Monthly Archives: November 2013


Photographers should not be allowed to take photographs of mourners at a funeral, without the family’s express permission.

I don’t think this is an unreasonable restriction on press freedom. And I think it would be universally popular. Why should the most tragic day in people’s lives be desecrated by reptiles.


If, for instance, you try to buy a single rail ticket from Oxenholme to London (or vice versa) , especially on the same day, the cost of the single rail ticket is almost exactly the same as a return ticket. This is rapacious pricing, and should be reformed by the regulator. We should be getting people off the roads. Incidentally, there is also rapacious pricing for anyone wanting to buy even a return rail ticket on the same day. This should also be reformed, for the same reasons.


In the United States, the fracking companies refuse to reveal which chemicals they use in fracking. They make the usual, sometimes shady, claim of ‘Commercial Confidentiality’.

In the UK, the companies should be required to make a full disclosure of which chemicals they use. The chemicals may not be damaging, and in well regulated drilling stations, they may not leak into water systems. But in the UK, a country that is far more densely populated than the United States, fracking companies need to calm the (sometimes exaggerated) fears of the public.

There is a move towards making the fracking companies more transparent here than in the United States, but this needs to be made totally clear in the Manifesto; perhaps along with other measures to make sure that fracking is well regulated, without the regulation being too complex or onerous.


There should be considerably increased regulation about the use of premium telephone lines.

A great many people do not realize that they are calling a premium line, which can cost up to 40p a minute. And they are especially expensive from mobiles. What is particularly awful about many of these premium lines is that it gives an incentive to the business or organization to keep the caller hanging on; either listening to irritating music or to unnecessary messages. These premium lines are used by many government organisations that should be offering a free public service.

According to the Sun, of the 208 million calls made to the services in the last financial year, 131 million cost up to 41p a minute (the Mail says 35p per minute). Of the 365 customer phone lines for central government services, 120 use expensive numbers. Only the Department for Work and Pensions gives a WARNING that the callers are being charged (often for staying on hold).

The travel industry has in particular been given freedom from most regulation about premium lines. Recently I rang a travel company, and was kept waiting for 20 minutes. All the while they were profiting from the length of telephone call. Apart from a reduction in the types of organization that can charge for premium calls (any health organization would be a good example), there is one simple reform that could be made. When a premium-line call is answered, there should be a legal obligation for the caller to be told that it is a premium line, and also be told the cost per minute.


The government should encourage and facilitate increased storage of gas.

We have a very low amount of storage compared to other countries. Something like 5%, compared to about 18% in other countries. Our gas storage has not significantly increased since the heady days when most of our gas was domestic, and did not have to be imported France and Germany have something like 100 days storage: we have nowhere near that. Ours is about 15 days.

One of the reasons for adding to gas storage is that it would help even out the extreme fluctuations in prices. And in this spirit, more gas could be bought in the summer, when it tends to be cheaper. We need to be protected against outages, caused either by technical or political problems. This could include blackmail from foreign countries, or pipeline disruptions. A near shortage could be exacerbated by such issues a wind turbines not turning, which happens when the weather is coldest. And our sources of gas are not very diverse: for instance a huge percentage of our gas comes from Qatar.

Gas will become an increasingly important part of our energy mix. We should be ready for a massive increase in the global use of gas, and ultimately a global gas price for gas (as there already is for oil.) Gas is the medium-term huge change and excitement in energy, and we should have more infrastructure to prepare for being part of the global market. Fracking within the UK will for a long time be insufficient.

Obviously gas is now crucial for keeping people warm in winter. We can’t risk running out.


There is nothing intrinsically wrong with bonuses. Even very large bonuses – a bonus of, say 20 million pounds – might be justifiable if a unique and outstanding executive had bought huge added-value to a company. But the truth is that in recent years bonuses have become a racket, and snouts have been deep in the trough.

Acc to Matthew Lynn in MoneyWeek ” A decade ago it was still rare for a FTSE company Chief Executive to earn a million a year. Now almost £5 million is the going rate. Yet businesses are hardly five times more complex, or five-times better run. And the FTSE is still lower than it was in 2000….. A small group of executives sit on each other’s boards, and routinely vote each other huge pay rises – and shareholders pay for it.”

The bigger issue, though, is not so much that it is a racket, or that executives have in effect been legally stealing from their companies, but that the present structure of bonuses means that in many cases the executives are incentivised to make short-term actions that will increase their bonuses, and that these actions are actually damaging to the long term health of the company.

This is all too complicated to explain here. But one quite vivid example may be Northern Rock, where they rushed to increase business by offering mortgages of more than 100%, against all the accumulated wisdom of our financial history. I am not suggesting that we should be chippy about bonuses, but that there should be a touch on the tiller – namely a reform that meant that bonuses were more in line with the LONG-TERM health of the company, and the long-term interest of the shareholders.

I would suggest that any Commission or body that studies this should consult with Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in world history. He has for many years railed against the abuse of bonuses, and suggested reforms. Although the United States has different laws, in fact the principles are very much the same.


As a result of quite recent legislation, the guarantee for the Universal Delivery Service comes to an end in 2021. I reckon Britain was probably the first country to provide this magnificent service; and it has been very much part of our civilisation and culture. It is no longer guaranteed after 2021.

Now that the Royal Mail has been privatised, if the government does not insist on the continuance of Universal Delivery, we can be entirely sure that the unprofitable elements will be ended, for the sake of increasing profits to shareholders. It should also be guaranteed that the delivery should be to the house, and that we do not move to the American system of a possibly-distant post-box. The government should make it clear in advance that the almost-sacred Universal Delivery should continue in all circumstances.

Incidentally, this will be particularly important for a low-populated area such as Cumbria.


Alarmingly, despite several years of dreadful publicity, the ethics of our banks have not changed. There is still an unethical culture in the way they administer their savings accounts, and in their promotion of them. This is a particularly important issue at a time when the interest rates on all bank savings accounts don’t even reach the level of inflation. And thus all savers are guaranteed effectively to be losing money.  And they are losing even more money, when you take into account that they are paying tax on those savings.

There are many ways in which the banks try to exploit unsophisticated savers, and they can’t all be discussed here; but in essence the banksters lure punters into savings accounts that appear generous, and after a while they to reduce the interest rate on that account to levels that are not ethical. The banks rely on INERTIA, so that huge numbers of customers keep their savings in accounts that have unjustifiably low rates of interest. Often customers are lured into accounts with bonuses for joining them; and then, from the banks’ point of view, sufficient customers stay with the same accounts, when the bonuses disappear, and the interest rates become very low. Some reforms for this are extremely easy:

1.  I had an online account with Sainsbury’s bank.   On the page of my online statement, it used to give the rate of interest that I was getting. However, when interest rates became very low, it stopped displaying the rate of interest, presumably because the bank knew that I would be horrified by the very low rate of interest.

Sainsbury’s were able to claim that the rate of interest was displayed somewhere on the website, but, in the real world,  it was un-intuitive and difficult to find.


There can’t conceivable be any reason why this elementary reform could not be enacted.

2.  When there is a reduction in interest rates, then an email should be sent to all those who are online with their bank. And a letter to all those offline.

When I suggested to Sainsburys Bank that I should have been sent an email when rates were lowered, they said it was not practical to send emails to all their customers.  I then pointed out that they found it practical to send me emails attempting to sell me various other products of theirs

3.  When I decided to withdraw my money from Sainsbury’s bank, they promptly revealed to me that they had started a new savings account that offered a better rate of interest.  Of course they had not told me before

There should be a rule that all banks should tell their customers if the bank or building society is offering an account with  a better rate of interest.  That would be ethical

4.   These abuses also extend to ISAs.  Thus, at the time of writing (November 2013) there is an offering of 2% to new  customers of the Nationwide; but it is only paying 1.5% to existing customers. And these existing customers are not allowed to switch to the new offers. Obviously
this should be reformed.

5.  Each bank and building society should make clear in their literature whom they are owned by.  They don’t.   Apart from obvious reasons, this is a matter of great importance, because of the government protection against losses.  (Customers are protected against the first £85,000 of losses in the event of a Building Society or Bank going bust.)  Thus a customer might have savings with two institutions with different names, not realizing that they have the same owner.  The government’s loss protection will treat these two institutions as one, and thus the saver may unwittingly not be covered.

I can’t see why any of these reforms could be controversial.  I am also sure there are other touches on the tiller that could ensure a more ethical and transparent offer of savings accounts for the public. It is a huge issue because there are billions at stake, and it is extremely important for elderly people who are living on their savings, but cannot take the risk of investing in equities.


It is very difficult to get accurate statistics about dog theft, because dogs are accounted merely as property, and not listed separately. But, by all accounts there has been a very considerable increase in dog kidnapping. This is in part attributable to the internet, because there are websites where you can go to find a missing dog, and it is quite easy for kidnappers to pretend to have found a stray.

Both dog kidnapping and dog theft (which also seems to be on the increase, especially for sporting dogs) cause intense misery to owners and their children, and thus more effort should be made to end this odious and cruel crime. At the very least there are 3,500 dog thefts a year. But the true figure is probably many more, because people may be reluctant to report the theft, especially when they pay kidnap money. The latter may even reach thousands of pounds. Some 50,000 dog losses are apparently reported to insurance companies. While all these would not be thefts, this may indicate how great the problem may be. Several actions could mitigate this dreadful and increasing scourge:

1. Dog thefts should be logged separately in the records, and given a case
number. Thus we at least would have the data.

2. A specific offence should be created, along with severe punishment, for
what is an evil crime.

3. I believe that mandatory micro-chipping is on the way. This welcome
reform can be used to great advantage to mitigate the problem. There should
be a legal obligation that, instead of keeping a stray dog, the finder
should take it to a vet to be scanned for micro-chips.

4. The law should be cleared up and simplified regarding the issue of vets
scanning for micro-chips. At present they frequently refuse to scan for
micro-chips, citing the Data Protection Act. This excuse should be ended;
and they should also be obliged to scan all new dogs that are brought in by


This year it was found that many supermarkets were selling beefburgers that included a large proportion of horsemeat. Particular examples were burgers from Tesco, which included 29% horsemeat; or Asda, which included 80% of horsemeat.The issue is not that horsemeat is in itself dangerous. It isn’t. It is that yet again the supermarkets were grossly deceiving their customers.

The burgers which they were selling were so absurdly cheap that you would think supermarkets with any conscience would have checked the contents. With such a colossal scandal, and with a level of negligence by the supermarkets that almost amounts to being complicit with the deception of their customers, is it not shocking that there has been no punishment at all for the supermarkets?

The scandal also raises the point that, if such massive adulteration of food took place under the very noses of supermarkets, what other adulterations could they also be tacitly allowing? If the Food Standards Agency can check the contents of food, why can’t the supermarkets? The supermarkets are vast organizations with billions of pounds at their disposal. Thus the law should be adapted to make the large supermarkets more liable for checking any adulteration (including with toxic chemicals) of the food that they sell.