Workplace schemes “in chaos” I must admit that I’m on two minds about this scheme. On the one hand, as a taxpayer I’m in favour of the people I am funding the so-called safety-net for actually, you know, looking for work as opposed to the Jeremy Kyle And Special Brew option. In fact, I’m not even entirely opposed to those reticent safety-netees being forced to look for work, or forced to attend workplace schemes to make them more attractive to employers I’m also well aware that these schemes, well managed, can do a lot of good. The corner of Big Retail that I inhabit has had a constant supply of them since they started ruinning the scheme and quite a few have been given permanent jobs as a result, In fact, at our branch it has become almost a de facto recruitment process, allowing the store to take on people we’ve seen in action rather than who can bullshit best in an interview and giving employment opportunities to those who may, you know, be quite good at working in a shop, but not terribly good at bullshitting their way through interviews. On the other hand, It’s corporatism pure and simple isn’t it. I haven’t heard of much work-placement free labour being sent to sole traders and corner shops, the captive forced labour pool (and it IS forced labour, no matter what they claim) is at the disposal of Big Retail, Big Distribution and Big Whatever Else. It’s another government subsidy for big business.


Poisoning The Well

Just a quickie, as I’m actually building up to a post about Stephen Lawrence (seeing as it’s Racism Week) so I’ll be brief…

OH has a post up about HS2 in which he says:

If business wants a high speed rail network, business knows what it has to do. Raise the capital and build one – build it and they will come. But no, our glorious politicians are FAR too interested in the glory of the State for national infrastructure to be left to people who actually have money to risk

It strikes me that this will never happen, so long as the State is involved. Business may well know that they need a High Speed Rail service across the country, but they simply will never ever build one. Why? It has been pretty obvious since HS1 was mooted that eventually these lines would be built (at taxpayer’s expense) across the country so why bother? Why risk the capital when you can get the cow for free? /metaphormix

Of course, it will be cocked up. If HS1 is anything to go buy, it will be a ghost train, visiting ghost stations as it will be far too expensive for the majority of people to use on anything but the most splendid of occasions (or people being sent by work, on expenses, in which case it would still be cheaper to send them by car. Hell, I’VE been on HS1 on expenses and it would have been cheaper for work to send me by bus and pay the overtime. Or by DHL, come to that) especially as they have ALREADY PAID for the bloody thing. As a government vanity project subsidised by our bottomless (ha!) pockets there will be no incentive to cut prices to make more money through higher use (or cut costs through efficiencies in building and operating it) as there would be in the private sector.

Instead of a useful piece of infrastructure built by entrepreneurs we will get another expensive Blue Elephant. And Yesterday Cameron was taking on ‘Crony Capitalism???’ Don’t make me LAUGH.

Advertising Adjustment

Well, yesterday Facebook was full of people shrieking that Christmas was on the way (the apparently agreed tidemark being the Christmas Coca-Cola advert) but I was taken with quite another advertisement, this one for tyres (I forget the brand).

"Remember when you thought you didn’t need a different set of tyres for the winter? Well, maybe the last few winters have made you think again…"

The wheels seem to be coming off (boom-boom!) the whole global warming thing, slowly but surely. You didn’t expect a big announcement did you? Of course not, but the signs are there. Hard, icy winters are expected to be the norm by pretty much everybody for a good few years, and people are taking the opportunity to sell you stuff. The DIY stores no longer try to sell you solar panels but instead go overboard with cheap (that’s taxpayer-funded) loft insulation "to save you carbon" on the massive amount of heating you will need in the winter and of course your fuel bills (massive fraud, by the way. You pay huge amounts of tax on your fuel and then they use the money to sell you insulation you already paid for to save you money on your heavily-taxed… you get the idea. THAT’S corporatism in action) which is also a tacit acceptance that it’s going to be getting a little chilly around here.

The market never lies.

Eggs Reduxed and Friends In High Places

A further thing regarding the ‘eggs by the kilo’ story occurred to me last night as I was selecting some supermarket steaks. Steaks are sold by weight, and although the packs are all the same size the price (and weight) of the meat within can vary quite considerably- so much so that my preferred method of steak selection starts with looking for the highest prices, before other factors like marbling etc.
I don’t think anybody has been seriously expecting that the EU’s latest daft-sounding regulation will affect the number of eggs in your box, it will still contain six, ten or twelve eggs but (like steaks or pork chops) each box will have to be individually priced. It’s not a Big Thing in itself, supermarkets already have the infrastructure in place to sell products in this way, corner shops will probably have the work done supplier-side and the net result will probably be to make accounting slightly more complicated (and therefore slightly more expensive). The biggest losers will be farm shops and they can easily cope by adding another setting to the electric scales they undoubtably already own for selling fruit and veg. Of itself, this seemingly bizzare regulation is unlikely to cause too much disruption to either shoppers or retailers.
However, taken as part of the wider trend it suddenly looks a lot worse, as part of the death by a thousand cuts to small businesses, regulations like this and WEEE and tobacco display bans and minimum alcohol prices and a multitude of others each apply small reductions in the profitability of Big Retail’s smaller, more agile competitors while the likes of Tesco either have the weight infrastructure already in place or enough redundancy in their system to take up the extra workload.

Companies like Tesco aren’t the problem however. Whether they lobby for regulation (as they did with the minimum pricing story), have a quiet word with the powers that be behind the scenes or simply sit back and take advantage of the situation Big Retail acts in Big Retail’s best interests which is exactly how it should be. Tesco has a responsibility to Tesco’s shareholders to maximise profits. Suggesting that they act otherwise would be akin to suggesting a tiger refuse to take advantage of its prey having a gammy leg because it’s ‘not sporting’ and sounds a little bit commie to me. The problem really lies with the States both National and Supernational that create the prevailing conditions, and with the pooulations that allow this to happen. Boycotts are useless. Take the alcohol pricing issue: even if there were enough outraged bloggers to seriously reduce Tesco to its knees over the issue then Sainsbury or Morrisons would simply take up their place, if indeed they are not already making quiet noises in the ears of those who need little persuasion anyway.

The Big Pharma Electrofag?

Leg-Iron was musing recently about the attempts to ban the electrofag, and I think he surmised (although I might have read it somewhere else, to be honest) that a big-pharma-version might be around the corner. Perhaps it’s this?

Duke’s new technology employs a unique method to deliver nicotine to the lungs. In their presentation, the researchers show the new lung delivery technology results in rapid absorption of nicotine that provides immediate relief of withdrawal symptoms and also re-creates some of the familiar sensations that are pleasurable to smokers.


Not Just Control

The battery thing, picked up by JuliaM and Leg-Iron (among others) is indeed another step in the all-encompassing state apparatus, another step down the road to the complete regulation of every aspect of your life. That’s not the only issue here though.

This is also another poke in the eye for the free market and competition, and another step towards the corporatist state. Big businesses become so not least through favours from the state like this. As Leg-Iron correctly stated in his comment at the JuliaM post, it is small businesses that will be hit hardest by this. Large companies like Tesco, Comet and B&Q that sell electrical goods are already under the WEEE scheme that forces the recycling of said goods. They are large companies with higher levels of staff at their sites able sort and process these things, and they are able to negotiate better contracts with the waste removal companies to take them away. The addition of batteries to the list of things that must be removed will hardly be noticed by the likes of Tesco.

Small independent shops on the other hand, especially mini-markets and corner shops who don’t generally deal with hazardous waste will suddenly have to do so. Unlike the large chains they don’t have the clout to negotiate good waste disposal contracts, and will have to pay the going rates. Most will probably decide to stop selling batteries as the extra costs will make it not worth the hassle.
It’s not a big step, granted, but they rarely are. Small baby steps so noone notices… And one day you wake up and all the shops are a Tesco Extra and won’t sell you wine if your daughter’s outside in the car.

Free Market? What Free Market?

Well, here I am on bank holiday monday, the first day of the january sales proper. I’m standing on the bus to the Bluewater shopping centre. It’s a bank holiday so they are running sunday service, ie one bus an hour and it’s jam-packed, I mean literally. The sign says sixteen standing but I count at least 20, and that’s not counting the kids standing on the stairs. Obvious really, january sales, shopping centre, everyone’s off work today… Hmm.

Arriva have a virtual monopoly on bus services in kent, and have done since the so-called privatisation of bus services. It’s not a true privatisation, as the local councils devise routes and award them to bus companies, with the effect that smaller companies are squeezed out of the market, only being awarded routes when Arriva need to be punished.

I can’t help thinking that in a true free market Arriva would be forced to put more buses on or lose passengers to the competition. Of course, here in the real world there is no competition and so we are all forced to squeeze onto one bus, or wait another hour for another one.

This attitude pervades everything Arriva do. Their drivers always have a tiny float, for example forcing customers to pay over the odds or stay indoors. I happen to know a bus driver and I happen to know why. A couple of their drivers have gambling problems and can’t be trusted not to put the change in fruit machines. Seriously!

A shop that couldn’t make change wouldn’t last very long, as their customers would take their business elsewhere but Arriva know they can get away with whatever they like because there’s no market.