Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Fearless Independence of the Taxpayers' Alliance

They're getting rather touchy at the Taxpayers' Alliance. Responding to a critical item in Private Eye 1339, which condemned the Alliance for its silence over the cost of Thatcher's funeral, its Political Director, Jonathan Isaby, complains in Eye 1340 about 'glaring inaccuracies'. Citing press and TV mentions, Isaby insists that the Alliance is not a 'Tory body'. However, a closer look at the coverage rather undermines his bluff and fluster. First up, Isaby mentions ITV and BBC appearances - neither of which offer much by way of critical analysis of the Alliance's credentials, but tend to accept its pro-Tory outpourings and partisan number-crunching to pad out their reporting. But he is on even shakier ground with the press articles that he says were critical of the Tories - ranging from the Daily Wail and Torygraph through to that bastion of left-wing ideology, the Daily Star, Isaby crows that the Alliance has been fearless in its attacks on tax avoidance. Or rather they don't. What they actually reveal is that the Alliance follows the editorial strategy of those papers: scare the crap out of the middle class; stop them getting ideas beyond their station (as the subtext goes: 'try this and you'll get your name in the papers your neighbours read...'); above all - keep the bastards voting Tory - that's the independence of the Alliance for you.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The end of the Co-operative Bank?

Well, so much for the much vaunted spread of competition in the retail banking sector. The beleagured Co-op, of which I'm a business and personal customer, seems rather shaky this weekend. I like mutuality in banking - sod the shareholders and their clamour for dividends - mutuals inject some sanity into the financial world; and in the case of the Co-operative, this was topped with their ethical stance. But not all mutuals were so nice and cuddly. The Britannia Building Society, for example, might have been owned by its members, but it was driven by a very pushy sales culture that I came to dislike intensely when managing accounts their on behalf of my parents. Every visit turned into a sales opportunity. Once, at the end of a month, I was coerced by the manager of the Huddersfield branch into converting two low interest accounts into 5 year bonds:I had an eye on the parking meter; she on her sales targets while the spiel wore relentlessly on. So important was the transaction to her that she insisted on dropping the forms round to my house in person, it was, she said, a short detour for her on the way home. In consequence of this treatment, I closed all the Britannia accounts as they matured and voted against the 2009 acquisition of the Society by the Co-operative. With pay reportedly being clawed-back from former Co-operative and Britannia employees involved in the debacle, I think there are many in the Bank and amongst its customers who must now wish they'd done the same. Unfortunately, the Co-op isn't too big to fail, and its founding principles are probably way too far to the left for Osborne to feel much in the way of sympathy, so I don't think there will be much appetite for a Treasury-mounted rescue; the only hope from that quarter might be the desire to give some traction to the oft-repeated calls for greater competition in the retail banking sector. Co-operative savers and investors, however, need to keep their options open, and hope that another mutual offers something approaching the same level of service that saw the Co-operative consistently outperform larger high-street operations in the customer satisfaction stakes.

A bit of a Kerfuffle

Which is the most serious: a kerfuffle or a palaver? Judging by usage in Yorkshire and Lancashire it would seem the former is the more trivial. After all, you can have a 'bit of a kerfuffle, but there's a tendency to say it's a 'right palaver'.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Guru of Ampersands and Asses

I recently attended a business promotion event held in a football stadium in a near-by town. In addition to 40-odd businesses showing their wares, there were a range of seminars, led by expert facilitators. One, aged in his early 20s, was – according to his blurb – a Facebook guru. Already a seasoned promotional and marketing campaign leader, he was going to show us all how to ‘create a real kick ass page & what sort of content you need to think of to get “viral”. Being a native UK English user, my first thought was whether I needed to learn how to kick a donkey. This was followed by the cringe-making realisation that the young guru seemed to have a predilection for unwarranted ampersands. Facebook, as with other social networking media, may indeed be international, but the dangers of adopting it as the benchmark for all forms of written communication are becoming increasingly apparent. The guru, again according to his blurb, is adept at ‘finding ways that make him stand out’. You could say that again.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Cameron’s Fusiliers - Now Recruiting

The National Governors’ Association, the umbrella body representing the UK’s school governors, is now acting as the recruiting sergeant for David Cameron’s national service scheme for school and college students, the National Citizen Service. NCS participants are expected to take part in community and team building projects before joining a week-long residential outdoor pursuit course that takes place in school holidays. The scheme is heavily subsidised; the cost to parents is £50.00 with a bursary scheme for those who can’t afford it. Each session culminates with a ‘graduation ball’ at which students are presented with a certificate personally signed by David Cameron. Organisers gush that this ‘will look amazing on a CV or UCAS application’ – but given the PMs current low standing in the education sector, students would be well advised to keep the signature covered if showing the certificate to admissions tutors. Aside from the ball and Cameron’s moniker, the scheme replicates much of the outward bound work that local education authorities used to provide at their own centres, many of which have now been sold off to fund budget cuts, and the NGA’s involvement smacks rather of desperation by Downing Street and the DfE in drumming up support. Imagine the hue and cry that would issue from those same portals if Labour-run local authorities offered their own subsidised schemes for youth in their areas. In any event, school governors are kept rather too busy by the outpourings of Mr Gove’s over-active imagination to be sounding the praises of the Big Society by recruiting their young charges to take part in taxpayer subsidised prime ministerial feel-good photo opportunities.