Archive of Postings to July 2015


Railway Transformers

As any Grandads following the high speed railway project to run north from London (HS2) will have worked out the scheme has become an unstoppable political necessity. And despite the fact that no commercial backers are confident enough to put their own funds behind it, the project will roll on as long as the Exchequer keeps paying the bills; despite serious calls to take a different approach.

HS2_Design_260And the bills keep growing; some in rather unexpected areas. For example last week there was this glowing press release - HS2 Design Panel Chair, Sadie Morgan, has begun recruiting experts from many different design disciplines to the Panel that will oversee the design development of High Speed Two. To be a catalyst for growth across Britain and enhance the lives of future generations HS2 Ltd published its Design Vision in March 2015 to embed design excellence in all aspects of HS2. The Design Panel, led by Sadie Morgan will be a critical friend to HS2, ensuring that as it develops its designs it delivers on the HS2 Design Vision.

So this seems to say that the Exchequer will be funding a panel not to design anything but to check that someone else’s designs meet the Design Vision.

Back in March the government released the relevant Design Vision document - Developed with the input of leading UK designers, the HS2 Design Vision aims to ensure that all aspects of HS2 will add up to create one transformational experience and that design is used effectively to achieve the ambitious social, economic and environmental goals for the nation.

So the document developed with leading designers will be checked for compliance by leading designers - for a substantial fee no doubt. How different to the old fashioned way of doing it. Then the person hired to be the chief designer would be responsible and accountable themselves. But at least it is reassuring to know that experts selecting the right font and colour palette will convert this 20 year long, multi-billion pound gamble into a transformational experience. Be prepared to be transformed - hopefully in a good way!

p.s. Our Phrases for Future Eurocitizens slot has been terminated to comply with EU restrictions on sarcasm - and because we have all lost interest ...

tags: railway, future, hs2, not our problem, poor choice



Greeks Without Gifts 3

GreekDrachma5It is now eight weeks on from our first posting and still the Greek tragedy stumbles from deadline to deadline.

Last week the EU stumped up another 7,160 million euro as an emergency loan. And, as predicted, the UK was indeed hit with a large contribution (1,000 million euro) by our friends in Europe - despite not even being part of the eurozone. In return we have been given a ring-fenced promise that it will be repaid. But with the eurozone itself having eighteen countries (plus Greece) that could have paid a bit more it does feel like the UK is paying someone else’s bill.

So what did the Greek people get from this extra 700 euro per person of additional debt? Nothing. It was spent on the payments already due to the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But there are more funds on the way .. probably.

First the ECB has shipped cash to Greek banks so that they can stay solvent. Next there are discussions aimed at agreeing a 86,000 million euro bailout. This third bailout loan is intended to re-capitalise Greek banks, pay interest on earlier loans and repay some previous debts [source BBC]. So again no direct benefit to the Greek people. It is simply a loan to help service earlier loans - which will next require a 3,400 million euro repayment by 20th August. But there are also proposals to sell off state assets. And if this goes to plan - and achieves their true value - the revenue produced should improve the situation - a little. However even after a fire sale of assets the total Greek debt will still increase; worsening the austerity situation in the country for years, possibly decades, to come. A situation that must be hard to swallow given the two recent democratic votes - first to elect anti-austerity politicians and then against any stricter EU constraints.

But at least the politicians at the top of the EU have a cause to celebrate. They have kept Greece within the euro block and maintained their onward march towards the goal of a mighty European Empire. One as great as that of Charlemagne ...

Today’s Phrase for Future Eurocitizens

Woher kommen Sie? (vo-hair koh-men zee)
= Where are you from?

Sponsored by: Lederhosen of Leipzig

We are persisting with these basic German phrases - as a service to those Grandads who stay in the UK after a Yes vote in the 2016/17 European Union Referendum and in response to this warning. Achtung! Anyone not reaching the required standard by the required date vill have their name reported to their local EU Commandant ..

tags: federal, Europe, debt, common, market, Greece, UK, ECB



Replacement Windows

Windows10_1Starting at the end of this month Microsoft will be rolling out the latest version of its Windows operating system. And every Grandad with a modern PC should already have had a notification to Get Windows 10.

It was only in October 2013 that many hours were spent downloading and installing  Windows 8.1 on two PCs at Grandad HQ. Since then a new laptop and tablet have joined the network so that’s four major updates to work through. And with 5 million Insider users expecting to start updating on the 29th of July the world’s network traffic could see a substantial peak. It may be worth waiting a few days before making a start ... Once on Windows 10 you will loose the option to defer or avoid OS updates - they will become automatic.

Anyone planning to upgrade should also be aware that Windows 10 is not just about adding new features. Some widely used options are going. The most obvious being the removal of the Media Centre functions and the need for separate playback software to watch DVDs or Blu-rays for all previous versions. Windows 7 users will loose their desktop gadgets and floppy disk users will need to install extra drivers separately.

But luckily there are no Windows phones to worry about at Grandad HQ - as Windows 10 Mobile has yet to prove stable enough to risk a general release. Considering that Microsoft has recently announced that over 6,000 jobs will go in its hardware division (i.e. Nokia) along with a write-off of over $7,500 million then the days may be numbered for Windows on mobile phones. Certainly with less than 3% market share it would be no surprise to see a switch to Android. A move that could increase sales and avoid the efforts that will be needed to get their Windows Mobile software up to Android’s level of acceptance amongst consumers and app developers.

Today’s Phrase for Future Eurocitizens

Können Sie mir helfen? (ker-nen zee meer hell-fen)
= Can you help me?

Sponsored by: Sauerkrauts of Saxony

tags: operating, system, pc, latest, progress, Windows 10



Missed Gear?

If you've made plans for this Sunday evening, cancel them. Immediately. Because - if you're in the UK at least - you'll want to be in front of the telly, watching the extended, all-new Top Gear episode that'll wrap up Series 22 ... So says the BBC Top Gear website.

GearStoogesFinal_270But dedicated fans of the show can still watch episodes from the back catalogue on the BBC next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc, etc. And if that is not enough then the BBC’s joint venture commercial channel, Dave, will be showing different episodes of Top Gear on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. In fact some days next week will have no less than five broadcasts of the show on Freeview channels alone. And next weekend the BBC aim to string-out the finale with a compilation of Series 22 highlights. So it seems that Clarkson, Hammond and May - rather than new front man Chris Evans - will be the ghostly faces of Top Gear for years to come.

The choice of presenter for the next series has led to many posting their views online - with the majority saying they will not be watching the new show; hoping that the old team reappear under a new banner elsewhere. Over at the BBC executives must be hoping that their biggest programme can survive the Chris Evans treatment - and that Evans can survive being both its presenter and producer along with all his other commitments.

Some say that the BBC would have been better served selling the Top Gear franchise now. But instead they have opted to spend £3 million on a new format show that risks devaluing their high-profile brand. So can the new Top Gear keep the audience and revenue figures that the BBC has grown to expect? Only time will tell.

Today’s German for future citizens of Euroland (sponsored by Bratwursts of Bavaria) - Das ist mir egal (dass ist meer eh-gahl) = I don't care.

tags: BBC, taxation, subsidising, commercial, stooges, repeats



Greeks Without Gifts 2

Four weeks on from Grandad’s last posting and the Greek government is still floating more speculative plans aimed at convincing other EU countries (plus the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) to lend them more money.

But even if the Greek leaders, against all odds, succeed in getting more new money it will only be used to meet delayed loan repayments and a month or so’s operating costs. The same problem of too little government income will come round again within a matter of weeks. Last month it was the end of May that was the deadline, this month it is the end of June and the EU politicians may soon produce a fudge that moves the deadline to the end of July. But the numbers will never get any better - so something is going to have to give soon.

GreekDrachma4And Greece has previous form. Since regaining independence in 1830 Greece has been declared bankrupt no less than five times. For most of the past 185 years the country has been in default and unable to raise foreign loans. And many Grandads will remember the handfuls of drachma you could once get for a pound on a Greek holiday - as the books were made to balance by currency devaluation. But despite its non-existent credit rating Greece was voted into the EEC and then allowed to switch its drachmas for euros. A move surely set to become one of the EU’s most expensive membership decisions.

Meanwhile the Greek banks are only avoiding collapse through daily transfers of cash from the ECB. A move that seems in direct contravention of EU rules - considering that the Greek banks are clearly insolvent and should have already gone belly-up; like Lehman Brothers did in the USA in 2008.

But why does this matter to the UK? Firstly because we will all need to decide how to vote on our continued EU membership soon. Secondly any Greek collapse will cost the UK money - even if only indirectly. Thirdly the UK has big debts of its own and needs to take steps to avoid following Greece along a road to default. Finally it provides many here with a touch of Schadenfreude in the daily news.

Today’s basic German phrase (sponsored by Vorsprung durch Technik) - Ich habe Langeweile (ikh hah-buh lahn-guh-vy-luh) = I'm bored.

tags: federal, Europe, debt, common, market, Greece, UK, ECB




Back to Basics 2 - It was only yesterday that Grandad calculated that the UK national debt was £20,616 per person. But by this afternoon the Daily Mail was reporting that the latest government figures equate to £23,400 per person. Some increase. Austerity? What austerity? Why when Grandad was a lad we had real austerity not this modern, half-baked rubbish ...

tags: spending, state, finances, debt



Back To Basics 2

StocksD_120National debts have moved from the realm of economic theory to being the cause of practical problems in many peoples daily lives. Before the financial markets became so greedy that they passed off junk mortgages as low risk investments, or manipulated interest and exchange rates to maximise bonuses, national debts were not an issue for the general public. When the junk mortgages scam unwound the bailout of the failing banks added huge debts to national accounts, killed off speculative financial schemes and all but stopped further lending.

So now a range of countries are teetering on the edge of debt repayment defaults - with Greece being the one making the current headlines. Yet it remains difficult to grasp how the billions or trillions involved actually compare to our own family finances. So Grandad is trying out one of the simplest, and least adjusted, methods - simply dividing a country’s total debt by its estimated population.

So for Greece if we divide the government’s total debt to its official lenders by the estimated population of Greece we get how much everyone in that country owes to international lenders. And today’s best estimates of the key numbers gives us 242,800,000,000 euros divided by 10,816,286 population which equals debts of 22,448 euros per person. If you think that is a manageable amount then you truly are a born optimist.

Frankie1But Greece is just the country that is currently in the spotlight. There are others with problems. And it is fortunate that the UK is not one of them. Everything here is fine - or is it? Well yes - it is according to the various national and international official statistics. However if we do the same debt per person calculation based on one of the lower estimates of UK national debt we get - 1,278,200,000,000 pounds divided by 62,000,000 population which equates to 20,616 pounds per person; or 28,713 euros! Hardly a favourable comparison.

So let us all hope that Greece does not decide to default - since someone will loose a huge amount of money. And despite not being in the eurozone the UK will no doubt be hit with a big bill by our friends in Europe.

Today’s basic German phrase (sponsored by EU Über Alles) - Jetzt muss ich gehen (yetz mooss ikh geh-en) = I must go now.

tags: spending, state, finances, debt, interest, deficit, Greece



Back To Basics

Last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, confirmed that he has taken up the challenge of our early posts - trying to limit Government spending to what actually comes into the Treasury. Details will emerge in next month’s budget but Osborne’s declared aim is to set-up a framework for achieving a budget surplus in normal years. A basic objective that Chancellors should have always had at the top of their list.

GladstoneW_160To quote last night’s speech "We have a budget deficit that remains, at just shy of 5% of national income, one of the highest in the developed world. Our national debt stands at over 80% of GDP ... With our national debt unsustainably high, and with the uncertainly about what the world economy will throw at us in the coming years, we must act now to fix the roof while the sun is shining".

However one of the ways proposed is to re-start meetings of the Committee of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, which last met in 1860 under William Gladstone. So I guess that their next meeting will skip approving the minutes of the previous one and not bother with any apologies for absence.

But this was Osborne’s sixth annual Mansion House speech and, despite his five years in charge, our Government is still overspending. Now much of it is going on the interest costs of our existing debt. But overseas aid, HS2, Crossrail 2, smart meters, green subsidies, etc will all add billions to our costs yet have little prospect of achieving their objectives. Even selling off Royal Bank of Scotland shares to reduce debt will be at a loss of billions.

So a difficult task lies ahead - especially when so many in Whitehall are determined to maintain their empires at whatever cost.

Basic German phrase for today (sponsored by EU Über Alles) - Auf Wiedersehen (owf vee-dair-zayn) = Goodbye

tags: spending, state, finances, debt, interest, budget, deficit, Victorian values



Another Big Bill

Today the Westminster parliament is scheduled to debate the European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16. But even before reaching this point a possible EU vote has been stirring up political commentators and pundits. All of them relishing a new topic to keep them in the public eye - now that the Scottish Referendum and UK general elections are over.

The rest of us face the daunting prospect of a year, or even two, of argument and counter-argument over anything and everything referendum-related; from high-level principals to the most minute of details. Yet a large number of us must already know how we would vote - and those still undecided are not going to get a reasoned case for or against from impartial sources at this stage.

So let’s cut straight to predicting the result of asking UK voters the question - should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?

AccountDoctor160Considering that the Yes side is being backed by Labour, most Conservatives and the SNP in the UK and overseas by all the EU countries and the USA - the political decision is already made. A clear Yes.

With UKIP only getting 3.88 million votes (out of 30.69 million) in last month’s general election it seems very unlikely that they can lead a campaign that will gain enough support for a No vote majority. So the popular vote is almost certainly a Yes as well.

If this quick analysis is somewhere near right then the only thing that could change enough people’s minds is some major external event sinking the case for a federal European future. But in reality it might be best to just start learning German ... Bis später

tags: EU, Europa, Euroreich, UK, Gibraltar, vote, predictable


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