Saturday, 30 June 2012

Time to hold the finance industry to account.

Have you, like me got a feeling that we have been treated as mugs by the finance industry for far too long, and that politicians were acquiescence to their wrongdoing.

As I said a few days before this is far more than just Bob Diamond alone. The latest scandal to hit the big banks (you remember vital to saving SME's) is selling complex products to, as the FSA puts it 'non-sophisticated' customers.

Not forgetting the Libor fiasco, which now transpires that Mervyn King, Bank of England Governor, wanted reformed back in 2008 but the British Banker's Association said no (Hat Tip The Times). Noticed how quiet they have become these days?

There's also the miss-selling of insurance products, endowment mortgage's, lack of investment in IT, the infamous RBS computer crash to name just a few...and you get a definite feeling that it's far more than Bob Diamond alone.

In essence the whole culture and practices of the finance industry need to be called into question, and that will not be achieved by a narrow inquiry into the setting of the Libor rates. We know what went wrong there, to paraphrase TV it was 'When Self Regulation went bad'. I suppose a similar reason for setting up the Leveson Inquiry, that self regulation of the newspapers had also gone wrong.

So please sign the following e-petition:

Public inquiry into wrongdoing and ethics of bankers

"We the undersigned call for an independent, judicial public enquiry into fraud, wrongdoing and ethics of British banks, their management and their staff, and the role of the British Bankers Association. The terms of reference of this inquiry should also include the manipulation of interest rates on about £225 trillion of assets. The inquiry must have full powers to compel witnesses to appear on oath, and to obtain all forms of evidence."

Though, we cant escape blame totally either; whilst we may have been oblivious to the full scale of their shenanigans, we nevertheless were all to happy to have free banking, plenty of credit and buy now pay later deals. We all went on a big spending spree.

As we are kept being reminded UK public debt is nearly $2 trillion. But consider this - according to CIA Factbook the UK total public and private debt owed to nonresidents last year was $9,836,000,000,000. That's nearly $10 trillion (or $158,611 per person living in UK) compared to USA total external debt of $14,710,000,000,000.

I cant really get my mind around such numbers, one thing for sure we cant carry on as we are. We may have to pay for banking services in the future, credit may be more expensive, but if this means a more stable economy so be it.

To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, this is not the end of the consumerism. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Some statistics about Ynys Môn

After reading the Daily Post, once again, saying that Ynys Môn had the lowest GDP of UK (doh!!!), I thought on a rainy afternoon I'd look up some statistics from  StatsWales.

In 2001 the percentage of the population in employment (16-65) on Ynys Môn was 66.3% as compared to the welsh average of 67.1%, whereas in 2010 that had risen to 69.5% compared to the welsh average of 66.2%.

In May 2009 the monthly claimant count was 2,009 whereas in May 2012 the provisional figures are 1,786.

Now the bit the Daily Post gets wrong. In 1997 the Sub-regional Gross Value Added (GVA) where UK=100, by Welsh NUTS3 area for Ynys Môn was 49.6% and in 2009 57.2%

OK it still means the island is in the bottom 5 in the UK but it is still ahead of Gwent Valleys (53.3%) and Wirral (53.7%)

In 1997 the Gross disposable household income where UK=100, by Welsh NUTS3 areas for Ynys Môn was 86.9% and the provisional figure for 2010 is 90.5% as compared to the welsh average of 87.7%

Note: Gross disposable household income is an estimate of the amount of money that households have available for consumption expenditure or saving. It is equivalent to the excess of income (including earnings, pensions, investments, benefits etc) over expenditures associated with their income (tax, property ownership and the provision for future pension provision).

In 2001 there was 67,806 of us living on Ynys Môn and in 2010 a few more 68,592.

So next time the Daily Post, and or the Welsh Conservatives march out their lazy narrative in an attack on Plaid Cymru and/or Ieuan Wyn Jones AM - usually along the lines that Plaid Cymru have made it worse on the island, lowest GDP in UK etc etc I hope you do remind them of the facts.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Libor - This is far bigger than Bob Diamond alone.

Today British politicians are falling over each other in a blame game of whom is responsible for the Libor (London interbank offered rate) fiasco. But surely they themselves cant completely escape blame either, as someone asked is this the banks 'Leveson' moment, did politicians and bankers become too close? - was it a case of you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours (or was that F1 I'm thinking about). Should we now have  a 'Leveson' type inquiry into this whole mess?

After all questions about Libor have been around for some time.

Back in May 2008, The Wall Street Journal cast doubt on the Libor rate - The following is an extract from The Wall Street Journal Article -  Study Casts Doubt on Key Rate.

Major banks are contributing to the erratic behavior of a crucial global lending benchmark, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows.

The Journal analysis indicates that Citigroup Inc., WestLB, HBOS PLC, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and UBS AG are among the banks that have been reporting significantly lower borrowing costs for the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, than what another market measure suggests they should be. Those five banks are members of a 16-bank panel that reports rates used to calculate Libor in dollars.

And an entry was added to the Libor Wikipedia page about the above study in September 2008, as well as the following:

To further bring this case to light, The Wall Street Journal released another article dealing with this matter titled "U.S. Probe Presents Dilemma over Libor" on Friday, March 18, 2011. The article stated that regulators are focusing on Bank of America Corp., Citi-group Inc. and UBS AG. Making a case would be very difficult because determining the Libor rate does not occur on an open exchange. According to people familiar with the situation, subpoenas have been issued to the three banks.

In response to the study released by the WSJ, the British Bankers' Association announced that Libor continues to be reliable even in times of financial crisis. According to the British Bankers' Association, other proxies for financial health, such as the default-credit-insurance market, are not necessarily more sound than Libor at times of financial crisis, though they are more widely used in Latin America, especially the Ecuadorian and Bolivian markets.

Libor serves as a benchmark for around $350 trillion of financial instruments around the world. Libor is set daily by Thomson Reuters in a process overseen by the British Bankers' Association.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal - Interest Rate Probe Escalates says:

In its filing, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) alleged that a senior manager at Barclays warned the bankers' association in a phone call in 2008 that the bank hadn't been submitting accurate Libor rates, while claiming it was not the worst offender on the panel.

"We're clean, but we're dirty-clean, rather than clean-clean," the CFTC said that the Barclays employee stated. It added that the bankers' association representative responded: "No one's clean-clean."

A spokesman for the association said Wednesday that the group wasn't aware of the events described by the CFTC and would "conduct a full inquiry into this."

As you can see and read elsewhere, this is far bigger than Bod Diamond alone.

See also: Zero Hedge - British Bankers Association Is "Shocked"

To view  WSJ LIBOR: Historical Data

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A fair tax system and Vodafone.

To delay the introduction of the 3p rise in fuel duty the Chancellor needs to find around £500,000,000 from somewhere. But where will this money come from? - we are told over and over by the Conservatives that there is no money left.

Maybe it would help if we had strong and clear tax laws, that clamped down on companies using tax havens or dubious tax avoidance schemes as a means of  reducing their tax liability. After all large companies go out of their way to show how green and ethical they are, but still think it's OK to employ tax avoidance schemes.

At the end of March 2012 BBC News reported - In his Budget speech, Chancellor George Osborne spoke of his disdain for tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, describing both as "morally repugnant".

And what sort of aggressive tax avoidance are we talking about?

An article on Reuters website by Tom Bergin -  Insight: Vodafone in new 1 billion pounds tax "scandal" , alleges that Vodafone has shaved at least 1 billion pounds off  UK taxes over the past decade.

You remember Vodafone whom back in 2010 denied they had a tax liability of £6bn to the UK. A spokesman for Vodafone speaking to  BBC News at the time denied the tax bill reports, adding: "We pay our taxes in the UK and all of the other countries in which we operate."

Although if Reuters is correct whilst Vodafone does pay it taxes in the UK, in 'other countries' such as Germany and Spain they pay more. And before you start saying how lower taxes makes a country more competitive, do read the above Reuters article and their comparison between Germany and  UK and Vodafone investment.

We wait to see details of the Chancellor Treasury's plans to introduce a General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR), which aims to deter abusive tax avoidance schemes, by reducing legal uncertainty around what constitutes aggressive tax avoidance as opposed to legitimate tax planning. And whether in addition to stronger powers, HRMC will be given adequate resources to make a difference in clamping down on tax avoidance.

But seeing that David Cameron recently said at the G20 summit "If the French go ahead with a 75% top rate of tax we will roll out the red carpet and welcome more French businesses to Britain and they will pay taxes in Britain and that will pay for our health service, and our schools and everything else." I wouldn't put too much weight on the chances of it (GAAR) succeeding. See also the Guardian report  In wooing French tax exiles, Cameron makes a mockery of democracy by Richard Murphy.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The state we are in, and of the economy.

Puzzled why David Cameron was keen to engage us in a big discussion about welfare benefits? - even though he said no changes would happen now, but may be included in the Conservative manifesto for the next general election, most likely (unless the Coalition falls apart) in 2015. Surely you would think they'd be working hard on a plan to generate growth, that we need, to drive the economy out of recession.

Or why George Osbourne rushed out on TuesdaIsy to announce a delay in the introduction of the proposed 3p rise in fuel tax.

Let's think, me thinks....a suggestion did it have anything to do with the dire state of the economy by any chance?

The Office for National Statitics today published details of the state of public sector finance for the month of May, 2012:

The main statistics show, that in May 2012, for measures excluding financial interventions:
  • the public sector current budget was in deficit by £16.9 billion; this is a £2.7 billion higher deficit than in May 2011, when there was a deficit of £14.2 billion
  • public sector net borrowing was £17.9 billion; this is £2.7 billion higher net borrowing than in May 2011, when net borrowing was £15.2 billion
  • public sector net debt at the end of May 2012 was £1013.4 billion (65.0 per cent of GDP). This compares with £921.3 billion (61.3 per cent of GDP) at the end of May 2011
  • The central government net cash requirement was £13.3 billion, a £2.5 billion higher net cash requirement than in May 2011, when there was a net cash requirement of £10.7 billion.
A report by Reuters - 'Public borrowing rises in May as income tax falls' by Fiona Shaikh and Matt Falloon says -  Tuesday's figures cast doubt over the government's ability to meet its deficit target of 92 billion pounds in the 2012/13 fiscal year - a total which includes the asset-transfer effect.

Even Mervyn King the Bank Governor can only see dark clouds on the horizon, "We are in the middle of a deep crisis, with enormous challenges to put our own banking system right and challenges for the rest of the world that they are struggling with," King told parliament's Treasury Committee. See Reuters - 'Gloomy BoE sees outlook darken'.

And finally for an alternative narrative on David Cameron recent attendance of the G20 summit read  'Cameron G20 missteps point to wider UK problems' an article by Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent of Reuters.

In a damaging rebuff to the Prime Minister former Clinton official Kupchan said to   Reuters -"London's relevance on the world stage seems to have declined since he became prime minister. Part of that might be inevitable given the circumstances ... but Cameron's statecraft is also leading to self-isolation."

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A joke Jimmy Carr style...

Jimmy Carr told an audience on Tuesday: "I pay what I have to and not a penny more." - how we all laughed   "you are joking" we said, now pay your fucking taxes we all replied.

An investigation by the Sunday Times alleged that Jimmy Carr was using a Jersey based K2 scheme to avoid paying what many of us would think should be his proper share of tax. Even our Prime Minister, David Cameron said the tax arrangements of comedian Jimmy Carr was "morally wrong".(see  BBC News).

Let's think what's more important, a decent living allowance for disabled people, or the tax avoidance of a posh kid who made his money by being abusive to many, especially the disadvantaged in society?

Not that I'm trying to censor what he says, I have discussed freedom of expression before, in my post  Former Cllr Calver and human rights.  Mr Justice Collins, in his ruling on Livingstone v Adjudication Panel for England said :-

"However offensive and undeserving of protection the appellant's outburst may have appeared to some, it is important that any individual knows that he can say what he likes, provided it is not unlawful, unless there are clear and satisfactory reasons within the terms of Article 10(2) to render him liable to sanctions."

But freedom of expression doesn't mean you can avoid paying your proper share of tax..

Talking of freedom of expression....So there I was faced with a choice, one of which would have meant certain death - should I abuse a disabled person or fuck Jimmy Carr, I choose to fuck Jimmy Carr.....

Development by Conygar on Newry Waterfront, Holyhead.

UPDATE 14 July 2012 - It seems outline planning permission has not been granted by the Council, which does allow for the Welsh Government to call in the application, as reported in the Daily Post. Seeing how strong the opposition is to the proposed development, it may be a wise move by  the Labour Welsh Government to call in the application and hold a public inquiry, or otherwise and as reported by North Wales Chronicle - Campaigners form anti-Holyhead marina party many Labour Councillors may be thrown out at the next local elections. The below does set out correctly what happens after planning permission has been granted, but seeing that planning permission has not been granted then there is something the Minister can do.   

A report in todays Holyhead and Anglesey Mail - "Residents fight to save the beach" by Ffion Williams, quotes Mr Lloyd Williams; chairman of the Newry Residents Association; whom are opposed to the proposed Conygar development on Newry Waterfront, as saying those against the plans are confident they will win their fight in Cardiff.

But what has Cardiff to do with this? - Apparently it is expected that Ieuan Wyn Jones AM will now write to the Welsh Government Planning Inspectorate to discuss the concerns of the objectors with him.

I'm not sure why, in the first place a third party cannot appeal against the decision, as explained in the Planning Portal:

After the decision

In England and Wales it is not possible for a third party to appeal against a local planning authority's decision.

For example, if your neighbour was granted permission to build an extension you could not appeal against it - even if you objected to the application at an earlier stage of the process.

Complaining about applications

In some cases, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman about how a local planning authority handled a planning application.

If you are the planning applicant, the Ombudsman will not usually look at your complaint because you have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, through the Planning Inspectorate.

If you are a neighbour affected by a local authority's planning decision, the Ombudsman may consider your complaint, but only if there was administrative fault in the way the authority handled the matter.

The Ombudsman cannot investigate a complaint just because you do not agree with the decision.

The Ombudsman has no power to alter the decision, even if the local authority administration has not been entirely correct.

However, in cases where the Ombudsman decides that the local authority has acted incorrectly in handling a planning matter, the Ombudsman can recommend that the authority take action to mitigate the effect on you, and pay you compensation, if appropriate.

The only other route against granting of a planning permission is to apply to the High Court for a judicial review, which must be done promptly and within three months.

The Friend of Earth website explains what a judicial review is:

Judicial Review is a form of Court proceeding that allows you to ask a judge to review the legality of a public body‟s actions. It can only be used in situations where there is no other right of appeal and where you believe that the authority has acted unlawfully.

Judicial review is only concerned with whether the decision has been made in accordance with the law and whether the decision made is itself lawful. Importantly, judicial review is not concerned with the merits of a decision i.e. with whether or not it is a good or bad environmental decision. The court will not substitute its own decision for the decision of the authority.

In other words it is not about whether their decision was right or wrong. Decision makers are allowed to get things „wrong‟ i.e. to decide differently to the way that you, the Court or another decision maker would have decided. The question is whether they acted lawfully in how they got there.

The courts are usually less concerned with the decision than the manner of reaching it i.e. about lawfulness of process.

Not that this should stop anyone whom objected to the development, forgetting those Councillors whom supported the development at next years County Councillor elections.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Daft - sorry Draft Communication Data Bill

Do you feel afraid? - that tomorrow some terrorist may blow you up, or some criminals may nick your money or that your children are in danger?

It seems Teresa May, Home Secretary wants to us all to think so. In her forward to the  Draft Communication Data Bill she says [....]we need to ensure that the police and intelligence agencies continue to have the tools they need to do the job we ask of them: investigating crime and terrorism, protecting the vulnerable and bringing criminals to justice.....

She continues to reassure us [.....]Without action there is a serious and growing risk that crimes enabled by email and the internet will go undetected and unpunished, that the vulnerable will not be protected and that terrorists and criminals will not be caught and prosecuted. No responsible Government could allow such a situation to develop unaddressed.....

And in order to catch these dangerous persons they need:

54(6) For the purposes of this section it is necessary to obtain communications data for a permitted purpose if it is necessary to do so—
(a) in the interests of national security,
(b) for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder,
(c) for the purpose of preventing or detecting any conduct in respect of which a penalty may be imposed under section 123 or 129 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (civil penalties for market abuse),
(d) in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom,
(e) in the interests of public safety,
(f) for the purpose of protecting public health,
(g) for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department,
(h) for the purpose, in an emergency, of preventing death or injury or any damage to a person’s physical or mental health, or of mitigating any injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health,
(i) to assist investigations into alleged miscarriages of justice, or
(j) where a person (“P”) has died or is unable to identify themselves because of a physical or mental condition [(i)...(ii)....]

In explanatory notes in the draft bill they say:

There are a number of features of internet based communications which have an impact on the acquisition of communications data by public authorities:

  • The technology which is used to operate internet and mobile services, and collaboration between numerous companies may mean that communications data regarding a single communication is no longer retained in a single place. This fragmentation of data makes it difficult to obtain and aggregate all of the communications data a public authority may need to answer a specific question.
  • Companies who provide internet communication services do not always require authenticated identity information, making it more difficult to identify the genuine user of a communication service. Moreover, a range of technologies are available which attempt to anonymise both the location and the identity of service users.
  • Numerous mobile communication devices can be used to access Internet communication services while on the move, making it more difficult to establish from where a communication was made.
  • There are a vast range of global internet communication services. It is very easy to communicate simultaneously using multiple services and move quickly to new services.

There are three broad consequences of these technical trends.
  • As dependence on internet-based communications data increases, there is a risk that the utility of data may decline: it becomes harder to obtain key facts about a communications event.
  • Obtaining communications data may require greater data analysis. For example, when the police need the details of the registered user of an email address, if the information cannot be obtained from the email service provider, it may be necessary to investigate more widely. Use data from the email service provider may be matched with Use and Subscriber records held by other internet companies.
  • Unless otherwise regulated systems to analyse data may lead to the acquisition by public authorities of more data to identify key facts around a communication, with the potential risk of more collateral intrusion into privacy.
To do this a search of many databases will require a filtering process:

This Bill provides for arrangements to address these issues through a filtering process, described in these explanatory notes as a Request Filter. The purpose of this Request Filter will be to:
  • inform a public authority of the communications data which is available to resolve a specific enquiry; and enable that authority to judge whether in that context the request for data remains necessary and proportionate;
  • obtain, process and filter communications data needed to resolve more complex requests so that only data (specified in the authorisation) which identifies the key facts about a communication is passed to a public authority; and
  • protect privacy and minimise necessary interference with the rights of telecommunications users by processing the data without human intervention, and destroying any communications data irrelevant to the investigation.

In other words the Home Secretary will run a scheme what will allow an automated search of numerous databases for key events, for example whom has 'ip address' being communicating with. Now apparently because it's automated, and the databases are not held centrally its not similar to the idea of a central database proposed by Labour when in government before. But as some say 'cloud computing' is in effect a central database although held in separate data centers linked together, the ability to carry out a filtering process for "who, how, when and where” questions aren't that much different I suggest to a central database.

A quick thought is that once the automated filter process has been carried out, the results must be destroyed, does this means there is no record of the search having been carried out? - rather convenient that you could say....

And not forgetting the Home Secretary provide[s] for Part 1 to apply to public postal operators and public postal services as it applies to telecommunications operators and telecommunications services.

I'm not sure how much use eavesdropping on public postal services would be, and anyhows should you make such provision; that you say you have no plans to enact, in primary legislation?- after all to get around this provision all the bad people need to do is send the post by private courier...

No doubt the legislation will be amended as it goes through the due process at parliament, with many sections amended or removed. But for me as it stands its scope is far to wide, and it's powers far to complex, not forgetting those whom say it is technically unfeasible.

Maybe we who question the need for this snoopers charter are 'conspiracy theory' nuts, but I remain to be convinced that this is really about international terrorism or serious crimes, but more to do with catching the local benefits cheat and fraudsters....and for this we all need to come under suspicion?

Note: Text in italics are from the Draft Communication Data Bill

Monday, 4 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee pageant and Holyhead Marine

For the observant of you, who watched Sundays Diamond Jubilee pageant, you may have noticed that the Royal barge had 8 escorting vessels.  Four of which were 'Offshore Raiding Craft' built by  Holyhead Marine, similar to the one shown below.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Anglesey without Wylfa B?

In my humble opinion nuclear power does have a role to play as part of a mix of electricity supply. However, it seems that nuclear power does not make commercial sense, something I have  posted about before.

Direct subsidy from the UK Government for nuclear power would be against EU laws, which means you have to find a back-door way of providing nuclear subsidy - which is by getting the consumer to pay more, estimates vary as to how much.

But then again what are the alternatives? - especially if we are to meet our legal requirement for reducing carbon emissions.

Putting the above to one side, another argument for Wylfa B has been the number of jobs it would retain and create, especially in one of the poorer regions of the UK. It has been seen by many local politicians as a 'golden cow' that would somehow deliver great prosperity to the island. And doubtless in many respects it would, but with the world heading for recession and a period of stagnation (worse case scenario a depression), what realistic hopes are there of investors coming forward to fund a project knowing that other similar schemes have not been completed on time and are well over budget.

In other words do we have a 'Plan B' should Wylfa B not go ahead? - after all Wylfa B forms a fundamental part of the Energy Island concept.

The protest group PAWB does have such a plan, and they have published a  Manifesto for Môn.

They claim the Manifesto outlines how 2,500-3,000 jobs could be created on the island if a realistic strategy was adopted.

And it has strong support from Sir Roger Jones, the former chairman of the Welsh Development Authority whom said to PAWB “Congratulations on the Manifesto document. I strongly support your vision. Thank you for putting so much thought in to what we can do.”

I haven't read the PAWB manifesto and will do so soon. Their website says the manifesto acknowledges the other important industries based on the island, notably tourism and agriculture, and recognises the importance of safeguarding a clean and unpolluted environment for their further development and promotion -  which I think most of us would agree with.