Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Economies correct themselves!

Any idiot (and that includes Gormless George) who has studied basic economics, knows that economies and markets self correct without interference. They have in built mechanisms that mean that any shock will have a reaction that will balance it out. When people and in particular governments interfere, they create a shock which will have a knock on effect somewhere. Regardless of what the shock is, the market creates a balance somewhere else. So, if an economy overheats (usually between 10-15 years) it will have a recession ( usually between 2-3 years) that will ensure it can grow again. The more you interfere, the more you affect this cycle.

Society on the other hand, has no correction system. It is entirely man made and requires interference in order to correct itself and develop in the correct manner. This is where governments should be concentrating their efforts more. Focusing on (and taking credit for) the economy is a waste of time. Politicians should spend more of their energy on policies which actually have a chance of making a real difference and worry less about how much it costs. Many policies that generate social change take many years to prove effective, particularly when we discuss health and education. If we change the way we start to educate our under fives today, it will take twenty years before we start to see any direct change. It may take another twenty years of concerted effort to bring down the binge drinking trend and another twenty years to get parents to take responsibility for educating their children correctly. You cannot put a price on these and many other goals as the rewards and gains from these could far outstrip the investment if given the chance.

This is where we need to focus our efforts now. We should punish the banks and bankers - not only to recover the money they squandered but to generate a banking system that acts in the interests of society rather than self centred bankers.
We should reduce spending on the armed forces not to try and produce a business like army but so that we reduce the amount of conflicts we are involved in and become a peace keeper again.
We should invest in looking after the weak and the needy in society and leave the wealthy moneymakers to fend for themselves.
We should increase spending on encouraging a healthy diet and lifestyle and encourage people to develop a personal discipline that keeps them healthy, the benefits in the future cannot be measured - so don't try.

Most economic history that has been written has shown that nearly all, 'economic poicies' had counter effects that severely reduced the impact of those policies and it will also be written of the policies that the current bunch of idiots are pursuing. It may even be written that the policies stunted growth severely, but what should be written is that the economic policies paled into significance against the social improvements that were generated through honest social change.

Very few governments have been brave enough to attempt this so far, even fewer have achieved it. I doubt this present government has the intelligence, integrity and honesty to try and change society for the benefit of all. I hope I am wrong!

I finish with a quote in reply to a commentator who said 'Only Conservatives act in the long run interests of the economy'.  Keynes once said, 'In the long run - we are all dead!' He knew a thing or two.

Monday, 25 April 2011

One size fits small

This may come as a bit of a shock t some people but Wales has a different economy and social fabric to other parts of the UK. 
We do not have a large banking sector to support, we do not have a need to upkeep thousands of miles of motorways, we do not have a massive political system, we do not have huge amounts of Universities, museums and art houses, we do not have huge manufacturing capabilities and we do not have a population based in large overcrowded cites.  Therefore, we do not need policies and funding that deal with these problems.
We do have a more evenly spread out population, we do have large environmental renewable resources to expolit, we do have a lack of ambition in large sectors of young people, we do have the majority of our population located near the coast and we have our pride!
The policies and priorities of London politicians have little or no relevance to Wales and nothing demonstrates this more than the ridiculous policy of closing Coastguard stations (under the banner of cutting costs and removing barriers to trade). Wales and indeed most of the rest of the UK needs these stations open - we don't need money hungry, egotistical, politicians friends in the city causing us hardship by their inability to do their job.
Wales needs to think different and be different. Most of the national parties are looking to use Wales and Scotland to prove that their policies are good for the UK. My message to you is that you are wrong and you will shoot yourselves in the foot if you try to enforce those policies. You need to understand that reason that London policies have not worked well in Wales before is because we are not London.
Only a London politician would create 'Enterprise zones' twenty years after they were abandoned in deprived areas at huge cost to tax payers. Only London politicians would cut funding for Flying start for children, they can afford childminders - we need to work every hour available to make ends meet. Only a London politician would accuse you of being negative when you read back the actual figures in the green and red financial reports, only London parties would get their own name wrong in Welsh, only London politicians go on tours of America and boast that they are getting away with more cuts than Thatcher at her best.

Only the rest of us swallow this and accept it?

The people of Wales have battled hard to stand on their own two feet through history and have been consistently double crossed by English leaders. We have provided some of the greatest people to the world, we practically set up the USA (it went wrong when English decendants took over), we have invented millions of useful products, we have allowed our land to be stripped of its resources with very little profit returned and we have allowed our language to become a minority.

It is time for us to be brave and start shouting for ourselves. Our Scottish cousins fly their flag with pride and determination and it is time we did the same. We have an opportunity to make real changes to our political and social fabric and really determine our own future, but we cannot do that with parties and politicians who take their lead from London. We need a genuinely independant Welsh voice, that speaks for all of Wales, Is proud of Wales and can lead Wales. Anything short of that on May 5th is another 5 years wasted. I urge you to think very carefully when you vote and be proud to put your cross for a better Wales.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Politicians !!

My title was very nearly, 'Should London politicians care about the rest of us?' or 'Do London politicians care about the rest of us', because unfortunately the way we are set up nationally, there is no real reason why they should. I couldn't word it right so left it at politicians!!
Huge parts of the country hasvevery little effect on London and it's people and therefore has very little impact in the decision making that goes on there.
Most career politicians have lived and worked in and around Westminster since leaving University. They work as reserchers, PA's, they work for their party or they work for lobby groups with the focus being, what do I need to do to get into Parliament and then progress. They live in London, if they are married, they make their home in London (part of why the expenses scandal got complicated) and their kids go to (very expensive) London schools. At no point do they serve on a till at a supermarket, pick bins for the council, work on a production line through on a night shift or clean toilets in an office block.
They have very little or no life experience outside of the political bubble and that is why they do not care and never will.
I actually applaud the fact that people care so much about their country that they dedicate their life to trying to make it better, but in doing so, they lose sight of what a better country actually is.

Not all politicians are career politicians, some do have life experience, but all too many of these politicians come from priviledged backgrounds where hard work is something completely alien to them. The few remaining ones who are actually, what you and I might call 'normal', get swallowed up in the Westminster cess pit. They get rapidly out manouvered by career politicians and out gunned by silver spoon politicians. They are left on the side lines, in pointless committees where there good ideas and intentions rapidly erode under the wave of political experience.

This situation is wrong, it is the system that needs to change and probably about half of the politicians.

If the system was a good one and politicians operated in the good of all of the country, there would be no need for Regional assemblies. There would be no north and south split and the social scale would be much narrower, with top and bottom closer together. If the system was a good one there would be no protest marches, no strikes and no calls for a different voting system. There would be no regional grants and no suggestion that enterprize zones will be used to win votes.

It is fairly simple to see that our political system is broken and corrupted but the only people with the power to do anything about it are the politicians. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of change.

If you doubt that this system is wrong and think that we have it right then ask yourself when you last influenced your local poitician. When did anyone from a political party ask you what do you think on this issue, why is your local MP in politics, who has sponsored them in the past, what jobs have they done before being an MP and why do they deserve your vote?

We have a political head of state who can do nothing because they are not elected, we have a two party system that means 'blame the others' is always an option and we vote for it in the most archaine way known to man.
Over 50% of this country who voted, voted against the parties in government. More people did not want them than did. If you add in the people who did not vote, you have a very small minority of people who chose this government.

Until we realise that we are no longer the worlds leading democracy, we will not change. I urge all of you now to drop an email to your MP and ask them the questions you feel you should know. Find out what they know about your area and what they are doing to help it, when they fob you off, question them some more and make them answer you. You might be surprised.

So, to answer my own questions, do they care? I think some would like to care, some think they care and some only care about themselves. Should they care? Yes, a damn sight more than they do now, about every last inch of our country.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

University and student funding

The debate around student fees, student debt and University funding seems to rumble on and on with no side really putting forward a solution that works for both sides. The reason for this I believe is that the best solution is to have less Universities offering less degrees but with a much wider 'College' system offering a lower but more practical level of education. This however would still require funding, so here is my funding solution, primarily for Welsh Universities and students as we have more control the funding and provision of education compared to the rest of the UK.

The first thing I would change would be for all students to be liable to pay fee's, regardless of your background. However, these would not be paid up front - they would be charged according to earning after completion of the degree. This would remove the need for a loan system to cover fee's and any loan would be for living expenses etc.

Each degree course would receive subsidies depending on the need of graduates at the time. So for example, if the economy required more lawyers (a frightening thought !) then the law courses would receive a subsidy until there 'Gap' was filled.

If then, 12 & 24 months after you finish your degree you are in full time employment - regardless of the occupation, you do not need to repay your fees - they are deferred. If you are not in full time employment then you will be required to start paying back your fees. Loans could be offered by Universities or by banks to cover this if needed.  The point is not to punish people who are not in work, but to say to them - your degree is a valuable asset - you need to use it.

This is the point where being in Wales also plays a part. It is where you choose to earn your wage after you graduate that is important- not where you were born. So I would suggest that we should encourage graduates to stay in Wales by only deferring if you are still living and working in Wales. This would encourage Welsh graduates to stay in Wales and those who study in our Universities to make their new life in Wales as well. If you choose to move out of Wales then your course fees are payable at the end of the following month.

It is only 3 years after the end of your course that you will be required to pay fees and there would be a further requirement. At 3 years you can defer for a further two years provided you are in a job that is related to your degree. The point of this is to focus the mind at the outset and to reduce the amount of degrees offered in irrelevant subjects. It might upset a few people but there is no point studying the history of the French revolution when there is no paying job which requires it (other than to be a lecturer in the French revolution). If you do not have a related job then you will need to repay your fees - again if you are in a full time permanent position within Wales, then you have a 12 month repayment plan, other than that, you repay at the end of the following month.
For those who are struggling, they have the option of starting their own business.

By five years after finishing your degree, you should be earning enough to repay your fees. It is in the interest of the University to make sure that they train people well and for the needs of the economy. This encourages people with relevant skills into the economy and gives an incentive for them to stay in the economy. We could even look at giving extra incentives if they choose to locate in areas of particular need - e.g. Dentists into an area that has none.

The final discount I would offer for graduates, is that if they enter University with a job offer and a sponsorship from an employer, there would be a discount on the fees related to how needed that graduate is.

So what is in it for the Universities?
Provided they recruit 50 or 60% or whatever is a fair level of students from Wales, they are free to charge what they want. In order to do this they may need to offer incentives to Welsh students to attend that University. I would suggest that they also need
to ensure that provisions are made by the University to ensure that no one with acceptable grades is deterred from attending that University.
I would also incentivize those Universities by paying half of the fees up front from public funds provided that target levels of graduates stay in Wales after they graduate.

I would also give tax incentives for companies who form partnerships with Universities to conduct research and to put graduates through, in order that we produce the right graduates from the best Universities that suit Wales.

It may seem a little vague and complicated but it is only by thinking differently that Wales will start to catch and then overtake her competitors.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Is it all Cleggs fault?

Yes is the short answer and I for one feel extremely let down.
12 months ago I was bouncing with enthusiasm as new ideas, new priorities and politicians with principles stepped forward. I was excited that I might see a political revolution where we broke free from the old style that has become incredibly tedious and deflating. How wrong I was.

I expected the LibDems to stand up and be counted, to have a strong voice and to stamp their feet where the situation required it. I wanted Nick Clegg to turn around and say, 'The only way to stop these cuts is to do it from the inside!' and then argue till he was blue in the face to genuinely reduce the impact of the cuts and do the sensible thing - smaller cuts over a longer term to allow the economy to develop properly. I was disappointed.

Without Clegg, Cameron would be running a minority government and would only be able to bring policies which had cross party support. The budget and cuts would have had to be much less severe in order to get it through and the country would not be struggling the way it is now (In summary).

Clegg and probably more likely Cable, hold the keys to the coalition and to their party's future well being. The LibDems are about to get an absolute kicking in Welsh, Scottish and Local elections and will struggle to recover if they continue along these lines. If Cable resigns, Clegg is left very unstable and will face calls to resign as well. If Simon Hughes then stands up to be counted then Clegg is scrambling for support and will surely fall or step down.

The best solution for the LibDems is to announce their intention to quit government before the AV result is announced. If they do it after, the Conservative party will wipe the floor with them and they will lose all credibility they may have.

If they resign from the coalition swiftly, they have a chance to rebuild and recover. If they stay the full period, they become tainted with blue and will struggle to recover at all - it may even mean the end of the party as it is now.

Our country would be in a much better place if we had a minority government - it is Cleggs fault that we don't.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Royal family What is the point?

'Over privileged man goes for a walk with fiance' is not a headline. The Royal family is an out dated pointless institution that benefits the few and distracts the many. The arguments for protecting them becoming weaker day by day but is consistently propped up by media institutions, mainly (I would guess) because it is very easy to create news on a slow day.
They serve no purpose and should be sidelined as part of a restructure of the British political system.
The main arguments for keeping them appear to be 1. They are great for tourism 2. They do a lot for charity and 3. It is part of our heritage.
So let take a look at the arguments and put a bit of perspective on them.

1. Tourism, they are good for tourism in and around London, they do bugger all for tourism around the rest of the country. I live in town where one of the greatest kings was born - Henry Tudor, I don't see adverts in London saying 'Go and visit some of the real heritage of our country'. If the Royal family were moved to my model below, tourism would increase as access to Royal history would increase. Then, maybe the rest of the country that holds the heritage of the Royal history might get a look in on the tourism.

2. They do a lot for charity - good, they should but it is not a good enough reason to continue to support them in the way that we do. They can continue to do charity work without the privileges that we bestow upon them. Millions of people do great work for charity whilst holding down a job and paying the mortgage with very little thanks - why can't posh people do it as well?

3. It is part of our heritage. Yes it is but there are many more important parts of our heritage that get completely overlooked because they are not centralised enough in London. I would also argue that the 'Pomp and pagentry' is not part of our history - it is something that we created through our history and therefore we can take it away.  It is a very insecure nation that is not capable of changing the direction forward for fear of insulting the direction behind.

So what would I change?
The Royal family would be removed from the political system completely and replaced with an elected President from the Upper House which would replace the House of Lords. Buckingham palace would be used as the Presidential home but would be opened up much more for tourists. The Royal family would retain their name and any property that they have purchased with their own money. Anything else that is not paid for by the Royal family becomes part of the State.
The Royal family would retain its status as head of Armed services and the Church/protector of faiths but would no longer be a part of the political system and would not represent the country abroad.
This is a tweak of a system that other countries use, that recognises their position within our country but also recognises that the country has moved on.

Large parts of society love the Royal Family and they will still be able to, but for the rest of society, it is time to move on and have a political system that rightly reflects todays society.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Banks - Again!

My message to banks is simple - you are welcome to take your HQ overseas, you are welcome to take your 'top talent' to America and you are welcome to increase your lending charges.
Because these are gesturing and threats that make it look like the banks are unhappy with the proposals put forward today.
The reality is that these proposals will not change the behaviour of the biggest banks and will not prevent a banking collapse again. All that could actually happen is that banks have to keep a little more in cash deposits than they do now i.e. They can't gamble all of our money - just nearly all of it.
Don't forget that these are only proposals, there are another six months of 'lobbying' which is the current acceptable term for bribery before which the Commission gives the report to the government, who then have a further six months to decide what to do with it. It will then take at least another twelve months to get diluted through parliament and the banks will then have a few years to prepare a way of getting around the regulations and we will end up having to sign a few more forms when we go to the bank to say it is ok for them to do what they want with our money.

All in all, if these proposals even get taken up, which I doubt, they will have negligible effect upon the operations of the banking and financial sector.

What we need is to decide what we actually want from our banking sector and then accept that it will mean change. It will mean deciding if we want to be a 'World banking centre', which will mean going back to having no control over the banks at all and exposing the economy and all of our money to international whims. Or we could accept that we do not want that type of money controlling our economy and restrict the actions of banks. If the big banks then decide to leave the country, so be it.
Smaller banks who make a profit through consistent and ethical lending would fill the gaps - it would be a big chance but it would be a change in the right directions.

The Firewall that they now talk about is nothing more than a noble gesture. Banks would find ways around it as there is no real way of enforcing it - it is a simple paper transfer of money back and for to make it look like they are complying. It is only by completely breaking up the integrated financial systems that we will ensure that our money is not put at risk again.

The biggest worry about these proposals is that the strongest measure is to make banks hold 10% of deposits as cash security - sounds great. The Bank of England recommends a minimum 15% held as deposits and when Lehman brothers went bankrupt it held 11% in cash deposits.

Another great opportunity to really deal with the issues that continue to hold this country back is being lost - it does not look like anyone wants to take those opportunities. Until we force them to - they will continue to tread the path most trodden.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Assembly elections - pointless?

The forthcoming assembly elections are a huge opportunity to do something different in Wales and actually make us radically better than most countries. I think the important thing is to see it as a ten or fifteen year plan of improvement, split down into two or three sections and each assembly sitting needs to achieve certain objectives. This is  opposed to a three or four year cycle of criticism of what had happened, consultation on the way forward and then starting something new again, which is an unproductive waste of time.
The joy of the Welsh Assembly is that all parties are connected around the idea of 'We really don't like the English' and anything that we can do to better them is great for everyone.

There are those that say this is narrow minded and regressive, we need to work with our neighbours etc etc.


This is healthy competition at its best. it is also a chance for us as a nation to stand up for what we should have been having over years past. Wales has consistently been shortchanged by England and has lacked the national backbone to fight back. We have tried to take on the English from the inside, using Parliament to try and get a better deal, but every time we come close it gets taken away from us.We now need to aspire to not only match England but to rapidly surpass them in the areas we choose to. So the time is now right to take the opportunity and build an economy and a society that is right for us and others look at with envy.

We have already seen and heard MP's use London language to try and impose their values upon us - it is not welcome. Bugger off back to London and do it there, my eight year old will join you and show you how to have a debate using constructive language and reasoned argument.
The mud slinging and criticism is not the way the Welsh Assembly has or should work.

So what we should do is agree in general terms on what the main targets should be and the time frames over which they should be achieved - then we should debate the policies by which we should achieve them. In a system as young as ours we have the chance to construct a genuine written constitution as mentioned in previous blogs.

And what would my vision be. My vision has a green and sustainable base, where we encourage  sustainable companies to set up in Wales, develop and manufacture their products and then use their products to create a better energy base in Wales. We are then in a position to supply the rest of the UK with energy on our terms - not theirs. We would also develop an international reputation which would act in the same way as the silicon valley rush did. We could develop Colleges and Universities to specialise make sure that the top well paid jobs all go to home grown talent.

I would also base our society on what we do best, education, sport, tourism and innovation.

But my ideas alone are not important. The point is that we have a chance to do things differently and everyone has the opportunity to have their say in it. If you don't feel that politician is listening to you or will not engage with your opinion, either make them listen or make a fuss but never sit back and do nothing.

In five years time the world will be a very different place and we may not have the opportunity that we do today to really make the difference.  That is why everyone should take this election seriously and why we owe it to ourselves to question every single politician at every single chance we get.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Teachers and teaching!

Let's get stuck into teaching shall we?
Those lazy, layabout moaning teachers, they get every Christmas, Easter and six weeks every summer - and they finish at 3 every day, that's not work!  A popular argument that gets trotted out every time a teacher makes a sensible comment about their working conditions.

So before I reveal my revolutionary vision of the future I want you to think about this;
1. You are where you are because somebody taught you
2. If you had worked harder in school, you probably would have achieved more in life
3. Nobody forced you to not pay attention at school
4. Without teachers, we would all be working at Macdonalds.
5. In twenty or thirty years time, your pension will be determined by the education that we provide for our children today.
6. In ten years time, the economy will be run by people who are in education now.
7. 70% of education happens at home!

So, we owe a lot to teachers and we should value them and their services more than we do currently.
Not every teacher is amazing and not every child will be capable of going to OxBridge but we are capable of being better than we currently are.
We can do a few things quite simply if we choose to but they will cost and we need to see that cost as an investment - not a sunken cost.  We could pay teachers more, We could employ more teachers to bring every class size down to 20, we could train teachers better both initially and ongoing, we could invest in technology to upgrade our teaching workplaces or we could stop all of that and cut back on all of the above to save money to prop up banks!

My vision of the future for education varies greatly from most politicians, which might not be a bad thing.
At the primary stage, it is vital that we have smaller class sizes to allow teachers to spend more time with each child. That personal time with a teacher is a very significant part of the childs development and is a springboard for the childs learning. Right up to the age of seven children are willing learners and will take as much information as we can throw at them. Unfortunately, schools do not have enough time to give individual attention. I would ensure that every primary class had a maximum of fifteen children in it and that every child had at least ten minutes of individual time every day.
I would also give schools much greater powers to force parents to attend the school. I don't just mean to come in and see the teacher, I mean to actually sit in a class with their child and observe the childs behaviour. The priority should be given to behaviour and ability to learn in the early years so that the information that is given to them, goes in and sticks. If the parent has to sit in the classroom (which will be very humiliating for some - tough), they should understand the effects that their child has on others. I would give Police powers to pull parents out of their workplace if parents refuse to comply. this will mean an impact on their income (it would be unpaid), their colleagues, their boss as well as their personal standing. I would allow employers to ask if the parent had to attend school for their childs discipline as part of the recruitment process.
I believe that everyone needs to see the first years of education as the most important of a childs life and give it the profile that it needs to flourish.
If we support schools in the way they deserve, then there is no reason why schools cannot still provide the extra education such as music, plays and sports. However, these should be built on children wanting and capable of being taught.

If more people reach the Secondary phase of their education with a basic understanding of the expectations of them, then teaching will actually become easier and the outcome better.
I would again allow schools to bring parents into class and ensure that discipline is the primary value that all pupils have.
But there is a bigger change that needs to take place and that revolves around technology.
I would ensure that all classrooms are fitted with CCTV cameras with parents being able to access that CCTV remotely, so they can see what is happening in lessons. If a child comes home and says, 'This happened today - the evidence should be there either way.
I would develop a system of 'remote teaching' using high speed Internet access and video conferencing so that pupils could receive their education closer to home and they can receive more top quality instruction. When I choose my A Level subjects, I actually wanted to do five, but as some overlapped and we could only select three, I had to forgo a two of my choices.  If those lessons were then delivered remotely, it would be much easier to slot those subjects into a rota.
This would also mean that teachers could specialise more e.g. if six schools each only had one language teacher, teaching different languages - all six could still offer six language options without great upheaval. You could also move between levels easier, so if you were going up a level, you could sit in on a couple of remote lessons first to see if they are right for you. Lessons could also be recorded and re-viewed at home with parents if children come across a problem.

My biggest change would be in the provision of 'non core' subjects such as hairdressing and survival skills. These lessons would need to be provided out of school hours - either on a weekend or an evening and attendance would be as a reward for discipline and hard work through the day i.e. if you misbehave or fail to hand in work, you don't get to do the practical subjects. This would require a big adjustment from schools in terms of timings and coverage but I think it would be worth the change.
There are some schools where 'life subjects' are seen as the soft option for children and teachers a like. it suits both parties, where teachers get rid of misbehaving children and those children get to do more fun things as a reward for misbehaving.
It is only by being disciplined and mature, that people will be prepared for work when they leave.

My final change would be to remove control of the education system from political control and genuinely give it back to teachers. In the same way that we trust the control of the banking system to the BoE, then we should trust education to the specialists that actually do the job (at the very least we should keep Michael Gove as far away from it as possible). I don't think that education should be a political game that we can mess around with, it is far too important to keep tinkering with.

In the same way as my NHS boards would have 5, 10 and 20 year targets, as defined by the general public, my School boards would operate in a similar way. This would set out overall objectives and standards with priorities and desires as well.

It might seem like a lot of change but education is always worth it - you just need to ask yourself this, 'If I was in school now, what would I like to do differently?' Thats where I started and look what I got.