Monthly Archives: June 2010

Flat….

….is pretty much how I feel today after yesterday’s abysmal performance on the footy field by our over hyped and over paid national team.

I’d be the first to admit that my own opinions on the beautiful game are worth no more than those of the next opinionated bore on his fifth pint of wife-beater. And I never swallowed the belief that we might, just might, win it. Yes, we’ve got a great midfield and a star striker (who appeared to have stayed at home and sent his twin brother on the trip to South Africa) but we were always weak at the back with no recognised keeper and ageing or injury-prone defenders.

The question everyone seems to be asking is what went wrong between the hugely impressive qualifying campaign and the finals? I don’t think it started in South Africa, the weaknesses were there in the loss to the Ukraine and in the friendlies. Some sort of team spirit had gone missing. I’m no sports psychologist but I like to think my years in the law have taught me a little about trust. I do wonder if John Terry’s alleged antics with a former team-mate’s ex-girlfriend have anything to do with the sudden loss of form? He was the captain, let’s not forget. If so, and there are many people better qualified than me to judge, then perhaps he should have played his last game for his country.

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Non-jobs

No-one (apart perhaps from Guardian readers) likes it when local authorities advertise jobs which sound like, and sometimes are, wholly fatuous and politically correct non-jobs of the “one-armed vegan lap dancers outreach worker” variety.

Elmbridge BC has taken some stick in the press recently for this (we are advertising for a Health, Safety and Wellbeing Adviser), and in my opinion this criticism is unjustified. The job title is imposed on us by New Labour legislation, but the post is actually an important one and the successful candidate will have a proper job to do. Here is the Council’s official response:

Health, Safety and Wellbeing Adviser

It is regrettable that a reporter, posing as an applicant, has selectively reported a conversation with an administrative support worker and wholly misrepresented the Health, Safety and Wellbeing vacancy as a “non-job”. Despite being asked to contact the manager responsible and being advised that the person he was speaking to did not know the details of the job, the reporter persisted with his enquiries and, in an effort to be as helpful as possible, the member of staff speculated as to what the job involved. In good faith the member of staff went to some lengths to try to secure the caller’s contact details so that the manager could call him back. Having got his quote he declined the offer.

In common with most local authorities, including all Surrey districts, in Elmbridge the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Adviser is a long established role, dating back over 30 years. The Council has several statutory Health and Safety responsibilities that must be fulfilled. The Adviser provides specialist advice and training for staff on everything from manual handling and workplace assessments to fire and bomb training, asbestos awareness, emergency planning and business continuity.

In addition the post holder carries out inspections arising from legislative requirements, for example, covering fairground and steam fair health and safety to protect the public.

The role covers health and safety not just in Council offices, but in our day centres for the elderly where safety provisions are paramount, parks and open spaces, transport and across the full range of Council services.

The main role of this post is to act as an internal consultant supporting managers in managing their legislative health and safety responsibilities. These include compliance with requirements of relevant legislation identification of hazards and risks and ensuring that staff and members of the public are protected from harm. This can cover anything from water safety in parks to food or premises safety.

Examples of the training provided include:

  1. Fire and Bomb Training (wardens and all staff)
  2. Manual Handling of loads
  3. Moving and Handling (for example, for those assisting frail and elderly people)
  4. Health and Safety for Managers
  5. Display Screen Equipment
  6. Personal Safety Training

In addition to these training sessions the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Adviser will assist with arrangements for the violence awareness programme, which assists staff conducting unaccompanied site visits or those dealing with challenging or aggrieved clients, the health and safety training program for senior managers, working at heights, asbestos awareness training. The Adviser personally delivers the health and safety content on all staff induction courses.

The recent inclusion of “wellbeing” in the job title was to take account of our focus on managing staff sickness levels. Although Elmbridge has relatively low levels of sickness (around 6.6 days per employee per year), there is a determination to drive these lower.

The post holder would therefore be expected to support managers through the management of stress, eye testing for VDU users, health checks for employees and liaising with Occupational Health regarding other pro-active methods of promoting health with employees.

On the sensitive issue of pay, this post is advertised at a lower level of pay than the previous post holder.

Now obviously as a member of the Cabinet and a newly appointed one at that I will be accused of supporting the administration come what may, but it does seem to me that despite the somewhat PC name, this is a real job and not a sinecure for the otherwise unemployable. 

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60% tax shocker

The previous Labour government was brilliant at budget presentation. Year after year the headlines which they wanted the public to see would appear and only, several weeks later would the small print be analysed and digested and the hidden tax rises revealed. The classic example in recent years was the withdrawal of the 10% tax band, which was hidden in the small print under a small reduction in the headline basic rate of income tax. Thus, what was presented as a tax cut was in fact a swingeing tax rise, hitting the lowest earners harder than everyone else.

I have just been made aware of another one, and I felt I must blog about it in case I am not the only person out there who hadn’t noticed until now.  Last year we all remember the announcement of the new 50% rate for those earning over £150,000. Hurrah, said everyone who wanted to bash bankers earning a huge bonus in times of national economic difficulties caused in part at least by those self same bankers. For the record, I was not cheering, and I’m not a banker.

That new rate came in with effect from 6th April this year. What seems not to have been noticed is at the same time anyone earning over £100K will see their personal allowance progressively reduced. If you earn about £113,000, your entire personal allowance is wiped out. The personal allowance is of course the amount anyone can earn without paying tax on it. The effect of this is to create a hidden (stealth – remember that word?)  tax rate of 60%.

Now we are not quite in the realms of the 90% plus tax rates prevalent under the Wilson / Callaghan government but the principal reason why this level of taxation is wrong remains the same. It will not increase the tax take. You do not need to be Arthur Laffer to understand this one. If I am earning, say, £90K, a very good salary but by no means Master of the Universe level, why on earth should I bust a gut to earn an extra £20K or thereabouts if the Government is going to take away more than 50% of it in taxation? It is a tax on aspiration, on hard work and on entrepreneurship, it raises no extra money for the treasury and merely panders to the politics of envy. It should be dealt with by George Osborne in his first budget.

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Home Buy

Yesterday I went to my first formal engagement as the portfolio holder for housing at Elmbridge Borough Council. This was the Home Buy event at the Walton Playhouse organised by the Catalyst Housing Group.

There were stalls there manned by Catalyst and by various other social landlords such as the Rosemary Simmons Housing Trust and even by national housebuilders such as Crest Nicholson. The purpose of the event is to attract those who might otherwise think they had no prospect of owning their home to come and look at the various incentive schemes now on offer. One of the key schemes is shared ownership, which requires a smaller than usual deposit and where the repayments usually involve an element of rental payment for that part of the proeprty which is not owned by the buyer. Solicitors and mortgage advisors were on hand to provide practical advice. None were charging for their services.

I was delighted to see that there was a queue for the various stallholders and even a line to get in to the event. It is essential in a wealthy area like Elmbridge that every effort is made to help people, often young people in front-line service professions, to get on to the housing ladder. As things stand our children and our key workers are having to move out of the borough to cheaper properties elsewhere. That places an extra burden on them for transport costs and in turn leads to traffic build-up on our roads.

I am delighted that this borough was able to host this event and I am pleased that we made a good effort to advertise it widely. It was a great introduction to my new role.

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The infallible rule

If you are ever in doubt as to how you should respond to an issue of national importance, I recommend that you consult the Guardian to see if Polly Toynbee has expressed an opinion on the subject.

If she has expressed an opinion, then I recommend you adopt the opposite position.

Here she is on David Laws, a fine and talented man, not of my party, who was brought down because he did not feel able yet to admit that he was gay: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/31/david-laws-cuts-agenda 

What a brave woman she must be, to kick a man when he is down.

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