Friday, 17 December 2010

Student fee 'savings' will fund windmills in Africa

Christopher Booker/Telegraph:

In the short term, the Government’s own projection as to how much it will save is that the funding of university tuition will be cut by £2.9 billion by 2014. As it happens, £2.9 billion is the sum ring-fenced, by the same public spending review, to be given to developing countries to help them fight global warming with windmills and solar panels. It is also slightly less than the £3 billion by which our public debt is rising every week. These much-vaunted “cuts” are not all we are led to believe.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Party like its 1969

Care of Adam Curtis

Here is a lovely documentary made in 1969 about that year's Christmas office party at a London advertising agency.

Prior knowledge of Swedish 'suicide bomb'?


On Sunday evening the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT) reported that they had received information that hours before the bombings in Stockholm an employee of the Swedish Armed Forces sent a warning to an acquaintance that "something serious" could happen on Drottninggatan (Queen Street).

"The Swedish Armed Forces had no knowledge beforehand about plans or the circumstances surrounding the events. If that was the case, the Swedish Secret Service as the responsible authority in such matters would immediately have been informed," said Erik Lagersten, Information Director of the Swedish Armed Forces.

The police on Monday said they hadn't found anything confirming that this message was delivered as claimed..

Human Resources

An incredibly interesting film about pscyhology and human behaviour.

Pupil Premium

Up pops an email from Sarah Teather MP spreading the good news of the pupil premium that will give £430 per year to students on free school meals from April next year. This money goes direct to the school and can be used by the Head Teacher to pay for one to one tuition, after-school clubs or breakfast clubs.

I'm a little underwhelmed by the amount. Lets take a look at the sums: at an inner London primary school with 30% free school meal children that means an extra £50,000 per year. This compares to a typical annual school budget of just over £2 million pounds or £5000 per year spent on each child. For comparison the average fee for a private school place for age 5-11 is £8,000 per year. One key indicator that reflects this is that class sizes are half the size in private schools, who are of course very picky about taking children with learning disabilities.

For the individual child on free school meals who receives the benefit of the pupil premium, this means just over £10 will be available to be spent per week over a 39 week school year. This will pay for maybe one hour's one to one tuition or an extra after school club session.

However, it is to increase over the next three years. Judging the government figures it will rise from a total of £625 million in 2011-12 to £2.5 bn in 2014-15. An increase of £625 million each year. So in three year's time there'll be £40 spend per poorest child per school week.

The real elephant in the room remains the gap between state school funding of schools and the private sector fees. I can't see how the pupil premium as it is will bridge the gulf that starts at primary level and widens thereon.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Kettling causes aggression

A psychological reason why kettling or containment causes aggression. The frustration aggression hypothesis. I'm sure this is well understood.

Flinging a pot of paint at the Royals

There is no better image of the conflict between unearned wealth and young people whose education is being made more expensive than the paint attack on Charles and Camilla's car.

The attack or protest highlights a question not even being discussed on the rigged slate of what is on the chopping board. It is a given that the state can continue to give support the Royal family but in order to reduce the deficit it has to take away from the much less well off.

The Crown Estate, nearly 700,000 acres of land, generates an income that goes to the government, of which some is given back to the Queen as a grant known as the Civil List. If you find it hard to imagine 700,000 acres, the average private homeowning family who has just 0.18 of an acre for their home.

As Kevin Cahill wrote in his book Who Owns Britain:

"The Queen an her immediate family of just eight people, believe that to be comfortable they have to have, for their use in one way or another, a quarter of the land needed to house 45 million poeple in the private sector."

The government made no savage cuts to this Royal grant. In the June budget it was frozen at £8 million per year. To that annual cost we need to add extra state expenses for travel and security totalling approximately £120 million. This is balanced by a net income to the Treasury from the Crown Estate of £200 million. The Royal family is at best revenue neutral.

The Prince of Wales personally receives revenues form 140,000 acres of the Duchy of Cornwall. This earned him a post tax income of £17 million in 2009-10. As his annual accounts tell us, he pays tax 'voluntarily on the surplus of the Duchy of Cornwall' and generates £100 million for charity each year. As we're all in this together can we look at the part-privatisation of Royal land assets?

Flinging a pot of paint at a car is something the Suffragettes would have done to draw attention to their cause. I don't know what the thoughts and beliefs of the paint flinger are, but they've drawn attention to an elephant in the room.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition fees

Martin Luther King spoke of the 'fierce urgency of now' when fighting for freedom and warned against the 'tranquillizing drug of gradualism'. I'm bemused by the rush of this government into drastic changes in many policy areas where sudden change threatens to rip apart the consent necessary for peaceful civil society. Where is the rush to change the behaviour of bankers and international speculators whose derivatives sunk the world economy? Their banking levy rate is being adjusted downwards in case, horror of horrors, it actually raises too much money from the speculative financial sector who caused this sudden retrenchment of the state.

But let's celebrate – tuition fee reform plans will allow students to have a free university education, provided they earn less than a £21,000 salary for the next 30 years. Then the government will write the outstanding loan off, so that you can start planning for your retirement the following decade.

The doubling of student tuition (or course) fees to up to £9,000 per year will not make much difference to the 7% of privately educated students who presently make up 15% of those at university. Their parents have been paying on average of £10,000 each year for their education. The children of the very rich, whose family wealth has ballooned in the last ten years, are largely immune to high fees. The more they pay the better the chance of an 'exceptional return' on their investment. The most expensive public schools skew the result. Half of the students at Westminster School (£30,000 per year) get into Oxbridge. That's an advantage worth paying for. The golden ticket of an expensive education will give them a high chance of becoming an MP – one in three of whom were educated privately. (Nearly half of Conservative MPs were privately educated.) Privately educated students are also disproportionately represented at the higher levels in journalism, the legal profession and the military.

Of course, there is no reason why the 22 of the 29 members of the cabinet who have assets and investments worth more than £1 million should not appreciate the extra burden that increased tuition fees will place on students from middle income families who graduate into jobs earning little more than the £21,000 repayment threshold.

Once this earnings threshold is crossed, the debtor must pay back at a rate of inflation (the higher RPI measure) plus 3%. Repayments for a graduate earning an average of £30,000 per year with a total loan of £40,000 will be £70 per month. Under the Browne proposals the payment depends 'only on the income of the borrower, it is independent of the interest rate and the size of debt outstanding.' After 30 years £11,000 of the loan would be repaid. The rest of the loan would then be written off. Psychologically it will be very strange for a person of 50 to still carry a debt of £30,000 around their neck from 30 years ago. They might feel a bit ashamed that they haven't managed to pay back their debt. If only they'd become a banker...

Why should 100% of the tuition fees be charged to solely to the individual? The skills gained from the degree are not the property of the student. They are employed to achieve a greater earnings potential which is taxed at a higher rate if they earn a high salary. The company they work for gets the benefit of a skilled employee who earns a profit for them. Are we happy to be a society that has taken selfishness to a new level as if neither society nor their employers benefits from their education?

When was it decided that we can't keep 40% of a generation in higher education without them paying for it, yet we can afford to keep 100% (or more accurately 93%) of the same generation in school up to the age of 18? What does it say about a society when it won't give all it's young people access to higher education. Does it fear an educated citizenry? Maths graduates who won't waste their money buying lottery tickets. History graduates that can spot the next illegal war. Economists who know that a Robin Hood tax on city financial transactions would raise enough to provide free education and a lot more besides.

This education in individual accounting opens the door to personal 'profit and loss accounts' for citizens, tracked by your NI number, where what you are able to take out of a system (for example, in terms of health care or social security) is defined by how much you've paid in over your lifetime.

Welcome to a selfish, individualistic, highly unequal, profit and loss society. Higher education - not so much 'know thyself' as 'know thy economic worth'.

Dear Nick Clegg

Dear Nick Clegg,
I'm dreaming of a Robin Hood (Financial Transaction Tax) £4bn raised at 0.1%
on derivatives trades, I'm dreaming of higher council tax on properties banded E-H raising £2bn. And I believe in a social contract where the state provides a free education.

Monday, 8 November 2010

RAF dogs patrol London streets

I'd rather we keep the dogs in their kennels and the soldiers in their barracks.

Will the punishment fit the crime? (if proven)

"There are those that argue that the Government should hold a public inquiry into these unproven allegations now – we disagree. A costly public inquiry would be unable to investigate individual criminal behaviour or impose punishments. Any such inquiry would arguably therefore not be in the best interests of the individual complainants who have raised these allegations."

Saturday, 30 October 2010

How MI5 kept watchdog in the dark over detainees' claims of torture

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Millions more caught in HMRC tax chaos ... chief executive admits organisation has no idea of the number of mistakes.

Welcome to the technocratic nightmare :

‘The numbers will keep moving. Each time we do another batch we test assumptions against reality and judge what we think is in the rest of the mix.'

Screen time linked to psychological problems in children

(via &

Children who spend longer than two hours in front of a computer or television screen are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties, regardless of how physically active they are.

The PEACH project, a study of over a 1,000 children aged between ten and 11, measured the time children spent in front of a screen as well as their psychological well being. In addition, an activity monitor recorded both children's sedentary time and moderate physical activity. The results showed that more than two hours per day of both television viewing and recreational computer use were related to higher psychological difficulty scores, regardless of how much time the children spent on physical activity.

The authors of the report, published in the November edition of the American journal Pediatrics, conclude that limiting children's screen time may be important for ensuring children's future health and wellbeing.

According to the activity monitor, the children in the study who spent more time sedentary had better psychological scores overall. Those children who did more moderate physical activity fared better in certain psychological areas, including emotional and peer problems, but fared worse in some areas related to behaviour, including hyperactivity.

Lead author Dr Angie Page from the University of Bristol's Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences said: "Whilst low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, we cannot rely on physical activity to 'compensate' for long hours of screen viewing.

"Watching TV or playing computer games for more than two hours a day is related to greater psychological difficulties irrespective of how active children are."

Children's psychological wellbeing was assessed on the basis of a strengths and difficulties questionnaire which rated their emotional, peer, conduct and hyperactivity problems.

The children were asked to rate a series of statements as true on a three-point scale, varying from not true, to somewhat true to certainly true. Statements to assess their emotional wellbeing included; 'I am often unhappy, down-hearted or tearful', while statements to assess their peer problems included; 'I am usually on my own', 'I generally play alone or keep to myself'.


This work was supported by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF UK) and the National Prevention Research Initiative.

Free Education ! (at the point of access)

The Browne review on higher education funding promises free education with no upfront fees at the point of access. A kind of buy now pay later approach which reminds me of a credit card with a 0% interest rate for a year or so - but then watch out.

What slice of income will be taken out of the monthly pay of a graduate earning £21,000 who is repaying a £40,000 debt? How hard will it be to make ends meet from month to month, let alone start thinking about buying a place to live, or even marrying another graduate and doubling the household debt? I'm thinking here of graduates who can't go to the bank of mum and dad for extra funding. The middle of the middle class gets 'kippered' to use the word that Nigel Lawson used when deciding not to press ahead with tuition fees during the last conservative government.

I withhold judgement on the final shape of the plans, because Vince Cable urged me to do so by an email, but societally it will lead to even more compliant graduates who will be desperate to hold onto their jobs. Corporate creatures to whom the thought of going on a demonstration or protest where they might get into trouble would be out of the question. Here lies an answer to why students have not been motivated to protest more against the great recession. They're too busy working at jobs while still at university. Someone doing a humanities degree with a few hours of tutorials and lectures each week has plenty of 'flexibility' to do the low paid service jobs this economy excels in creating. Now that's value for money.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Death squads in Pakistan

From a fascinating summary of Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars. This worrying escalation of the war into Pakistan will lead to more destabilisation of the region. Remember Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia? It was the Domino theory then, now it's the safe havens for Al Qaeda, however small their actual numbers are...
The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. Woodward describes these teams as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.

Wind farms: economic facts

I just want facts on the cost of renewables. Some breakthrough here, thanks to Christopher Brooker

Also lessons from the Spanish Renewables Bubble.

Something I didn't know

By the end of 2009, some 40,000 children living in Poland were receiving British child benefit – which is significantly higher than similar support in their own country. In Poland, the equivalent is about £5 a week.