What Now, Greece?

06/07/2015

Flag_of_Greece.svgThe Greek population have voted to reject austerity. Not that it really makes any difference to the outcome.

Imagine a scenario that as an individual, you didn’t make enough money to cover your cost of living. Somehow, you persuade a bank to lend you loads of money so that you can eat and do a little more. They keep lending you more money until eventually it’s time to make a payment, but of course you can’t. The bank proposes a change of your lifestyle (which you cannot sustain), but you refuse to comply, and still can’t make repayments.

That’s where Greece are now. Irrespective of if they accepted the ECB’s terms or not, they still owe money and can’t sustain their country, which has really been the case for years. Corrupt tax collectors have simply stopped revenues being collected by successive governments and now life has caught up with the country. No surprise to anyone who has ever visited Greece, I imagine.

The country is bankrupt.

The banks have been closed for a week and are due to open tomorrow. What will happen? The population will attempt to retrieve their savings and cash. Trouble is, there is allegedly only €500M left in the Greek banking system, then the money has run out.

Public service workers need to be paid. Things need to be purchased from other countries, like medicines, food and fuel. Will countries extend more credit to Greece? Probably not.

So, the next step is likely to be a humanitarian crisis. Possibly civil unrest, maybe even war. Chances are if that happens, then European countries may have to intervene militarily as the Greek social system collapses to prevent the population fighting for food.

I wrote a slightly tongue in cheek blog about Europe a couple of years ago, but elements of it are sadly playing true.

Whatever happens, this is not going to end well for the Greek people.


Democracy, Or Just Plain Nasty?

29/03/2015

cansAs Parliament is dissolved and we move towards and election, the unpleasantness has begun. Topics like the style of someone’s kitchen, how they eat a bacon sandwich or what their social background are concentrated on, not the real matters in hand.

Insults fly from one side to another, something that’s unfortunately replicated in my local borough.

I have opposed local developments that I felt inappropriate (and won), but will support them when I feel they are appropriate, but along with others, are attacked by these ‘liberal’ and supposedly non-political organisations. If more people were involved with the local community, or simply gave their opinion, things would be better, but apathy prevails in the majority, and others are scared off for exposing their opinions.

An organisation that professes to support free speech simply throws personal insults at those who don’t follow their opinions. Being involved with the local community, if not with them is portrayed as if it is bad. Self appointed representatives of the community and anonymous organisations are OK, but they should surely allow others their own voice too.

Name calling and insults are the order of the day. Just unpleasant, vindictive and divisive. Not constructive at all.


Scotland Out Of The UK

11/09/2014

Union JackThere are some strange ironies about the forthcoming Scottish Independence vote.

Firstly, those who call themselves “Scottish” and live outside Scotland don’t get a vote. Other people such as English who do live in Scotland do get a vote. Presumably, these people won’t have to relocate if Mr. Salmond gets his way, and the English in Scotland will get a new Scottish nationality.

What is more interesting to consider though, is what existing residents of Scotland will do after the result of the referendum is announced.

Presumably, if the result is ‘No’, then not much changes. Life goes on as before as part of the UK. Sure, some will be unhappy at the result, but it’s as it is now.

If the result is ‘Yes’, many residents will start to live in a ‘foreign’ country. We can debate the currency to be used, armed forces and the unlikely membership of the EU. New passports will be required. I would imagine that many ‘No’ supporters will be uncomfortable and will consider leaving an independent Scotland to return to their countries. Many English have retreated to Scotland for the isolation and peace and quiet, but will they be happy being considered ‘foreigners’ in a new state? Can you imagine being English, living in Scotland and living under new taxes, laws and using the new “Salmond” currency? You might as well move to Spain where the weather is kinder.

I’m not sure how many non-resident Scots will flood back to Scotland to live in an independent country, I assume that the outflow will be more than any return.

As others have noted, at least the UK’s average rainfall will be reduced if Scotland chooses to leave.


Europe in 2033, a short history of the 21st Century European War

04/05/2013

Europe_in_1923

Back in 2013, Europe was in turmoil. Financial crises had begun to ravage the union. Countries previously considered “second World” had been admitted to the union, causing stress and disruption amongst those that had been part of the Economic Union since its inception after the Second World War – a union that had been largely responsible for the peace that had existed in Europe for almost seventy years.

But, the financial crisis had put incredible stress on the member countries and had forced the then German Chancellor, Angela Merkel to effectively depose the Italian government as their financial situation became critical in 2012. Merkel was to intervene one year later, in 2013, as the Cyprus banking system collapsed, and Merkel was hell-bent on saving her precious Euro currency, used in seventeen of the European countries at that time. She engineered the system of “Citizen Prop”, a draconian method of saving a country by ravaging the savings of citizens to help balance the books of that country. Simple taxation would not be fast enough, and many European countries had economies that were so grey that most trade was never subject to taxation anyway.

The effect was that countries under threat of collapse saw this and started to pull out their savings and resort to keeping cash in secure locations outside of the banking systems where governments (and Angela Merkel) could not touch it. First to go was Spain at the end of 2013, having previously rescued their own banking system, and again, Merkel walked in, deposed the Government and restructured the banks.

Ireland, one of the early gems of the European system, who benefited from development subsidies in the 1990s, but as a result had a very highly geared economy, dramatically collapsed in 2014. This took the country back nearly 100 years as they became the first country to leave the Euro, infuriating Merkel. The economy in Ireland reverted largely to agriculture – which allowed a bartering system to return, avoiding the New Irish Punt altogether.

As other countries followed Ireland’s stance, France in 2015, Holland and Belgium in 2016 and most other Eurozone countries all leaving by 2018, Merkel’s position as chancellor became untenable, so she moved to change the constitution. A handful of countries remained in the Euro – Germany, Spain, Cyprus and strangely, the Vatican. Merkel had effective political control of Spain and Cyprus anyway after deposing their governments as she had Italy’s years before.

Switzerland, in the middle of all of this, looked on in amazement.

The United Kingdom, considered its leaving the ERM in 1989 a lucky escape, saving it from the Euro, and Scottish Independence, finally ratified in 2018 had made the English resolve even harder. Scotland had created their own currency, the British Prime Minister Mr Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party coming to power in 2015 and welcoming the Scottish devolvement saying “If they want to leave the UK, good luck to them, we will see how they cope with that half-witted idea”. He was right of course, Scotland’s balance of trade was not in their favour by 10:1, North Sea Oil having all but dried up, and the geography of the country making agriculture and communication difficult. Scotland was in a worse situation than Ireland by 2020.

Merkel made emergency changes to the German constitution in 2022 to give her emergency powers to avoid German financial collapse, and in the process she effectively became a new German Dictator. Her power now was absolute over her government. She was drawing resources from Spain and Cyprus, civil wars in their countries having been suppressed by the German military in previous years.

Merkel had been infuriated by the countries who had left the Euro, and in 2023 started a military offensive to restore the European union that she lusted over. Ironically, she started with Poland – although they were never part of the Euro currency, she was incensed that they never had been. Weeks later, invasions took place across Europe, France falling first, surrendering without a gunshot as the German forces approached the border. All of the other countries offered little resistance, with their economies having collapsed they had no military forces to speak of and only civil resistance existed, easily overcome by the efficient German army. Ireland was the only country to remain, having unified with Northern Ireland and having a useful geographic isolation from the European mainland.

America looked on, with enough of their own troubles so that this time around, they would not intervene in a European war. Only in 2029, when England & Welsh forces decided to liberate France under Farage’s direction did the situation change. A nine-month war ensued, finally resulting in the pushing back of German forces to their borders, America turning up late once again and as America started to amass troops in England, the war ended without an American bullet being fired. Germany agreed that France should remain under Anglo-Welsh control. Merkel, now a  stress-beaten 75 year old woman and struggling to retain control, relented to the smaller United Kingdom. After all, France had little to offer Germany, they considered their wines inferior to the Bavarian varieties and the French car industry had been pointless for decades.

Farage decided that France should not become independent again, and annexed it to the UK, calling it the State of South Kentishire, which somehow sounded an appropriate name for the new France.

So, in the Brave New World of 2033, we look forward to peace once again with Germany, the pound reigns supreme over a larger land than ever before, and the Scottish are learning to speak German, deep fried battered Bratwurst being the new Glaswegian delicacy.

NOTE : If you are reading this in 2033, I apologise for a few factual errors.


Opening A New Pub?

10/03/2013
The Tumble Down Dick Public House, closed since 2008

The Tumble Down Dick Public House, closed since 2008

In our local town (Farnborough, Hampshire), a pub lies closed and ignored, almost derelict due to receiving no maintenance in the almost five years since it closed. Weeds grow from the window boxes which once had colourful displays and holes in the roof have been crudely patched, but the owners clearly have no interest in offering this building for new accommodation, the site is valuable land space in the centre of Farnborough, clearly visible from the main road.

Why did it close? Well, the details are sketchy, but a health inspection forced a temporary closure, and the current tenants promised a refurbishment programme, but this never happened. One would think that if the pub was making good money, then the investment would be a no-brainer, but it seems that the opportunity was taken to close down and cease trading.

It was not just a pub, but a much-loved music venue, staging live bands and a place for up and coming new talent to perform, something that Farnborough is missing now.

So what for the future? Well, McDonald’s are showing interest in the site, first of all previewing one of their ‘pre-fabricated’ boxes and a drive-thru restaurant (I use the term ‘restaurant’ loosely – I’m not a fan). Under pressure from local residents, a new scheme has been shown that retains the facade of the building, but still gives the hamburger chain what they want – an outlet for their so called food. Planning applications have still to be received. I suspect they may simply put the original plan in first as this is the most efficient, brand recognisable and cheapest solution for them.

What grounds could planning be rejected on? Very few, it seems. Simply rejecting on the grounds that Farnborough has enough fast food outlets is unlikely to work – or even legal and would likely fail on appeal anyway, involving the local council, Rushmoor, in legal costs. A listing for the building (it is quite old, and has historical connections) would work, but to be fair, the links are tenuous, a small part of the building is alleged to date to the 1700s, but this has been re-roofed and rendered many times, and is a very small part of the overall site, most of which was built in the 1800s. An application to English Heritage has failed already. Rushmoor really have very few grounds to reject planning on.

There is the ‘Pub Protection Policy’ – a forthcoming Government scheme, but not in place in Rushmoor. This could be rushed through, but it seems that this would cost money that someone would have to fund up front.

The best ploy would seem to be to convince MacDonald’s to withdraw their interest in the first place. Demonstrations have been held, even a march to another local restaurant, but these are unlikely to sway the corporate behemoth even a little. Money speaks louder than a few people with banners.

ttdd_121028_7482If they do withdraw – and we are getting lower down the list of possibilities here – what then? A thing called an “Asset Of Community Value” has been put in place by the local council. This gives local residents the opportunity to bid for the pub by delaying a new sale of the site for six months (that’s if the current deal falls through). Even a compulsory purchase could then be made by Rushmoor, which would save the residents trying to re-open the pub money (but would be supported by local tax payers).

If nothing happens, or residents can’t raise the money, then the building will remain there, sitting derelict and an eyesore and an embarrassment as many local people already feel it is. The whole process would then start again, with other suitors bidding for the building, the site value potentially devalued from the £1.6M that McDonald’s are already offering.

If a purchase by the community was successful, then the work of re-furbishing the site and building would commence. Estimates are in the region of £1M to bring the building up to modern standards and of a usable quality.

I have calculated some proposed figures of what the business would need to turn over, and figures in the region of £17K per week seem appropriate. Interestingly, since I calculated these figures it has come to light that a similar sized pub just up the road turned over £16K in 2009 (after the Tumble Down had closed), so these figures seem reasonable, but still ambitious. The potential debt burden of loans and investor funds (who would expect dividends) are major for the profitability of such a business and lead one to question if it was viable at all. There is competition from this pub down the road, a new Wetherspoons that has opened since the Tumble Down closed, and a new Beefeater is proposed next door too, so competition has increased dramatically. Given the budget and cash flow figures I have calculated simply opening as a business is not viable, it would take a very brave or foolish investor to get involved.

There are apparently grants available for communities to re-open such venues, maybe it could open as a community centre of some sort (without a pub), but again, then it would be largely funded by the local council and taxpayer – a council struggling to keep their community charges down in difficult times when Government funding is becoming more restricted.ttdd_121028_7514

Community groups have yet to explain how they could re-open this as a venue or where the funding would come from.

It’s difficult to see how this building can become viable commercially, or if local community funding can save it, given the cost to refurbish it is potentially more than creating a new building altogether.

It would be a shame to lose this piece of Farnborough history, true, but the reality is difficult and harsh. The options are limited and very dependent upon events. I do hope, whatever happens, that the building isn’t just left as it is for another five years.

EDIT 11th March – Since I posted this, I have received a number of agitated messages from members of the Community Interest Company “The Friends Of The Tumble Down Dick” (apologies if the name is wrong), they tell me that there are many inaccuracies in this blog entry, and that correct information is at their FAQs, including their proposals for bringing the site back into use, so for completeness, I link to it here.


So much for free speech…

07/03/2013

In November last year, I got involved with a campaign to save a local pub from demolition and replacement by a two-storey McDonald’s Drive Thru.

November's Demonstration

November’s Demonstration

The campaign’s main pages are on Facebook and their own web page. I’ve taken photographsand produced videos to assist with the campaign.

I offered to host their website without charge (I have the domains http://www.ttdd.co.uk and http://www.tumbly.co.uk), but this was declined.

Over Christmas, I got involved with their ‘business team’ to try and establish a business plan to re-open the building as a pub and music venue and established a potential break-even scenario, with cash flow forecasts and investment plans. I spent time getting business management advice, and fed this back to the group. This is where it started to go wrong.

I needed to ask questions about potential grants, investment schemes, financing models etc., but was continually told “this is in hand” – without any details. Frustrating for both sides. In the end, I was told that some aspects were not “fucking important”. Developing a business plan without information is quite tricky.

Some background on me – in 1992 three of us started a self-financed business which we grew and eventually sold in 2004 after getting turnover up to £8M p.a. Part of that process involved understanding what’s needed to make a successful business, so I felt I had something to contribute here, especially as much of the campaign group consisted of musicians, music enthusiasts, and by their own admission, not a lot of business skills.

After some abuse, I left the ‘business team’ – the group did find someone else who is continuing this work, proving the maxim that no-one is indispensable.

I was still involved in their main Facebook group and would comment on processes – with an upcoming planning application, and little material objection that can be raised, I felt that something else would be needed. An English Heritage listing for the building looks unlikely, so something called a ‘Pub Protection Plan” seems to me (and a local councillor), a main hope to save the building.

Objections on the grounds of not wanting a takeaway are unlikely to carry any favour with the council, after all – there is extensive evidence that McDonald’s have had detailed conversations with the local council about road access, local amenity etc., why would they do that without reasonable expectation of success?

So, the Pub Protection Plan appears to be a good way of stopping McDonald’s in their tracks, but this idea has been rejected due to the potential costs. In addition, I received abusive messages from members of the group accusing me of capitalist intentions, amongst others.

I am happy to speak my opinion, I’m not one to keep quiet. But, I was once told the phrase “no-one gets in trouble for keeping their head down and saying nothing”. Maybe it’s better to say nothing then?

But, I won’t stay somewhere where you are abused for your opinion with un-substantiated accusations that are irrelevant. Maybe I’m too old and intolerant now, but I do believe that life is too short.

What these people don’t seem to understand is that making a profit is essential for any business, be it McDonald’s or a local pub and music venue. A music venue will not operate on grants alone. Holding a few music lessons won’t save the building. It has to make money – in fact, as we all do.

Maybe some of those criticising me have a mentality of living on state benefits, but the money even for them to live comes from someone, somewhere, making money.

So, after the abuse, I’ve left the group. This was a closed group, and even my comments in the public group have now been deleted and I’m blocked from posting there again.

Maybe what killed it was my suggestion that supporters put their hands in their pockets to support the Pub Protection Plan and invest in the Community Interest Company that has been created.

Maybe they don’t like people who talk of the reality? Reality isn’t always nice, the facts have to be faced, otherwise once McDonald’s put in their planning application, it’s far more likely to be an inevitability than a possibility.

While I don’t want a McDonald’s in my town, simply getting a petition and demonstrating, won’t actually sway the planners – they have to work to guidelines. McDonald’s might step away, but profits speak louder to them than upsetting a few musicians.

As an example, here is a rough financial business plan with cash flow. Even starting at £17K/week turnover, the business struggles to remain cash flow positive (and this is based on getting the building for free!).

If the campaigners are serious, investment and putting money where their mouths are will be needed.


The Lights Will Go Out

22/09/2012

I’ve just been involved in a discussion about Smart Meter technology in Germany. I wrote about Smart Meters some time ago, but this discussion led to the discovery of some stark differences between the progress made in Germany (who leads Europe in green energy and smart meters) and the UK.

The UK Government has mandated that the roll-out of smart meters should start in 2014 and completed by 2020, yet no decision has yet been made as to the technology to be used, or the funding. The most likely solution will simply be that the cost of these new meters will be borne by additions to consumer’s bills. And what benefit will these meters provide? Well, they will probably be able to read the meters by driving down the street rather than sending someone to look at the meter, reading the meters by a radio data system (like Bluetooth, but possibly M-Wave or similar). The other possibility is that there will be a form of data that will be transmitted down the power lines – but this requires co-operation between the gas and electricity companies. With all our independent, profit focused companies, it’s likely to be a dog’s breakfast of mixed standards, or at least time delaying arguments. The consumer will also be able to look at their consumption online.

These meters will only provide meter reading benefits, no peak power controls or appliance controls. This will require a second generation of meters, making these (that we still haven’t decided about anyway) obsolete. So why bother rolling these first generation smart meters out at all?

Wind farm in the Thames Estuary

Then, there’s renewable energy generation – about 25% of Germany’s power is already from renewable energy, while less than 6% is from this in the UK. New German houses must have solar panels fitted, there is no such requirement in the UK.

£6,000 subsidies for so called “green cars’, which I have already argued are not green, UNLESS they are charged from renewable energy. Most, if not all of the 1,700 electric cars in the UK that the government has spent an additional £11M to provide infrastructure (charging points) for, are charged from electricity generated by fossil fuels, making them clearly less “green” that their fossil fuel counterparts.

In the UK, we do not have the initiatives to make a difference like our German counterparts have, worse still, we have little provision for our future energy requirements. We need to know where our future electricity will come from. Consumption of power is increasing, maybe due to the illusion that our electricity is green, but plans for generation are not increasing in line.

Renewable sources of energy are OK, but not good for on-demand power. Wind power can be used to pump water that can later be used to generate hydro-electric power, but there are no plans for these sources either.

We currently have nine nuclear power plants, after 2019, this will be just three, and none by 2035. So, the options in 2035 are renewable energy and fossil fuel generation. Or maybe buy electricity from France?

To make sure that the lights don’t go out over the UK, we need tangible plans now. Solar, wind and wave generation is not the answer, these don’t give us power 100% of the time, and certainly not on those long, dark & still winter nights.

While everyone is arguing about shooting badgers, the clock is ticking, I certainly can’t see what our medium to long term plans for power are. I can only assume that the subsidies for “green” cars, requirements for smart meters and obsession with windmills are borne from EU directives that don’t take into account how far behind with renewable energy we are in the UK.

Time to buy candles and wait for a return to the rolling power cuts of the 1970s.