Friday, 28 August 2009

Sad end to an Old Queen

The QE2 left Southampton at the end of last year supposedly to a new life as a floating hotel in Dubai. Although sad that a national treasure had been sold rather than kept for posterity, the majority of people I chatted to at the time were comforted about the grand plans that were made for her in her new home.

Now it seems her future is not so grand or rosy. She's going to South Africa to be used as a floating hotel for the 2010 World Cup, although the theQE2story website is more upbeat about her travelling to SA.

I really am afraid it'll end in tragedy for the QE2, things like this have happened before, grand old liners being bussed around the globe only to end up scrapped or sunk. I really hope I'm proven wrong.

Benefit Busters

I've made a couple of replies on Subrosa's blog about benefit busters. You might want to nip over and have a look. I'm going to flesh out my comments here.

Time and time again, you see government envisage a problem, spout rhetoric, deploy plans and then declare the problem is fixed, when the reality is far from the truth. I provided an example on Subrosa's blog: The government announced they were getting tougher on the unemployed and their policies (like the minimum wage) were going to create lots of lovely well-paid jobs for them to do. The benefit rules were changed so you lost jobseekers after 6 months, the minimum wage was introduced to make sure people didn't work for less than benefits, working tax credits were introduced to help those on benefits, private companies were brought in to manage the unemployed into work, in fact a whole raft of changes to the welfare and benefits system have been enacted over the past 12 years.

But has it worked? Well we don't know, because the feedback from the system is either non-existant, skewed so much by government departments as to be useless, or of more concern, totally ignored or suppressed.

Anyone in the system will tell you it doesn't work. The system hasn't been changed where it counts to reflect modern working practices, which requires people flexible enough to do extremely short term temporary work. Also, some of the changes have been counter-productive, providing a disincentive to leave benefits, rather than an incentive.

So why don't the government see this and sort out the system? Because thanks to the lack of reliable feedback, the government believes its done the job and thats the end of it. Instead it takes a FOI request like this one to show that in fact in real terms, the number of unemployed hasn't dropped, despite the government's best efforts. So feedback shows the inputs they made to the system haven't had the required effect.

Another example is the governments avowed policy to reduce child poverty. Many schemes have had much money spent on them, but only now has the feedback been produced to show that child poverty has increased under Labour than decreased.

Another is climate change. The government has raised billions in extra "green taxes" and intends to spend billions in order to reduce CO2 emissions. But nowhere is there any mention of measurement. How do we measure our success? If we monitor the megawatts of electricity used, does a reduction indicate people becoming more energy efficient, or is it an indictor of recession? Are we going to monitor every chimney for emissions and note any reduction in CO2?
I took Ed Milliband to task on Labourlist about this back in July, asking him before he comitted billions of pounds of our money to climate change, how was he going to monitor success? Because without feedback, he was just chucking money away. I never got a reply.

A crucial point about all this is once you have feedback from the system, if your expected output doesn't match your objectives, you modify the input by either going back to how the system was before you messed with it, or by identifying where the anomalies lie. That, one instantly recognises is the logical progression.

In the case of unemployment as the FOI request mentioned above reveals, its pretty obvious that uncontrolled immigration has had a quite significant impact. Its also had an impact on education and the health service too, but hey, immigration is too hot to handle for the government. Although you'd think a dispassionate analysis of reliable feedback data would be welcomed, as it should remove most criticisms or cries of racism.

Governments will continue to add layer upon layer of new legislation and process changes heaped on top of those already in place. With no feedback, how can they ever hope to ensure such a complex system is changed for the better?

Well the answer is they won't. The REAL problem with reliable feedback is that its an indicator of failure as well as success. Governments don't like to be labelled failures because it invites criticism and rectifying it may go against whatever dogma they are peddling at the time. But they should embrace failure, because as long as they do something to correct it, failure is all part of the process.

Just remember when governments of any persuasion tell you they are going to do something, ask yourself and them, wheres measurement, the feedback that will confirm success or failure?

Ask yourself some questions: what if Churchill, during the second world war, kept sending ships across the Atlantic without measuring how many of those sent actually arrived here safe? How would he have known that the U-boat threat was increasing? How would he have known that his current plans were failing and that something needed to be done about it? How would he have known that the things he implemented worked or not? He had to have reliable feedback and he had to aknowledge failure, be brave enough to embrace it, and strong enough to do something about it.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Went to See Learndirect

Appropos of remaining positive, reaching out and trying new directions, I went to see Learndirect yesterday. You know, the one on the adverts that promises to help you with careers advice, training courses, etc.


It seems the options for me are limited. Being unemployed and as yet not on any government target list, it seems I don't qualify for free training and being unemployed with no money, I can't avail myself of Learndirect's courses either.

However, on a positive note, my lack of a grade C GCSE in maths means I DO qualify to pop back next week and do a maths assessment and have a go at doing a maths GCSE.

So after that positive bit, the interview changed to further education or subsidised training. Subsidised training is out, mainly because even though I could get a career development loan from the jobcentre, you have to start paying it back immediately after completing the course; with interest. A bit difficult if you're not actually getting any benefits to pay it back with.

So, the only viable option the Learndirect advisor could think of, was to try a University course. Its the only viable option, because its the only way to get money in the form of a grant, which doesn't need paying back straight away. Student grants only need paying back when you start earning money, i.e. in employment. Sounds daft, but no other grants or training for the unemployed wait until you are actually in work before requiring repayment. Go figure.

The university course option is interesting: not because it's an option for me (relying on student grants for 4-5 years isn't an option: I need a job), but because I wonder how many other people have been advised (or forced) to go down this route? How many unemployed people are actually masquerading as mature students? We all know there's a scandal about the number of people transferred from jobseekers to Invalidity Support because it doesn't run out after 6 months like jobseekers allowance, but the switch from jobseekers to student is a new one on me.

Anyway, I will dutifully borrow my daughters GCSE revision notes and pitch up next week for my maths test.

After that, I don't know, the further education options a a real non-starter, unless there's some miracle course that lets you crack off a degree for free in a few weeks...

I'm just gonna check my spam folder, I'm sure I remember some email I got a while back.....

P.S. It's interesting in a "identifying where the system is fucked up" kind of way to see how limited the options are for the unemployed outside of government targets. If you're not 18-25 or qualify for the older person's "new deal", there really is fuck all out there to help you drag your self out of the mire. The lack of choice and opportunity is staggering, but not unexpected, given the same has happened in education.

By fixating on targets, the government has cast adrift a whole raft of the unemployed and no matter how much rhetoric it spouts, the system institutionalises unemployement. You can't actually see it untill you're in the system though. Its no wonder, because "the system" is so complex, those charged with managing only know how it should work, not how it works in reality.

A further postscript is that after doing my usual bi-weekly autograph session at the local jobcentre, I asked for a meeting with the nextstep advisor. Such was the level of training they give in jobcentres these days, the member of staff attending to me had to go and ask a manager if they had a nextstep advisor, if I could request a meeting with one and how I go about it. She came back and proffered a leaflet with a phone number on it. It seems the area has a "floating adviser", you have to phone the number and arrange to meet the advisor at the jobcentre. An interesting concept: you'd think each jobcentre would have their own advisor and would be snowed under with work. Except the nextstep service isn't publicised (I picked up on it on the website)nor do the jobcentre staff offer it as an option.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I'm Thinking of Writing a Thriller Novel...

Yes I am.

The jist of the story revolves around the infiltration of communists into our universities in the 1930s. The era of Philby and Blunt.

The premise is that the soviet secret service headed by Beria wanted to own the whole of Europe and hatched a plan. They would infiltrate all the universities of europe and indoctrinate those willing to follow the cause. Some would become spies and eventually would be exposed, but others would stay hidden and have been plotting ever since. They would become the policy-makers and power-brokers of their age, they would return to acedemia to indoctrinate a never-ending batch of socialist sympathisers. So, by way of explaination and because every good fictional story has an element of truth about it, I'm going to tie together several real-life events that happened over the last 60 years.

We had soviet spies in every department of government from the second world war onwards.

An overt part of the masterplan would be the takeover of the Eastern Bloc countries and the formation of the iron curtain.

The details of anything of technological merit we produced seemed to end up in Soviet hands, for instance the plans of Concorde. Well, supposedly doctored plans, but those plans and the Tu-144 built from it were based of early Concorde designs. Who's to say the Russians got the plans early and started to build the thing and it was just too late to change the design?

We even sold jet engines to Russia in the forties when they were of strateigic advantage to us. How bad a decision that was became obvious during the Korean war, when Mig-15s, fitted with soviet engineered versions of our jet engines proved an immense leap forward from what the soviets had previously.

We even stopped building some of the most technologically advanced aircraft because the government said so, for no good reason. We also cancelled our space projects just before space became profitable and of strateigic importance.

Another part of the plot will involve socialism and socialist policies contributing to the decline of this once great country and its empire. I've said before, that you have a bunch of socialists promoting (say) wind power, then another bunch of socialists opposing it, using up valuable time and resources for asically causing the country to crawl to a halt. In the novel, this will be no coincidence.

The same applies for mainland Europe. Soviet infiltration of major European countries leads to the installation of the EU and eventual corruption of EU philosophy, along with the accession of the Eastern Bloc countries into the EU.

Time and time again, we see close links to the left involved in some of the more ludicrous government policies. Senior members of the current government started their political lives in Marxist organisations.

For the slant of the novel, probably the climax, the hero (well, there has to be a hero) or heroes, have to go head-to-head with the government and all its technology in order to stop the country from slipping into a totalitarian stalinist regime.

What I'm missing from my story is a happy ending....

There probably won't be one in the first novel. It'll probably end with the totatlitarian regime established and the secret group having to go underground and recruit in ultra-secrecy a new cadre of members, just in time for the sequel...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Degrees of Denigration

Its becoming more and more obvious that degrees aren't what they used to be. BT is stopping its graduate induction and I dare say there are many other companies around the country that are doing the same.

The government are inducting large numbers of graduates into the civil service, in order to avoid embarrasing postgraduate unemployment figures. I've seen them twiddling their thumbs in the local jobcentre two to a desk, insulting those unemployed by surfing the net in plain sight, emailing colleagues about trivial matters and discussing it within earshot of claimants, or getting simple (but important for the claimant) things wrong.

At the same time, it seems a degree is a de-rigeur qualification to get any half-decent job these days. Jobs that would have been filled by the vocational ONC/HND streams are now being filled by graduates. I just saw a service engineer's job advertised that had a degree as a mandatory requirement.

It does make me wonder, what has happened to the vocational and academic streams that used to exists and worked so well for decades? All that they are being replaced with is some mish-mash where everyone has to have a degree or they don't stand a chance of a half-decent job.

Degrees have become cheapened.

So what actually is replacing the postgraduate degree as the requirement for what used to be a post for graduates? A masters degree? A PHD? How long do you have to spend in acedemia to get decent qualifications. More importantly, what sort of expense would you have to rack up in order to attain that level of education? Who could afford it? Would a kid from a lower class family ever consider such an expensive path? If thats the case, isn't this the age old class divide that Labour promised to abolish writ large and still going strong?

Things never really change, do they?

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Release of Al-Megrahi

I won't comment on this much, except to say the whole affair stinks.

From his convenient handing over to the authorities for trial, to the trial itself, to the recent release with its not-so-subtle links to government and oil money, the whole thing reaks of big business and governmental collusion.

I hope the Scottish people remember just which political parties shat in their face this week when it comes round to election time.

Foster Caring a Job??

I notice on the Jobcentre Plus website, this job is listed. I don't know why, but it made me a bit uneasy and sick.

* Job Title
* STU/22201




Work Pattern
Days , Evenings , Nights , Weekends


No details held



XXXXXXXX Fostering is an independent fostering agency which provides foster care placements for children aged 0 - 16. We would like to hear from potential carers from all ethnic backgrounds to match children's cultural needs. We will provide: " An allowance of up to £385 tax free* per child per week to cover their needs. " Access to support 24/7 " Regular visits from an allocated Link-worker " Training arranged for all prospective carers, funded by XXXXXXXXX Fostering. Successful applicants are required to provide an enhanced disclosure. Disclosure expense will be met by employer.

A few things stand out about this:

First, this is indicative of a percentage of "jobs" advertised on the Jobseekers website: i.e. not really what you'd class as a job.

Second, it's indicative of the wider problems in society, that children are classed as a commodity, to be brokered by a company setting up fostering deals, with clients encouraged to view children as a means to a paycheck.

Third, How can the hours be limited to 40 a week, given the kids will be living with you? What do you do once the daily 8 hours is up, cast the kid out onto the streets?

Finally, how much taxpayer's money is being paid to the firm brokering these deals, when as far as I can see it they are superfluous? After all, isn't it up to local authorities to manage fostering? Another government job creation scheme in action then I assume.

I really must dream up a scheme where I can duplicate a public service, then bribe/sleep with someone in government so that they'll pay me to do their job for them.

Decision Time

Soon the country will be facing a decision, one that the media think is simple: do you vote Labour or Conservative at the next election.

But its not that simple is it? If you vote for the Conservatives, you vote for continuing the status quo. Their manifesto isn't one that contains the supremely radical plan that will change this country.

And it needs change.

It needs change from the wishy-washy policing that persecutes easy targets and appeases the hardened criminal.

It needs change from the lacklustre education system to a new system that actually educates children without government interference.

It needs change from the hugely expensive NHS, that is far from free and overburdened with unproductive administrators.

It needs change from a failing Military, hampered by decades of incompetant and ill-advised procurement stragtegy, where the lives of those fighting in our name are mere political pawns.

It needs change from a benefits culture that rewards those that stay off work and provides no incentives for those that take low-paid jobs.

It needs change from a government intent on using borrowed money to buy votes, rather than sort out the country's finances.

It needs change from a political elite, of all colours and creeds, wedded to big business and high finance, and who works in their own interests, instead of those of the country at large.

It needs change from an indoctrinated public, who are conditioned to think their vote doesn't count.

We can make a difference, merely by exercising the right to vote. A pencil, placed in our fingers has the ability to change the course of history, to raise giants and to crush the undeserving.

You the greater public out there, need to look now at your choices and the outcome of the power placed in your hand. Do you want more of the same, or do you want to sweep the undeserving aside?

It is your choice.

It is your time.

Decide wisely, or face the repercussions for years to come.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Its Not Just me Struggling to Find Work Then

It seems that I'm not the only one. I know of more and more older people that are finding it hard to get work. The majority are finding that enquiries go unanswered. I assume because ageism is illegal, agencies and employers just throw applications from older people in the bin. Given that the job I applied for the other week that was rejected withing hours was a job I'd held down before, I can only assume this is the case.