailed me on
Monday 24th to assure me of an update by the end of that day.
6. On Tuesday 25th I was then emailed and told on the phone that a
response would be forthcoming by Friday 28th. At this point, I
informed the customer service agent I was talking to that I would not
be in the UK for the working week ending September 4th.
7. On Friday 28th, I called again to be told that an update was not
then expected until Tuesday September 1st.
8. On Wednesday September 2nd you sent the email below promising an
update by the end of September 3rd. It is now late in the evening on
September 4th.

This means that Dell Customer Service have now missed seven seperate
commitments for an update.

On Tuesday, I was contacted directly by the courier with a return
number in Ireland. Despite being on holiday and therefore having to
pay roaming charges on top of the outrageous amounts typically charged
by mobile companies for international calls, I returned the call to
the courier. I was informed that having now confirmed that I did not
know "J Jones", they would now need to interview the driver. This
was a full fortnight after I initially raised the issue. When I
expressed my dissatisfaction about this, I was told a) that the
courier might take until September 6th to complete their investigation
(I presume she in fact meant the 7th, the 6th being a Sunday) and this
was what the SLA with Dell was. I was further informed that from the
point of view of the courier, the issue was only raised on August 27th
- nine days after I initially raised the issue and a full week after I
had been reassured by one of your supervisors that the issue had been
escalated with the courier. Clearly it wasn't escalated very well!

On returning from my holiday, I have received confirmation from my
bank that the money Dell took off my credit card has now been credited
back to my account. Considering the way Dell have handled this
matter, I am going to take some convincing to allow the bank to
release the money back to Dell.

I would therefore like to ask the following questions to Dell:

1. Why have you consistently failed to meet any of the seven
commitments regarding issue update/resolution that I have been given?
2. Why is the courier company (Walsh Western) saying it took nine
days before they were asked to investigate the misdelivery?

Kind regards,

Thomas Bridge

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I will never buy from Dell again...

I had hoped that I might be typing my next blog entry on a brand new Dell laptop, which I ordered a couple of weeks ago. Oddly enough, this was a big thing for me - despite my advanced age of 34 and my general geekery, I have never actually bought myself a laptop - the three laptops I've had since 2000 were all company laptops which to a greater or lesser extent could also be used for personal purposes - though being moved to my employer's standard build a few months ago meant I couldn't really do anything on my laptop.

This was a problem for a few reasons - I couldn't install the software I needed for my Open University course, the laptop only worked for internet access when connected through the corporate VPN, but the most significant thing is I'm leaving at the end of next week with a view to going contracting.

So having decided I couldn't really justify the expense of a new Apple, I placed an order with Dell for a generally well specced, beefed up laptop. Yesterday I received an automatic call saying "your new laptop will be delivered tomorrow am". Generally quite impressed - they've only taken about ten days to assemble the laptop and ship it from China. (Yes, I'm the sort of saddo that regularly checks the shipping info on their site to find out where the laptop was).

And that's where the entire thing fell apart.

I spent the morning at home on tenterhooks waiting for the doorbell to ring. Regular checks showed me that the laptop had left the depot in Chelmsford at 9:45.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

By two o'clock, I was starting to wonder where the laptop had got to. At quarter past 2, I reloaded the shipping page to discover it had been signed for at 12:08 by someone called "J Jones." I've no idea who J Jones is.

So a quick call to Dell.

Me: "I'm wondering where my laptop is. According to the shipping stuff, it's been delivered, but it's not here! It's signed by someone called J. Jones, who I've never heard of"

Dell in Delhi(*): "Please hold Sir... Sir, according to our records, the laptop is delivered and J. Jones signed for it".

Me: "Yes, I just said that. The thing is, there's no J Jones here. We've been here all morning, so it's not like the delivery people left it with the neighbour. Not that I think we have any Jones as neighbours".

Dell: "i'm sorry Sir, but it's marked as delivered."

Me: "No it isn't".

Dell: "Well Sir, I can ask the carrier to send us the slip, which I can then email to you."

Me: "which will prove it was signed for by someone I've never, ever heard of. Can't you just take my word for it now?"

Dell: "Sorry Sir. I need an email. I will contact you by end of the day".

I rang them an hour later, to get the "no news message." I did suggest that while they were at it, they should find out where the laptop is (if it's been misdelivered to another house in the village / borough / county I'm sad enough to drive over to get it!). I also tried to contact the courier company direct (Walsh Western, now Syncreon) but their automated systems can only tell me the laptop is "delivered".

At 5:30, I call back, as I still haven't received my email. Dell in Delhi informed me that that the lady I had dealt with earlier had gone home, but it would be 48 hours before they would get the slip from the courier. When I get through to customer service, they are about as much help as Gordon Brown is to Labour's re-election prospects. At this point I decide I've had enough - I want to cancel as the alternative seems to be fighting Dell's multi menu system to get through to people who can't tell me what's going for at least another week. I'm then informed that I can't cancel the order until "their investigation is complete" as the laptop has been "delivered". My insistence that:
  • It hadn't been delivered to the delivery address.
  • It hadn't been signed for by anyone known to anyone at the delivery address.
  • I reminded them that Dell that on their own website it's very clear for security reasons they will only deliver to the address on the credit card. They clearly have not done this!
was met with a response of "it's delivered Sir".

The day ended with my calling Halifax and disputing the payment to Dell. Updates will follow!

(*) - I don't know that's where Dell's call centre actually is, but the lack of Irish accents and the prevalance of Indian ones on the phone plus a vague recollection of some Irish news reports makes me think I was talking to an Indian call centre, and I can't resist the alliteration.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Harriet Harman says Thatcher's government was best...

After all, that's the only obvious conclusion one can draw from her statements to the Times:
I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions.
and when she "insisted that men should not be left to run things on their own."

The only 20th century premiership that had a leader/deputy leader pairing of a woman and a man was of course the Thatcher premiership.

I'm not unsympathetic to the notion it was successful, I just wasn't expecting the endorsement of the deputy leader of the Labour Party.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Note for the BNP...

Dear British National Party,

The next time you wish to leaflet my house, I would very much appreciate if you could simply deliver some Andrex.

I'll know immediately who it's from, and it will have the advantage of being softer and more absorbent.

Not to mention the fact that it won't already be full of shit.

Thank you in advance,


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Democracy in action....

Was recently seen at Brentwood Council when councillors voted on the issue of approving the William Hunter way development (or not!).

It now transpires that pretty much the last legal hurdle the council had to get over has now been cleared, in that the Secretary of State for Communities has decided not to call the development in for review. The Gazette reports one protestor as saying:

"The whole process represents a dark day for local democracy.
Nope, it's actually a very good day for local democracy when the Secretary of State (who is herself an MP for a North West seat and a member of a party that has two representatives on our borough council) decides not to overrule the decisions of the democratically elected local representatives.

I've expressed concerns already at the rules that means councillors who state an opinion on developments outside of the council chamber (to the extent that if you are elected on a platform for or against a proposed development, you're automatically excluded from voting on that development) but the fact remains that an absolute majority of councillors voted for this proposal.

What is equally amusing is that the protestor goes on to say that Brandon Lewis has failed to
to engage and captivate local people's imagination
I've only met Brandon a couple of times - and both of those were in passing - but I can say from having attended last week's council meeting that it was quite clear Councillor David Kendall for one would have to disagree, given that under Brandon's leadership of the local Conservative party the number of seats held by the Conservatives on the council has gone from nine to twenty eight.

Speaking as a Tory, if that's a failure, then here's to a lot more of it at the next general election!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sir Fred's pension

As the Devil and Tim Worstall point out, if Sir Fred Goodwin's pension was part of an agreement reached between him and RBS as he exited the company, there's really no grounds in law for confiscating his pension money if he's not willing to give it up voluntarily. Sir Fred claims that he has already made a number of gestures in terms of his entitlements from RBS, and that the pension relates not just to his time in RBS but also his previous employments. Sir Fred also makes the claim that his pension arrangements "have not fundamentally altered" from when he joined RBS in 1998.

During his time in RBS, Mr Fred Goodwin became Sir Fred, due partly to the intervention of the then Chancellor. The same Chancellor whose regulatory system completely failed to prevent the collapse and (partial) nationalisation of several banks. Perhaps Sir Fred should consider this - offering to take the same percentage cut in his pension as the then Chancellor, given that they both messed up on the job.

I wonder how well that would play with the current resident of Number 10 Downing Street.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

William Hunter way and democracy

I attended last night's Council meeting to have a look at local democracy in action - I had been told the main focus would be the budget, but it turned out the main topic of interest was the proposed planning development for William Hunter Way, a matter of intense controversy locally. The plans were being brought to full council for approval - leading to the public areas being packed with opponents of the developments.

I have no strong views on the development - I haven't studied it in enough detail, but it was clear to me that the only way this was going to fail to pass was if there were sufficent opposition from within the local Conservative group (as a majority of the council is 19 and they make up 28 of the 37 councillors). In the end - despite the absence of three Conservative councillors, and a "rebellion" and a few rebels voting against, 20 votes were cast for the development and it passed.

The thing that appalls me though is the number of councillors who had to step out of the chamber for the debate because they had publicly expressed opposition outside of council to the development - this was a cross party issue, as Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative councillors all excused themselves. Some of the councillors actually represented the ward in which this controversial development is to be built. Legal advice was that this was a requirement laid down by central government.

If this was a swear blog, I'd make the Devil's Kitchen look the soul of reason. This is totally ridiculous - what's the point of electing local councillors if the moment they start to represent the interests of those who voted for them they lose their ability to vote on the issues they care about? It wouldn't have made any difference in this case, but it's still fundamentally flawed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ivan Cameron

As a father myself, I can just about start to get an idea of the pain David and Samantha Cameron must be feeling today.

Today is not a day for party politics - as recognised by the Prime Minister who made the very wise decision to cancel PMQs today - and instead made a very moving speech on the subject - he of course, has some idea of the pain the Camerons must be feeling after the death of his own daughter.

David Cameron is a church goer - it might be some consolation for him to realise there is a little angel in heaven tonight praying for him.