Thursday, 22 February 2018

More Brexit Bounty - it just keeps coming

More Brexit good news this week.

As the stats above from migration watch show, finally immigration is on a downward trend. Clearly, there still along way to go to get back to something like a sustainable level under 100,000, but still progress.

In related and entirely unsurprising news, we also have seen this week that wage growth in picking up - notably amongst the lowest paid. Sir Stuart Rose was right in the referendum campaign after all, Brexit is good for the lowest paid (he was trying to defend the remain side if you recall...oh, what fun the campaigning was!)

Unemployment is fractionally up, a sign of things to come I think as our fast growing population is going to generate a lot of new entrants over the next few years, whereas our average economic growth will generate slightly less as wage increases stop companies from using cheap labour over investment as their business model of choice.

And of course, exports are at all time highs to Europe and elsewhere in the world, on the back of a week pound. However, that benefit of Brexit is wearing off and will be gone if the Government agree any kind of basic Brexit deal or better then the Pound will shoot up.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Gummer Sees The Light

We haven't always been kind to John Selwyn Gummer, aka Lord Deben of Horse-Manure.   Jasper Carrot's epithet has generally seemed appropriate; and I myself may have described him as "one of the 1990's prime candidates for Worst Cabinet Minister".

But I am nothing if not fair: and in fairness must therefore record that Gummer the Bummer has delivered himself of something broadly intelligent.
Q184  You are clearly very supportive of moving to more renewable methods and you spoke about the lead that this country has had. We might be able to get a lead in tidal energy. A proposal was put forward for a pathfinder project in south Wales. Do you have any views about whether that should proceed?
Lord Deben: We have looked at it very carefully. I am a great believer, as is the committee, in the whole issue of energy diversity. You would be very foolish to rely on one sort of thing. I am instinctively for it. However, it is significantly more expensive and you have to think about whether it is the sort of technology that is likely to reduce significantly in cost if you create a market and scale it up. The problem with the whole argument is that much of the cost is in the construction business—the pouring of concrete. It is difficult to see how, by building more and more of them, they are going to decline in cost significantly. It is difficult to see that.
Q185 Would people not have said the same about wind turbines 10 years ago?
Lord Deben: People may have said that but that would not have been a parallel because, if you can, for example, change the whole system of gearing and if you can have much bigger sales on them, so to speak, if you can have floating ones and if you can take them out and plant them in the sea for 10 months of the year instead of five months of the year because they are bigger and you have bigger boats and things, then all of that could be worked out. It has just been very much faster. One has to look at the realities and we have so far not been convinced of that. I say that as somebody who is, in fact, biased; I have to aim against a bias. I do think tidal energy is an important thing ... As you know, I was a promoter, before I did this job, for the Severn Barrage, so I am not opposed to it. We have done some really hard work on it and I am open to being convinced. In the end, I think the Government are probably right in questioning whether this is where they want to put their money.
Intelligent?  Well, in a monkeys / typewriters sort of way.  He couldn't keep it up, of course, because he went on: 
If you said to me, “Will you pay a bit more for your electricity so that, in 30 years’ time, your grandchildren will have free electricity in very large amounts for 100 years without very much change in it?” I might say to myself, “That sounds rather like a good deal”.
Nope - it's very stupid.  But: credit where it's due.  He's added his tuppence-worth to the undermining of the Swansea Lagoon monstrosity and we'll leave him alone.



Monday, 19 February 2018

Is a degree worth it in 2018?

It has long been a bugbear of mine that the UK Government, oddly led by Blair at the time, took some sharp steps towards privatising the University sector, but then took fright and left it as a bodge job.

Blair rightly brought in student fees. Students would now pay for their courses, albeit with cheap government loans and this would shine a light onto the excesses of the state sector. And lo, so it came to pass that degrees in Madonna Studies and Kite Flying from ex-polytechnics quickly fell out of favour now that some responsibility was imposed.

Equally though, remained the challenge of differing value for courses. Your author hear studied for a degree in history which required occasionally focus for an hour or two a couple of times a week; friends studying medicine or pharmacy worked very hard indeed - in expensive labs with expensive equipment. The move to fees mean all these courses still cost the same, despite the input costs from the university's being very different indeed. Overall, arts degrees subsidise STEM subjects massively.

Now, Theresa May has recognised this and has moved out of the jobs a couple of ministers (Greening and Jo Johnson) who were firmly captured by the sector and repeated the line of how ending this subsidy would be the end of university courses.

To me something way more fundamental has happened in the last 20 years. The internet has revolutionised learning like nothing before. Apps can teach you a language for free, any information can be gleaned from google for free. Research projects now are either laughably easy or arduous in the extreme if, in the latter case, you actually have to find out something new.

Moreover, the big shortage in the economy is in tech jobs, learning tech and programming is just not a university level of study - it is far more akin to A-levels in terms of depth and length. You can't just learn on programming language anyway.

So now is absolutely the right time to review what is being taught at Universities, how much it costs and what subsidies (as ever!) should be directed where. One point is key, people should not be burdened with costs for useless degrees to which they were guided as kids by their betters.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Friday funny; Tories rising in the polls

It is hard to reflect on a worse period of Government than currently. Of course we have the disastrous Brown years as a recent measure of ineptitude. That will hopefully never be topped.

The Major years were bad too at the end, but only politically, economically they were very successful indeed after 1992.

The May years, notably after a period of good Government by Cameron, feel quite bad. The Brexit mess, and what a mess it is, at least is not of her own making and she is trying to straighten spaghetti long after the pot has boiled.

What is so notable is that when Brown was at his worst, he trailed the Tories in the polls by 20 points plus, Major was even 30 points down on Blair.

Mrs May, it seems, is there or thereabout against Corbyn, with a hair's breadth between them. For all the huffing of momentum there is a big lack of buyers for radical socialism in the shires of England.

On any historical view, this must simply be hilarious that Labour - who with this historical view be in teens ahead at least and should have easily won the snap election, are instead meandering around.

Perhaps in due course the momentum ground game will catch-up and the Tories be thwarted, but I have my doubts this socialist game will play too far beyond the ancient borders of Islington, Manchester and Liverpool. Huge majorities beckon in a large number of seats, but well under 200.

So perhaps we will yet be spared Corbyn as Prime Minister?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Oxfam - And The Rest

Oxfam is without doubt only the start of this one.  Distressing to relate, the whole sector is riddled with abuses, of money as well as people, but it's always been "all too difficult" for anything to be done.  The UN agencies are the worst, particularly the ones carrying guns:  across the world the famous light blue beret - as worn by rag-tag armies acting as UN "peacekeepers" - brings bad news for the womenfolk.  And we now learn the Oxfam scandal extends even to children serving in their charity shops!

Fitting material for a mighty new global #MeToo2 ...  but are we really holding our collective breath for it?  Any more than we are expecting the corps of saintly feminist-activists to launch a meaningful campaign against FGM, or the US entertainment industry to initiate a major exposé of the behaviour of hip-hop artists towards young ladies.  No; all too difficult.  We had better just keep our social commentary to ourselves.