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Looking for Jobs in the North East? A list of Hundreds of Employers Recruiting in the Area

A list of around 1,000 companies with vacancies in the Yorkshire, Tyneside, Teesside / Tees Valley, Northumberland and Leeds areas.

The list is split into two tables: the first contains charities, education and public sector organisations. The second table lists private sector companies.

Where given, company sizes are measured by the number of people they employ. This figure usually includes all employees of the company, or parent company - not just those employed in the North East.

A few companies are listed but carry no links - these are organisations that I estimate should have a significant recruitment effort (based on turnover and number of employees), but I can find no website or recruitment link on their website.

Other useful local company lists include Newcastle City Council's Business Directory, The NEPIC Directory, Yell, Free Index and Endole.

The linked websites are checked regularly for phishing, viruses and malware and any infected links are removed when found. Companies who only offer low-quality jobs such as unpaid internships, commission-only sales or work-at-home piecework will not be included. Minimum company size is generally 50+ employees and £1M+ turnover, however exceptions are made where future expansion seems likely or where the company works in an area where jobs are scarce in the North East.

The list is not exhaustive. Suggestions for new additions or corrections are welcome.

Unfortunately, many of the websites linked to below require Javascript enabled to function correctly.



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UK Home Ownership, House Prices and Wages: Prices Rising, Ownership Falling

The price of a home has been rising faster than wages. Ownership levels are dropping.



The chart above shows that house prices for first-time buyers have massively inflated between 1969 and 2012. Not only have prices increased, but they have become more unaffordable. In 1969 the average home cost just over £4,000, against an average buyers' wage of £1,600 (price: 2.5 times income). By 2012, the price had increased to almost £182,000 against a buyers' wage of just under £45,000 (price: 4 times income). The following graph shows the same data between 1978-2012, adjusted for inflation using 2012 as the basis.

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How an Ageing Population Affects Voting Power in the UK

Younger age groups have less voting power and will have even less in future.



The most obvious feature of this dataset is that voting turnout amongst the 18-34 group has been in decline since 1983, though it did start to pick up again for the 25-34 year olds in 2005 and for the 18-24 year olds in 2010. Turnout amongst the older age groups has remained consistently higher since 1997, and the difference is particularly noticeable in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.

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Subtle Press and Media Bullying via Subtext: A Spin Doctor's Kid

Was one of Tony Blair's children actually fathered by a New Labour spin doctor?

One of the common tricks that the media appear to get up to is putting different headlines together to make a suggestion (follow the link to the original page, or scroll down to view a screenshot). In this case, the headline, “Blairs' surprise over baby” is butted up against “Conceived by a spin doctor?”

All things considered, I'd guess this suggestion isn't true and isn't serious bullying. As far as I know New Labour weren't particularly hostile to the BBC in 1999, that being only two years after their big victory in 1997, and long before what looked like serious political warfare between New Labour and the media around the time of the Iraq War.

If this is anything, it's probably just a bit of silly joshing from the politics journos. It might not even be that – it might just be a coincidence that those two headlines ended up like that. I sometimes look at the pictures and links to other pieces that appear below each of my articles and notice that the choice doesn't seem random. And yet it is. With one brief exception some time ago, and some of the links that appear in the 'National View' section, the related content sections are all still operating in random mode, choosing from other articles related by subject. I've always tended to shy away from deliberately using subtext at all, if only because other people are so much better at it than me.

However, it still makes for a nice, basic example of one of the ways the press can psychologically pick away at someone and get away with it.



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The Top 100 Names for Children Born in England and Wales 2012

There were over 28,000 different boys' names and over 36,000 different girls' names spread over 729,674 births. The top 10 names account for 13% of all names. The names are listed in order of popularity (most popular to least popular).



Boys

Harry
Oliver
Jack
Charlie
Jacob
Thomas
Alfie
Riley
William

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Are There too Many Immigrants in the UK? The Facts and Figures on Immigration

In a 2012 Ipsos MORI poll, 70% of respondents strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement, "there are too many immigrants in Britain."

This is the highest level of agreement in the 10 polls in this series available from Ipsos MORI, covering 1989 to 2012.



The details of the 2012 poll can be seen below:

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Statistics: Inflation Across Europe 2005-2012

HICP / CPI Inflation figures for 27 EU countries 2005-2012

The graph below shows cumulative inflation levels for each of the EU countries available from the Office for National Statistics. The inflation index used is the HICP - the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (CPI in the UK).



The group of countries experiencing higher inflation over this period mainly consists of EU countries that have not joined the single currency - Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. The exception in this group is the newest addition to the Eurozone, Estonia, which adopted the Euro in 2011.

The following graph shows the same data with an adjusted scale on the Y-axis to show the lower-inflation group of countries in greater detail.

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1,000 to 1,500 Jobs to be Lost at Middlesbrough Council

Exciting Times: Up to half of council's employees to be sacked due to budget savings - consultation to be opened.

The Northern Echo and Evening Gazette report that Middlesbrough must save an additional £11M on top of previous cost-saving estimates, which may result in the loss of up to 1,500 employees - over half the number of people currently working at the council (2,500).

In a subsequent article, the Northern Echo reports that 600 jobs have already been lost since 2010.

Looking at the Council's own 'employment details' figures published on their website, we can see that they have indeed reduced their headcount by 554. However, measured in terms of full-time jobs, the number of people employed has actually only reduced by 227 (Note: figures don't include school staff.)


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The orange car has deployed a 16-valve engine configuration for this occasion that we've come to expect from their manufacturers - large pistons in a V8 configuration. The huge cubic capacity of this engine, combined with the symmetrically balanced layout of the pistons helps to give that amazing engine note and low-down torque that we're all so familiar with. In a radical move, they've opted for a suspension technology they're calling "leaf-spring", which they tell me completely removes the need for dampeners.

The grey car, on the other hand, has deployed an incredible 5-speed synchromeshed transmission system. Drivers have told me that the gear change is short-throw and very positive. Perhaps less exciting was their decision to stick with a familiar braking technology - drum brakes, rather than disc brakes. Sources close to the manufacturer claim this will definitely pay off in terms of higher speeds.

The blue car's manufacturers have been stressing the benefits of achieving a better power-to-weight ratio, and have managed to lighten their car by building the body of the vehicle out of plastic. They have also fitted the front and rear with a downforce-reducing technology they are calling "inverse spoilers". The manufacturers say this will significantly reduce the amount of weight on the road and "you'll see some serious performances at speeds over 80MPH".

And that brings my commentary on this event to an end.


Imagine if that was the radio commentary on a car race, and that the entire commentary for the duration of the race was like that.

This is the problem I have with a lot of economics journalism - and quite a few other types of journalism, too. The above 'commentary' may be interesting for people who know about cars (and the jokes might amuse), but surely even the biggest petrol head wants an occasional update on who's winning and which car is the fastest (or corners best, or even which is least likely to kill the driver). I'm not claiming that any of this is a brilliant metaphor for the current economic situation, of course.

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Lessons from History - Part 1: Economic Depression in 1930s America

While looking for a book to read, I found one of my old History textbooks. Having read the section on the great depression of the 1930s, I thought I'd share it. Hopefully the original publisher's and author's drive to educate will outweigh any temptation to enforce copyright, should they stumble upon this page.

It's interesting to compare the current economic slump to what was written about the 1930s'. There are a number of common elements, but many of the locations, players and types of debt and speculation have changed somewhat.

Extract from Mastering Modern World History, Second Edition, by Norman Lowe, published by Macmillan - pages 111 to 113. The numbering and use of bold and italic type are from the original text.

(a) What caused the great depression?

(i) American industrialists, encouraged by high profits and aided by increased mechanisation, were producing too many goods for the home market to absorb. (in the same way as American farmers). This was not apparent in the early 1920s, but as the 1930s approached unsold stocks of goods began to build up, and manufacturers produced less; since fewer workers were required, men were laid off; and as there was no unemployment benefit, these men and their families bought less. And so the vicious circle continued.

(ii) There was a maldistribution of income, which means that the enormous profits made by industrialists were not being shared evenly among the workers. The average wage for industrial workers rose by about 8 per cent between 1923 and 1929 but during the same period industrial profits increased by 72 per cent. An 8 per cent increase in wages meant that there was not enough buying power in the hands of the general public to sustain the boom: they could manage to absorb production for a time with the help of credit but by 1929 they were fast approaching the limit. Unfortunately manufacturers, usually in the form of the super-corporation, were not prepared to reduce prices or to increase wages substantially, and so the glut of consumer goods built up. This refusal by the manufacturers to compromise was shortsighted to say the least; at the beginning of 1929 there were still millions of Americans who had no radio, no electric washer and no car because they could not afford them. If employers had been content with rather less profit there is no reason why the boom could not have continued for several more years while its benefits were more widely shared. Even so, a slump was still not inevitable provided the Americans could export their surplus products.

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It's a long-standing argument, and no doubt there's a lot of truth in it. Local businesses seem to manage to stick around, but it must be difficult to compete with the power and resources of the supermarket giants.

Supermarkets succeed for various reasons, but the most important one is that most people prefer to shop in a supermarket rather than trail round the local shops. I like the idea of supporting local business, but supermarkets are more convenient, usually have a better range and thanks to their massive buying power, they're often cheaper.

The solution seems obvious - become a supermarket.

No one market trader or local shop owner could do it alone, of course, but if they got together and pooled their resources perhaps they could rent or buy a town centre location or a big plot of land out of town and make their own supermarket.

So why isn't it happening all the time?

I really don't know. I can think of various reasons, but I'm not sure any of them are correct. It actually does happen to some extent (most of the major retailers started out as market traders or small businesses), but not as much as I might expect. Near me, there's a nice little indoor market. If all of those people got together, they'd have the basis of a proper mass retail business. I suppose an indoor market is already almost a supermarket, but it would be better if it worked more like a proper supermarket, with shopping trolleys and a place to pay at the end, after the shopper had gathered everything they wanted.

That indoor market space could act as the start of a business conveyor belt: The existing businesses move up to being a proper supermarket, and the space gets filled with a new generation of market traders, who eventually save up enough money to go on to make the next supermarket.

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People often think that the most powerful people in the country are politicians.

They make the laws that rule us all. Despite their power, they are elected by us, the people and we can throw them out of office every five years. There are more than 60 million of us in this country. If most of us want something, a politician hoping to be elected will probably promise it. If the government oversteps the line, there are potentially 60 million people to scare the living bejeezus out of them by violently smashing through their police lines and then queuing politely for their turn to sit around peacefully in Fortnum and Masons.

So, perhaps it is us, the people, who are most powerful. But how would people have protested against the Iraq War if they didn't know it was happening? In the most part, we got that information from the news industry. If they hadn't reported it, or if they'd reported only the pro-war arguments and none of the anti-war arguments, then how many would have turned up to that protest?

This is the bluntest of tools the news industry has at its disposal. They have other, more subtly sharp ones, all the more effective for being less noticeable.

It would have been difficult for the media to suppress the flaws in the stated arguments for the Iraq war, because they were quite obvious and so a lot of people would have noticed them and passed them on by word of mouth or the internet.

But not all flaws in arguments are so obvious, and some things do go unreported.

Recently, the press ran several days of coverage on the issues surrounding equality - equal pay, equal opportunities, and so on. Between their news pieces, editorials and comments they covered almost every aspect of the issues. Except, in all the excitement, they somehow neglected to mention that the government was running a public consultation on exceptions to the age discrimination laws (or if they did, it wasn't very prominent - I didn't see it and I was actively looking for it). This consultation was published on the government's Central Office of Information website, which I'm guessing journalists must check regularly for government press releases. Or perhaps they rely on press releases via email, I don't know. There are now less than 10 days left on this consultation.

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Perhaps in this internet age it would be more accurate to say, "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to misquote people and then attribute the quote to the wrong source".

Try a Google search for the bits of the quote you feel sure about and see what I mean.

Having spent a few years carefully reading and sifting the news available online, I have come to the conclusion that critical thinking is a vital skill that everyone needs. I sometimes see comments on news websites calling for it to be taught in schools. It's a long time since I was in school, so I don't know what's being taught these days, but I was taught critical thinking skills at school - in history lessons, for example.

All the required elements were there - think about the source of the information, and what ulterior motives they might have. Look at the way information is presented - what's being pushed to the front as important, and what is being omitted? Did the source have access to all the facts? What was the social background to the source?

In maths we were taught to examine statistics and recognise the tricks used to misrepresent data. In history, we even studied Goebbels - repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. In English we saw how language can be used to persuade and beguile, though at the time I didn't even begin to suspect just how deep that particular rabbit hole went.

In general, my learning experience was a good one: I was lucky to have good teachers and the teaching methods employed in the late eighties and early nineties seemed to really suit my particular psychology. I found most lessons quite interesting, which always helps. But my point here is about what wasn't taught, and what went unsaid. All those valuable critical thinking skills I learned turned out to be useless to me, for the simple fact that no-one ever taught me (as far as I remember) that they needed to be applied to everything, all the time. Not just against history.

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Poor Nick Clegg.

Before the election he was perhaps the most popular man in politics - even other politicians were clambering over each other to agree with him. Or so the press would have us believe, anyway. Actually, while some newspapers were singing his praises, others were mocking him. Arguably the latter sections of the press were those that might be seen as part of the establishment, and their mockery acted as reverse-psychology support for his anti-establishment positioning. I may be over-thinking that, but probably not.

I'd guess Clegg's support came from two main groups. Firstly, political tacticians who probably wanted to see Labour removed from power, but didn't trust the Conservatives to rule by themselves and thus wanted a coalition government. The second group of supporters were probably a little less politically astute and supported him because of the policies he said he wanted to bring in.

Many of Clegg's policies were extremely populist, but perhaps rather unrealistic. The biggest clue was probably his opposition to Trident. On the face of it, it might sound like a brilliant idea - the US are our allies and they have plenty of nukes, let them take up any slack while we save money. Or, you could take the compelling view that nuclear weapons are just downright evil and wrong, and we should set a good example to the world by reducing our ability to project death across the globe in the hope that others will see the light and be nice to us.

It would be nice if the latter argument was true. If the world's dictators were sane, kind and reasonable, and democratic states were made up of voters who were well-informed and logical, then it might just work. The evidence of history and current affairs suggests this is not the case. Even if I'm wrong about this, there are probably deep-rooted political reasons why it doesn't matter one way or the other.

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In the recent budget, the government once again put up prices on tobacco and alcohol - just like every government always does. Rolling tobacco in particular took a heavy hit, going up about 50p on a 25g bag, or £1 on a 50g bag.

The details weren't announced in the budget speech, but were buried in the budget document. The alcohol increases weren't really mentioned either, they were also hidden away. Those changes don't take effect until October, and came about as a result of changes made in 2008.

The government is also steering towards forcing cigarette manufacturers to put their products in plain packaging, suggesting that this will somehow reduce the appeal of perhaps the most addictive substance in the world.

In my experience cigarette manufacturers, like many other companies, follow predictable patterns with their products. Every now and then, a new product will arrive which is packaged similarly to some other similar product, but is cheaper. The similar branding gives a clue to the customer that the new, cheaper brand X is similar to Brand Y, allowing customers to switch. Once hooked, the company slowly increases the price over the years that follow. Eventually the profit margin becomes so great that there is room in the market for a similarly-branded but cheaper competitor to steal their customers away, and the cycle begins again.

Quite often, the 'competition' is actually between different products made by the same company, as the tobacco industry is heavily monopolised - most products are made by either Imperial Tobacco or British American Tobacco, in much the same way that a lot of household cleaning products are made by either Unilever or Reckitt. Despite this, there is some competition.

Plain packaging may reduce this competition, by making it difficult for competing products to advertise themselves as being similar to a more expensive alternative. Customers may find themselves locked in to a particular brand, at which point the manufacturer may feel free to crank up their profit margins safe in the knowledge that their customers won't know where else to turn to get a better deal.

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Robert Peston muses on the latest developments in the Murdoch phone hacking scandal.

The interesting thing about this scandal is that it very much looks like a case of the stupid being caught and the more deviously clever getting away, as is so often the case.

From what I've read, it appears that (most of?) the phone 'hacks' have consisted of celebs having their mobile phone voice mail accessed by the press because they didn't bother to change the default PIN on their voice mail service.

Mobile phone providers generally provide a service whereby if you ring a mobile number and get put through to voice mail (for example by not answering the phone), then you can not only leave a message but also listen to recorded messages if you know the PIN. Not changing the default PIN is rather like leaving your front door unlocked. Yes, the mobile phone companies should do more to make customers change the default number. Yes, it's unethical and perhaps downright criminal for anyone to take advantage of someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Yes, it's foolish to not read the manual and secure your voice mail.

My reason for highlighting the stupidity of the celebs for not changing their PINs is not to ridicule them (who hasn't made a mistake of this sort, at some point?) but to point out that the simplicity of this so-called-hack means it is easy to do, and also easy to track down and catch. The unsaid reverse of this, is that there are probably much more sophisticated hacks currently undetected and unreported.

On a 'social engineering' level, it would be somewhat surprising if there wasn't some bribery or blackmail going on within the lower-paid sections of major communications companies, such as Virgin or BT. As communication hubs for telephone and internet, they'd be obvious and valuable targets, and the people who work there who have access to the recordings, logs and traffic probably aren't paid enough for all of them to resist bribery, nor sufficiently vetted to resist blackmail. If that sounds far-fetched, then perhaps you didn't read the news stories quite recently about phone banking call centre staff giving up information about their clients for money in their lunch breaks, as reported in the press. I'll add a link if I can find it again.*

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Lord Hutton Publishes Final Public Sector Pensions Report

Lord Hutton of Furness' report on recommendations for the future of public sector pensions was published today.

The full text of the Hutton Report, running to 215 pages, can be found here.

As was widely predicted, Lord Hutton has recommended a Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) scheme to replace the current final salary schemes.

Both The Guardian and The Independent report that public sector unions are threatening large scale strike action over the pensions reforms.

Lord Hutton's main recommendations are as follows (taken directly from the report):

Recommendation 1: The Government should make clear its assessment of the role of public service pension schemes. Based on its framework of principles, the Commission believes that the primary purpose is to ensure adequate levels of retirement income for public service pensioners.

Recommendation 2: Pensions will continue to be an important element of remuneration. The Commission recommends that public service employers take greater account of public service pensions when constructing remuneration packages and designing workforce strategies. The Government should make clear in its remits for pay review bodies that they should consider how public service pensions affect total reward when making pay recommendations.

Recommendation 3: The Government should ensure that public service schemes, along with a full state pension, deliver at least adequate levels of income (as defined by the Turner Commission benchmark replacement rates) for scheme members who work full careers in public service. Employers should seek to maximise participation in the schemes where this is appropriate. Adequate incomes and good participation rates are particularly important below median income levels.

Recommendation 4: The Government must honour in full the pension promises that have been accrued by scheme members: their accrued rights. In doing so, the Commission recommends maintaining the final salary link for past service for current members.

Recommendation 5: As soon as practical, members of the current defined benefit public service pension schemes should be moved to the new schemes for future service, but the Government should continue to provide a form of defined benefit pension as the core design.

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How to Get a Job in the Public Sector

Council recruitment is at an all time low right now, but these tips apply to a wide range of public sector organisations and other areas that tend to be influenced by the public sector's methods, such as universities and charities. Just bear in mind that the latter examples are free to be a bit more individual in the way they work.

Of course, all the usual advice for job hunting applies, there's plenty of good tips on recruitment websites and similar: Do some research on the place you're applying to. Do try to guess what questions will be asked and plan some answers. Don't put your feet on the table during the interview. Do write your application form in blue or black ink. Don't use crayon or your own blood. That sort of thing.

Public sector recruitment follows rules and a formula that is supposed to make recruitment fair and open to anyone who has the skills to do the job, no matter where those skills were learned. For example, if you've done something as a hobby or as part of school work then in theory that's just as good as skills picked up in a proper job.

Thanks to this system, if you have the right skills and you follow the formula on the application process, you should be almost guaranteed to get an interview.

The Application Form

Forget CVs. The public sector never accepts CVs, they judge everything on how you fill in the application form. If you send a CV, they will ignore it. Most of the application form will be quite easy to understand - just follow the instructions. Most of it is simple personal details and the previous work history and education history sections are basically just in a familiar CV format anyway. The part where you really need to pay attention is the big blank boxes they leave for 'Any other information', or 'Information in support of your application', or similar. Sometimes these sections are split between a few different sections, such as 'Outside interests and hobbies relevant to the application' and 'Relevant work experience'.

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Eric Pickles Strives for More Council Transparency - Nottingham City Council Resists

The government has published a code of recommended practice for local authorities on data transparency, and has opened a consultation on the proposed measures. The consultation is open to anyone and ends on 14th March. Responses can be given by email, post or online on their forums. See the above link for details.

The government has already asked that councils provide details of all spending over £500, and many councils have already complied - you can see the results here.

There are still a number of councils dragging their feet, such as Nottingham City Council. * This new code of practice strengthens the government's position in requiring the data from local authorities, as it is being issued as an official code of practice under Part 2 of the Local Government, Land and Planning Act.

The proposed data requirements are as follows:

  • All expenditure over £500, with grants and payments under contract to the voluntary and social enterprise sector clearly itemised and listed.
  • All senior council staff are to have their salaries published, along with job descriptions, responsibilities, budgets and numbers of staff. Senior staff are defined as anyone earning more than £58,200, which is the starting wage for a senior civil servant [Note: a 'senior' council worker wage is usually much lower than this, at around £40,000.] Staff can opt-out of having their names published.
  • An organisational chart of the staff structure of the local authority.
  • Councillor allowances and expenses.
  • Copies of contracts and tenders to businesses and to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector.
  • Policies, performance, audits and key indicators on the authorities fiscal and financial position.
  • Data of democratic running of the local authority including the constitution, election results, committee minutes, decision-making process and records of decisions.
The proposed code of practice also states that local authorities should create an inventory of all the data they hold, and sets out a number of basic (but useful) technical requirements, such as requiring that the data be published in CSV format (Comma Separated Variable - a data format readable by a very wide range of applications, including the ever-popular MS Excel).

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Tony Blair's been in the news a lot recently thanks to his second appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the handling of the Iraq War.

There's been various news stories suggesting (again) that Blair had made up his mind to go to war long before the government 'officially' decided to go to war. He also stands accused (again) of running an almost presidential style of government, and not properly consulting his cabinet.

I've recently been reading The Blair Years - Extracts from The Alastair Campbell Diaries, published in 2007.

What does Mr Blair's long-time spin doctor and loyal supporter have to say about it all?

Strangely, his book pretty much confirms it all, though admittedly it's somewhat open to interpretation - he certainly never explicitly says Blair made up his mind about Iraq beforehand (it would be strange if he did, all things considered), though he's fairly clear that Blair called the shots and cabinet consultation was very limited.

On the latter point, Campbell tends to look at everything through a prism of what is "professional", and presents a very black-and-white view of either working for the good of the party, staying "on-message" and toeing the line, or working against it. Cabinet members who spoke out, or spoke their mind, are regularly described in very derogatory terms, and Blair is said to have spoken in much the same way. Many of the female cabinet members in particular are derided for their lack of what Blair and Campbell see as 'professionalism', and even the popular Redcar MP Mo Mowlam is blasted, and her importance in the Northern Ireland negotiations is talked down compared to her own, more detailed description of events in her book, Momentum.

Campbell's description of the final cabinet meeting to discuss Iraq essentially describes the cabinet being railroaded into agreeing what had already been decided.

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A Detailed Summary of the Localism Bill

The coalition government published its Localism Bill on 13th December 2010. This legislation weighs in at 184 pages for the Bill and 247 pages for its schedules and is designed to implement many of the government's policies that have already been set out, including laying the legal foundations of the Government's "Big Society" vision. It's wide-ranging, covering all sorts of issues of interest to local government.

The Bill received its second reading on 17 January 2011, and will go on through three more stages in the House of Commons and five stages in the House of Lords (possibly being changed as it goes) before becoming law. An explanation of the process can be found here. The full text of the Bill can be found here.

The BBC news website has a shorter summary of the Bill here. This summary doesn't include all the measures covered by the BBC, but it concentrates in greater depth on items of particular interest to local government and public power and democracy.

Community Right to Challenge - Public Sector Competition

[Part 4, Chapter 3 of the Bill]. Any voluntary or community group, charity, parish council or two or more council employees are entitled to put forward an "expression of interest" to a council, indicating that they would like to run one of the council's services, or help to run a service.

The council must consider the expression of interest, with particular consideration of the possible social, economic or environmental benefits of accepting the proposal.

If the proposal is accepted, the council must then begin a procurement exercise for that service.

Additional Freedoms for Councils

Councils are to be given a "general power of competence". [Part1, Chapter 1 of the Bill]. They are to be allowed to anything they are not expressly forbidden from doing. This enables a council to do pretty much anything a person can do. In particular, councils can run a business or provide a chargeable service of any kind anywhere in the UK or abroad, for any reason. The income from a service is not allowed to exceed the costs of running the service. This does not alter the rules under part 6 of the Local Government Act 1972, part 1A of the Local Government Act 2000 or any arrangements that "authorise a person to exercise a function of a local authority."

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Notts SOS - Combating the Cuts Meeting

Nottinghamshire-based activist group 'Notts SOS' are holding a public meeting on Saturday 15th January 2011 to share ideas and discuss strategies for resisting local cutbacks.

Formed in September 2010, the group aims to "oppose cuts to services, job losses and cuts in benefits" and "support workers' organisations, service users [and] community groups in fighting cuts in Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire."

The group has so far managed to organise protests and attract national media coverage.

Further details of the meeting can be found at the Notts SOS website.

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The coalition government seems to be very fond of the phrase, "we're all in it together", often pairing it with the Conservatives' Big Society policies. David Cameron has been using it as far back as 2005, in a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank.

The phrase jumped out at me when I first heard them using it, not because it's the title of a recent High School Musical song, but because it appears so often in the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil. I was pretty sure it had an older, more directly political origin, though, so I did a little research - more on that later.

If you haven't seen Brazil (and it's a great film in my opinion), here's a brief description. The film is set in a nightmarish future (or alternative reality - the technology is futuristic, yet retro - a sort of steam-punk meets 1940's film noir) in which life is controlled by an over-bearingly bureaucratic government, though it also seems to be a police state (suspected terrorists are tortured) with shades of rampant capitalism (torture victims must finance their own interrogation and extended interrogation risks the prisoner's credit rating).

The protagonist, Sam Lowry, has a lowly office job working for the Ministry of Information. He finds himself increasingly on the wrong end of the government's bureaucracy after he tries to correct the outcome of a computer glitch that causes an innocent man, Buttle, to be arrested on charges of terrorism. The actual 'terrorist', Tuttle, (played by Robert de Niro) is classed as a 'terrorist' thanks to being a maverick plumber, who circumvents Central Services' paperwork and drops out of the night sky to fix broken boilers and ducts without proper authorisation.

Propaganda posters are frequently seen in the background of the film, and on at least two occasions the slogan "we're all it together" can be seen (see still from the movie, above). The phrase is given a different slant later, when Tuttle refuses payment for his repair work - "we're all in it together, kid". It's given yet another angle later when he deals with two Central Services plumbers who are wrecking Sam's apartment, but I won't say more than that in case I spoil the pun for those who haven't seen the film.

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Review of Police Pay and Conditions Receives 5,000 Comments in 10 Days

Opened on the 1st October, the "Review of Remuneration and Conditions for Officers and Staff" closes on 29th October, so if you if you want to make any comments on the matter, head on over to the consultation website.

The site invites comments on 7 questions centred around Police pay and performance.

The review is headed by Tom Winsor, a lawyer and former rail regulator employed during the period of dismantling Railtrack and the creation of Network Rail. He is advised by Sir Edward Crew and Richard Disney.

Sir Edward Crew worked as Chief Constable of West Midlands Police between 1993 and 1996 and Chief Constable of Northamtonshire Police between 1993 and 1996. Richard Disney is the Professor of Labour Economics at Nottingham University and a research fellow for the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

The review covers both Police and civilian staff and will report on short term "improvements to the service" in February 2011 and again in June 2011 "on matters of longer-term reform". The review also must take into account the government's policy on pay and pensions, which will be informed by the findings of the two Hutton reports mentioned in earlier postings.

18.02.11 Edit: Tom Winsor's name was originally misspelled as "Tom Windsor", now corrected.

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Mr Marr's quote, above, is referring to bloggers. Presumably he's not counting his esteemed colleagues Robert Peston, Stephanie Flanders, Gavin Hewitt, Rory Cellan-Jones, etc. amongst their numbers.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, he went on to say, "a lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people."

I suspect this may often be true. I myself am single, balding, live with my parents and at times I'm somewhat annoyed about the chain of events that led to this situation, (partially described here and here).

I feel Mr Marr's comment underlines the problems with mainstream journalism on the internet today. It more-or-less accurately describes the immediate truth of the matter*, but it fails to address or explain the underlying causes or events that led to the situation. There's no attempt at analysis, or to inform and explain to the reader the more important underlying truth behind the present situation. Instead, Mr Marr's comments are reminiscent of the style of certain "Comment Is Free" journalists, in that he has chosen to say something that, while arguably true, is a generalisation specifically designed to grab attention and encourage comment and controversy, rather than to deliver something that truly educates and informs the readership with informed analysis, commentary and debate - the latter being the hallmarks and noble goals of true journalists, in my humble opinion.

It is no exaggeration to say that if it wasn't for the woefully poor national coverage of the effects of the Single Status Agreement on local government throughout 2007 to the present day, then this blog would not exist. The inadequate online coverage the issue has received from mainstream journalism makes me almost angry, though of course I'm not going to rant about it.

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John Hutton Public Sector Pensions Review Publishes Interim Report

The Hutton report on public sector pensions published its first report today [PDF, 176 pages]. The final report is due in time for Budget 2011. The BBC has produced some comprehensive coverage here.

The report recommends that workers' level of contributions to their pensions is increased (except for the armed forces). It also suggests that schemes move away from a final salary (defined benefit) scheme. In their press release reaction to the report, Unison opposed this recommendation. Hutton's report stops short of recommending a clear replacement to final salary and talks of various options to be looked at and possible hybrid schemes, though the career average scheme seems to be favourite.

It's interesting that the report devotes quite a few pages (see section 6.20) to discussing the difficulties associated with transferring pensions from the public sector to the private sector, as would happen in an outsourcing scenario, for example. The report notes that evidence from the private and even voluntary sector suggests that current TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings/Protection of Employment) and 'Fair Deal' regulations hamper the flow of workers from the public to private sector because of the extra risks and costs involved to the private sector.

Lord Hutton seems at pains to dispel the idea that public sector workers receive a 'gold-plated pension', an image emphasised in the media in recent months. He quotes the average public sector pension as being 'modest' at around £7,800, though I suspect this is the average pension across all workers, rather than, say, the average pension of a life-long, full-time worker, which is perhaps the more illuminating measure.

Length of service effect on public sector pension
Lord Hutton does not recommend moving public sector schemes in line with the local government pension and turning them into self-funding models, nor does he advocate the reverse.

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One of the most popular suggestions made to the Government's Spending Challenge website is for the public sector to start using more Open Source software.

This would mean replacing things like Microsoft Word with something like OpenOffice Writer.

For almost every piece of software in common use in the public sector, there is a free alternative. Imagine how much money could be saved by replacing paid-for software with free Open Source alternatives. For every PC in the public sector, about £200 could be saved by replacing Windows with Linux and Office with OpenOffice. Considering how many public sector workers have a PC, and that there are 6 million workers in the public sector, there's some serious savings to be made.

Free, Open Source software is widely used - last time I checked the figures, it was estimated that around half the world's websites run on OSS - including this one. If I used paid-for commercial alternatives, I would be bankrupt by now.

So I guess you'd expect me to be an enthusiastic supporter of Open Source software in the public sector, right? Yes - but with a few small reservations.

First, the 'yes' part of the equation.

I have little doubt that widespread use of Open Source software would bring some massive savings. Additionally, Open Source software often performs better than commercial offerings, and as a result it will usually run much faster on the same, or older hardware. This means that IT departments could keep the same old computers for much longer, reducing upgrade costs for years to come. Local authorities regularly throw away machines far more powerful than the Linux machine I use as a development PC, file server, database server, and all-round workhorse. (It's an 800Mhz Pentium / 384Mb RAM, for the interested).

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University fees and loans have been in the news recently. For what it's worth, I've decided to make my own small contribution to the debate, from a personal angle. Maybe it will help someone.

It's over ten years since I went to university, so some things have probably changed since then. I'm pretty sure it's not getting any cheaper, though.

To get into a particular university course, you need good grades in relevant A-level subjects. In other words I needed to know what my future career was going to be before the age of 14, when I chose what A-levels I took. While I'd learned many interesting things by the age of 14, I don't think I'd learned what I needed to know in order to make that decision. I knew almost nothing about politics and economics. But fear not, because at the time, teachers, careers advisers and parents all seemed to agree that while it was certainly preferable to strike out in a definite career direction, it didn't matter too much - a degree would open doors to a bright future, regardless of the subject.

By the end of my 3 years at university (and it was a generally useful experience and a lot of fun, I should point out), I had over £3,000 of student loan debt. But it wasn't really those loans that did the damage. The real damage was the culture of borrowing it created - of making it normal to accept loans to survive through a 'temporary' period of time, at the end of which it was expected that my shiny new degree would buy me a well-paying job and I would have no problems paying back the debt. Actually, 16 years later, I have never once earned a high enough wage to trigger the 'average wage' test that requires me to start paying back the loan.

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9,000 public sector workers are paid more than the Prime Minister - BBC

According to a detailed article on the BBC News site, more than 9,000 public sector workers earn more than the Prime Minister (£142,500). Monday's BBC Panorama programme focused entirely on this report.

Perhaps less well-noticed is a similar but smaller report recently published by the GMB union (thanks to one of the Fair Pay mailing list members for drawing my attention to it). The union report is focused only on council chief executives, rather than the public sector as a whole. Both lists agree that the Chief Exec of Wandsworth London Borough Council is the highest paid local authority worker, but they disagree on how much he's paid. The BBC say it's £299,925, while the GMB claim a figure of £356,891. Other salaries have similar discrepancies.

The BBC has been fairly clear with its methodology while the GMB's is slightly less clear, but it appears that the BBC is quoting the salary that the individual receives, while the GMB is quoting the figure that the taxpayer pays. In other words, the GMB figures include the 'on-costs' - the money paid by the employer for National Insurance etc. If this is the case, then the BBC's figures more accurately describe what these people are being paid, whilst the GMB's figures more accurately describe how much these workers are costing the country.

Nottingham City Council stands alone in the GMB data in that it couldn't supply its chief exec's salary figures in time for the GMB report, but the BBC's figures appear to include Nottingham's Jane Todd - among various other anonymous highly-paid NCC staff. Assuming Ms Todd is the highest-paid member of the council, then her salary is £214,999. If her salary is scaled down like all the others in the BBC data compared to the GMB data, then the 'real cost' is probably much higher. If it were adjusted to be comparable to the increases shown in the GMB data then she would probably be one of the top-ten highest paid Chief Execs in the country.

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