Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Who runs the country – the government or the press?

Amazing how a certain section of the UK press believes they are above the law and any form of outside regulation.

Yes, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights enshrines the right to freedom of speech (amazing how the anti-human rights Daily Mail now wants to use the Convention it detests to challenge press regulation).

However, read on. Article 10 also recognises the need to restrict freedom of speech by law in certain cases, including ‘for the protection of the reputation or rights of others [and] for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence’.

Which might explain why Christopher Jefferies successfully sued eight newspapers after being defamed and having his reputation ruined. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/nov/24/christopher-jefferies-leveson-press-inquiry

As for our press code being the envy of the world - you are joking. Firstly, self regulation has never properly enforced the code, secondly where is the proof? Reporters without Borders rank the UK at 29th in their world freedom of the press rankings, whilst Finland takes the top spot for the third year running.,

So perhaps we should be adopting Finland’s Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in the Mass Media rather than our own emasculated version of press regulation. http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2003/en20030460.pdf

Some of our press are threatening not to ‘sign up’ to the new regulator – how dare they? Finnish media are not given that option. A publisher MUST designate a responsible editor who has a duty to supervise editorial work. A responsible editor who is found guilty of editorial misconduct will be sentenced to a fine. No choice there – and yet they have the freest press in the world.

The Finnish Act includes a right to reply and a right to correction for victims of misinformation or repeated bias. The publisher must publish the reply or correction. The Finnish Act guarantees press freedom but also includes statutory correctives to ensure that the press act responsibly. That is sadly missing in our new press regulations.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Cross channel ferries stink

The cross channel ferry operators are up in arms because they are being asked to do something which will actually help the environment, reduce their sulphur emissions.

Currently they have a licence to pollute: Marine light diesel is only capped at 1% land based diesel is capped at 0.001%. In other words they are allowed to use fuel which pollutes 1000 (one thousand) times more than land based vehicles. Yet they are complaining about the reduction in sulphur content.

A Hong Kong trial with their ferries shows increased costs of 21%. Brittany Ferries are claiming a rise in annual fuel costs of 60%.

Britanny ferries environment page claims that they ‘have a respect for the marine environment that runs deep’ and that they have one of the most modern fleets on the Channel. They boast that their newest ship Armorique is designed to ‘exceed all current and known future regulations concerning emissions’. The same company is now saying they don’t have enough time to invest in the new low sulphur technologies.

P&O ferries boast to the public that the sulphur scrubbing on the Pride of Dover ‘won the top award for marine and atmospheric protection at the Seatrade Awards ceremony.’

They too are proud to display their environmental credentials: ‘Legislation to protect the environment is becoming ever more stringent and of course we embrace this fully.’

But in Parliament they sing a different tune: ‘P&O Ferries cannot support the introduction of 0.1% Sulphur content in marine fuels from 1 January 2015’

So don’t believe all you hear about just how environmentally friendly and responsible our ferry companies are. They don’t always tell the truth.

Monday, 11 March 2013

How to make housing affordable in the UK

Green Party policy is that everyone has the right to a home. In the UK that is generally taken to mean the right to be a home owner.  But house prices in the UK are currently at an historic high. Price to income ratio is currently 30% above its historic average according to the International Monetary Fund. See: IMF Country Report No. 12/190 UK 2012 Article IV Consultation, available at http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2012/cr12190.pdf
This leaves us with what the media have dubbed, the lost generation – young people who are unable to afford their own home and are ‘forced’ into the rental market: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/2011/may/21/protecting-housing-market-lost-generation-buyers

The IMF has also looked at the ratio of the cost of homeownership relative to the cost/ benefit of being a landlord. In a comparison that views a ratio of 0 as a balanced system, we are currently at 20% plus. In other words, landlords are making a killing.

However, rents are also high making it virtually impossible for those renting to save anything towards a deposit. The obvious answer: regulated rents. This would solve so many problems. Lower rents would mean rent-to-buy landlords would not be interested in buying so many properties. Fewer interested buyers results in lower prices.

If landlords did still want to buy, lower rents would mean they would only be prepared to buy at lower prices.

Lower regulated rents would reduce the housing benefit bill and all the associated problems, including the inhumane bed room tax.

It’s an obvious common sense answer – which is why it’ll never happen under this government.

Friday, 8 March 2013

It’s the poor what takes the blame

A recent report from a consortium of UK churches is busting the most common myths about poverty – most of which can frequently be read in the press.

They don’t want to work – actually most families in poverty are working households. We have allowed wages to fall so low in this country that many people can’t earn enough to feed themselves and their children.

They’re alcoholics and drug addicts - fewer than 4% of benefit claimants report any form of addiction

They’re not really poor they just don’t manage their money properly - statistics show that the poorest spend their money carefully, limiting themselves to the essentials.

They’re fiddling benefits - less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud: historically a very low level. In fact, if everyone who is entitled to benefits actually claimed them the system would be paying out £18 billion more than it currently does.

It’s an easy life on benefits – in fact benefits do not cover minimum income standards and have halved in relation to average incomes over the last 30 years.

Tonbridge smells

Local residents are up in arms again about a sickly sweet smell wafting across the town. We already had a campaign about this back in 2011 when our local Environmental Health officers asked people to keep ‘smell diaries’ so they could compare them against activity at the local business which was the most obvious suspect: Drytech. Amongst other things, Drytech produce aromatics for foodstuffs.

The officers claimed there was no evidence that the smalls correlated with anything Drytech were doing. So I made a Freedom of Information request for the data. Guess what? It was refused on the grounds for commercial confidentiality. So, the only company manufacturing and testing aromatics is, apparently, not responsible for an artificial smell making life difficult for local residents. This despite the fact that, under section 79 Environmental Protection Act 1990 councils have a positive duty to inspect their local area to identify probable nuisance and deal with it.

Twitter and facebook are alive with the sound of Tonbridge people’s jaws dropping. Have a look at  http://www.facebook.com/pages/STOP-Tonbridge-Smells