Sunday, 10 October 2010

What are Friends?

I have just finished listening to a rather wonderful podcast that I regularly download called This American Life.

The podcast itself is about an hour long and always presents two or three human interest stories based on a theme. This weeks theme was about a new word that has come into the lexicon, the word being 'Frenemies'.

Now I had never heard about frenemies and so I looked it up online. The definition shown on Wikipedia (I appreciate not necessarily the first port of call for factual explanation) is 'A Frenemy is a portmanteau of 'friend' and 'enemy' which can either refer to an enemy disguised as a friend or to a partner who is simultaneously a competitor and rival'.

I am fairly sure I don't have any frenemies. I am also pretty certain that I do not have any straight out enemies either but the whole subject has got me thinking about friends.

I  can remember vividly my early years at school making lots of 'schoolfriends' and I also remember that I always seemed to find making friends more difficult than other children did. Subsequent to that in various workplaces I have always got on well with colleagues but as for developing continuing friendships with those workmates outside of or after leaving the workplace that has always been tough too.

What I am saying is that I realised at a very early age that for the most part friends are about relationships with others at a given point in time.

Whilst I am lucky to say that I have a (very) small number of friends with whom I believe I will be close to on an enduring basis I also realise that the vast majority of friends will be that for a given period of time and eventually due to circumstances you will drift apart.

That isn't to say that you fall out or break up with those individuals and when you do meet on an infrequent basis everything is quite amicable. But it does mean that when you meet up you are conscious of the relationship you once had and the fact that although you share past expereiences that relationship has essentially gone.

It isn't a bad thing that friendships drift apart merely a statement of fact. I have always been able to acknowledge this fact but I also regret that this is what has happened in one or two cases. Perhaps I have always been too ready to acknowledge it and should have worked harder in a small number of cases.

I have just been looking at the number of friends I have on Facebook and see that I have 138 friendships. What sort of mad number is this?

I would urge you to do the same and I am sure that if you are being honest you will see that this massive number of people (though in their own ways each one is wonderful and I am delighted to be associated with all of them) is merely a contact list and that your number of true friends is a tiny fraction of this.

This weekend I have been given the opportunity to resurrect some of those friendships that I had previously let go (and a number of those are some of the ones I regret having released first time around) and I am thoroughly looking forward to the opportunity.

So what, after all this, is the moral of todays blog?

We should all realise that friendship in most cases doesn't last a life time and that you can probably count the number of 'true' friends you have on one hand. But at the same time we must work hard to retain those special friends that we have and jump at the opportunities when they face us to reinvigorate those periodically flagging relationships.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Mr Bridgen really is showing his ignorance about Council Tax

Have you seen this weeks Coalville Times?

Our local MP is quoted in a page 8 article expressing his views about the cancellation of a council tax revaluation.

In short he has 'responded enthusiastically to the government's announcement to cancel Labour's plans for a revaluation in England, which would have led to local tax hikes'.

Mr Bridgen, I am afraid, is completely mistaken in his views about the effects of a revaluation. What's more those views in all likelihood are working to the detriment of people living around North West Leicestershire.

I have worked in council tax since it was first introduced in 1993 and I would venture to say I probably could be classified as having expert views in this area having run the council tax department in two highly performing district councils.

Up until the general election we regularly read in the right wing media that Labour was demonstrating astonishing stealth and guile in their plans to increase tax income through a revaluation of council tax bands.

It seems that even after the election Mr Bridgen is continuing with this rhetoric.

Let me be clear about this.

REVALUATION DOES NOT INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF MONEY A LOCAL AUTHORITY RECEIVES.

What revaluation does do is to redistribute the overall tax burden based on more relevant property values.

In very simple terms a home, based on its tax band, is attributed a weighting. The council, which has already set its budget, then arrives at a council tax by dividing that budget by the cumulative total of all of the weightings thus arriving at a different charge for each band.

When a revaluation takes place the council still has to set a budget first and divide by cumulative weightings it is specifically prohibited from increasing its budget just because the total cumulation of weightings has increased.

So, in real terms what should this mean?

In some ways we don't really know as there has never been a revaluation of council tax in England. Mr Bridgen's assertion that 'in Wales four times as many homes moved up one or more bands as down' is a little misleading as the number of council tax bands was increased at the Welsh revaluation in order to allow valuers to be slightly more accurate when determining property values.

The theory of a revaluation however has been long established and that theory is quite simple. Roughly one third of people would see their tax (not their tax band) increase. One third would see their level of tax stay the same and one third would see a reduction in how much they have to pay.

Now, here is the real kicker!

Tax bands at the moment are completely unfair. Your house is valued at what it would have been worth in 1991 and doesn't take into account any improving modifications since (as long as the house hasn't changed hands).

So when we bought our house we were allocated band E (don't worry it's all public record) but since then we have had a fairly big conservatory ubilt which hopefully has increased the value of the house fairly substantially. But the great bit is we could carry on building until we had a mansion and our tax wouldn't ever go up. Is that really fair?

You can absolutely guarantee the same has happened with a neighbour of yours, or even you yourself. Bandings just do not reflect in any way the current real value of homes BECAUSE THEY ARE 18 YEARS OUT OF DATE!

....and that's not even the worst part.

We don't know what would be the effects of a council tax valuation but we do know how business properties have been revalued as they DO have revaluations every 5 years.

IN THE 2010 BUSINESS RATES REVALUATION THE BUSINESSES THAT SAW THE BIGGEST REDUCTIONS IN VALUE ACCROSS THE ENTIRE COUNTRY WERE THOSE IN THE EAST MIDLANDS BECAUSE OUR AREA HAS SEEN THE LARGEST REDUCTIONS IN PROPERTY VALUES COMPARED TO THE REST OF ENGLAND!

IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT THAT WOULD BE THE SAME FOR COUNCIL TAX!

So, in reality in agreeing with no revaluation what Mr Bridgen is doing is potentially keeping our taxes higher than they would be if a revaluation took place just to benefit those living in affluent areas in the South East of the country.

It's hardly representing the people of North West Leicestershire is it?

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Tories are getting it wrong

No one can deny that Britain has a massive budget deficit. Similarly no one would want to deny that that deficit has to be reduced - it's what all of the political parties were talking about at the general election (albeit that each party wanted to address the deficit in different ways).

The coalition government has got tough decisions to make, many of which will be unpopular amongst the electorate simply because increasing taxes and cutting services is bound to be.

Nobody ever wants to pay more to get less, imagine going to the supermarket and forking out £10 more than you usually do but coming out with a half empty trolley. That is what is happening with this government.

So today our Chancellor unveiled some big changes to the benefit system.

First of all Mr Osborne anounced that anyone who now pays higher rate tax from 2013 will no longer be eligible for Child Benefit. In itself not the worst possible cut which could be introduced, the Labour party have long opined about the well off in society making a greater contribution to the tax burden.

Secondly, the Chancellor has revealed that no claimant shall ever receive more in benefit than the average working family. Once again on the face of it many many people would agree with this measure.

So where, I hear you ask, is my problem with these announcements?

The answer is simple. Mr Osborne is oversimplifying major issues on a massive scale.

You will have heard on the news no doubt that a single parent earning £45K per year and raising three children will no longer receive child benefit and yet two parents raising a single child and each earning £38K will continue to be eligible. Where is the equity in this? No one is saying not to stop child benefit for the well off in our society but to have such a glaring inequity is a travesty.

As for benefit claimants receiving high levels of income once again we have simplification gone mad. What are we to do with large families living in our cities and claiming housing benefit? Do they need to be moved into areas away from their community to meet an arbitrary cap or do we simply allow them to live under the strains of poverty?

The last Government spent years, admittedly with varying success, trying to raise families and children in particular out of poverty. This government will see many fall into it on the stroke of a pen. Is this the society we want or deserve?

Mr Osborne is a highly educated man. Surely he appreciates that our society isn't simple. In fact it is highly complex.

Unfortunately, for those that will be affected, we should consider the circumstances of families and not simply make swingeing changes based on arbitrary tokenism in a vain effort to make things easy.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The 'Magnetism' of the Ryder Cup

I must be clear about my views on the game of golf. I find the entire game, the premise, the 'etiquette' and the snobbery utterly ridiculous.

I must confess that I have attempted to play the game and the only word to describe my ability is pathetic. I once even invested in clubs, bags, clothing and membership of a club in the feint hope that I would improve (I was told that successful people play golf) but I simply discovered that when I addressed the ball the only thing that would happen would be for my nose to run uncontrollably.

So much has been said about the bizarre culture of the average golfer and the inherent middle class pretensions of the members club that I wouldn't even attempt to add anything new. The only thing I would say is that all of those argyle-clad allegations are true.

I have thought long and hard as to whether it is my lack of ability which provides my aversion to the game and have come to the conclusion that yes, partially it is. I am sure that if I had more natural talent I would probably not mind so much kitting myself out in pastel Pringles and deferring to the Captain. At the same time the sheer inanity of the pursuit simply results in me not wanting to improve my long game (I have far better things that I would rather practice).

Having said all of that, and God strike me down if I would watch golf at any other time, there is something indescribably magnetic about the Ryder Cup.

I was loving it yesterday when 'rain stopped play'.  The sight of those soaking wealthy spectators vaguely resembling moody teenagers on a washed out camping trip was to put it mildly, uplifting.

However, today the players are out on the course and I am sat (not quite) avidly listening to whether Ian Poulter and someone called Ronny Fisher can half the game against Simon Stricker and Tiger Woods (apologies for making up names the BBC website only says R Fisher and S Stricker).

My patriotic pride in being a European is being stirred and until tomorrow  I may even be a fan of the game.

My Question then is 'Why'? and the answer is simple.

Radio is a marvellous thing when it comes to commentating on protracted and weather affected sports. The hushed whispers of John Inverdale pausing before a ball drops is a thing of wonder in exactly the same way as listening to descriptions of cakes on Test Match Special or delighting to the greatness of Rod Laver at Wimbledon makes one feel warm and content.

So until Sunday I will sit listening and probably even cheer if we get a dramatic win on the final green but on Monday morning I won't even remember the result or who scored points and Golf can once again it's proper place in my priorities, that is absolutely nowhere.