February 2010 Archives
Over the past 12 months or so, amid all of the economic doom and gloom, I have tried to be relatively cheery and upbeat when it comes to sticking my head above the blogosphere parapet. However, on this occasion, I appear to have joined the ranks of the glass-half-empty brigade.
To make matters worse, I've a more-than-sneaking suspicion that a number of you may not have heard of the cause of my despond. So, what's got me down in the dumps? A political conundrum that's remained lurking in the darkest recesses of our political system since 1977: the West Lothian Question. It takes its name from the then political constituency of the MP who first raised it - Labour stalwart, Tam Dalyell - and it relates to the effect of devolution on those bits of the UK without devolved parliaments.
Stephen Hester, RBS's C.E.O. said this morning (after announcing a ÃÂ£3.6 billion loss) that investment bankers had left RBS this last year "in their thousands". Perhaps that's why their investment bank division have just reported a ÃÂ£5.7 billion "profit". Good Riddance to them, then? Good strategy?
Well, not so fast, taxpayer.
Hester said live on Radio 4's Today this morning that, "Some of our best performing people have been leaving in their thousands. The people who left us last year, I believe, would have increased our profits (sic) by up to ÃÂ£1billion beyond the ones we have got."
Right. So the ones left behind must be rubbish investment bankers, if they are performing worse than those who left, Mr. Hester?
What should we do about that then?
Tell you what: why don't we give them ÃÂ£1.3billion out of the public purse? Er...just in case they leave.
The Government has formally withdrawn the 100% guarantee of all savings in Northern Rock PLC. It will run out on 24th May 2010.
After that date the Government's standard cross-banking industry guarantee will apply of ÃÂ£50,000 per saver.
It's now official. I am told all this by a special e-mail this morning from Chief Executive, Gary Hoffman.
He says, "We recently confirmed that your savings account is now held by Northern Rock plc, a new bank that is Government owned and regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
"The Government has now completed a review of the temporary guarantee arrangements they put in place in 2007, which cover all savings in Northern Rock. As a result of our good progress and the new bank's strong capital and funding position, the Government, in consultation with the FSA, has decided that this guarantee is no longer required."
So your savings at Northern Rock after May 24th might seem no more, or less, safe than at any other bank. Thus far the advantage had been that it was definitely safer.
After 3 years of recycling wastes with patience and determination, Wolseley's UK head office and Sustainable Building Centre (SBC) in Leamington Spa is now recycling 90% of its wastes and saves around ÃÂ£30,000 a year using worm farms and other recycling methods.
Willmott Dixon, the contractor at the forefront of the sector on environmental issues and waste reduction in the construction industry aims to become carbon neutral and send zero waste to landfill by 2012.
I don't know if they have achieved 90% yet, but in this race to zero waste to landfill by most companies, I wonder if people realise that there is some irrationality in these magic keywords: "zero waste".
Be rational for a minute: With all the materials (cement, plastic, etc...) going in the production of a house, building or bridge, do you really think that all of them can be recycled? Or that all of them will be used and not end in a bin somewhere?
Sustainability plays now a big part in the strategy of Frank Haslam Milan West Midlands.
The company just started a pilot project with Solihull Community Housing (SCH)
and Wolverhampton Homes to reduce tenants' carbon emissions by testing different methods of reducing carbon emissions, including solar powered security lighting, rainwater butts, low water use for bathroom suites and taps, home composting
facilities, eco friendly paints, low energy lighting and new heating and electrical systems.
As an academic, I am interested to know how they will collect data and compare the best eco-technologies. In this new field of sustainability reporting, academic and practitioner researchers disagree a lot, so it is very easy to be called a green-washer. I hope the company will make public its methodology and findings when this very interesting project is completed.
The company has also just received an Award in the 'best development' category of the LABC New Home Warranty Awards for Excellence 2009. It would be good to hear more often of developers who commission wildlife surveys before starting work and if necessary, build their work programme around the hibernation periods of animals.
"I wish that all economists could get on a boat, a too small boat, and sail away to an island, a too small island where they could argue amongst themselves allowing me to get on with the job of rebuilding my business".
Those words given in a private speech to a Birmingham audience some 23 years ago by a recently retired chairman and former CEO of a major quoted UK industrial company are words that I for one have never forgotten!
Everyone focuses on the 31 January tax deadline for filing tax returns. Moira Stewart, sitting in the cupboard, reminded us that taxpayers could face a ÃÂ£100 penalty if returns are not filed on time.
A date is fast approaching, however, that could have much more serious implications for tax payers. If tax payable on 31 January 2010 is not paid by 28 February, it will carry an automatic 5% surcharge. This is more than the highest interest rate you will ever pay on your credit card bill or your bank loan.
When it comes to evaluating your cashflow, bear in mind that the above surcharge equates to a whopping 60% p.a. interest.
Bear in mind there is always an alternative. If you contact HMRC before the penalty hits and agree payment by instalments, no penalty surcharge will be added to the amount outstanding.
A word of warning however, HMRC have become aware that some advisers are advocating that the "taxman" is a cheaper way of borrowing than going to the Bank. Therefore HMRC are looking more carefully into requests for time to pay (TTP). Taxpayers must therefore be able to show that they have exhausted all other methods of paying their tax, before approaching HMRC to be considered for leniency and allowed to enter into a TTP.
It is however still a worthwhile lifeline for those facing difficulties - and as the 28 February fast approaches - the time to deal with it is NOW.
This week the Birmingham Post will publish a Question & Answer Feature regarding the ageing leaders in the construction industry.
There are some very interesting answers from the panel. Steve Underwood, Strategic Development Director for Kier Group, notes that for the last 10 years or more, he has been meeting the same people at the same events.
Thinking about the construction events that I've been in the last 12 months, he's right: Always the same faces. This industry seems to be a closed ghetto community. Where is the new blood?
Abraham Lincoln, a man with the rare ability to make a powerful point in a few well-chosen and elegantly-crafted words, once commented that "No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar." If only Joe Galloway, a key witness in a recent dispute between BSkyB and EDS, had taken heed of the Great Emancipator's advice. Instead, Mr Galloway's reputation lies in tatters and he has become a complete laughing stock in the legal world and throughout the blogosphere.
Mr Galloway's problems (paragraph 174 in this link if you are sufficiently intrigued to read the judgment) stemmed from the fact that he claimed to have obtained an MBA from Concordia College in St Johns in the US Virgin Islands between 1995 and 1996. In fact, it was a false qualification which he had bought on-line.
Rather than admitting to this, he perjured himself further by inventing stories about classes he attended on a part-time basis in non-existent faculty buildings whilst supposedly working at an equally-imaginary Coca Cola facility on the island. He even managed to invent regular commuter flights to and from the airport the island has never had.
For energy lawyers like me, February is proving to be an exciting month.
First up, details of the government's long awaited feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewable energy were finally published. I say long awaited, because many here in the UK have for years been gazing longingly at equivalent schemes in continental Europe - especially Germany - which have successfully delivered large amounts of installed renewables and associated products, services and jobs.