Tuesday, March 08, 2011
I'll set business free vows British PM in blast at civil service
David Cameron launched an extraordinary attack on his own civil servants last night for loading costs on to business, as he set out the ‘moral’ case for enterprise.
The Prime Minister expressed intense frustration with the failure of officials to understand that firms buckling under the weight of Labour’s red tape ‘frankly cannot take it any more’. ‘If I have to pull these people into my office in No 10 to argue this out myself and get them off the backs of business, then, believe me, I’ll do it,’ he said.
His remarks, in a speech to the Conservatives’ spring conference in Cardiff, appeared to be a deliberate echo of Tony Blair’s famous complaint about the ‘scars on my back’ in July 1999. The then prime minister attacked the ‘forces of conservatism’ for holding back Labour’s public sector reform agenda.
Mr Cameron said his was an ‘enterprise government’ and promised the most ‘pro-growth Budget for a generation’ this month, highlighting a pledge to cut corporation tax from 28 to 24 per cent.
He echoed Margaret Thatcher’s pitch as the champion of the hard-working small-business owner, telling the Tory faithful: ‘At its beating heart this is still a party of start-ups, go-getters, risk-takers’.
The Conservatives had always been a ‘party of builders and businesswomen, electricians and engineers, roofers and retailers’, he said. But he conceded there was ‘so much more still to do’ to boost small and medium-sized firms, attacking what he called the ‘enemies of enterprise’ who were standing in the way.
Mr Cameron condemned ‘bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible for small firms’. He also attacked the ‘town hall officials who take forever to make those planning decisions that can be make or break for a business, and the investment and jobs that go with it’, and the ‘public sector procurement managers who think that the answer to everything is a big contract with a big business and who shut out millions of Britain’s small and medium-sized companies’.
Mr Cameron insisted that setting up and creating successful businesses was ‘about more than money’. The Tories, he said, understand that ‘enterprise is not just an economic good, it’s a social good’. ‘It’s about morals, too,’ he declared. He hailed practical men and women who build a business and see it grow ‘not just for the money, not for the glory but for the simple reward and deep satisfaction of seeing your efforts pay off’.
‘What drives us is getting things done, and what drives us mad is the bureaucracy, the forms, the nonsense getting in the way,’ he added.
With no money left by Labour in the Treasury coffers, Mr Cameron said the ‘only strategy’ for growth was to back entrepreneurs.
Chancellor George Osborne’s March 23 Budget will include plans for at least ten new enterprise zones, with tax breaks and relaxed planning laws. Steps are also expected to try to increase trade with economies such as India and China, cut red tape and open up public sector contracts to small firms.
The Prime Minister said he was going to ‘watch banks like a hawk’ to make sure they delivered on a pledge to boost lending to small businesses by £10billion.
And, as the Tories gear up for local and regional elections in May, Mr Cameron omitted the praise for his Liberal Democrat coalition partners that has become standard in his high-profile speeches.
Separation of church and State forgotten when it suits Leftists
by Jeff Jacoby
Sojourners is a liberal Christian group whose mission is "to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world." It is based in Washington, DC, and engages regularly in the capital's political battles.
Religious groups with a political agenda are as American as the First Amendment, and Sojourners has not been shy about weighing in on the current congressional fight over federal spending. On its website, in e-mails sent to members of Congress, and most recently in a full-page ad in the political newspaper Politico, Sojourners has been asking: "What Would Jesus Cut?"
The ad, signed by Sojourners' president, Jim Wallis, and other leaders of the Christian left, argues that "a budget is a moral document" and the moral test of any nation is how it treats the poor and vulnerable. It acknowledges that government debt is a serious problem, but implores lawmakers not to balance the budget by cutting the "sound investments that a just nation must protect." Among the "investments" Sojourners mentions are school lunch programs, tax credits for the working poor, and international aid for fighting pandemics.
As a believing Jew and a conservative, I don't share the religious outlook or political priorities of Wallis and his co-signers. But you don't have to be Christian or liberal to believe that in God's eyes, a society is judged above all by its concern for the unfortunate. Jesus' teaching in Matthew 25 -- "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me. . . . Whatever you did for one of these least . . . you did for me" -- echoes what Isaiah and other Hebrew prophets preached centuries earlier: "Learn to do well: seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."
But does it really follow from these timeless injunctions that God expects legislators never to eliminate any poverty program or social-welfare line item, or even to roll such spending back to where it stood a few years ago?
Wallis fumed in an interview that Congress should be cutting defense spending instead of health or nutrition programs. "House Republicans want to beat our ploughshares into more swords," he said. "These priorities that they're offering are not just wrong or unfair, they're unbiblical." Unbiblical! Does Wallis really believe that no one advocating budget cuts he opposes can have serious ethical grounds for doing do? It must be wonderful to be so certain that what Wallis wants is precisely what God wants. Not all of us are as confident that our religious faith translates as readily into a detailed partisan agenda.
A more fundamental problem with the "What Would Jesus Cut?" campaign is its planted axiom that Jesus would want Congress to do anything at all. Yes, we are emphatically commanded by Scripture to help the poor, to comfort the afflicted, and to love the stranger. But those obligations are personal, not political. It requires a considerable leap of both faith and logic to read the Bible as mandating elaborate government assistance programs, to be funded by a vast apparatus of compulsory taxation. I admit that I am no New Testament scholar, but I cannot recall Jesus ever saying that the way to enter Heaven is to dole out money extracted from your neighbors' pockets.
In a new book (Jesus: A Biography from a Believer), the historian Paul Johnson points out that Jesus of Nazareth "took no steps to disturb the political status quo" and "was not concerned with political arrangements." His purpose "was not to found a new regime but to portray a new way of life." He was speaking to individuals, not to Congress. The Sermon on the Mount was meant as ethical instruction, not as a blueprint for federal budgeteers.
To be a lawmaker in a democracy is to choose, and the choice is often between alternatives for which reasonable arguments can be made both ways. For religious believers, Judeo-Christian principles may sometimes offer guidance on difficult issues of public policy. But God is not Republican or Democrat, socialist or libertarian. Above the Speaker's rostrum in the House of Representatives are engraved the words "In God We Trust." But He doesn't tell congressmen how to vote. And Jesus won't tell them what to cut.
Horrors! British public sector workers could be forced to stay on until 65 or have their pensions cut
Millions of public sector workers will be forced to work until they are 65 and pay thousands more into their pensions under Coalition plans. In a report for the Government to be unveiled on Thursday, former Labour work and pensions secretary Lord Hutton is expected to conclude that a pension age of 60 for state employees is unsustainable. He will recommend bringing ‘gold-plated’ public sector pension schemes into line with the private sector, where most people retire at 65.
It is part of a broader shake-up of state employees’ retirement funds, which have created a £1trillion black hole in public finances. Whitehall sources also expect Lord Hutton to propose a large increase in pension contributions – around 3 per cent more of annual salary. That will be an effective pay cut of thousands of pounds for many public sector staff.
Teachers, NHS staff, local government workers and other state employees are expected to be switched away from final salary schemes into less generous ones based on career-average earnings.
Measures are expected to shield lower-paid staff from the pain of the reforms, given the Coalition’s pledge not to balance the books on the backs of the worst-off. But the reforms will still plunge the Government into a major battle with militant public sector unions.
The reforms will not result in workers losing benefits they have accrued. But it is expected that from a future date, probably 2014, all future pension entitlements could not be claimed until they reach 65. As a result, a public sector worker aged 40 with 20 years’ service would get only half the pension they expected. Someone with 30 years’ experience would get three-quarters; someone with ten years would get a quarter. They would have to wait until 65 before claiming their full pension.
The newly created Office of Budget Responsibility estimates that without reform the cost of paying public sector retirees would more than double, to £9.4billion a year, by 2015.
Pensions expert John Wright, of Hymans Robertson, said: ‘The Government would like to raise the retirement age of public sector pension schemes from 60 to 65 straight away, but attacking the accrued rights of workers is legally very difficult. ‘Ensuring benefits paid after, say, 2014 are not paid until later will save the taxpayer billions in the long term, but there will probably be some tapering to soften the blow to older workers.’
Mark Serwotka, of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: ‘This Government seems determined to levy a tax on our members by making them work longer and pay more for their pensions. ‘We will oppose any attempts to make our members pay for a crisis that even [Bank of England governor] Mervyn King agrees was caused by greedy bankers.’
EU court ruling could force women to pay more for insurance
Insurers shouldn’t be allowed to take gender into consideration when calculating premiums, the European Union’s highest court said in a ruling that is likely to increase the price of insurance for women.
The present system “works against the achievement of the objective of equal treatment” for men and women and should end by the end of next year, the EU Court of Justice, the 27-nation region’s top court, ruled today.
Auto insurance premiums for female drivers could rise as much as 50 percent as a result of the ruling, according to KPMG LLP. It will also result in insurers changing the way they market policies and assess risks to ensure they get “only the better performing female business,” the accounting and consulting firm said.
The ruling “flies in the face of common sense” and is “completely disadvantageous to the very people it was intended to protect,” said Adrian Brown, chief executive of London-based RSA Insurance Group Plc, the U.K.’s biggest non-life insurer by market value. “Consumers are going to have to pay the price for an illogical change in the law.”
Decisions by the Luxembourg-based tribunal are binding and can’t be appealed. An existing EU equality law, introduced in 2004, allows the region’s countries to differentiate between men and women when calculating insurance premiums if data shows “sex is a determining factor in the assessment of risk.”
Michaela Koller, director general of the European insurance and reinsurance federation, CEA, said today’s ruling was “bad news.”
“Europe-wide the effect on the price and benefits and on the choice of insurance products for consumers could be significant,” she said. Insurers “will now face significant additional costs in reassessing data, transforming premiums and changing terms and conditions and marketing materials.”
“Young female drivers pay less for motor insurance because they are less likely to have accidents and therefore women make fewer claims than men,” the Association of British Insurers said in a statement. “For life insurance, women on average pay less to reflect their longer life expectancy, while pension income for males is often higher because men typically have fewer years in retirement.”
Sheilas’ Wheels, owned by privately held Esure Insurance Ltd., and Diamond, owned by Admiral Group Plc, are the U.K.’s two biggest women-focused car insurers. Sheila’s Wheels, which also offers handbag insurance, will comply with the ruling while continuing to target women drivers, spokesman Adrian Webb said. “Sheilas’ Wheels has always insured men but most males simply aren’t attracted to our brand and we don’t see this changing,” said Webb.
“It’s as wrong to treat the same things differently as it is wrong to treat different things the same way,” said Markus Riess, the head of the German unit of Allianz SE, Europe’s biggest insurer, at a conference in Munich today. “It’s to be expected this will make insurance more expensive.”
The European Commission, the EU’s executive agency, said it was “an important moment for gender equality” in the region.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.