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What Mervyn King didn’t say

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England delivered a speech to the Institute of Directors in Liverpool today and it has been published on the BoE Website.

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2011/speech523.pdf

While I do not claim to be a distinguished economist like the Governor, I am not bound by the politics of his office and can add what I see as a few unsaid truths.

Firstly, a significant part of the problem is clearly extreme polarisation of wealth. Basically, the rich have (though spivving and speculating on stock, currency and property markets) acquired disproportionate wealth. While a significant number of people are indebted to them because of loans to pay for overvalued property.

If property is overvalued, then food is undervalued and the unprecedented availability of low cost junk food has contributed to obesity and wider social and mental health problems caused by poor diet.

Unfortunately the natural economic rebalancing of property deflation and food inflation (combined with rising fuel costs) will cause pain and misery to many.

While the spivs and speculators are a primary cause of the problem by syphoning funds from people who are poorer than themselves and taking advantage of globalisation, the trade unions also need to look back at historically high wage demands and failing to provide a global solution to workers rights. This effectively exported Victorian working pay and conditions to the developing world and rendered big chucks of our manufacturing industry inefficient.

If you don’t grow, mine or manufacture then you can’t really create true growth- Just the pretend growth of the last 30 years in the UK. Albeit, the North Sea Oil and Gas Industry was a noticeable exception and efficiencies have been created in through improved infrastructure.

However much of this is just a sideshow and I must get back to the main point at hand. This continuous and unstoppable force which has been siphoning wealth from poor to rich.

Not only is this unjust, but it is the root of economic failure because poor people tend to spend their money (they have to usually) and the rich have so much that they can’t possibly spend it and so without monitory exchange then economies stagnate.

The solution: An unprecedented global agreement for governments to print money rendering the assets of the super-rich spivs less valuable but to apportion this sensibly to small savers and to stimulate growth while protecting the most vulnerable. Basically it would be payback time for the spivs and it would create significant long term inflationary pressures if it was not managed carefully.

Here’s one that you might have seen on youtube.

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Smartmeters fuel poverty and preventative spend

Fuel poverty is a cause of death and serious health problems in our country and I’m glad to see some work on this with an excellent working group and the Scottish Government.

The problem is worsened with the rising cost of fuel and with the best will in the world insulation grants will only do so much good.

I’m wondering whether or not there is a positive use for utility smartmeters to provide realtime alarm system by monitoring fuel usage for at risk groups.

While the real problem is that people can’t afford the fuel, there is an opportunity for care and health services to monitor cliff edges and to build in extra lifesaving emergency fuel spend as part of the government’s strategy for preventative spend on improving health.

I accept that there are problems with the idea but there are clever people out there who can work it out

How to give pupils and teachers the internet access they need?

This is a bit off topic for me but I’ve been following a twitter consultation #eduscotict which aims to improve education by using ICT resources in learning. I’m following it because I use this technology to support ex-offenders and recovering drug users to help them manage the chaos out of their lives. The schools are doing a great job and there are some fantastic ideas being developed by teachers which are transferable for me.

It’s a fascinating debate but the teachers keep saying that they can’t access the resources which will add value in the classroom because of firewall restrictions.

It’s a complicated conflict of interest. On one hand teachers need access to a plethora of open source tools and web 2.0 apps which would never be made available on a corporate network, yet alone an environment where pupil data is held.

We know that information security threats have grown exponentially in tandem with the very Web 2.0 applications that the teachers want to use and we also know that social engineering, malware and the internet are within the sex-offender modus operandi.

I do want my kids to have access to the best online learning resources but I clearly don’t want their data to be accessed on malware ridden systems or on dodgy cloud-based apps.

So how do we square all of this? I’m no expert on the firewall infrastructure which schools use and I suspect that it’s a hotchpotch of tools which may be inconsistent between local schools, yet alone between 32 local authorities.

One thing for sure is that there won’t be a lot of money available but there are solutions which don’t need to cost the earth.

Here’s a simple suggestion to be shot down. It might not be practical but it’s a starter for 10.

Smartboard pc’s could be set up on a separate subnet (DMZ) where they can access any resources that the teacher deems fit but under no circumstances can personal data be stored or accessed from them. Doing so would be a dereliction of duty.

It’s not rocket science but this design would also allow the maintenance of smartboard tools to be more easily outsourced.

Divided on the digital divide

There is an ongoing twitter consultation on technology for learning in Scotland. It’s tag is #EduScotICT.

There are convincing arguments for allowing young people to maximise the use of technology to support their learning and the range of tools available are amazing.

While I have some concerns about safety of young people on the Internet, the schools are doing a relatively good job in making them aware of the risks.

For me though there is one huge black hole in the strategy. This style of learning lends itself to flexible learning at home as well as at school and children without regular access to the internet at home are already disadvantaged.

In Glasgow (where Scottish deprivation is most dense) only 50% of households have access to the internet. Where restrictions to home access is combined with other deprivation indicators, then one more barrier is placed in the way of social mobility.

The education system is quite rightly patting itself on the back for some really innovative and effective changes that have been put in place by using technology to support learning but unless we start campaigning for wider access to the internet at home for children then the all the principals of the Scottish comprehension system of education are at risk.

There is a BBC report today http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-14944420 which calls for Pay as You Go internet in Scotland. This may help in a small way but we must have radical action.

I propose that all Scottish schoolchildren should have a right to free internet access at home. Lets build this into the operating licences of the ISP’s.  Perhaps within this model  School systems could act as a proxy server so that safeguards in place at school could also protect them at home.

Progress2Work ending

Very sad! The best ever initiative to support drug users into employment (P2W) ends on 30th June.  And no, this work will not be undertaken in the Work Programme.

Over the years P2W has helped thousands of recovering drug addicts back into work. Unfortunately the very targeted nature of the work programme will mean that all the resources for employability will be presented to the people who need the least help. (i.e. those who need the help the least) simple market forces.

The government has attempted to create a profiling scheme for payments to the providers but the essence of P2W has been missed.

Those individuals – who once smoked a spliff at a party – will be targeted by the prime providers as users of illegal drugs.  This way they can claim an outcome payment.

Profiling people for employability does not work. It just makes the cherry picking more sinister.  Put it this way, you’re operating a commercial work programme contract and you can get a £2,000 payment for placing a long term prisoner into sustainable work. They will end up offering prison officers backhanders for referrals of prisoners who have a good previous work history and are very employable and providing no support for the majority of prisoners who need it.

It stinks!!!!