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State-owned company under water

By Andy Mayer
December 31st, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Comments Off on State-owned company under water | Posted in Privatisation, Utilities

Northern Ireland Water: “The trusted and reliable provider of Northern Ireland’s most essential public service.”

There is failure and then there is causing a drought in Northern Ireland, one of the wettest parts of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland Water, until 2007 a state utility, and now a state owned corporation, have done more damage to reputation of the Province this Christmas than the more usual suspects, who like the pipes in the ground seem to be stuck somewhere between the 1860s and 1970s.

NIW’s priority at the moment is to fix leaks and restore supply. When normal service resumes they, and local politicians responsible for their operating environment have over 30 years of under-investment and bad decisions to reconsider.

Decisions largely tackled in the rest of the UK by the decision to privatise and regulate the industry in 1989, leading to higher levels of investment on the back of market-based charges and yardstick competition.

The Northern Ireland Minister Owen Paterson has pledged support from the mainland. This might be premature. Although NIA politicians have been quick to highlight they don’t run this corporation (for the last 3 years at least), they do set the rules. Including for example civil emergency planning signed off only in August.

And one of the most inexcusable decisions made recently (April) was not to introduce water metering on the grounds it it politically unpopular. Without metering there is little incentive for users to invest in their end of the supply chain, and less money in the system for investment. The notion that utility pricing can be set intelligently, with a view to the long-term, in isolation from supply and demand, and be politically popular makes little sense.

The mainland in that regard should not provide support for improvements without a significant changes in the structure of the industry, including full privatisation and regulatory reform. We’ve already seen in the south what unconditional bailouts look like, and the north, as the UK’s most subsidised region, is long overdue a desovietisation programme.


Cashpoint charity

By Andy Mayer
December 30th, 2010 at 9:05 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Nudge Dredd

The season of Giving has seen the Government release a Green or consultation paper on the same subject.

A more giving culture will involve “individuals and communities” giving more “money, assets, time, skills, knowledge, and energy” to “charities, community groups, and social enterprises”. With suggested solutions themed around ‘great opportunities (for giving), information, visibility, exchange (mutual benefit), and support (for successful social enterprises)’.

The most headline grabbing proposition, borrowed from Colombia, has been the idea that the Government will work with banks to encourage donation options at the point of cash withdrawal. Many of the other suggestions in the paper are also ‘nudges

The last Government gave the Police powers to march anti-social thugs to ATMs to pay behaviour fines, this one hopes to encourage everyone else to do the same voluntarily.

It’s hard to be entirely down on a project with the intent of helping people to help others. However, beyond blandishments to us ‘all being in this together‘ it hard to see what such tinkering has to do with Government. From Comic Relief to local leaflets our lives are filled with invitations and opportunities to do good with our time and money.

Very little, for example, needs to change for Banks to enable ATM-giving, other than Banks deciding it is a good idea their customers would welcome. They should be free to decide otherwise if they wish. Many other ideas in the paper are examples of things that have already happened without Government support.

And the paper is very light the most obvious thing the Government can do to encourage charitable giving, which is focusing ruthlessly on growth and keeping taxes down while tackling the deficit.

Lower taxes mean more growth, more growth means higher incomes, and higher incomes give us more control over our time and what we do with it. The CAF report charts comparing international giving are illustrative. Higher growth, and lower taxes, entirely intuitively, tend to mean more generous citizens.


Other issues of getting the Government out of the way, for example by reviewing the way bureaucratic CRB checks are deployed, are discussed and hopefully will mean less red tape in future. But we should be cautious on this, there are always political reasons not to remove red tape.

The central problem though remains that the Big Society cannot be magicked into happening through a 5-year tractor plan. This paper isn’t quite that, but then it isn’t quite the removal of Government from areas of life where it has no concern either. Less work required in future Mr. Maude…

Christmas guidance for party factions

By Andy Mayer
December 23rd, 2010 at 6:14 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Satire

Snippets of the latest ALDC handbook on how to enjoy a Liberal Democrat Christmas, have found their way to Liberal Vision. We are particularly impressed by the new focus on micro-targeting to the specific needs of different audiences.

Social Liberals

Christmas can be a troubling consumerist time of year. However don’t let this dishearten you from focusing on the needs of others and equal enjoyment of the festive spirit. Please first remember to distribute at least 0.7% of your children’s presents to an international development charity. Next bear in mind it is relative, not just absolute differences that will drive your offspring’s happiness. In this respect you will be better off buying them all exactly the same presents rather than risking upset through some kind of parcel lottery.

Economic Liberals

Whilst it is traditional in this country to enjoy the dissemination of presents from a centralised tree bureaucracy, often carried by a wise servant of the Christmas spirit, experienced in spreading joy and happiness for little personal gain, do not let this distract you from what is a neglected opportunity for experimenting with market mechanisms. Imagine your family’s sense of thrill and fun when you introduce access charges for presents and a competitive tendering process in order to ensure the most efficiency distribution of scare wrapping materials. Localised stocking distribution hubs can ensure a more personalised service and whilst this might invariably mean the same orange, walnuts and a bag of chocolate coins as last year, the principle of choice will be firmly embedded in their young minds.

Liberal Socailists Social Democrats Richard Grayson

Christmas can be a deeply lonely time of year, particularly for those made recently homeless through no fault of their own bar a disagreement with their current landlord. Happily a warm welcome awaits for you at the lost liberals shelter (current propriators E.Miliband and L.Byrne). For the small price of selling your ideas and former housemates down the river you can enjoy a leaky roof and occasional bowl of weak soup to nourish you through this time of hardship.

Liberal Libertarians

Christmas runs the risk of creating a sense of entitlement in your offspring that should be avoided at all costs. Rather than encourage such leanings consider the benefits of employing your children as helpers this yuletide and letting their natural creative tendencies in the kitchen produce a delightful feast untrammelled by irrelevant health and safety laws or the minimum wage.

Local Campaigners

You need three simple messages this Christmas, peace, understanding and winning here in 2011. Put these messages consistently into your Christmas cards, with blue-inked signatures, a bar chart, and a personal message written by your 14 year old cousin,  and you can save Santa’s Grotto from the vicious cuts your local MP has just agreed to pass into legislation with the Conservatives.

Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

EMLD would like to express their outrage that ALDC have once again produced a campaign handbook focused on a Western Christian celebration that entirely ignores the campaigning needs of the wider festival community. As a consequence we are demanding that Nick Clegg immediately set up a Fairer Festival Fund and employ an intern to investigate the institutional barriers to acceptance faced by under-represented forms of merry-making.

Lembit Opik

Just because the job entails holding a steady hand on the tiller of  sleigh pulled at 6,000 mph by genetically modified reindeer whilst being resolutely focused on the distribution of presents to children, rather than appearing in the latest copy of Heat magazine; do not let this dissuade you from running for the job of Santa Claus. Victory is within your grasp.

Coalition Ministers

Please ensure you arrive at the Palace of Westminster in good time to learn this year’s selection of tunes for Christmas

  • Silent Night
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman
  • The Man with all the Toys (cut)
  • Once in Royal David’s City
  • Little Saint Nick (revised)
  • Go tell it on the mountain (but not to the Telegraph)
  • All Alone on Christmas
  • Silent Night (reprise)

Cowley Street

Traditional festive treats such as phone canvassing and preparing the artwork of Phil Woolas smearing a snowman, have been laid on at the Mill Gate campaign headquarters in Oldham. Your families will be able to dial in to speak to you for five minutes at some point betwen the Great Escape and Queen’s Speech, where upon you will be required to deliver leaflets in Sholver celebrating the Coalition’s plans to improve your right to a work-life balance.


Please note this year’s campaign, Accession for Turkey, is not a parody.

“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”

By Andy Mayer
December 22nd, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Comments Off on “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

At this festive time, when the true spirit of commercialism is often lost in wave of sentimentality around the best excuse ever given for getting knocked up and the brutalism of Judean state maternity services, it is good to be reminded of what it means to be Business Secretary.

Were Vince Cable a Conservative Minister in a Conservative administration, he would have been sacked for prejudicing an ongoing inquiry. That he has instead been put on the naughty step and banned from watching TV, makes him very lucky.

It remains the case that the Coalition is still better off with Vince in the tent, but for the Liberal Democrat Party the erosion of the reputation of leading figures is serious.

Nick Clegg has gone from the darling of the debates to the demon of demonstrations in a matter of months. The Sage of Twickenham looks markedly more like the Old Man of Lochnagar, laid low by pixies and a conflagration of his own making. And these two were the main faces of the 2010 election campaign.

The Liberal Democrat commentariat predictably are seeking to blame the Telegraph and right-wing conspiracy for the latest outings. But the underlying issue surely is political naivety.

Ministerial dissent is a story. Journalists write stories. There is nothing unfair about this sting.

Only Rupert Murdoch has much cause for complaint with both Cable and the Telegraph. One for prejudice, the other for appearing to try and cover up that prejudice.

Cable meanwhile is compromised and diminished. Which is not a good thing for the man responsible for creating a regulatory environment conducive to the private-sector growth needed to tackle the deficit, whilst walking the tight-rope of banking and industrial politics.

We need the old Vince back; more cautious and humbled; more a decision maker than a commentator; more media savvy than savant; but his reputation and future are in his own hands. The Liberal Democrats would like him to stop taking both for granted.

The size of things

By Tom Papworth
December 22nd, 2010 at 5:12 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

After yesterday’s link to Google’s Ngram Viewer, here’s another way to while away some time.

This really cool graphic allows you to compare the size of various things, from the universe (which is about six and a half times larger than we can actually see) down to something so small that any smaller length makes “no physical sense”.

Prepare to feel very small (or large).

Hat tip to Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek.

Not so big after all

Not so big after all