04 March 2015

Small change

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has been fined £7,500 for breaching Scottish Football Association rules on dual ownership because of his influence on the affairs of Rangers.
According to Wikipedia, Mr Ashley is down to his last £1.5 billion.


02 March 2015

Nice work if you can get it

The Times reports (paywall):
Rona Fairhead, the chairwoman of the BBC Trust, was urged to give up working for HSBC yesterday after it emerged that she was paid more than £10,000 a day by the beleaguered bank.
MPs claimed that Ms Fairhead’s earnings from HSBC, whose Geneva branch has been accused of facilitating tax evasion, raised questions about her priorities because it dwarfs the £110,000 she receives for working three days a week overseeing the BBC.
Ms Fairhead was paid £513,000 last year by HSBC for about 50 days work, including £334,000 as the non-executive chairman of HSBC North America, £160,000 as the non-executive director of HSBC Holdings and £19,000 in expenses and other benefits.
The businesswoman, 53, who also earns £130,000 for working up to 25 days a year from PepsiCo, has insisted that her BBC work is her “first priority”.
Why?  Because she's worth it - probably ...


26 February 2015

Quote of the day

The Guardian reports on the Green leader's brain fade:
Now ask yourself: how many LBC listeners who were tempted by the Greens at the start of the week will have trusted Bennett any less, in terms of the character thing, after her rambling radio performance? The answer, I’d suggest, is precious few. While Westminster insiders were listening to a social housing policy coming apart at the seams, many voters elsewhere may have heard an honest woman decline to pretend to an irritatingly insistent man that she could remember a load of statistics that only a freak would commit to memory anyway.


Believe it if you like

Ah, the HSBC chief with the complicated banking arrangements.  The BBC reports:
Mr Gulliver, who has worked for HSBC for 35 years and became chief executive in 2011, told the committee that his personal holding of a Swiss bank account through a Panamanian company had "no tax purpose".
He said the arrangement only reflected a desire for privacy from his colleagues at HSBC in Hong Kong.
He said: "It was purely about privacy from colleagues in Hong Kong and Switzerland. We had a computer system back in the day that allowed everybody to inquire into staff accounts ... I was amongst the highest paid people and I wished to preserve my privacy from colleagues. Nothing more than that."
Perfectly understandable.  He went to the trouble of setting up a Panamanian holding company to control a secret Swiss bank account, purely for reasons of privacy.  Doesn't everyone?  Nothing to do with income tax, certainly.


25 February 2015

No big deal

Should we be celebrating?  CityAM reports:

The UK’s blue chip index finally pushes past a peak that it last reached during the dot com bubble in 1999.
IT’S TAKEN more than 15 years, but the FTSE 100 rose to a record high yesterday, finally beating the level that it reached during the dot com bubble.
The blue chip index ended at a new peak of 6,949.63, beating the previous record of 6,930.2 set on 30 December 1999. Earlier, the index also set a new intra-day high of 6,958.89, surpassing the previous figure of 6,950.6, also set on 30 December 1999. The index rose slowly during the day, but there was a surge in the last 90 minutes of trading, after Eurozone finance ministers approved reform proposals submitted by Greece.
Am I bovvered?  Naw, it just makes bargain buys harder to find ...

23 February 2015

Stupid, stupid, stupid

Do we get the politicians we deserve?

How much of a stupid politician do you have to be to be taken in by journos posing as those seeking to hire MPs for access to influence? Leaving aside the venality, were they ignorant of all the previous attempts to trap MPs into cash for access? An unknown agency comes along offering them money and they can’t resist shooting themselves in the foot? Idiots.

21 February 2015

So who won?

Sorry to reduce the Brussels financial nnegotiations to the lowest common denominator but it's what matters to peasants like me.

Peston provides half an answer:
Certainly the Germans have won on the issue of form - in that Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has in the end agreed to a four-month extension of the current bailout, which is something his government swore it would never do.
Also, the monitors and enforcers of the agreement will remain Brussels, the IMF and the European Central Bank - the so-called troika so hated by Syriza (although the statement carefully avoids using the loathed term for the three-legged stool).
And the language of the statement is all about the Greeks promising to "honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely" and adopting measures to "guarantee debt sustainability in line with the November 2012 Eurogroup statement".
But along with the language of Teutonic fiscal rectitude, Mr Varoufakis has clearly secured some important wriggle room.
The fact that the Syriza government can submit its own list of economic and financial reforms to supplant those pledged by its predecessor is a breakthrough - although of course the Germans could still veto what Syriza ends up proposing.
That said, Mr Varoufakis was very clear that his government is not required to implement pension cuts and VAT rises which it has been resisting.
From his point of view what matters most is that he believes he has been given the green light to ease up on austerity, to cut spending or raise taxes less than the last administration committed to do.
In short and, as ever, they kicked the can down the road a bit.


20 February 2015

Hot air

It's not such a big deal.  The Guardian suggests the end of the world is nigh:
Centrica has slashed the dividend for its 650,000 small shareholders and plans to cut costs and investment after warm weather and falling oil prices reduced annual profits at the owner of British Gas by more than a third. 
It is the first time Centrica has cut its dividend since the company was created in 1997, and leaves many individual investors with less income than they had come to expect.
Operating profit at British Gas fell 20% to £823m because of a sharp drop in demand during the warmest year on record. The average customer bill fell by about £100, and the average profit per customer fell by almost £10 to £42.
As a customer, I welcome the reduction in my gas bill.  As a shareholder, I regret the cut in the dividend but I console myself with the realisation that the 30% cut takes the dividend from over 6% annually to slightly over 4% - which is still a lot more than I would get from putting the money in a bank account.


Syriza delenda est

From The Guardian (here):
There is a phrase for what Germany is seeking to do to Greece: a Carthaginian peace. It dates back to the Punic wars when Rome emerged victorious in its long struggle with Carthage but refused to allow its opponent the chance of an honourable surrender. Instead, it enforced a brutal settlement, burning Carthage to the ground and enslaving those inhabitants it did not massacre.
A Carthaginian peace is what is being offered to Alexis Tsipras. On Thursday, the Greek prime minister made it clear that he was willing to see the white flag of surrender flutter over Athens. He accepted that he would have to swallow most of the conditions demanded of him by Greece’s eurozone partners but asked for a few concessions to sugar the pill.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister, immediately slapped Tsipras down. What Greece was proposing was unacceptable, Schaeuble said. Unless the Germans are bluffing, and there’s nothing to suggest that they are, it leaves Greece with a binary choice: abject surrender or going nuclear.

19 February 2015

Keeping busy?

The Times reports (behind paywall):
A senior nationalist has warned that Holyrood’s vital committees cannot do their job properly because of the volume of legislation that the government is trying to push through.
Christine Grahame, convener of the powerful justice committee, has called on ministers to cut the number of bills they bring forward so that each can be scrutinised properly.
Speaking at the conveners’ committee, Ms Grahame said: “The level of legislation leaves no time — none whatsoever — for post-legislative scrutiny and hardly any time for a brief inquiry. When you’ve so many balls in the air, it makes scrutinising very difficult to do effectively.”
Perhaps they might do better if the parliament met on more than three days a week?


Does he really need the money?

Tawdry.   The Guardian reports:

Tony Blair has added Serbia to the list of countries he is paid to advise, despite his role as the chief proponent of the bombing of Belgrade in 1999.
Blair will counsel the Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, who was information minister during the war and was once such an outspoken critic of the British politician that he was listed as an editor of a book titled English Gay Fart Tony Blair.
Now Vucic and Blair find themselves on the same side, under a contract sealed by Blair’s private consultancy to set up a “delivery unit” paid for, according to Serbian official sources, by the United Arab Emirates.

Is there anything Blair will not do in order to fill his pockets?

Blair does not publish his earnings, but the Financial Times put his income for 2011 at around £20m. He is paid up to $300,000 (£195,000) a session on the lecture circuit, aides have said.
In the past he has advised countries as diverse as Rwanda, Albania, Mongolia and Kuwait.

The man has no dignity.

17 February 2015

Shades of Munich 1938

Apparently, the security establishment thinks we should  avoid provoking the Russian bear.  The Guardian reports:
Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, has warned against stepping up pressure on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, over Ukraine and said any change in power in the Kremlin “may well be for the worse”.
The west would have to learn to live with Putin, however unpalatable that may seem, Sawers told an audience of war studies students at King’s College, London. Provoking him could deepen the security crisis facing Europe, he suggested.
“The Ukraine crisis is no longer just about Ukraine,” he said. “It’s now a much bigger, more dangerous crisis, between Russia and western countries, about values and order in Europe.”
Britain’s recently retired chief spymaster said Russia had a formidable nuclear arsenal and Putin wanted these ultimate weapons in his armoury to project raw strength. Russia may have rejected European values but, Sawers said, “we deal with the Russia we have, not the Russia we’d like to have”.
The west “could take on Moscow stepping up our response. Provide weapons to Ukraine so it can defend itself. More stringent sanctions. But how would Mr Putin respond?” Sawers asked.
He added: “As long as Mr Putin sees the issue in terms of Russia’s own security he will be prepared to go further than us. So he would respond with further escalation on the ground. Perhaps cyber attacks against us. We have thousands of deaths in Ukraine. We could start to get tens of thousands. Then what?”
Does he really think that being nice to Putin will stop the latter from exerting his malign influence over Eastern Europe?  That a Western caving-in over Ukraine would put an end to Putin's territorial ambitions?  That the massive economic power of the EU compared with Russia should count for nothing?


13 February 2015

Learning Spanish

How not to do it?

Quote of the day

From a letter to The Guardian:
Observing the politicians’ evasions and avoidances concerning questions over tax and Swiss banks, why do I keep thinking of Captain Renault’s shock at finding gambling was going on in Casablanca?


12 February 2015

Music of the week


The Times reports (paywall):
The Duke of York has been promoted to the rank of vice-admiral, according to the latest Royal Navy appointments published in theLondon Gazette. The notice stated: “Her Majesty The Queen has graciously agreed that: Rear Admiral His Royal Highness The Duke of York KG GCVO ADC be promoted Vice Admiral with effect from 19 February 2015.”
Not inappropriate, in the light of recent events ...


Photo of the day

Who says financial high heidyins can't be trendy?  Christine is modelling a flash leather blouson, while Yanis combines an artfully casual scarf with his trademark tieless open-neck.


11 February 2015

You couldn't make it up

From The Times (behind paywall) (here):
Government claims that Lord Green was unaware of possible wrongdoing by HSBC’s Geneva branch were undermined by public filings revealing that the Tory peer had been on the board of HSBC’s Swiss banking unit for a decade.
HervĂ© Falciani, the HSBC employee who leaked thousands of the bank’s documents in 2007, told Newsweek that Lord Green “came to Geneva to present the world strategy at the time [the allegations took place]” and therefore “knew perfectly well” of “every problem” at the branch. HSBC’s Geneva branch has been accused of helping clients to evade tax by opening “black” accounts in their name and allowing them to withdraw huge “bricks” of cash.
Regulators in several countries, but not Britain, have opened investigations into the bank and some have signalled that criminal charges may follow.
A spokesman for Mr Cameron initially insisted that “no government minister”, including Lord Green, “had any knowledge that HSBC may have been involved in wrongdoing in relation to its Swiss banking arm”.
The statement was modified yesterday afternoon to say only that the government had “no record” that any minister had been made aware of such wrongdoing by Revenue & Customs.
An analysis of public filings reveals that Lord Green sat on the board of HSBC’s Swiss Private Bank for ten years — making him directly responsible for ensuring that the subsidiary complied with all applicable laws.
This will run and run.

09 February 2015

Quote of the day

On the subject of Osborne's prolongation of pensioner bonds (here):
Meanwhile, Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “This announcement well and truly proves that we are not all in it together. Pensioner bonds have never been anything other than a gimmick that will benefit pensioners at the expense of the taxpayer, and it beggars belief that the government is prolonging such a foolish policy. It’s high time our politicians stopped buying votes with subsidies for the old and rich.”
Too damn right.  Still, I did buy the one year version.


08 February 2015

I strapped a plastic bag to my leg and strode forth, a new man

You never appreciate a good night's sleep, until you have to get up every hour.

Just been discharged from a brief - but life-changing - hospital stay.  NHS Scotland did me proud.

My thanks to the locum GP who arranged an immediate appointment at Edinburgh’s Western General, to the medical and nursing staff at the reception service who kept me in, and to the urology department who quickly sorted me out.  I cannot praise highly enough Ward 57’s nursing and support staff who dealt with old men’s medical complaints - amid the blood and the piss - with skill and dedication, and particularly with unflagging cheerfulness and with incredible kindness.

This old man is profoundly grateful.


04 February 2015

Wishful thinking

The BBC reports:
Commenting on the Ashcroft poll, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy admitted his party was "well behind and has a big gap to close".
However, he added: "But in the end the only people who will benefit from these polls are David Cameron and the Tories. 
"It is a simple fact that the single biggest party gets to form the next government."
No, it's not a simple fact.  The single biggest party may get the opportunity to try and form a government (although even that is not assured) but it needs to command a majority in the Commons.  If Labour and SNP together have enough seats to outvote the Tories (and whatever allies they can scrape together), then Cameron will not be able to form a government. 


Bye, Duggie, Danny, Mags et al

If I were a Scottish Labour MP, I think I would be worried.  The Guardian reports:
Labour’s general election campaign chairman, Douglas Alexander, and the Liberal Democrats’ economics spokesman, Danny Alexander, are two of the most high-profile projected casualties in Scotland at the general election, according to polling research by Lord Ashcroft that was prematurely released on Tuesday night.
The long-awaited polling in 16 constituencies in Scotland suggests a 21% swing from Labour to the Scottish National party (SNP). If the results were replicated across Scotland on 7 May, Labour would lose 35 of its 41 seats, making the prospect of an overall Labour majority at Westminster much more unlikely, and close to impossible.The polling is the most detailed seat-by-seat assessment of the state of Scottish politics with just three months before the election.
In the Labour-held constituencies, the overall swing to the SNP was 25.4%. This ranged from 21% in Airdrie & Shotts to 27% in Dundee West and Motherwell & Wishaw.
What is striking is the size of the notional SNP lead over Labour in all but three of the fourteen Labour-held constituencies, previously regarded as utterly safe.  Labour has a vast amoumt to do to recover the situation.



The Guardian reports:
Sports Direct is facing a claim for millions of pounds from nearly 300 workers excluded from the retailer’s generous bonus scheme because they were on zero-hours contracts.The employees were excluded from a bonus scheme that paid out about £160m worth of shares to 2,000 “permanent” workers in 2013.
Lawyers acting for the part-time staff sent letters to Sports Direct’s legal team on Friday claiming a total of just over £1m in compensation for missed bonuses for a first batch of 30 workers. The individual claims average about £36,000 each but the highest is worth more than £100,000.
All of the first 30 seeking compensation, with help from the legal firm Leigh Day, have a minimum of five and a half years in continuous employment with Sports Direct, including the period covered by the bonus.
The total which might be payable by Sports Direct to the 300 workers would amount to a measly £10 million.  That is unlikely to make a big hole in the company's pockets.  In the year to 27 April 2014, Sports Direct had revenue of over £2.7 billion and an operating profit of over £249 million.

So go on, Sports Direct - do the right thing!


21 January 2015


The Guardian reports:
Lidl’s fashion prowess knows no bounds: ahead of Burns night on Sunday, the budget supermarket has started selling kilts. The viscose rayon mix skirt costs £29.99 and is part of a collection that includes a pleather [sic] sporran for £10 and a haggis for 99p.
Lidl first piloted the design ahead of last summer’s Commonwealth games. This “proto-kilt”, which was three yards shorter and £10 cheaper, sold out almost immediately. The new line has been rolled out in time for this weekend’s celebrations, and the collection is already close to being sold out in both London and Scotland.
But would a true Scotsman wear it? The kilt comes in at the requisite eight yards long, making it legit enough. It’s just the tartan that is causing a minor furore. The design – a muted, forgettable palette of greys, greens and blues – borrows freely from various, disparate tartans. Lidl claims it’s Highland Grey. According to theHouse of Tartan, it “resembles” Highland Granite. Brian Wilton of the Scottish Tartans Authority says: “It’s not a tartan I recognise”.
Well, you won't see me wearing it.  Not because it comes from Lidl, but because I have never ever worn a kilt.  I am not a highlander but derive (mostly) from sturdy Lowland Scots stock.  So why should I wear a throwback to teuchter fashion, popularised in Victorian times?

Besides, I havnae got the knees for it.


20 January 2015

Music of the week

Demon drink

The Independent reports:
In what may prove to be badly timed news for those struggling to observe “dry January”, scientists have discovered that having up to seven drinks a week may give you a better chance of avoiding heart failure than people who abstain from alcohol completely.
A study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that in middle-aged men, drinking up to seven small glasses of wine or about three and a half pints of beer a week was associated with a 20 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure when compared with teetotallers.
The apparent protective effects were more marginal in women, but up to seven drinks a week still gave moderate female drinkers a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart failure over their non-drinking counterparts.

Probably best not to consume all seven drinks in the one evening.


Am I smug?

Is the government being too nice to us pensioners?  CityAM certainly thinks so:

Quite simply, due to pensioners’ greater propensity to vote and their growing numbers, politicians have pandered in this Parliament to the interests of the old across a range of areas. The government has instituted a triple-lock so that the state pension increases by the higher of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5 per cent per year – completely unjustifiable according to any standard economic rationale. The policy has proved highly costly in a world where wage growth, and hence tax receipts, have been so subdued, and it is hard to defend on the grounds of fairness when working-age welfare has been increased much more slowly.
The protection of the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences and bus passes, when other universal benefits have been reformed, is also incredibly hard to justify. Compared to other spending areas, healthcare has been relatively protected – with a huge proportion of that budget spent on the old. There was also the decision to implement a form of the Dilnot recommendations on financing social care. This is in effect a subsidy for wealthier pensioners in need of care such that the state will protect the inheritance of their children.
But this clientelism in the quest for votes has perhaps been exemplified best in the past week, with the launch of the government’s “Pensioner Bonds”. National Savings and Investments is offering three-year bonds, open to over-65s only, with yields of 4 per cent. This comes at a time when the government could borrow by issuing three-year bonds with yields of around 0.6 per cent. In other words, the government is deliberately borrowing more expensively than it needs to, guaranteeing a healthy return for pensioners who are wealthy enough to be able to purchase up to the £10,000 limit. No wonder the registration website keeps crashing.
I suppose - grudgingly - that the writer has a point.  But, hey, we wrinklies don't get many breaks of a non-financial nature.  In any case, we're worth it ...

19 January 2015

Reading and writing

It is indeed a scandal that so many children leave primary school without learning to read and write properly.  But are blanket targets the best way ahead?  The BBC reports:
Mr Clegg said the coalition had cut illiteracy but said it was a "national scandal" that more than a fifth of 11-year-olds leave primary school without reaching what is regarded as the basic level in reading.
He said the Liberal Democrat manifesto would contain a pledge to eliminate child illiteracy in 10 years.
It will be measured in the Key Stage 2 exams in the final year of primary school.
Far from sure that it is actually possible to eliminate illiteracy.  There will always be some children who for internal or external reasons fail to learn to read and write.

Perhaps eliminating illiteracy is like eliminating unemployment.  In both cases, what the politicians actually mean is reducing the level to a minimum vaguely regarded as acceptable.

But Clegg is right to push for greater attention to be paid to literacy teaching.