Posts Tagged ‘government’
This time, it’s the UK government online filters, which are a little bit ENTHUSIASTIC. They wrongly block one in five websites, creating the kind of internet censorship you might expect to find in China.
The Open Rights Group Project has been investigating the amount of websites that our overzealous filters are blocking, and it found that out of 101,008 sites, about 19% of websites are blocked by UK ISPs for no particular reason.
One of the blocked websites is the political blog Guido Fawkes’ Order Order. The editor Paul Staines said: ‘We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government.’
TalkTalk say they haven’t blocked them, no not at all, free speech is important etc. But the Open Rights Group ‘Blocked’ Project offers a free checking tool, which gives you information about which sites are blocked by UK filters.
After all, it’s a free country, innit?
OR IS IT?
Most people don’t pay by cheque any more, but even so, they often show up, as if BACS was never invented. And it’s a drag to go into branches to cash them.
Soon, though, you’ll be able to take a picture of your cheque on your smartphone and pay it in either via email or your mobile banking app. It’s called ‘cheque imaging’ and next week the government is expected to give the go-ahead for legislation allowing banks and building societies to use it.
It’s great news for us, because electronic cheques will speed up the interminable clearing process involved with all those bits of paper. At the moment you have to wait up to a week for a cheque to clear because it has to go from your bank to a clearing centre. But cheque imaging bypasses all that antiquated messing around, and it will only take 2 working days for your money to appear in your account.
However, it’s bad news for branches. Take away the need to cash a cheque, and you could see nothing but tumbleweed and unemployment. But, the hardy paper cheque might not be phased out entirely. Even if the legislation goes ahead, the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company says: ‘Customers wouldn’t have to do anything different if they don’t want to. They would still be able to pay cheques into their accounts at branches.’
But if it only takes 2 working days to clear a photo of your cheque, what’s the betting that we’ll all be doing it via email instead?
Health minister Jeremy C…Hunt is under pressure to introduce a 20% health tax on pop and biscuits, in a new (and probably hopelessly clumsy) strategy to reduce the nation’s dependency on lovely, life-giving sugar.
A report written by Public Health England, which includes advice from doctors, health experts and cardiologists (huh, what do THEY know?) has been leaked to The Grocer magazine.
It says that there are six possible ways to reduce the UK’s sugar intake, but fizzy drinks are the easiest target. They propose that a 20% tax would reduce obesity rates by 1.3%.
This report – which was commissioned by the government – is apparently the basis of another report which will be published on June 26th. The Department of Health, however, says it has no plans yet for a sugar tax.
Hmmm. You can tax fizzy drinks all you like, but you can’t take our BISCUUUUUUUUUUITS! Not if you don’t want a vicious Hob Nob black market on your hands.
This means war.
Public health experts have advised the government to pull their finger out over plain cigarette packaging, because they think that getting rid of branded packaging would have a positive effect on the nation’s health.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, who may or may not have been smoking a Marlboro Light at the time, said that she would bring forward draft regulations by the end of April, but two months have now passed and she’s done bugger all.
A letter to the British Medical Journal, signed by 600 doctors and health professionals, asked the government to confirm that the new regulations be published in the next two weeks.
Plain packaging on cigarettes doesn’t exactly mean that they’ll be sold in brown paper bags. Instead of nice curly fonts saying things like ‘Chesterfield’ and ‘Marlboro’, there will be a picture of a withered lung or an amputated stump, with the words ‘DON’T SMOKE OR YOU’LL DIE’ (or similar).
There has already been a public consultation on plain packaging, but things were delayed to gather evidence from Australia, which introduced packets with health warnings on them in 2012.
Labour says that the letter was ‘an extraordinary step for hundreds of concerned health professionals to take.’
Meanwhile, the Department of Health say they’re on it – they just need to do one more public consultation – and finish this lovely fag.
‘Best before’ labels on food were always a strange and nebulous idea. If you ate the food after that date, what would happen? Did it just mean that it wouldn’t be in the prime of life, or that it was covered in green fur and you should ask a pest control expert to get rid of it? And…couldn’t we decide whether it was ok just by trying it?
Well, the European Commission plan to scrap Best Before labels entirely, in a bid to halt the 100 million tons of food waste we generate every year.
‘Best before’ usually applies to store cupboard food with a long sell by date, like rice, flour, pasta and tea/coffee. Sharon Dijksma, the Dutch Agriculture secretary said, with a refreshing directness:
‘The labels have nothing to do with safety but with quality. We think citizens can make sure themselves if, for instance, rice is still usable.’
Because Best Before labels are advisory, the EU is happy to get rid of them and only have sell by dates on fresh foods that are more likely to kill you outright, like eggs and meat.
But the UK government aren’t backing it at the moment, despite saying they’re open to a dialogue. A spokesman said:
‘We believe the connection between these labels and food waste requires further investigation to ensure the removal of date marks doesn’t have the opposite effect to that intended.’
*eats slightly out of date Sarson’s vinegar. Nothing happens*
Despite the government saying that the retired can delay any decisions about their pension until after big changes are introduced next year, pension companies are still forcing people to buy annuities if they withdraw a lump sum.
At the moment, when you retire, you can withdraw a quarter of your pension tax free, so you can buy a caravan, or nipple clamps, or start a new life onboard a Saga cruise ship, wearing lemon coloured casual wear and goosing waiters at the buffet.
You used to be given a period of six months to figure out what to do with the rest of it, so you were either offered a choice of buying an annuity, or leaving the fund alone and drawing an income. The government has extended that period to 18 months, to make sure people can get the most of new rules which remove restrictions on pension funds.
But the big pension companies are giving retirees a hard time and persuading people to take on annuities when they withdraw their first quarter. And apparently this is because – although government rules have changed – it failed to actually consult the industry, who are struggling to play catch up.
Tom McPhail, head of pensions at Hargreaves Lansdown said: ‘Just because the chancellor tells investors that they can take their tax-free lump sum and defer doing anything with the rest of the money, it doesn’t necessarily mean that pension companies can actually accommodate such requests when investors ring up and ask to be able to do this.’
So if you’re about to retire – maybe don’t put a down payment on your Harley Davidson just yet.
The Government have hit on this idea and it is proving to be controversial. Basically, it would allow HM Revenue & Customs to go straight into your bank account and take what they want. No, we’re not talking about tax. We’re talking about money on top of taxes.
Gideon Osborne has come up with this plan and fellow MPs aren’t impressed, with the cross-party Treasury Committee showing “considerable concern” and want more scrutiny over his proposals.
In their evaluation of the Budget, the MPs point out that these new powers could mean a sly reintroduction of the discredited Crown Preference rule, which gave the HMRC priority access to assets when firms went under.
“The proposal to grant HMRC the power to recover money directly from taxpayers’ bank accounts is of considerable concern to the committee,” the report said. “The committee considers a lengthy and full consultation to be essential.”
“Giving HMRC this power without some form of prior independent oversight -for example by a new ombudsman or tribunal, or through the courts – would be wholly unacceptable.”
They went on to dismiss the Chancellor’s idea that, which is based on the way the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) currently has similar authority to collect child maintenance, because the “parallel is not exact”.
“In those cases, DWP is acting as an intermediary between two individuals,” the MPs said. “HMRC would be acting not as an intermediary between two individuals but rather in pursuit of its own objective of bringing in revenue for the Exchequer.”
Not to mention the opportunity for fraud and cock-ups. “This policy is highly dependent on HMRC’s ability accurately to determine which taxpayers owe money and what amounts they owe, an ability not always demonstrated in the past. Incorrectly collecting money will result in serious detriment to taxpayers.”
“The Government must consider safeguards, in addition to those set out in the consultation document, to ensure that HMRC cannot act erroneously with impunity. These might include the award of damages in addition to compensation, and disciplinary action in cases of abuse of the power.”
The government are revamping the Green Deal, and new homeowners can get 75% towards the cost of energy efficient improvements like insulation, solid wall insulation, and double glazing.
Unlike the last Green Deal, which just took money off your energy bills, after an assessment you receive a voucher from the government to give to the installers.
And with savings of around £100 off an annual bill, it’s not bad, really. Especially if you’ve got your eye on a new Everest conservatory.
The government will issue a list of approved energy saving measures, and if you tick off two of them, they’ll give you up to £1000. Or if you decide on solid wall insulation, which is pricey, they’ll give you up to £6000. You can also qualify for an extra £500 if you carry out other improvements that’ll boost your home’s energy efficiency.
While it’s probably too late to do anything about climate change, this token effort will hit a few EU targets and make our homes a little bit cosier, which is nice.
So, er, thanks for helping us to save energy and reduce our bills. Now if you really want to help, can you have a word with the energy companies and tell them to stop charging us an effing fortune? Thanks.
Sales of petrol fell to a record low in March, as drivers abandoned their cars to do other things, like pay energy bills, feed their children and buy scratch cards in the vain hope that they’ll win £2.
Government figures showed that 1.367 billion litres of petrol were bought in March – a fall in demand of 24.7%. The only similar low figure in recent years was 1.376 bn litres last March. Back then, though, you could see the reason – March 2013 was freezing cold with petrol prices at a sky high £1.40 a litre. But this year was warm, with prices at a steady £1.30 a litre.
So what’s causing us to ditch the car? Well, AA boss Edmund King blames our boilers. He said (well, to be honest, he waffled):
‘Either the fear or reality of gas and electricity price surges has triggered an avoid-the-petrol-pump backlash to balance family spending, or the trauma of speculator-driven road fuel price spikes over more than three years has seared into the psyche of the UK driving consumer.’
We may find out in the next couple of months as the boilers and heaters are turned off – and drivers look forward to summer motoring and trips out.’
Ah, yes, summer motoring….with the hood down and a flagon of ginger beer in the picnic hamper.
Marvellous. (Oh, wait, we can’t do that, because the bailiffs repossessed the car. Oops.)
Hey look, here’s Nick Clegg pretending to be a human in an electric car! That’s going to make us all want to get one, isn’t it? Well, the government seem to think this will be the case – they’re ploughing £500m into a campaign to encourage people to buy glorified milk floats.
The cash will provide personal grants of up to £5,000 towards an electric car, and is intended to boost the ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV) industry.
Clegg said: ‘Owning an electric car is no longer a dream or an inconvenience. Manufacturers are turning to this new technology to help motorists make their every day journeys green and clean.”
“This major investment is there to make driving an electric car affordable, convenient and free from anxiety about the battery running out. But it’s also about creating a culture change in our towns and cities so that driving a greener vehicle is a no-brainer for most drivers.”
Between 2015 and 2020, grants will be given to cities who can offer incentives to drivers of electric vehicles, by providing free parking or access to bus lanes. Boris Johnson, smoking a cigar on the top deck of a London omnibus, welcomed the move, tediously and meaninglessly calling it ‘a green game changer.’
All very nice in theory, but where are we going to plug them in?
And a survey by PwC has revealed that older people are sick of the ‘one size fits all’ pension age. Instead we’d wholeheartedly prefer a more flexible ‘state pension window’, which would allow you to choose which age you’d like to knock off work and start your new career of complaining about dog poo and power hosing your patio.
The idea of this ‘window’ would mean that you can select when your pension should start, and will receive an adjusted amount depending on when you would like to retire. Analysts PwC, who asked 2000 people their views on pensions, argue that it’s actually a really great idea, and would fit in well with recent government reforms that aim to give people more pension flexibility.
Half of the people surveyed said they were happy to take a pension cut of up to £450 a year if it meant they could sack the dismal misery of going to work every day a few years earlier. Many people said that they were keen to ‘spend more time with their families’, (ie: watch more daytime TV) and said that their jobs were ‘too demanding’ (ie: not as much fun as watching back-to-back Poirot).
Raj Mody from PwC said: ‘We need to create a state pensions system which is fairer, more stable and sustainable in the long term. Scrapping the state pension age and replacing it with a state pension window will produce better outcomes for people, companies and the Government.’
But with the pension age being ramped up to 66 by 2020, are the government actually going to listen?
The UK Government doesn’t like the idea of Windows XP dying on the 8th April, so has decided to throw £5.5m at Microsoft to continue supporting the operating system for a further 12 months. This will mean that Microsoft will be able to carry on providing support and security updates for XP, Microsoft Office 2003 and Exchange 2003.
Crown Commercial Service (CCS) – one of those new cabinet office departments – said in a statement: “By combining demand, on behalf of Central Government departments and the wider public sector, Crown Commercial Service has demonstrated the benefits of government working as a single customer to achieve best value for the taxpayer, whilst continuing to build good working relationships with our technology suppliers.”
Apparently, this will save the government around £20m and buy them time to migrate to a new OS. It is good news for the NHS though as around 85% of their PCs are still using XP. It is good news for a few of our ATMs too.
A Microsoft spokesperson said: “Many organisations have made good progress in moving to a modern desktop operating system and have successfully mitigated the risk that running Windows XP will bring. However, some organisations will not have moved off Windows XP by 8 April.”
“We have made an agreement with the Crown Commercial Service to provide eligible UK public sector organisations with the ability to download security updates to Windows XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 for one year until April 8 2015.”
“Agreements such as these do not remove the need to move off Windows XP as soon as possible.”
You know what it’s like. You try to find a reputable tradesman, and some pie eating git with a gut the size of the moon comes into your house, whistles through his teeth and tells you it’ll cost a thousand quid to put up a shelf. Then they bugger it up and you have to pay someone else to do it.
Well, last year, incompetent tradesmen cost UK householders an estimated £1.9 BILLION in botched repairs that had to be redone.
The figures, from the TrustMark tradesman scheme, said that one in five people who have had work done in their homes have had to employ someone else to fix problems – costing an average of £600.
The problems start when trying to choose someone from the job. A quarter of us will employ people based on recommendations from friends and family, while 57% of homeowners didn’t bother to check their qualifications. 6% of us simply go for the cheapest quote.
TrustMark is a government endorsed set of standards for tradesmen, which has been updated and is due to be launched soon. Consumer minister Jenny Willot said:
‘Every trader who has signed up to the scheme has been independently assessed for their competence. We want to put rogue or unscrupulous tradesmen out of business. One of the best ways to do this is to pick out the best businesses, so people know where to turn first for their home improvements, maintenance and repairs.I would encourage all legitimate and honest tradesmen to sign up to this scheme.’
That’s all well and good. But if you were a dishonest tradesman, wouldn’t you just sign up for it anyway?
In a move that seems to have been devised by Mr Burns from the Simpsons, the UK Intellectual Property Office is proposing to update copyright law to make it legal, even though everybody ditched CDs and DVDs ages ago.
The IPO announced the news by printing it out on striped green perforated paper and faxing it.
They said: The changes make small but important reforms to UK copyright law and aim to end the current situation where minor and reasonable acts of copying which benefit consumers, society and the economy are unlawful.’
(But apparently it’ll still be illegal to make copies of your CDs and DVDs for friends and family. Hahhahaha.)
The government will actually be debating this in the Houses of Parliament next month, and if it’s agreed, the law will be changed in June.
I wonder whether they’ve heard about these great new things called 78s? You can play them on the gramophone, so I hear.
British Gas has been accused of trying to put the frighteners on people, after gasbag Centrica boss Sam Laidlow warned that an investigation into the energy market may lead to power blackouts.
He claimed that potential investors will be put off from backing an updated energy infrastructure if Ofgem started shaking up the energy industry with its two-year investigation.
His reasoning is that the potential breaking up of the Big Six would create uncertainty and decrease investment in the energy market, leading to what he called a ‘substantial risk’ of outages and blackouts. Ooh, we’re so SCARED.
Obviously, this sounds like a lot of desperate, self-serving bollocks, and everyone in the world has come out to tell him so, including uSwitch, Ofgem, the Tories, the Lib Dems, energy secretary Ed Davey and the Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint, who said:
‘Nobody will be fooled by scaremongering from the energy companies. What matters for investors is long-term certainty on returns, not short-term gains based on overcharging.’
So what’s Mr Laidlow got to hide, we wonder? Could it be that he doesn’t want his £2.2m a year wage packet taken away from him? I mean, what’s going to happen if he can’t afford to fill his hot tub with Dom Perignon any more?