Europe Referendum Madness

EU Flag

In Out Shake It All About

So Dave has spoken. Assuming we elect him next time around, and assuming he gets what he wants from his negotiations with Europe, and assuming the price of fish is about right at the time, we’ll get a simple chance to vote “In” or “Out” in a European Referendum. So that’s all right then.

WTF?

So let me get this straight. Dave’s going to go to Angela, Francois, and all the others and demand a raft of opt-outs and deals for the UK, but with the proviso that even if they accede to all our requests, we may still decide to tell them to shove it afterwards in a referendum. Nice one.

Europe In

Seems to me, stuck up here in the Lake District, that being “in” with Europe on the basis we are now (ie free trade but no single currency) is no bad thing. What is bad of course is the excessive cost and waste of the vast bureaucracy that is Europe (unless you’re an MEP of course). Difficult one to change I know but at some point other countries in the EU will wake up and smell the Cafe/Koffee etc and realise that plenty of eurocrats are living the high life at their expense and things need to change.

Europe Out

Either way the alternative of being on the outside is probably not a sensible option. Much as we might like to believe that we can survive and indeed thrive in splendid isolation the reality is that much of our economy benefits from the European Market and free flow of labour and trade. Putting up the barriers may not therefore be the smartest thing to do.

Negotiations

Whatever the rights and wrongs of being in or out, Dave’s negotiating tactic of basically threatening to pull out and then saying he’ll go to the table to discuss our options in a couple of years seems a little insane. What does he expect to happen in the meantime? Does he expect the UK to have any influence inside Europe while we exist in this limbo state for the next few years? And when (or more likely if) the planets align in such a way as to take him to that negotiating table does he think anyone will actually take him seriously when he arrives?

Pandering to the Tory Backbenches

In my humble opinion the whole thing smacks of a lame attempt to placate the Tory back benches and try and snuff out the UKIPers. Well at least it’s not as if there’s anything more serious to worry about – it’s not as if the economy is in trouble, world terrorism is taking a turn for the worse, or Chelsea just lost the chance to reach a cup final by beaten to Swansea is it……

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School Funding Proposals

Ullswater

How John Terry Can Help Save Our School….

Right, so you’ve got your view of the Lake District, now to business. Having overcome the nonsense over Teaching Assistants last year, the latest wheeze from the DfE is to standardise School Funding based on a series of factors. The notion that all schools should be funded on a simplified, common basis is on the face of it entirely logical and worthy. However in reality applying a set formula across the board is bound to negatively impact certain schools, especially smaller schools in rural areas.

Remember the Few

Cumbria and Cornwall have the distinction of being two of the most beautiful counties in England, and also having the largest number of small rural schools. Often these primary schools are a focal point for the local community and provide a vital local service. The alternative is often a long bus journey to the nearest major town. How would you feel about putting your 4 year old on a bus to school on their own for 2 hours a day, especially when you don’t need to…

What’s Proposed

The new funding approach will be phased in over a number of years (2 at present) with a “minimum funding guarantee” protecting all schools from an impact of no more than 1.5% against their current budget. This “fudge factor” will be applied differently across the country in an attempt to soften the blow. No doubt in reality it may well mean costs increase in the short term.

What’s the alternative?

Well in the same way that any business looking for efficiencies and savings is best to start bottom up the same is true of schools. In many schools the cost base is largely fixed, with many services being imposed on them (payroll admin, internet services etc). Over the last few years the Government has been encouraging schools to take more responsibility for their own costs (which in its most extreme form leads you to an academy). Again a laudable aim but in reality how much purchasing power does a school of 50 or so kids have with a national utilities company or catering supplier? Answer – not as much as the collective buying power the LEA or even the government could provide. So for a start why not get some national/regional buying groups in place for standard utilities and services to help drive down costs. Also take a look at the existing budgets and see what else can be trimmed, if anything. At our local primary school the local community already funds around 13% of the budget through donations, with a further 10% coming from school meal sales and other sources. So the Local Council only funds around 77% of the cost of the school. This school doesn’t need it’s budget cut it needs it increased!

Any other great ideas?

Well here’s a random thought. What Chelsea Football Club (and yes I am a lifelong fan) pay the mighty John Terry in a week is enough to fund our school for a year (and have some change left over). There are 20 teams in the premier league, most with a squad of at least 25 front line players. That’s 500 people. If they each donated a week’s wages that’s a fair number of schools that could be funded properly. Extrapolate that out for bankers, politicians, comedians (Jimmy Carr could have a reason to stop avoiding tax), Media personalities, BBC news readers, et al and you could happily make a real difference. Alternatively the Government could get it’s act together and fund education properly – by looking at the real costs of each school and making sure the costs are met.

Personally of course I’m a big fan of the great JT funding our local school – it would certainly help our team’s performance….

Just a thought…

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Lake District Dog Walking is Good for You

Morgan above Ullswater

Morgan unwittingly helps me out (and enjoys some fine views)

Walking a dog in the Lake District can save your life!

So it’s official. According to a new report from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, walking every day at a brisk pace for half an hour halves the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. Fantastic news. So my Lake District/Morgan twist is simply to say that by definition walking a slightly mad Labrador who is full of energy in the wonderful English Lake District, which is full of hills and therefore by necessity is brisk and strenuous, is very definitely good for you. And you get some great views as well!

Ullswater October 2012

Ullswater October 2012

So for all those out there looking for a healthy lifestyle, the answer is simple. Trash the gym membership, get a dog, and get yourself up the nearest hill. If you’re lucky enough to be anywhere near the Lake District, get yourself over to Ullswater, and you might even meet Morgan on his daily perambulations!

Morgan

Morgan – who could resist?

If you are heading for the Lake District with your hound, we recommend High Beckside Pet Friendly Family Holiday Cottage in the Lake District and these other pet friendly Lake District Cottages. Enjoy!

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Ullswater and Helvellyn Views

Some Real Lake District Views

My first time back for a while and to kick off I thought I’d add some photos from my new Ullswater Cottages website. I’ll get back to the ranting and raving another day but for the moment here are some great photos of Helvellyn and Ullswater in the Lake District.

Ullswater View

Surely the best bench in the Lake District?

Helvellyn

Helvellyn with Red Tarn and Swirral Edge and Catstycam by Charlene Bell from http://www.beyond-imagination.co.uk

Angle Tarn

Angle Tarn above Patterdale and Ullswater – Magical

Morgan on Helvellyn

The classic shot of Morgan the Lake District Labrador on Helvellyn Summit

Summit of Place Fell

The Summit of Place Fell above Ullswater

Place Fell in the Snow

Place Fell in the Snow

Helvellyn Cottages in Glenridding

Helvellyn Cottages in Glenridding

Patterdale Cottage

Our Patterdale Holiday Cottage

Ullswater Cottages

Ullswater Cottages – find out more at http://www.ullswatercottages.com

Well that’s it for now. If you’d like more information on our Ullswater Self Catering Cottages or would like to see more photos of Ullswater and Helvellyn please click the photo above and go to the gallery page. Enjoy!

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Liam Fox Should Go

why not

Why is Liam Fox still our Defence Secretary?

Having blogged a few months ago in defence of David Laws I find myself (inconsistenly perhaps) utterly outraged that Liam Fox is still in post and not sitting at home regretting his actions. Perhaps I’m putting it more into the same bracket as Our William who of course survived the scandal of doubling up in hotel rooms with a different “young man”.

My skewed take on the story is  as follows. Liam Fox makes friends with a student some years ago. They share a flat. Dr Fox becomes shadow health secretary, his mate becomes a “consultant” on health matters. Dr Fox becomes defence secretary, his mate becomes a “consultant” on defence matters, passing himself off as a special advisor to Dr Fox himself. Dr Fox and his mate (also his best man – as if that makes it any different) attend numerous defence related meetings together abroad (over 18 I think) as well as meeting in the MOD at least once a fortnight.

And there’s nothing wrong with this.

And we’re told his mate wasn’t on the take and didn’t make a “living” out of it.

Utter nonsense.

Naive at best and downright corrupt at worse. Either way Our Dave should stop worrying about having Foxy on the back benches, grow a pair and get rid of him NOW. I don’t care how good he’s been in his job (in fact I don’t think he has been that good in his job). Anyone making such a gross error of judgement should not be a cabinet minister, probabaly shouldn’t be an MP, and certainly shouldn’t be our Defence Secretary.

Just as an aside try doing a google or other search for “dr fox”. Just about sums it up….

End of rant…..

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Abolish the 50p Tax Rate

So the government is considering scrapping the 50p top rate of tax. We need to promote growth in the economy. It’s the people who pay the most tax who are the entrepreneurs and high achievers who will achieve this growth. So why punish them with punitive taxes? why not cut them to incentivise them to work harder, create more jobs and stimulate growth. Good idea surely?

Having been out of action for 6 months or so (apologies for that) I am amazed that something so trivial has got me back onto the blogosphere. Anyway. In answer to the question – NO!

There are apparently 320,000 people who pay this top rate of tax. Without knowing the specifics of each individual (and why let details spoil a good generalisation) my guess is that the vast majority are not “entrepreneurs” or “drivers of growth”. I would expect a fair proportion of them are employees of private companies and of course bureaucrats in the still bloated public sector. I have no problem with talented employees being rewarded accordingly (although obviously I do have a problem with public sector pay levels!) but lets not pretend the majority of these employees are going to work less hard because they are having to pay at extra 10p tax on their earnings over £150k. Most of them will either not notice (it has been in place for over a year anyway) or would have been given a pay hike anyway to negate the effect of the tax rise on their net pay.

The real entrepreneurs and growth drivers are likely to be the owners of companies and small businesses who will pay themselves a nominal salary and take dividends from their companies (if they’re making a profit at all). Most of the money will be ploughed back into their businesses.

If the government really wants to promote growth then they should make it easier for these people to operate by cutting the red tape and bureaucracy that overburdens small businesses and disincentivises them to actually employ anyone.

Or you could bring back tapered relief on capital gains to encourage long term investment rather than putting it into the same bracket as short term “punting” (much of it done by the same traders who are the employees described above). 

Anyway whatever it decides to do please let’s not pander to the pressures of overpaid employees who want to cream a little extra cash for themselves and pretend these are the people that are going to turn around the economy. There are plenty more sensible and effective ways to encourage the real entrepreneurs who will be the ones we need to do that.

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Jamies Dream School

Education

Jamie Olivers Dream School

I feel like I’m on an education rant roll at the moment so please forgive me. Having watched the opening epsisode of Jamie Olivers latest well intentioned promotion vehicle on C4 last night I felt compelled to vent my feelings.

For anyone who missed it the concept it pretty straightforward. Take 20 kids who’ve “failed” in mainstream schools (in other words not managed to hit the magic target of 5 GCSEs), hand them over to Jamie for 6 weeks, he gets a bunch of “celebrity” personalities to come in and inspire them to fall back in love with education and themselves.

So last night it was the turn of Lord Winston (science), David Starkey (history), Simon Callow (english), Dame Ellen MacArthur (sailing) – with Jamie of course as the pupils friend and mentor and some other bloke as the “headmaster” (who seemed more interested in sacking David Starkey for inappropriate behaviour…).

Anyway I’m sure over time the series will follow the usual reality path a la Gareth Malone and many others where there will be despair and frustration with drop outs and tears, followed by an uplifting climax with several of the kids achieving academic greatness and a general sense of well being all round. We shall see.

Anyway the point for me is that on the basis of what we’ve been shown so far, this “experiment” is very unlikely to prove that different methods can motivate and inspire. I’m sure if every school in the country could afford to hire top Shakespearean actors to teach English, bring in several million pounds worth of histroical artefacts into the classroom to spark some historical flame, shove a dead pig on the table and dissect it with a ciurcular saw, and then send the kids off for a day trip to the Isle of Wight on a yacht with a round the world yachtswoman then the level of interest and academic achievement would indeed improve. Sadly they can’t afford to (unless of course all of these worthy people decide to give up a portion of their valuable time for free to further the education of the masses).

Back on planet reality most schools have to make do with dwindling budgets, mounting paperwork, and disinterested pupils, who struggle to see much point to their academic endeavours when they consider that 20% of the young people in the country are out of work.

So what’s the answer? Well certainly inspirational teachers are criticial in interesting and exciting children to academic success. A proper and practical curriculum for all would be a good start as well – something we don’t actually have at the moment given the coaltion have scrapped the last Labour one and don’t expect to have their own in place until the end of 2012 (that’s ok then….).

Most importantly though we need to provide inspiration for the youth of today by giving them hope that their academic endeavours will be rewarded with future employment and prosperity. Without that it really is all just “academic”…

So good on you Jamie for the Dream School and I shall watch with interest as the series develops (especially as Cherie seems to be on the menu later in the series). In the meantime a message to Dave, Nick and George – if you want to sort this out a good place to start as always will be on jobs and the economy. So over to you….

Just a thought…

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