Thursday, 23 April 2009

Budget and blogs

Having the budget very much on my mind and looking on many of the political blogs that I look at when some political event occurs the general feeling seems to be that it wasn’t a good budget, even on a lot of the socialist blogs the comment is pretty negative.

There is a remarkable amount of absence of comment about the budget on the local Labour blogs.

For me it seemed to lack the major banking reforms that I would have expected from a socialist government, to me the budget seemed to be much more aimed a forthcoming election than dealing with the current economic crisis.

I also would have expected the government to make use of the crisis to reform public sector pay and pensions, which are something we can no longer afford at the present rate.

I find it hard to see how the government can justify paying civil servants over £2,000 per week when the country is effectively bankrupt, and any employee who really justified a wage of that order wouldn’t have any problem getting a job in the private sector.

Certainly if there are civil servants that it is felt do justify wages of that order then they ought to have to regularly take some sort of postgraduate examination in their field of expertise to prove it.

When we are talking about individuals that for the most part only produce paperwork in most cases any competent clerk or secretary could do their jobs, in fact in many cases this is what happens anyway.

The public perception of the people running the country the county and the district at the moment is that a great many of the people involved put personal financial gain far ahead of any other objective.

Now the only way we can afford to pay these enormous sums is to borrow vast amounts of money.

I have to admit to wondering what happens when the point comes where there is no more money available for the government to borrow, or will this constraint never occur?

It’s certainly happening to businesses and their employees at the moment perhaps we should all work for the public sector and have a country entirely reliant on debt.


  1. Civil Servants do a lot more than shuffle papers around. They take decisions, form policy, advise ministers, conduct negotiations and much more. Have you never watched 'Yes Minister'? It is exagerated, very funny but it true in essence.

  2. Your suggestion that "any competent secretary" could do the job of any senior civil servant - say for example the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - is risible in the extreme. [I am sure you will not conflate the word 'secretary]
    Still I imagine it's all because you are feeling a bit angry and looking for someone to blame.

  3. JH I can only go by my own experience here the only dealings I have with civil servants receiving wages of this magnitude are those working for TDC although they are all utterly charming, in terms of actually being able to deliver what they promise or being qualified and able to do their jobs things do not appear to be so good.

    Angry well yes my country is rapidly becoming an unpleasant place to live, I have just been talking to some people who attended a meeting in Margate during the evening, they described getting from the meeting to their cars as a frightening and intimidating business.

    This sort of thing I can only put down to bad governance locally and nationally, and don’t feel those responsible should be rewarded in this way I also feel that those on very high wages should have the proper qualifications to justify this.

    Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sounds very grand the only thing that worries me here is the lack the presence of a commonwealth in any discernable way but name and games.

  4. If one judges the Civil Service on the job pages of the Guardian and some Local Govt officers then I am with you 100%. However, my experience of the Civil Service is different. I was a member of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office [HM Diplomatic Service] for 30 years. Those at the top, earning large salaries may have been many things but they were not stupid nor indecisive. Most had double firsts from Oxbridge with a brain that could boil water. They worked hard and for long hours. I was lower down the ladder. Never the less I was expected to come up with definitive solutions to problems and to implement those decisions and take responsibility for them.
    Yes of course one sometimes had to 'push paper'. I expect you have a filing system. But I take the point you are trying to make. In the FCO there was a rule that you must never push a problem up the ladder unless it was accompanied by your own thoughts and suggested solution.
    On a different note, try pushing paper in a sealed glass building in West African heat and humidity without air conditioning because the electricity has been cut off for the past three days. It's hard work though good for sweating off those pounds.
    I'm not moaning. I enjoyed it all.

  5. Yes the Commonwealth is alive and well and envied by foreign countries notably the USA. When you get close to the Commonwealth politically you realise just what very good friends we have out there and how we benefit from that. I agree that the worth of the commonwealth may not always seem obvious when viewed through everyday life in UK. But we would lose much if it went.

    I am sorry Michael. I have heard all these criticisms before. Especially from Brits abroad who sat swilling back my booze while complaining vehemently about the fact I got it duty free.

  6. Well said JH. Both Politicians and Civil Servants take difficult decisions. They also have to listen to the views of others as part of the decision making process.

    Whereas the likes of Michael can zoom in on one issue to the exclusion of all else, make representations in ignorance of the big picture, and frustrate civil servants in an effort to boost their own egos.

    But when it comes to making decisions, the likes of Michael do nothing. Real campaigners make things happen with positive action, not just frustrate the system with emails about hypothetical scenarios.

  7. How refreshing to hear constructive remarks on here rather than the usual plethora from the Michael Childs Fan Club

  8. JH I had some dealings with our diplomats in the late 60s and early 70s and I concur that all of those I met were very good types, I like to think the situation is the same now.

    In recent times I have had dealings with TDC and the EA the situation I found was a group of very senior officers that didn’t seem to understand technical issues I put to them or couldn’t follow a coherent argument.

    A group of very hard working and conscientious officers in the middle somewhere mostly well trained and doing nearly all the work and a group of officers that had been promoted into jobs they were incapable of doing properly.

    My contention is that anyone earning over about £50,000 pa should at the very least be a graduate in a subject that in some way relates to their job.

  9. Thanet Resident you seem be under the illusion the a great many of the politicians and civil servants that I know are opposed to what I do, the problem for them often is that they can’t raise the issues that I do.

    I was told recently by a senior EA officer that since all the fuss I had made over protecting our water supply they now had two good and properly qualified officers to get to grips with the issue.

    Reading between the lines I don’t think they had realised what a huge drain on our water supply Thanet Earth will be and think if they had worked it out beforehand they would have opposed China Gateway more strongly on the grounds that concreting over a large part of the aquifer will mean that replenishment will be a problem.

    Essentially the majority of the problems I raise are to do with public safety in the case of Pleasurama for instance my original concerns have now been endorsed by strong recommendations from the EA, do you for instance believe that the Pleasurama development should go ahead without a flood risk assessment?

    My interest isn’t to become a campaigner as I am not particularly against the most of the things that the council propose, what I do try to do is to insure that the experts to their jobs properly and that firms investing in this area are aware of the environmental and safety constraints.

    14.56 I certainly don’t want a fan club but would like the occasional coherent answer to some of the questions I raise particularly those about public safety.

    JH Our previous comments crossed, I am having a fairly busy fitting replies in, I had a long meeting with two of our councillors here this morning and it being market day the shop is fairly busy.

    I am afraid my understanding of the commonwealth is very weak indeed and will bow to your superior knowledge in that one I am certainly glad to here it is so beneficial.

  10. Michael, I am a regular reader of your blog. I appreciate that you make a helpful and intelligent contribution to various projects around Thanet. You appear to be making headway. At the risk of being frank, it is unwise to meet these council officers head on. You may well be right. But you should avoid telling them so. It will put their backs up and they will go on the defensive. Persuade them to come on to your side. It is better to let them think that your idea is their idea. Remember, the art of diplomacy is building ladders for people to climb down. I wish you luck. And no, I do not want pleasurama flooded.

  11. JH Bit difficult to avoid as a lot of the use the bookshop and have done for the last 20 years, I even publish local history books by them.

    Both council officers and councillors are ringed with so many rules that that they have to spend much of their lives admiring the emperor’s new clothes.

    This doesn’t mean that many of them are unintelligent nor can it think of any of them including those I disagree with that I don’t get on with personally.

  12. Michael, I know your intentions are good but banging off emails is not the answer. Are you really telling me that you know more than the authorities on the subject?

    According to this blog the EA assessment of the potential Pleasurama flood risk has materialised after planning consent had been granted, possibly because of moving goal posts over global warming criteria.

    So having granted planning consent for the development before this assessment, do you now expect the council to go back on a legally binding decision? If they have the power to do so, insist they do it. If they don't you argument is with the law makers. To keep expounding your amateur opinion is hardly going to impress the professionals.

    Of course I don't want to see Pleasurama flooded, but for what it's worth I think the risk is very minimal depending on what happens with global warming and if it did happen the danger would be almost negligable.

    Michael, can you answer me one thing. Bearing in mind we may all have different opinions, do you think it a good idea if myself and anyone else who wants to should now start pestering the council with our uninformed opinions, request meetings with councillors, ask them to supply us with paper copies of plans etc. etc.?

  13. Michael can I be in your fan club please

  14. Michael Child 15:50
    With regard to China Gateway you said "concreting over a large part of the aquifer will mean that replenishment will be a problem".

    Can you tell me what happens to the rainwater if it doesn't eventually find it's way back into the aquifer?

  15. I expect it finds it way into the sewer.

  16. I think you`ll find regulations ensure that surface water passes through a soak away and subsequently into the aquifer, possibly via an interceptor if there is a risk of contamination.

    I just wondered what Michael thought happens to it.

  17. To Anonymous, Thank you. That was interesting. I didn't know that is what happened to the run off water. Now that you have explained it makes sense.

  18. Thanet Resident I believe you may have got the wrong end of the stick here, there was some sort of design error with the original plans which would have meant that the building was considerably higher than the cliff top.

    I and various other Ramsgate residents made a fuss about this and the architect produced a new set of plans lowering the proposed building so that most of it was below the cliff top.

    I requester these plans from the council as I had some doubts about the architects competence in view of the first set of plans, when I examined the new plans I discovered that they showed a building that was 1.5 meters taller on the inside than on the outside, I pointed out the Tardis like nature of the building to the council planning department they wrote and thanked me and new plans were produced where the sections were the same length as the elevations.

    I didn’t think that the plans were very good the height reduction removed the gullwinged roof that gave the building an ocean liner like appearance, so that any architectural merit it could once have been said to have had was lost.

    I wont go into the dangerous cliff issue as this has now been resolved but I was also involved with that.

    Although I wasn’t happy about the building and didn’t think the building materials suitable for the location I decided to let the matter go.

    Then Donald Long who had been a Ramsgate town councillor told me that the old Pleasurama building had been flooded and damaged by wave overtopping, when investigated this further I discovered from old local paper articles that in the 1953 storm a 12 ton crane that had been working on the beach was thrown into the middle of the site by wave action and in the 1897 storm most of the buildings down there had been demolished by the sea.

    I alerted the council and the EA to this the architects didn’t seem to want to cooperate with the EA in this one so it took about a year for the EA to be supplied with plans that showed sea levels.

    Once the EA had these and realised that there was a very real danger to the building from wave overtopping they wrote to the architects the council and myself strongly recommending a flood risk assessment and emergency escapes to the cliff top.

    Without this assessment the building will be blighted to a greater or lesser extent which I consider this to be undesirable.

    As far as uninformed opinions go if you delve back through this blog you will find in most cases I substantiate what I say by linking to document from appropriate experts, what am I supposed to do say about the Pleasurama development, leave it to be built in a dangerous way against EA advice?

    9.26 The problem with China Gateway is that the main warehouses have loading areas and associated parking for over 100 lories and this is situated on the most sensitive part of the aquifer the next thing down hill from it being the drinking water abstraction point.

    Between them the various statutory consultees Southern Water, the EA and airport operator have made drainage for this area appear impossible. They are not allowed to use soakaways here the main sewer is totally inadequate, they can’t pump the water uphill as power cuts are prone to occur during thunderstorms, they can’t use balancing ponds which have been mandatory for all the other developments on Manston business park because of KIA’s concerns about waterfowl.

    No one I have asked can tell me where the surface water is to go the architects are the same ones that produced the Pleasurama plans and seem to be totally unaware of the environmental constrictions the relate to building on the aquifer.

    A further point of interest is that the KIA master plan shows the airport access road running right through where some of the China Gateway buildings are supposed to be going to be built.

    15.50 Apparently not.

    Don I am most flattered but as a shop assistant I am afraid I don’t warrant one.

    JH I recommend you work back through this blog looking at the previous posts and associated documentation about this, clicking on the china gateway link at the bottom of the post will allow you to do this easily.

  19. Thank you Michael, I have followed your blog with interest over the last couple of years. In the main I agree with you. I certainly admire your concern and persistence.

  20. JH frankly I was surprised both by how many people read it and how many new customers it brings to the bookshop, which means I can justify spending the time on it.

    I think today with the way local papers work and the constrictions placed on local politicians it is very important to have a known person that is accountable for what they say raising issues, especially those of public safety.

    I do my best to research the issues as best I can, what I find most worrying though with Pleasurama and the ground water issue is the absence of a counter argument that makes any sense.

    The attitude of going ahead with developments that are known to be dangerous, because government rules seem to make it impossible to have any flexibility if some new aspect is discovered after a decision has been made seem incredibly stupid.

  21. Michael, yet again you have missed the point of my argument. I am not disputing the issues because I am not qualified to do so. What I'm questioning is that you are wasting a considerable amount of our resources with your interpretation of the situation. I also have opinions but I don't think it right to use them to challenge the authorities on technical issues. You have said that you substantiate what you say by linking to document from appropriate experts. Excellent, but aren’t these documents coming from the relevant authorities that you are challenging. Do you think they don’t read them? Do you think they don’t understand them? Or could there be other documents or issues you don’t know about but which have to be considered.

    As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a democratic society where our “Lords and Masters” have to make decisions within a legal framework and in the best interests of everyone. If you suspect they are not doing this, there are established procedures for bringing them to task. It’s frustrating for all of us when we don’t agree with their decisions, but it’s something we sometimes have to accept as it's just not possible to please everyone.

    I ask the question again, bearing in mind we may all have different opinions do you think it a good use of resources if myself and anyone else who wants to should now start pestering the council with our personal opinions, request meetings with councillors, ask them to supply us with paper copies of plans etc. etc.?

    You said about this blog: “I was surprised both by how many people read it and how many new customers it brings to the bookshop, which means I can justify spending the time on it”. At last you’ve come clean. There is more to this blog than genuine concern over the well being of Thanet residents.

    But you may not have the full picture on this either. I for one now tend to avoid your shop as I've been caught once to often by you thundering on about local issues when all I want to do is buy one of your excellent local history books.

  22. Thanet Resident, My entire working life has been spent in government service. Like you I do not have the technical knowledge to give an informed opinion about what Michael has to say. But he does sound plausible.

    I take your point that Michael appears to wasting our council tax by pressing TDC. I am sure that many of them consider Michael a thorn in their sides, perhaps even a bit of a nuisance. Well - so what. For there is one thing of which I am sure. You should challenge government whenever and wherever you see a need. If you fail to do so they will run away with your life and probably wreck it.

    Rome did not decline because of the Barbarians. In fact they were getting along quite well. Rome fell because it had created a monstrous, smothering bureaucracy that invaded every part of life. To the extent that its citizens had long ago given up thinking for themselves. Consequently, they did not know how to stop the decline. They left it to their government who failed them.

    So maybe Michael is right or maybe he is wrong. Perhaps he is too persistent, I don't know. But I do know that he will keep TDC on their toes and make them think things through. And that is a good thing. Civil Servants are still sensitive to public opinion. And they always will be so long as there is the Press and the Michael's of this world snapping at their heals. And as an ex civil servant I would not have it any other way.

  23. Sorry, misspelled 'heels'.

  24. Sorry, too many 'and's in final paragraph. I'm half asleep. Any way what am I doing flogging away here at this time of night!

  25. JH I'm a great believer in making your voice heard, but in the right way and at the right time. I believe we have a "duty" to contribute our opinions about matters on which we are qualified to do so. For example, do we want the Pleasurama development, should it protrude above the cliffs etc. But I don't think we should all start deluging the council with our "opinions" on technical issues. Michael's comments often make sense but do they include the full picture. Perhaps they do, but equally perhaps they don't, which is why I believe technical issues should be left to the experts. Imagine the chaos if we all took Michael's approach.

    I have had dealings with the Civil Service and have found it to be a mirror image of the private sector with fine, intelligent and hard working people. Equally it has it's fair share of idiots (beware of those with double barrel names in the Diplomatic Corps).

    In my opinion the Civil Service usually has the required expertise, it just doesn't have enough of it. That's why I'm so against wasting council time on opinion as opposed to expert knowledge.

    Also, I am now deeply suspicious of Michael's motives. Many things he may be, but stupid he is not. You may have noticed that when the blog goes a bit quiet, Michael drags up either the Pleasurama development or Manston Airport - both of which are almost guaranteed to provide entertaining responses and, by his own admission, increase his level of business!

  26. You say that you are a great believer in making your voice heard, but in the right way at the right time. Forgive me if at moment I find that a nebulous statement. What is the right time and the right place? How would you go about bringing your own concerns to the attention of TDC?

    I do not understand your remark encouraging me to beware of diplomats bearing double-barreled names. I find your stance curious. Do you have experience to support this caveat; or is just good old fashion class prejudice?

    You appear to be saying that anyone with a double-barreled name is an idiot. That is ill mannered of you. Of course you may well be right. I'm sure that some people with double-barreled names are indeed idiots; but then so are some people with single names.

  27. Thanet Resident and JH I have raised a new post broadly on the same subject, as I feel your interesting and important comments are getting somewhat lost in the backwaters of the of this blog.

    A thought on the British class system that occurs is the British Army that seems for the most part to be run along the lines of our class system appears to for the most part work remarkably well.

    Admittedly much of this comes out of how much damage was done by buying of commissions up to WW1, but we see very little of the problems of police brutality or American torture prevalent at the moment coming from our army.

  28. JH, apologies for my remark about double barrel names. It was flippant and in retrospect unnecessary.

    Although irrelevant in this instance it is however based on evidence. In a previous life I ran a business where I had to assess the character of my clients to protect my assets. Over many years of experience I found that people with double barrel names had a much higher risk factor. I've no idea why this is, and of course it doesn't always apply.

    Maybe coincidently, I have had dealings with one of our overseas missions and there appeared to be an unusually high number of staff with double barrel names, some of which didn't appear to be up to their jobs.

    I also found the same with certain occupations, but you'll be pleased to hear that I regarded Civil Servants as a good risk.

    However, that's all in the past and as I'm now retired I no longer have to categorise people for my own protection. One of the reasons for my early retirement was that I found I was miss trusting everybody unless they could prove otherwise. I am now able to take people at face value, and it's a much more pleasant experience.

    Again, my sincere apologies.

  29. Dear Thanet Resident,
    Thank you for your reply the contents of which have been noted.


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