Friday, 30 April 2010

Global economy fears as Greece faces bailout

Channel 4 News
"Graham Turner, of GFC Economics, told Channel 4 News: "There is a conflict between, effectively, Greek workers and European banks."Many European banks hold Greek government debt. And if there is a default, then the cost of resolving this crisis passes from the Greek workers to the European banks, effectively."We are all interconnected. That is why bankers and politicians worldwide - even President Obama - are worried.The concern is that the Greek budget deficit could leave a big chunk of the global economy in ruins."

New call for massive UK tax increase: 'Britain needs extra 6p in the pound to tackle ballooning national debt'

Daily Mail
"Taxes could rise by six pence in the pound over the next 10 years to slash public borrowing, an economic forecaster warned today.Although cuts and a public sector pay clampdown will halve the UK's deficit over the next five years, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said more action is needed to reduce borrowing to below 3 per cent of GDP by 2020.'We assume it is achieved through income taxes rising by an equivalent of six pence in the pound on the basic rate,' NIESR said.The prediction comes as the three main political parties have come under fresh pressure to explain exactly how they propose to reduce Britain's ballooning public debts."

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Bank governor warns of economic nightmare that will keep party that wins election out of power for a generation

Daily Mail
"Public anger over the cuts imposed by the next government will be so severe that whoever wins the next election will be out of power for a generation, Bank of England governor Mervyn King has warned.American economist David Hale revealed today that Mr King had confided privately that the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems would face a long-lasting backlash as they slashed public spending to try and pay off the deficit.Mr Hale told Australian TV of the remarks when he was today asked about the possible contagion to the UK from Greece's sovereign debt crisis."

King: Election winner will be out of power for a generation

"Whichever party wins this election will have to inflict such painful austerity measures on the British population that they will soon find themselves out of power for a generation. Not my words, the words of Mervyn King, Bank of England Governor. ...The Institute for Fiscal Studies spelt it out earlier this week in typically frank terms. Labour and the LibDem plans imply the biggest squeeze on public services since the 1970s, when the IMF was in town. The Tory plans imply the biggest set of cuts since records began in 1948. ...But the main point I would take away from King’s (alleged) comments is this: no-one yet comprehends just how tough the next five years will be. For obvious reasons: we have not experienced anything like it in our lifetimes. We have been insulated from the full pain of the financial/economic crisis so far by unprecedented low interest rates and by the bank bail-outs. At some point, the anaesthetic will wear off and we will face a period of austerity that may well make the ruling party so unpopular that it effectively becomes unelectable for decades. There will be strikes; there will be stagnation; there will probably be a double dip of some variety. But this time the pain will be unmistakeably imposed by the politicians."

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Two weeks ago, I dubbed this the Ostrich election. It's turned out to be even worse than I feared

Daily Mail
"So now it is official - or at least as authoritative as it is going to get. The Institute For Fiscal Studies, Britain's most important independent analyst of our national finances, declared yesterday that any new government will have to impose the deepest public spending cuts we have known for 30 years. .....No one could realistically have expected the Prime Minister, architect of financial disaster, to admit the mess he has got us into. But it seems extraordinary that neither David Cameron nor Nick Clegg at any point asserted the simple, overwhelming reality: we're bust, we're bust, we're bust.Labour has wrecked the economy. It will require the harshest policies from any responsible government - sacrifices that will affect every family in the land - to restore Britain's public finances before a 2014 or 2015 election.It would be foolish to expect honesty from Nick Clegg and his party, who do not expect to govern and care only about winning sufficient seats tomorrow week to force proportional representation on whichever party is willing to cut a deal with them.But the Conservatives are most likely to inherit the shocking legacy and to shoulder responsibility for clearing up the mess."

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Tories stretch lead as Labour remain in third place

The Times
"The Conservatives have gained sharply in the polls in the past week and are now back to where they were before the first TV leaders’ debate a fortnight ago, a new Times poll shows.The Populus poll, undertaken yesterday and this morning, shows that Conservative support has risen by four points to 36 per cent over the last week.The Lib Dems have lost three points over the past week to 28 per cent, but they are still ahead of Labour on 27 per cent, down one point. Nick Clegg's party remains seven points higher than a fornight ago, while Labour are six points lower.A separate Populus poll in Scotland suggests that Labour will retain its strong position north of the border. It is on 37 per cent, aginst 24 per cent for the Lib Dems, 19 per cent for the SNP and 16 per cent for the Tories."

IFS attacks ALL parties for failing to 'come clean' over massive scale of spending cuts

Daily Mail
# No party is 'anywhere close' to outlining cuts
# Labour has said least about where axe would fall
# Government blamed for not holding spending review
# Tory cuts would be worse since Second World War
# Lib Dem plans 'misguided' and 'highly speculative'

"IFS director Robert Chote said all three parties were ‘particularly vague’ about the public spending cuts required.He added: ‘Repairing the public finances will be the defining task of the next government. For voters to make an informed choice, parties need to set out clearly how they would go about it. Unfortunately they have not.‘The blame for this lies primarily with the current Government’s refusal to conduct a spending review before the election. It claims that it cannot do this until the autumn, because the outlook for the public finances is uncertain.But uncertainty is a fact of fiscal life - any responsible government would face up to it and seek to reduce it, not use it as something to hide behind.’

ECB may have to turn to 'nuclear option' to prevent Southern European debt collapse

"Greece’s fortunes were dealt yet another blow as Standard & Poor’s slashed its credit rating to junk status - BB+ - the first time that has happened to a euro member since the single currency was created, pushing yields on 10-year Greek bonds up to a record 9.73pc.The credit-rating agency also cut Portugal’s sovereign debt ratings by two notches to A-, as the swirling storm hit the country with full-force."

Monday, 26 April 2010

Maastricht madhouse fuels EMU-wide contagion from Greece

"If the chief purpose behind the EU-IMF bail-out for Greece – or for banks exposed to Greece – is to prevent a "full-blown and contagious sovereign debt crisis", the market verdict must be a sobering surprise. "

Labour in turmoil as pressure on Brown grows

The Times
" Labour’s struggle to overcome the Liberal Democrat surge broke out into the open yesterday when Alan Johnson positioned himself to lead the party’s post-election talks with Nick Clegg.Hours after the Liberal Democrat leader had ruled out keeping a defeated Gordon Brown in No 10, the Home Secretary risked deepening internal tensions by using a television interview to say that he did not share the “horror” of some colleagues at the prospect of power-sharing.With ten days to go until the election, a YouGov poll in The Sun today confirms that Labour is in third place. The first postal votes have been cast already and start arriving at town halls today."

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Greece hit by new riots as pressure grows to quit euro

Daily Mail
"Support for the bail-out of debt-ridden Greece was in doubt last night, leaving the country on the brink of financial meltdown as top German politicians said it should be forced to quit the euro.Riots erupting during workers’ protests over planned public spending cuts, just hours after Greek Premier George Papandreou sought emergency £35billion of loans from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.The Greek government was finally forced to ask for international help after the cost of its borrowing spiralled to a new high, making it prohibitively expensive to borrow money to service existing debts."

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Brown rips up strategy to escape third place

The Times
"...As he spoke, Labour suffered a triple blow on Mr Brown’s chosen topic.Official figures showed that the economy grew by only 0.2 per cent in the first three months of the year, half the 0.4 per cent of the final quarter of 2009.Analysis showed that the economy grew more slowly under Labour than it did under the Tories between 1979 to 1997 — an average of 2 per cent a year compared with 2.2 per cent. Martin Weale, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said that Labour was not running the economy in a sustainable way."

Election 2010: Labour slumps to six month low in latest ICM poll

"John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde university, said: "The Prime Minister is in danger of leading his party to its worst electoral defeat since 1918. At 26 per cent, the party’s poll rating is even less than the 28 per cent it secured under Michael Foot’s leadership in 1983. "

China ponders yuan regime shift to ditch dollar peg

"(Reuters) - When Singapore surprised the market by revaluing its dollar this month to pre-empt inflation, analysts had to rack their brains to find out how much the currency's value had actually gone up. Such an obscure system may be just what China needs."

Friday, 23 April 2010

Greece seeks aid from EU and IMF

"Billions of euros of emergency loans will arrive in Athens within days, after the Greek Prime Minister officially requested assistance from fellow euro members and the International Monetary Fund."

Gordon Brown suffers blow as economy falters

The Times
"Britain's economic recovery lost momentum in the first three months of the year, growing by just 0.2 per cent.The figure from the Office for National Statistics fell far below economists’ forecasts for 0.4 per cent growth, which would have matched GDP in the final quarter of last year when the country emerged from the longest and deepest recession on record.Analysts said that the figure may have been affected by the snowy weather at the start of the year, which took a heavy toll on retailers and exporters.The data will come as a heavy blow to Labour just weeks before the election. Next week, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will take part in the final debate, which will centre on the economy. ..."

Elections are more than X Factor politics

Daily Mail
"A week ago, the first leadership debate transformed the general election campaign.Whether we like it or not, the X Factor politics of the leaders' TV performances will play a significant role in the selection of our next government.So it was a matter of some concern that ten per cent of the electorate could change their views so dramatically in the space of an hour-and-a-half, and that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats could emerge as the apparent winners of that debate with the public learning so little of their policies and values.Over the last week, this newspaper has tried to rectify that failing, and we continue today with our examination of what the Liberals really stand for. .....It's almost beyond satire. Yesterday, Peter Mandelson, aka the Prince of Darkness, attacked four newspapers, including this one, who have turned the spotlight on Nick Clegg, for 'pushing the smear button'.This from a man who perfected Labour's dark arts of smears and political assassination.Let it be said loud and clear that 'Lord' Mandelson has been one of the most malign forces in recent political life. It is his predeliction for spin and mendacity that did so much damage to his own party and to electors' trust in politicians.He's still at it, of course, by talking up Nick Clegg. Knowing that Mr Brown is going to lose, he is trying to engineer a LibLab pact after the election, to keep his party in power, and install his protege David Miliband as Labour's new leader."

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Public borrowing hits record all-time

Daily Mail
"Labour's economic credibility was dealt a further blow today after public borrowing for the year was revealed to have climbed to an all-time high of £152.8billion.Britain's public sector net debt is now a record 62 per cent of gross domestic product after the UK slumped another £23.5bilion into the red in March.The black hole in public finances now stands at a record £107.6billion for the financial year after the deficit widened another £14.8billion last month.This is more than double the £49.7billion recorded last year and lays bare the desperate state of Britain's financial woes just days before the general election."

Britain has biggest annual deficit since World War II

"The UK has recorded its largest annual budget deficit since the Second World War as the election battle over how to repair the public finances intensifies. "

Escalating Greek default fears rock Europe's debt markets

"Greece's debt crisis has reached a dramatic crescendo after the EU revealed that the country's debt and deficit figures are even worse than feared and leading banks began to talk openly of debt-restructuring."

Britain's public sector pay party is over

"The economic mayhem that George Osborne warned about on Wednesday on the back of a hung Parliament will be a heck of a lot worse if such political paralysis is combined with spluttering economic growth."

Lib Dems: integrity can be such a dirty business

"In the old saying, many of my best friends are Lib Dems. But as my article for the paper today suggests, Nick Clegg’s party simply cannot be allowed to get away with the absurd claim that they represent a new way of doing politics. On the ground, their campaigning is consistently more unscrupulous and poisonous than the other parties’.

And you don’t have to take my word for it – a lot of their election literature is now captured for posterity online. In the Norwich North byelection last year, they smeared their Green opponent as an “extremist” and terrorist sympathiser on the basis of something he had written which condemned terrorism. ..."

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

It's time for voters to wake up and get real

Daily Mail
"There can be only one credible explanation for the utterly irrational outpouring of support for the Liberal Democrats after a mere 90 minutes of X Factor-style TV politics: the public, disgusted by the near moral bankruptcy of the last Parliament, is looking for revenge.In significant numbers, voters' only interest in this most important of elections for a generation is giving the bloodiest of noses to a political class which, for many years, has been taking them for fools.And, because of a brilliant propaganda coup, the LibDems have painted themselves as the clean, honest party with a fresh, untarnished leader in Mr Clegg.Nothing could be further from the truth.As this paper reveals today, Mr Clegg and many of his MPs have been some of the worst expenses offenders. LibDem donors have been tainted by criminality.And the party that promises to return integrity to Parliament is itself stuffed to the rafters with lobbyists and ex-lobbyists like Mr Clegg, many of whom worked for firms promoting policies that are antipathetic to the LibDems' now declared beliefs. ..."

"May 6 is not a European, local council or by-election vote in which to register disquiet with a faltering Government.It will decide the direction of this country for years and generations to come. The stakes could not be higher.The British electorate needs to wake up to avoid sleep-walking into disaster."

Unemployment at highest since 1994

Daily Mail
"Mixed jobs data today showed unemployment at a 16-yeah high, but the numbers claiming jobseeker's allowance falling more quickly than predicted.The Office for National Statistics reported that there are now 2.5m unemployed people in the UK after another 43,000 were added to the toll in the three months to February. It is the highest total since 1994.It takes the rate of joblessness to 8%, higher than the 7.8% that had been expected by analysts. The unemployment rate is the official measure of unemployment and is based on the ILO (International Labour Organisation) definition.However, the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance fell last month by 32,900 to 1.54m, the fourth time the figure has fallen in the last five months. This is the sharpest fall since 1997. Analysts had forecast a decline of 10,000 in March."

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

IMF urges double tax hit on banks to refund taxpayers

"Banks should be slapped with two unprecedented taxes in order to compensate taxpayers for the billions of pounds lost in the financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund has recommended. "

Inflation up more than expected

"The Office for National Statistics said consumer price inflation rose to 3.4 percent last month from 3.0 percent in February, with higher fuel costs and fares for air transport also contributing to the increase."

Monday, 19 April 2010

Britain is 'left weak' by Gordon Brown's spending spree and racking up debt, claims report

Daily Mail
"Britain is emerging from the recession with one of the weakest economies in the industrialised world as a direct result of Gordon Brown's spending binges, according to a damning analysis.His handling of the nation's purse-strings has been attacked by a highly-respected economic think tank which condemned Labour for saddling the UK with too much debt and borrowing.The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that during his years as Chancellor, Mr Brown's splurge on health, education and welfare had left Britain badly placed to deal with the credit crunch."

Sunday, 18 April 2010

MP Frank Field accuses Gordon Brown of destroying economy

Daily Mail
"A former Labour Minister has accused Gordon Brown of ‘Alice In Wonderland politics’ which have left Britain facing ‘destruction’ by an economic catastrophe in the summer.The doom-laden prediction came in a ferocious personal attack on the ‘abnormal’ Prime Minister by senior Labour MP Frank Field.Ignoring pleas by Labour chiefs not to rock the boat in the run up to the Election, Mr Field savaged the Prime Minister’s economic record and said Britain might never recover unless swift action is taken to save the nation from bankruptcy.‘Our country is in such a state,’ said Birkenhead MP Mr Field.‘We’ve printed money to buy our own debt. It’s real Alice In Wonderland politics.'We have to ask the world if they want to lend us money. If we can’t shift the debt we’re finished.’

Friday, 16 April 2010

CEBR raises UK growth forecasts

"The Centre for Economics and Business Research has increased its forecast of economic growth in Britain, predicting GDP would be about £20bn higher by 2020 if the Conservatives gain power. "

Pound falls after Nick Clegg's election debate success

"The pound fell against the dollar on Friday after the first televised election debate between Britain's three main political leaders highlighted the possibility of a hung parliament. "

Thursday, 15 April 2010

China's 11.9pc growth in GDP fuels overheating fears

"Fears that China’s economy is at serious risk of overheating deepened on Thursday after official data for the first three months of this year showed the economy grew by 11.9pc year-on-year. "

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Greek lesson: we are all in the same boat

"We go on about the mass of off-balance sheet debts faced by the UK government (eg pensions, healthcare, PFI etc) but this is not a problem peculiar to the UK. However, it is an issue that all democracies should be discussing. In his manifesto launch yesterday, David Cameron talked about the most radical overhaul in welfare since the system was launched. That is precisely what is needed. The problem, as I wrote in the paper today, is that neither the Tories nor any of the other parties has provided much detail on how they would go about doing it."

Economic recovery in motion but UK faces election hurdle

"LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's economic recovery should progress slowly and steadily but an indecisive general election could yet spoil this view, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.The survey of almost 60 economists showed economic growth loitering around 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent in each quarter until the end of next year.The median forecasts looked very similar to those seen in the last poll taken in March, with full-year growth forecasts of 1.1 percent for 2010 down slightly from 1.2 percent in the previous survey, and 2.3 percent for 2011 unchanged.But as in March, some respondents said the prospect of political impasse if the May 6 election delivers a hung parliament could endanger their forecasts for Britain's recovery from its deepest post-war recession."The UK could wake up on May 7 and find itself in a state of paralysis, while gilts and sterling sell off," said Azad Zangana of Schroders Investment Management."

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Gordon Brown – focus on the future

Catallaxy Files,
Australia's leading libertarian and centre-right blog

"While it is all very well to focus on the future, surely how a person has acted in the past is a pretty good guide to how it will act in the future. Otherwise we have the nice lurk that no matter how many stuff-ups occur, they should be ignored because of the future focus.

Brown was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997 and Prime Minister in 2007. As Chancellor he had an effective right of veto over any Government proposal and was the co-leader of the Government with Tony Blair. Yet he wants the public to ignore what he has done (and not done) over 13 years and trust him to focus on the future. Yes, sure."

Monday, 12 April 2010

All promises, as the public finances are ignored in Labour's manifesto

"Well there’s a surprise. Anyone looking for enlightenment on how the Labour Party plans to deal with the greatest economic challenge of our times – deficit reduction – will find none whatsoever in today’s manifesto..."

'This will outrage British taxpayers': Deal to rescue Greece to soak up millions

Daily Mail
"Greece was last night handed a generous national bailout by its euro partners which will end up costing British taxpayers more than £600million a year.In a move aimed at shoring up dwindling confidence in the stricken country, the 16 eurozone members announced they would lend 30billion euros this year alone."

Saturday, 10 April 2010

It's time to turf John Bercow out of office

"For the moment, however, there is one urgent priority: and that concerns the man whom it shames Britain to have to call the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. ....As he sat in his Mothercare-supplied robes, presiding over the most corrupt House of Commons for centuries, looking like a man waiting for a spot on a toadstool by an ornamental pond to become vacant, one could conclude that he and they deserved each other. But we, the electorate, have done nothing to deserve him. ....Any conservative living in Buckingham should vote for Mr Farage. So should any Conservative, given they have no candidate. But so, indeed, should anyone who cares about the institution of parliament. Bercow has shown he has no place there. "

Don't let the voters know we face bankruptcy

"Four huge shadows hang over this claustrophobic election, about which the three main parties will be trying to say as little as possible. The first, obviously, as part of the catastrophic legacy of 13 years of Labour misrule, is the barely imaginable scale of the deficit in public spending.

This is now growing so fast that it is difficult to find ways of bringing home how stupendous it has become. The Taxpayers' Alliance has tried to do it by pointing out that public debt is rising by £447,575,342 – virtually half a billion pounds – every day. With the Government's own projections showing that within four years the National Debt will have doubled to £1.4 trillion, I recently used figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to show that by 2014, in only four years' time, it will be costing us the equivalent of £60 a week for every household in the land just to pay the interest on the debt - let alone paying off the debt itself...."

Can Greece survive without Gordon Brown's help?

"This should be an interesting weekend for euro-watchers. If the rumours in the market are correct, Greece will imminently receive the details of its emergency loan organised by euro governments in association with the International Monetary Fund. The big short-term question hinges on the level of the loan’s interest rates. Will it, as Angela Merkel seems to want, be tied to the market interest rate for Greek debt (currently somewhere north of 7pc), or will it, as Reuters is reporting, be tied instead to the IMF’s special drawing rights, and be distinctly lower? The question is important, since the level will determine how quickly the country can hope to escape recession."

Friday, 9 April 2010

Migrant city's cry for help: Anguished letter to Brown and Cameron reveals devastating toll of immigration on schools, housing and hospitals

Daily Mail
"The councillors also voiced the local fears that immigration is fuelling a rise in crime.They write: 'We had four police houses in the ward years ago. Everyone knew and respected the local constable.'Now we have muggings, robberies, burglaries and neighbour disputes. We have prostitutes, drug dealers and an ever-increasing number of people who drive without road tax or insurance.'Some 16,000 migrants - many looking for farming work - have moved to the Peterborough area since 2004. Immigrant communities account for 64 per cent of the population growth.Details of the letter emerged a day after the Daily Mail revealed shocking figures showing that nearly every job created under Labour has gone to a foreign worker.Some 98.5 per cent of 1.67million new posts went to immigrants.In their letter, Mr Swift and Mr Sharp say the arrival of so many migrants has left Peterborough's housing system in chaos, with immigrants sleeping rough and relying on the Salvation Army for food."

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Euro takes a pounding on Greek fears

Daily Mail
"The euro lost further altitude and Greek bonds tumbled as sovereign default worries swirled through financial markets.The gap between Greek borrowing costs and those of the German government widened to the highest level since the euro was introduced in 1999 as investors continued to fret about Athens's ability to cope with its vast deficits."

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

UK needs 'drastic austerity measures' to prevent debt explosion

"Britain will need "drastic" austerity measures to prevent public debt exploding out of control, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), has declared.Interest payments on the UK's public debt will double from 5pc of GDP to 10pc within a decade under the bank's "baseline scenario" before spiralling upwards to 27pc by 2040 – by far the highest among the OECD club of developed countries. Greece fares better, while Britain's interest burden is far worse than Italy's."

General Election 2010: The deficit will take centre stage

"To spend or to slash? In the 30 days from now until the General Election, that is the question. ..."

Monday, 5 April 2010

Election Exclusive: Inside No. 10 as Gordon Brown Prepares Historic Trip to Palace (*)

"By Iain Martin

The scene: It is 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 6, and Gordon Brown is sitting in his open-plan office. He is at his desk on the horseshoe-shaped command and control hub from which he runs the country. He has on his best mauve tie. Around him are standing his loyal retainers — Ed Balls, Charlie Whelan and veteran Brown fixer and gatekeeper Sue Nye. It is eerily quiet and all that can be heard is the distant hum of conversation and some laughter from the adjoining office. Officials have set up a number of shredding machines and have been working all night disposing of documents. Gordon is in a reflective mode:

GB: “I think this is the right time, isn’t it? I mean, this is absolutely the right time, isn’t it? It’s not the wrong time, is it?”

Sue Nye (very quietly, under her breath): “Oh for God’s sake, here we go again.” .....

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Lower Taxes are good economics and great politics

John Redwood MP
"The UK is over taxed. The deficit has not been brought on by taxing too little, but by spending and wasting too much. Labour’s offence is not for setting tax rates that are too low, but wasting so much money on self promotion, poor purchasing, too much bureaucracy, political correctness – and above all on far too many people out of work and living on benefits. ..."

The Bank takes sides

Frank Field MP
"The Bank of England has estimated the loss of output since the great crash. At the same time it has made its most explicit proposals yet on the future of our banking system. Andrew Haldane, the Bank's Director for Financial Stability, puts the loss of output from a bank generated recession at £7.4trn for the UK. He puts the hidden cost to taxpayers of implicit support to the big UK banks at more than £50bn. No wonder he has views on banking reform - or, as he might have put it, how can we stop these banks buggering us up again."

Rebounding Celtic tiger offers UK harsh lessons in demolishing debt

"Twelve months ago, credit downgrades and a deeply alarming fiscal deficit prompted bond investors to include Ireland in a group of fiscal stinkers known as the PIGS – standing for Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. A year on, the Republic isn't quite smelling of roses but certainly seems to have left the sty. "

Revealed: US firm issues British visas... and MPs were not told

Daily Mail
"The system – never officially announced to Parliament – means that instead of filling in a form at a British embassy and facing an interview by diplomatic staff, visa applicants are directed to commercially run ‘official’ offices around the world.And hundreds of thousands of applicants simply fill in a form on a website run by the US company....But the system has been hit by problems. An official Home Office inspection of the WorldBridge visa office in Rome last year found that it replied to customers’ concerns about delays with ‘unhelpful’ and ‘generic’ wording.And a Home Office report in December pointed out ‘higher level criticism’ of WorldBridge staff who, it said, were polite but ‘had no information and were completely useless on an expensive phone line’.It said that ‘their absence of understanding of the application process was made apparent with conflicting answers from one call to the next’, and that staff were ‘scared to tell me something [in case it wasn’t correct]’. .....Sir Andrew Green, a former British Ambassador and Director for the Middle East in the Foreign Office, says that in the past, many bogus applicants would have been spotted by immigration officers. Now they are easily circumventing the system.

Sir Andrew, who runs the pressure group Migration Watch, said: ‘The crucial interview with experienced staff has been rep-laced with a system where, as long as you say the right thing on the forms and have the right doc-uments, your application will be approved.’Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘It is a revelation to discover that so much of the visa system is now controlled by two private companies.‘We have argued for a long time, particularly given all of the fraud issues surrounding student visas, that there should be far more face-to-face interviews of applicants by British diplomatic staff.‘This is the only way to ensure that applicants coming to the UK are who they say they are. This is much too important an issue not to get right.’It is also claimed that the WorldBridge system is costing British businesses millions of pounds in lost contracts."

Friday, 2 April 2010

Buying votes is easy when the bill isn't yours

"Professor Tim Briggs is one of London's top orthopaedic surgeons. So frustrated did he become with the Government's failure to provide the funds to rebuild the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, north London, that he threatened to stand as an independent against the sitting MP in the Labour-held marginal of Harrow East, Tony McNulty. He almost certainly would have won.But lo, it has come to pass that with the general election just weeks away, Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, has miraculously found that he does have the necessary £81 million after all. ....So blatant was this little piece of pork-barrel politics that Mr Burnham didn't even bother to deny it when challenged in a TV interview.According to figures compiled by The Financial Times, ministers have made £7 billion of new spending pledges in the UK regions over the past two months, much of it on projects directly affecting Labour-held marginal seats, or areas bordering them.Local councils have been taken aback by the scale of the largesse – £580 million to revitalise Tyne and Wear's Metro light rail system, £81 million to extend a West Midlands tram line, £235 million for a trolleybus system in Leeds, the list goes on and on. These are all, no doubt, deserving projects, but it is money the Government hasn't got.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Brown defied Bank of England warning over his £6bn gold giveaway

Daily Mail
"Gordon Brown rode roughshod over resistance from the Bank of England to order the disastrous sell-off of Britain's gold reserves, secret papers have revealed.Treasury documents released under Freedom of Information last night suggest that the Bank was reluctant to sign up to the sale of 395 tonnes of gold at rock-bottom prices in a series of auctions between 1999 and 2002.The deals, struck when Mr Brown was Chancellor, are thought to have cost Britain £6billion, almost double the £3.3billion cost of Black Wednesday in 1992 when the country crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.Senior officials are said to have warned that the timing of the sale risked losing money for the taxpayer."