December 3 2001


Cabinet puddings

Old Grumpy was unable to attend last week's Policy and Resources Committee in County Hall, but reports received indicate that the Independent Political (sic) Group are well ahead with their trough construction project.
Having set their face against an elected Mayor (understandably, because it wouldn't be one of them) they have announced their intention to have a ten person Cabinet comprising The Leader (£35,000 a year) plus the Deputy Leader and eight members (£22,000 each).
In addition they envisage five Scrutiny Committees (Chairman £17,000; Vice-Chairman £13,000) together with Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Council (£17,000 and £13,000) plus Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of Planning and Licensing Committees - 26 posts qualifying for special responsibility allowances.
My best estimate is that, including the vastly increased stipends to be paid to the 34 ordinary bog-standard members excluded from the main trough, all this will cost at least double the present set-up.
Looking around the Independent benches I am hard pressed to find 10 people I would put in charge of a small to medium sized whelk stall never mind a Cabinet charged with the stewardship of £120 million of taxpayers' money.
Not that it is likely to matter much because I expect the unelected officers will continue to run the show with the Cabinet as just a rather more expensive and self-important rubber stamp than the one we have at present.


Orwellian vision

Those of you who find it difficult to find the time to attend meetings of the County Council can easily get a flavour of what goes on by reading George Orwell's Animal Farm, which, at a mere 115 pages can be skipped through in an evening.

Here is his description of a "democratic meeting", with explanatory footnotes provided by Old Grumpy.

"After the hoisting of the flag all the animals trooped into the big barn for a general assembly known as the meeting. Here the work of the coming week was planned out and resolutions were put forward and debated. It was always the pigs(1) who put forward the resolutions. The other animals(2) understood how to vote but could never think of any resolutions of their own"

And later: "Many meetings were held in the big barn, and the pigs occupied themselves by planning out the work of the coming season. It had come to be accepted that the pigs, who were manifestly cleverer than the other animals, should decide all questions of farm policy, though their decisions had to be ratified by a majority vote."

(1) Chief Officers Management Board (COMB)

(2) Independent Political (sic) Group.

Orwell certainly knew a thing or two about sham democacy.



Tax burden

Egged on, no doubt, by opinion polls that show that more than 50% of the electorate would be willing to pay more to fund the NHS, the government is steeling itself to put up taxes.
They should tread carefully: what people tell opinion pollsters and how they actually behave are entirely different matters.
The common perception is that tax avoidance is the preserve of the rich: the pop stars and sportsmen who take up residence in Jersey; the millionaire businessmen who stash there money in offshore trusts; and those who employ specialist tax accountants to pick holes in the Finance Acts.
But, in fact, we all indulge in tax avoidance, often unwittingly.
For instance, most people trade off work and leisure.
Whether or not you are willing to work on a Sunday will depend on a comparison between the value you put on your leisure time and the amount of money that is destined to end up in your pocket.
The more the government takes in tax the more the scales are tilted towards that afternoon on the golf course.
And, the more that is confiscated by the taxman, the greater the incentive to work in the black economy.
On top of that, Trades Unions, however enthusiastic they might be about increases in public spending, try to protect their members' standard of living, whether against the inflation caused by increases in indirect taxes such as VAT, or reductions in take-home pay resulting from higher rates of income tax.
There is some evidence from America that, contrary to common sense, lower rates of tax can lead to higher revenues.
And it is surely no accident that, after 20 years of relatively low taxes, the UK's public finances are in excellent shape, and unemployment, inflation and interest rates are at their lowest levels for several decades.

Not for nothing do economists refer to the tax burden.


Grammar school

This is the time of year when the papers are full of recommendations for Christmas books.
About three years ago my mother bought me "Fowler's use of English" one of my most favourite books ever (a phrase aching with redundancy, as Fowler would put it.)
The great advantage of Fowler is that you don't have to sit for hours reading it. It is a book to dip into whenever the mood takes you.
Take the entry under bean: "From its use (early 19c.) as a slang term for a sovereign or guinea it has emerged in a range of negative expressions (they never had a bean, she never saved a bean) meaning 'having no money whatsoever.'
Slang or very informal terms for money keep slipping into and out of the language. Those that have gone include chink (exceedingly common in the … 17C), dibs, oof (Yiddish), rhino, and tin. Survivors include bread, dough (1851) lolly, mazuma (Yiddish), the needful (1774) readies (bank notes) and spondulicks (1857)."


The other thing I like about Fowler is that it is relatively non-prescriptive.
For years, I have been worried about my terrible north-country habit of treating collective nouns as plurals e.g. the team are playing well.
I am no more capable of saying the team is playing well than flying to the moon.
Imagine my delight when I read: "In BrE it is in order to use either a plural verb or a singular verb after most collective nouns..."
Apparently, it is only those damn Yankees, who can't even spell colour, who bother about such pedantic distinctions.


Imperfect gift

Last week I received my £200 Winter Fuel Payment.
But, just as I marvelling at Gordon Brown's generosity, I read Christopher Fildes' excellent column in the financial pages of the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Fildes also qualifies for a two hundred quid cheque from the Chancellor, but is less than impressed.
As he pointed out, this £200 had once been his, before being claimed by the Inland Revenue, who had passed it on to the Treasury, who in turn has given it to Social Security, who had sent it back whence it first came.
According to Mr Fildes, the cost of administering both the Revenue and Social Security is 4% of turnover, so this "free gift" had cost him, a taxpayer, £8.00.
Not much of a bargain when looked at like that!
While Old Grumpy has spent his WFP on a load of logs for the woodburner, Mr Fildes writes that he intends to keep warm from the inside by investing in a case of whisky.
For a man with his knowledge of economics that is a serious mistake, because it means the Chancellor will immediately recoup more than £100 in alcohol tax and Vat.

Poets' corner

I do not like the family Stein!
There's Gert, there's Ep, and there is Ein.
Gert's writings are punk,
Ep's statues are junk,
And nobody understands Ein.


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