Jimmy Carr

I rarely get political on this blog – it is just asking for trouble, but today I saw that our own Prime Minister has seen fit to criticise a single person and draw scorn upon him by criticising his tax strategy.  I saw this, and thought I needed to write something.

Now, you may love or hate Mr Cameron, and you may love or hate Jimmy Carr, and indeed, you may love or hate tax strategies that enable you to minimise what you have to pay to the government. None of this is my concern, except when I perceive such a ludicrous amount of hypocrisy and unfairness – wielding the power of the Prime Minister’s office on a single person in our country is not just unsavoury, it’s completely unacceptable. Mr Cameron is entitled to his own opinions but to become the nation’s moral compass and pass instant judgement on morality in the way that he has is to live up to his ‘Flashman’ nickname.

Let’s be clear – Jimmy Carr is acting within the law. Our own definitions of morality are not the point, but acting within the law is something we should be aware of at all times in this. The law is upheld by the judiciary, and made through legislation that is debated at length by our politicians. In short, Mr Cameron, you and your peers created the very situation that Jimmy Carr and others have exploited. It is totally legal, and whilst you may say that it is unsavoury, I am pretty darned sure there are many more things we would find unsavoury about you if only we knew them.

For example, did you not say that having dealings with people running an aggressive tax scheme is something you should avoid? Did you not allocate £900M extra funds to HMRC to combat this sort of loophole? Did you not appoint a person who you knew works this kind of strategy? And did you not inherit a whole shedload of money from similar activities and investments designed to minimise the tax payable to the government? How do you deal with yourself, dear David? Here, in case you don’t recall, is your interview.

Should Jimmy Carr repay the money? No, I don’t think so. He has simply taken an option that is available to ALL people in the UK, and uses a loophole that thousands of very wealthy people use, including many of our politicians… if not this exact strategy, then one very similar.  And so would any one of us in his position.

Is it not a bigger issue to chase down the lost revenues from major corporations, such as Barclays, Vodaphone, Boots, etc, who are allowed to exploit similar loopholes and operate from overseas and who therefore cost thousands of times more money in lost revenues than you, I and Jimmy together would save?

I find this kind of bullying very unpalatable, the hypocrisy is epic and the nerve to consider yourself a moral compass entirely distasteful. However, yet again the media and the politicians will sew up the situation to their benefit and deride those who are taking perfectly legal action. One man’s morality is not another’s, clearly. Indeed, arguably, a moral man would not become a politician. Anyone recall the expense scandal? Oh yes… wasn’t that where we found out just how much immorality exists in Westminster, but were unable to remove all of the rotten apples, just a few examples?

In conclusion, I believe Jimmy Carr has done nothing wrong. He has made jokes at the expense of ‘fat cats’ and been found out to be one himself. So what. He still makes people laugh and has not acted illegally. There are many examples of similar schemes (Gary Barlow, anyone?) and many people benefit from using them, including politicians.

Of course, not everyone benefits from them… and that’s perhaps the point most would like to make. If I don’t benefit directly then it is a moral crime. If I do, I should keep quiet! If I were David Cameron, I’d be as quiet as a church mouse right now…


Supermarket price madness

A lot is being said lately about supermarket prices. Mostly, it’s about the false claims on packaging to do with better value.

Today was like most other Sundays for me – I go shopping. And like most shopping days I end up on Sainsburys where I go through the rows of shelves looking for items I need.

Tomatoes in tins were the amusing items today. Actually, the price of tinned tomatoes was the issue.

Look closely at the image – you’ll see two prices. On the left is the price for a single tin. On the right is the economy pack of four tins together. You think you know the big pack will be cheaper, but just check…

Yup. It really does cost much more! And this is one small example of dozens I could have pointed out today.

Should supermarkets be held to account for this? Probably. Will they? I very much doubt it.

PRSformusic Respond to Parliamentary Questions, PRS complaints, Keep Music Free


Well, it seems to me that PRSformusic have failed to answer the questions asked in a clear manner, evading the essence of the question. It also seems that they may have mislead people in the answers they gave. I’ll happily stand up and be counted here – they *DID NOT* send a letter to my business before phoning up:

Before we call any business, as part of a licensing campaign, we always send a letter. Our letters explain clearly who we are, whom we represent and the licensing requirement. A typical licensing letter to prospective customers is attached as Appendix A.

And when they did call us, they *WERE* aggressive, suggesting most strongly that we would need a license come what may. Failure to purchase a license would result in action being taken against us. They did not enquire whether or not we listened to music, but asked whether we were aware that by listening to music in the workplace we were obliged to buy a license. Only later in the call did they bother to ask if we actually listened to music.

On the notion of double taxation (note, the question held the phrase in quotes, implying it was not a specific phrase, but a colloquialism):

Secondly, there is certainly no ‘double-charging’ when we license workplaces for the use of music, made by any means including radios. Copyright is a bundle of rights including copying, communication to the public (broadcast) and public performance. These rights are usually licensed separately, with a separate licence fee. To suggest there is ‘double-charging’ undermines the entire basis of the bundle of rights defined in the statutory framework.

So – evading the essence of the question, lets point out that it isn’t a tax. Where do PRSformusic state that they DO NOT collect money from radio stations for broadcasting copyright music? No… I didn’t see it either. So we are left wondering whether they collect from the station AND from the listener… a double collection if you will – a double ‘tax’ on listening to music.

On the question whether their activities have had any effect on reducing the number of people who now listen to music in the workplace:

There appear to be many reasons why commercial radio audiences have declined but we are not aware of any data or analysis that suggested that workplace public performance licences are an issue. Indeed, we have not found any published research on declining radio audiences which cites our licences as a factor.

I will say this again and again and again – it is *PRECISELY* because of your activities, PRSformusic, and the heavy handed way in which you are interpreting and applying the rules as you describe them, that has stopped me from listening to music at work. Period. I attribute this entirely to you, and your activities alone. It’s all very well quoting how good it is for people to listen to music whilst they work, but to encourage them and then charge them for the privilege is tantamount to obscenity, in my opinion. So as far as research goes, yours isn’t very good. There is at least one instance where your activities have reduced the amount of music in the workplace. I would guess there are many, many more examples. On the other hand, I bet there are untold numbers of plumbers, painters, chippies, sparks and other tradesmen who couldn’t give a flying one for your license fee… and still listen to music as they happily go about their otherwise very law abiding ways.

Sainsbury’s Plastic Bags, Supermarket Sized Hypocrisy?

sainsbury bag
sainsbury bag

Today I went to the local supermarket and did the usual rounds of the aisles, loading the trolley with packets of food all wrapped in excessive amounts of cardboard and plastic. Today I picked up less than I usually do, but even so it was more than would fit into one or two bags.

On 1st October, Sainsbury’s took the decision to move the plastic bags off the end of the checkout, but to make them available if asked for. Not realising this, I stopped and asked. The conversation with the enthusiastic (over zealous?) 17yr old lad went along these lines:

“Could I please have some bags?”

“Yes, how many would you like?”

“I think six should do it, thanks.”

“Six? For that little lot? You don’t need six, you could get all of that into just four…”

“Do you think so? I don’t, which is why I have asked for six. If it turns out I can manage with less then I’ll leave some on the end of the checkout. Please pass me six bags.”

Now I wasn’t in a very good mood at that point in the day, and could possibly have been a little less ‘sharp’, but I really do object to being told I can do with less by someone who hasn’t done as much shopping as I have done, who chooses not to question the reason why he has been told to restrict the bags in the first place.

Apparently, it’s to save the planet, some environmental excuse like that. Which is fine – I’m the first to complain if I see something not being done, but I was told that it was the scourge of plastic bags which is most damaging to the environment, and made to feel as I was somehow to blame for the multiple thousands that are strewn along our highways and byways. I was the culprit, obviously.

I pointed out that plastic bags form less than 1% of all landfill, and that plastic packaging, such as that used for ready meals, forms a massive component. What really made me cross was that the supermarkets themselves promoted the use of plastic bags back in the late seventies to replace the humble cardboard box. Does anyone else remember hunting for a decent box under the checkouts and using those to pack the groceries in? When home, the box would be unpacked and crushed to go into the bin… or these days into the recycling. So what happened to boxes then? They were untidy components at the tills, polythene seemed far cheaper, more accessible, maybe. The humble cardboard box was cast out as inefficient and unwanted. Yet what is more environmentally suitable?

To my mind, the supermarkets drive the need for plastic packaging, by demanding foodstuffs that can be kept on the shelves longer, and are responsible for a huge proportion of the environmental damage we have got by importing foods from all over the planet (apparently we consumers demand that they do so) by using less than environmentally friendly processes. They introduce bags that do not degrade, and refuse to absorb far better alternatives, such as alternative plastics because they cost a bit more (and goodness knows, we can’t have a supermarket giant like Sainsbury reducing its profit margin by giving away better bags). They remove the cardboard boxes which were fine, actually, and then employ some spotty 17 year old child who is told to peddle the environmental angle to those of us who can remember what it was like to shop in small greengrocers that have long since been put out of business by supermarkets.

So the supermarket that employs the young man who doesn’t actually question any of what he has been told is the very same one that has been driving the need for the plastic packaging which forms the vast majority of household waste, and then turns on the guilt for the consumer by telling them how wasteful it is to use too many bags… the very bags which make up so very little of the content of land fill sites.

I just don’t get it.

Are we consumers now somehow responsible for the decisions that were taken at corporate level years ago? Decisions that were driven by efficiency demands, cost savings, commercial directions? Are we now going to just sit back and let Sainsbury and Tesco and every other large supermarket hoodwink us all into believing that we are all to blame for this? Maybe we should stop eating lychees and guavas, or tomatoes from Holland, and stick to the foods we can produce in our own country? Actually, I’m quite in favour of that.

Give me back the cardboard box and I’ll take it to a recycling plant. Give me a paper bag to pack the products into.  Start putting milk back in to glass bottles, which are made from a pretty abundant raw material, after all and can be recycled. Start spending some of your enormous profits on envinronmentally friendly, alternative plastics for your bags (if you are going to provide any) and start putting meals for one into packaging that isn’t going to take three barrels of oil to make. But whatever else you do, never ever tell your staff to advise me that I don’t need six bags, particularly when they have no idea about what my needs really are, and when you have spent so much of this planet’s resources lining your pockets with cash for far too long.

Children’s weight problems

So the government asked the care trusts to ask the schools to ask their parents if the children could be weighed.


So the children whose parents said ‘Yes’ were weighed, and the data collected and used to inform the nation about the state of obesity in young children. Glory be.

However, a *significant* number of parents said ‘no’ – and I am estimating significant to be around 20% in every county – and so those children were not weighed. Lo and behold, the county closest to home for me declared that there is not an obesity problem with young children for them, and they had the data to prove it. Citing healthy schools initiatives, a growing appreciation of participative sports and all manner of ways that children are being encouraged to exercise and eat a healthy diet, the campaigns have been hailed a success.

I’m sorry if this rains on anyone’s parade, but the 20% of children were very likely the ones who were overtly conscious (and worried, perhaps) about their apparent weight problems. The very children who need to inform the statistics were not included out of their own choice. Suddenly, in a county with some *very* overweight kids (and I have taught a few), none of them have been included in the census.It is hardly surprising that the figures show no obesity, when the obese children were not weighed.

Lies, damned lies and statistics, eh? When will we stop paying out money for this kind of ‘research’ and realise that there are far more realistic ways of gathering the data?