Saturday, 30 June 2012

Millennium Villages - the wrong kind of aid?


I have an abiding interest is the great trade or aid debate. I've always - since my days studying development economics thirty years ago - tended to favour trade as the best route out of poverty. Indeed part of me suspects that aid programmes may even crowd out local development.

The Millennium Villages project seems such an appealling idea:

The Millennium Villages Project addresses the root causes of extreme poverty, taking a holistic, community-led approach to sustainable development. Our work unites science, business, civil society and government in these efforts by empowering communities and partners alike to become a part of the solution to ending extreme poverty.

And that appealling message - wrapped up in the UN's Millennium Goals - has attracted a huge investment from charities, philanthropists and, of course, governments.  The idea of creating new villages with excellent infrastructure, schools, health centres and the benign advice of development experts seemed just right. A challenge met, resources directed and Africa freed from poverty!

But there's a problem. For all the grand talk, the list of great and good 'partners', endorsement from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies and the gushing words of politicians and celebrities, these Millennium Villages are not making the difference Professor Sachs claims:

Documents recently made public by the UK government reveal the cost of poverty reduction in the Millennium Villages Project, a self-described “solution to extreme poverty” in African villages created by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs. The project costs at least US$12,000 per household that it lifts from poverty—about 34 times the annual incomes of those households. This highlights once again the importance of independent and transparent evaluation of development projects. 

"So what" you might say - the benefit to those families helped by the programme in incalculable. That may be so but what of the opportunity cost? We know that relatively small cash transfers can transform lives:

There is robust evidence from numerous countries that cash transfers have leveraged sizeable gains in access to health and education services, as measured by increases in school enrolment (particularly for girls) and use of health services (particularly preventative health, and health monitoring for children and pregnant women). Effects are typically larger in LICs with lower baseline levels. Cash transfers also have a proven role in supporting specific vulnerable groups (people living with HIV and AIDS, orphans and vulnerable children). (DFID 2011)

The Millennium Villages programme represents a huge transfer of resources (34 times average incomes in the receiving country) but any evaluation lacks balance - indeed Sachs has made a virtue out of measuring only the impact in the villages themselves:

...Jeff Sachs noted in a 2006 speech that they were not doing detailed surveying in non-MV sites because—he said— “it’s almost impossible—and ethically not possible—to do an intensive intervention of measurement without interventions of actual process.” A paper the following year went on to explain that not only is there no selection of control villages (randomized or otherwise), there is also no attempt to select interventions for each village randomly in order to isolate the effects of specific interventions, or of certain sequences or combinations of interventions.

What we've discovered is that if you throw huge amounts of money at a relatively small number of families, you can transform their fortunes. The problem is that this can't be done for the entirety of Africa's poor families and, more worrying, the approach acts to embed susbsistence farming which is not in the long term interests of these families. And, as Michael Clemens points out:

...causing short-term improvement of some kind with charity does not make a development project successful. A successful development project does more with the money than an alternative project can—otherwise diverting money to the former makes everyone worse off than if that project didn’t exist. And that has ethical dimensions.

The Millennium Villages programme is perhaps the last of the grand Victorian ventures, a hangover from an approach to development that assumes poor Africans can't do it for themselves and have to be helped. Maybe its failure will change our approach to development and we'll realise that patronising the poor is wrong and appreciate that our protectionism, green exclusivism and home preference kills more Africans than we save with aid.


‘‘15 teaspoons of sugar with some pig in it’’.

Not sure whether Burger King are offering this delight in the UK - I suspect Bradford might be fairly low down on the priority list mind you. But the description in my headline - ‘‘15 teaspoons of sugar with some pig in it’’ - was such a masterful definition it couldn't go unrecorded!

For more nonsense on this culinary extravagence you can read about Eric Crampton's non-campaign campaign to bring the Bacon Sundae to New Zealand:

When I heard about the Burger King Bacon Sundae a couple weeks ago, I sent a single tweet saying I'd hoped it would come to New Zealand. 
A week later, a reporter for the Herald on Sunday hit me on Twitter asking why I wanted to try the bacon sundae. I sent the reporter an email saying that maple syrup goes well with both bacon and ice cream, so it's not crazy to think bacon and ice cream could go well together. And, the bacon sundae had the added advantage of annoying the sorts of people who it's useful to annoy now.

All good stuff. Am wholly undecided whether to try this concoction should it ever make it to Bradford!

h/t Dick P


Friday, 29 June 2012

Ooops! George Galloway's Respect discover the problem with 'cut and paste'!


The first proper Council meeting for Bradford's shiny new respect councillors and, taking their lead from George who confused Bradford and Blackburn, they submit a motion containing these words:

This will condemn more families to poverty and undermine progress made in reducing child poverty in Tower Hamlets and nationally.

I salute my Council colleagues' indefatigable concern for East London!


Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Banker's Dance

It is like watching one of those symbolic war dances – a haka perhaps or more likely one of those morris dances with sticks. Lots of faux anger and great threat but in the end none of the participants suffer – the violence, the punishment or the attack never happens.

This is the Banker’s Dance – a stately affair involving bankers, regulators, civil servants and politicians performing to an audience of PR consultants, financial advisors and management consultants while us ordinary folk press our eyes to a crack in the fence hoping to catch a glimpse of the grand ball.

Today – on top of screwing small shareholders, excessive and unjustified bonuses, complacency in the face of crisis and crippling the economy to pay for their misdeed – these people, the bankers, regulators, civil servants and politicians, have revealed that they don’t mind fixing the system in their favour. We’ve known that politicians and civil servants have done this for years – responding to the clamour of public opinion through the temporary manipulation of markets. A tax rise here, an interest rate cut there, maybe a new road or an extra payment for pensioners – spending other people’s money to cadge a few votes.

But now the partners of those politicians and those mandarins – the bankers – are shown to be cheats too. And that their so-called regulators were either complicit or too stupid to care. We – by which I mean the man in the Ford Mondeo and the woman on the 8:35 from Beckenham Junction to Victoria – are shafted but these grand people do nothing except play the game of false anger, mock condemnation and contrived critique. The words are there:
This is a scandal. It is extremely serious. They've had a very large fine and quite rightly. But frankly the Barclays management team have some big questions to answer,"

"It is clear that what happened at Barclays and potentially other banks was completely unacceptable, was symptomatic of a financial system that elevated greed above all other concerns and brought our economy to its knees."

But does anyone believe this is different from that Maori rugby player screaming death and blood at his opponent? After the game – after the Commons statements, frowny appearances on the BBC and “we will act” articles in today’s chosen Sunday paper – the people making these statements (Osborne, Cameron, Miliband, Balls) will be stood at the bar with the people they condemn.

The stately dance has become a dark ritual, a celebration of the demonic bargain struck by politicians with banks to allow them the means to use tomorrow’s tax (and today’s inflation) to bribe chosen groups of voters. Not satisfied with encouraging us to vote to spend other people’s money, we voted to spend money that didn’t exist, to create a magical money tree.

And all the while the dancers piled up cash, assets and power while we – the poor suckers – piled up debts. Yet we carried on- and as we’ve seen in Greece will always carry on – pretending (are we really such fools) that it isn’t us who do the living and dying round here – that the magicians of government will solve all the problems.

That dance – that black dance – was the deal that made this possible. And it was, is, will be a monstrous deception. The greatest of great lies.

The thing we thought was a money tree? It’s a gibbet. And those dancers will hang us from it.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

So much for data protection legislation eh?


Years ago (over twenty years ago) I spent a lot of time getting my head round the then novel idea of data protection. This mattered since is was Planning Director of a large direct marketing agency and databases and data management were our stuff - data protection rules mattered. And the basic premise was that the holder of data could allow that data to be used for a purpose that the data provider (that's you and me folks) did not permit. That permission was contained within the data protection registration and placed certain requirments on the data holder and data user.

It seems that the government (I suspect wrongly) believes these rules don't apply to them:

The shopping habits of Britain's 25 million supermarket loyalty card holders could be grabbed by the Government in an attempt to halt the UK's dangerous obesity crisis, it was claimed today.

People who buy too much alcohol, fatty foods or sugary drinks would be targeted with 'tailored' health advice under plans being considered by the Coalition.
The data holder - the supermarket - could issue these warning letters but releasing the data to a third party (even the government) would surely breech data protection laws?

Monday, 25 June 2012

I dunno but is The Register just a little bit racist here?


I'm not a techie and can't really comment on the causes and background to the RBS meltdown but I do think that The Register might just be a little racist with its bold capital laying of the blame thus:

Staff who oversee batch scheduling for RBS are based in India

Maybe they are (although RBS haven't said one way or another) but the implications of this statement are that outsourcing IT work to India - where wages are lower - is a dangerous and risky matter. And that none of the blame falls on British-based IT management.

The Register would have a point if there had never been a major IT disaster overseen by more expensive British workers!


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pork pie and piccalilli - the breakfast of kings!

...Or something like that!

Here some gala (or grosvenor or pork with egg down the middle) pie from Ellisons of Cullingworth accompanied by home-made piccalilli.

There is no better breakfast. No sir!


Saturday, 23 June 2012

A reminder how the Tobacco Control Industry is killing people...


Most smokers want to give up smoking. But most of those who want to give up fail to do so. Yet the Tobacco Control Industry - ASH and its associates in any number of local NHS "smoke free" bodies - persist in denying the value of harm reduction strategies and insist on abstinence or nothing.

And this approach means that people are dying unnecessarily - here's the facts (well American facts):

i) There are approximately 46 million tobacco smokers in the United States.
ii) While three-quarters say they want to quit smoking, and about one-third try to quit each year, fewer than 10% succeed.
iii) The FDA-approved smoking cessation aids simply do not work: They improve quit rates only minimally, if at all, therefore …
iv) About 450,000 American tobacco nicotine addicts die prematurely each year from smoking-related causes.

You see, while it is the nicotine that we get addicted to, it isn't the nicotine that kills us. It's the smoke.  Which means that if we remove the smoke, we reduce the harm and save lives.

We see tobacco control people wanting to ban e-cigarettes - despite their proven effectiveness as a smoking cessation aid. And to ban smokeless tobacco products like snus despite the almost complete absence of any evidence indicating harm.

As the author who pointed out the facts above observes:

Despite the demonstrated benefits of harm reduction, and the lack of efficacy of the approved pharmaceutical products (such as patches, gum, and medications), public health spokespersons, governmental and private, adhere to the mantra, “there is no safe tobacco product.”

While inexcusable, their rationales for such unscientific policies understandably derive from deep-seated mistrust of tobacco companies and their phony promotion of ostensibly “reduced risk” products like “light” or filter-tip cigarettes.

But this “won’t be fooled again” policy — ignoring the fate of the millions of addicted smokers — enforces an abstinence only, “quit or die” approach.

But rather than grasping the opportunities presented by a harm reduction approach to tobacco control, the New Puritan fundamentalists focus instead on ineffective, unproven controls such as plain packaging.

And as a result people who might not have died are dying.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Is JUST West Yorkshire being intentionally disingenuous?


In its latest bulletin (something it produces with staggering frequency), JUST West Yorkshire provides the following headline. Indeed it is the main headline on the whole bulletin:

The North is 40 years behind the rest of the country in terms of racism 

Now you and I understand that the term "The North" usually refers to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and the North-East. So I was rather surprised given the years of innovation and effort put in by people in Bradford (where JUST has parachuted itself thanks to the generosity of those nice folk at Joseph Rowntree) to address issues of racism and community cohesion.

So I check out the article and (you have to smile) it's a link to a report in the Dail Mail that it headed with the above offending headline. But when you read the acticle it refers to "a study" led by David Craig who is:

...professor of community development and social justice at Durham University

And his study is about the North-East not the North:

The report says racism remains a ‘major issue’ in the North-East, with black and minority ethnic (BME) people still experiencing racism at individual and institutional levels across public and private sectors, and in particularly in the criminal justice system.

I'll give JUST the benefit of the doubt on this occasion (although they should know better than to faithfully re-cycle Daily Mail articles) but hope that, in future, they don't try and damage race relations in places like Bradford with wild allegations of racism.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

I wonder what's in Bradford Council's rather secretive "markets review"?

Solly's Fruit & Veg - from John Street Market but here on tour in Haworth

Way back in May 2000 I became Bradford’s Portfolio Holder for Regeneration succeeded the current leader of council in that role. At the time there was a great long wish list of projects – it seemed that hardly a community in the City hadn’t been promised some miraculous regenerative cure.

Amongst all these promises were records of a series of discussions with a large Bradford-based supermarket chain. Some of these discussions related to the relocation of Morrison’s headquarters from Thornton Road to Gain Lane at Thornbury (the land there was in Council ownership). However, some of the remaining discussions related to the “regeneration” of Bradford’s markets – the John Street Market in the City centre and Keighley Market in the centre of that town.

Keighley folk may recall the debate about the possible relocation of the market so as to give Morrison’s a frontage on Low Street (right opposite the shopping centre where the market entrance is located). What Bradford folk don’t appreciate is that the Council had been in a similar conversation regarding John Street Market. And bear in mind that Cllr Green had already presided over the demolition of Rawson Market, Yorkshire’s last specialist municipal fresh food market – ostensibly for reasons of “health and safety”.

By 2000 it was too late to save most of the fishmongers, many of the butchers and most of the greengrocers decamped from the knocked down Rawson and James Street Markets – dozens of long established businesses sacrificed on the altar of “regeneration”. But we could – and did - put a stop to the idea of tucking the markets away behind a supermarket. And we did rebuild John Street market (I remain unsure about the rebranding as the Oastler Centre although this was done for good reasons and with positive intent).

I’m saying all this because I fear that we may be back defending the District’s markets. It has already been reported that the Shipley outdoor market is threatened with relocation – away from the car park, away from the centre of the town. What we don’t know is the full detail and content of the “markets review” ordered by the Council’s regeneration chiefs.

I fear – and I know some traders do too – that the Council fancies the chance to close down John Street Market (they’ll call it consolidation or merger with Kirkgate Market). After all the advocates of shiny regeneration that dominate our local agenda have never liked markets. Untidy places filled with cheap stuff, immigrants and poor people – not the sort of folk we aspire to in our wonderful city centre! A supermarket would be altogether neater and think of the capital receipt from selling the John Street site!

The markets review is being driven by the desire for savings – yet the markets generate a healthy surplus after all their costs are accounted for. The wonder of these places is ignored. The chance to invest, to grow and to improve is not taken. And the fact that markets make a place far better than shopping centres, public art or supermarkets is simply dismissed.

I may be proven wrong about the markets review – although the Council’s leadership is remarkably coy about the very existence of the review, let alone its content. But if Councillor Green returns to his 1990s habits of trying to knock down successful markets, it will make the Odeon debacle seem like a walk in the City Park.


Monday, 18 June 2012

Halifax has a libertarian commune?

Or maybe it's a place of brutalist architecture?

Or where the neighbours don't speak to eachother?

Perhaps an anarcho-capitalist haven?


Sunday, 17 June 2012

So whose law is it anyway?


The Telegraph chose to feature the (not entirely unsurprising) revelation that the decisions of judges working in immigration courts often favour those appealing rather than the immigrations services. I’m with the gut of the nation here by thinking that the “family life” defence in human rights law is rather over-played - it seems the lawyers aren't.

However, the article led to a little twitter interchange that ended with:

And really, magistrates are useless (kept as a cost-saving measure) & juries are biased, unfair & easily mislead.

I can only conclude that the comment reflected a view that judge and lawyer led law is somehow fairer, more equal or more open.

So whose law is it then? If magistrates are useless and juries biased must we assume that judges are without fault and lawyers exemplars of human perfection. More importantly we arrive at the point where the law is placed beyond democratic control.  At the moment there is an idea that citizens have a role and duty in the administration of the law.

I have no issue with judicial independence but do not believe that lawyers (and wrongly all judges are now lawyers) are any more infallible than the Pope. Like all human’s they make mistakes and allow prejudice to cloud judgement. Worse – and this is the great lawyers failing – too many of their assumptions and arguments are founded entirely on appeal to authority rather than consideration of the facts. What Lord Justice Bigot said in 1875 is too often of greater significance to our judges than the facts and certainly than the application of common sense.

Was I asked an opinion as to the organisation of the law; it would start with wanting more democracy. The approval of judicial appointments by Parliament, more jury trials and a wider role for magistrates – for example in the family courts - and I would abolish the privileges of barristers. There would be no secret courts and no aspect of the administration of justice unwatched by representatives of the public. 

In the end, the law is not some deity to be served by a collection of bewigged priests and acolytes. The law is not something so occult as to be both frightening and intimidating to the ordinary citizen. Yet that is what we have – a collection of wealthy, powerful people polishing the temples of law, speaking a language understood by only a few and dismissing the concerns of the public as bigotry or ignorance.

If other aspects of life benefit from a healthy dose of openness and democracy, I see no reason why the law shouldn’t too. But we’re up against the “we know better than the public” view that prevails – here’s that tweeter, Matt, again:

'Modern' (post-Blackstone) common law is certainly not 'the people's law', and nor should it be.



You don't get this in the supermarket!


From Queens Market at Upton Park - the "one pound fish" song!

And to think that the idiots at Newham Council wanted to knock the place down! Philistines or what!


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Westfield - a response to a commenter


An anonymous commentor (why the need to hide - I'm not going to eat you for heaven's sake) has a bit of an ill-informed go at me. I've fisked the comment - not a regular habit here but I thought worthwhile on this occasion:

"I've just read your piece in issue 7 of Bradford Howdo? magazine, headed with this quote 'Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits'"

The original piece on this blog was titled:

Quite apt really, because you haven't actually ever done anything to help the regeneration in Bradford.

Here’s a selected few things (from memory) I've had a hand in:

  • Secured the restoration of Manningham Mills
  • Improvements to Manningham Park
  • The rescuing of Eastbrook Hall
  • Robert’s Park, Saltaire
  • Bradford International Markets Festival
  • City Park
  • Impressions Gallery & Gallery One
  • Refurbishment of John Street Market
  • Airedale greenways project
  • Airedale Partnership
  • Broadband enablement of the whole District
  • Improvements to Keighley market

I find the disdain and apathy which oozes through in your piece, along with your derogatory use off the word 'agitators' to describe people who are sick to death of inept politicians and corporations who have destroyed a section of Bradford, deeply offensive.

While I suspect the “offence” here is pretty false, I’ll take the sentiment as honest. But “disdain” and “apathy” aren’t sentiments I recognise from my thoughts – do people really think we are less frustrated, less concerned, more unbothered about the prospects of development at Westfield?

But you're a councillor aren't you, so we shouldn't expect anything else.

Understand that people who have lived in Bradford are utterly disgusted with you, the councillors and the corporations who have decimated Bradford. And your snide use of descriptive language against people with a valid repulsion at what's happened is a disgrace.

I used the term “agitator” as an accurate description – it isn’t remotely snide. Here’s what I said:

I’m going to start with the unpopular bit – throughout the development the council has acted in good faith and has delivered on the promises it made to developers, Yorkshire Forward, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and through them the European Commission. Occupiers, agitators and those riding the bandwagon of local annoyance may wish it to be otherwise but councils are in the business of running local services not developing shopping centres.

How long has that hole has been there? Why is it taking so long?

Broadway was demolished in 2006 which makes the ‘hole’ about six now – far too long as we’re oft reminded. But, as I tried to explain, development is down to the developer. I guess we could discuss a “compulsory purchase” of the site – on what grounds I have no idea – which would be opposed, would cost a couple of million in legal fees and would leave Bradford Council owning the “hole”. Perhaps the agitators and occupiers have the £200 million needed to build a shopping centre and know lots of retailers who want to set up shop in the new centre?

Whole cities get rebuilt after the tragedy of war in a fraction of the time it takes to build a bloody shopping center (sic).

With billions in public investment. Bradford Council has quite significant reserves – around £180 million – but not enough to build a shopping centre.

You should be ashamed of yourself, but you're not are you? Like the council and Westfield you simply don't care.

When I became Executive Portfolio Holder for Regeneration in 2000, a friend remarked that Bradford was beyond redemption and I was wasting my time. I said then and still believe that we are better being condemned for trying to do something to improve our City than doing nothing. I’m proud of the efforts we made – including the hundreds of hours trying to get Broadway out of the ground. We might have been mistaken but it wasn’t because we didn’t care. I don’t think anyone holding the Regeneration Portfolio holder’s role before or since showed more passion or commitment to bettering the City than I did.

Obviously I can’t comment about Westfield. I hope they care but they may not – go ask them.

 (I won't be accepting any more Anonymous comments on this subject - if you've something to say, be honest about it and give your name)


Why using relative poverty as a measure is stupid


It really is you know. Stupid that is:

Figures released by the DWP on Thursday, show that the number of children living below the poverty line has fallen, but still remains over 2 million, this is despite the median income levels falling.

In truth the numbers below the poverty line - 60% of median income - have fallen precisely because median income has fallen. So get this social policy folk, we are on average poorer but poverty has fallen.

Perhaps we can stop using this daft measure now and focus instead on absolute figures rather than relative figures.


Friday, 15 June 2012

More on plain packaging and the threat to jobs in Bradford


As Bradford is stunned by the loss of nearly 500 jobs following Thomas Cook's decision to close their office in the City, the nannying fussbuckets are eagerly promoting proposals that threaten hundreds more jobs in the City - plain packaging for cigarettes. Here's a quote from a briefing note prepared by Bradford Council officers:

A considerable amount of the business of both Weidenhammer and Chesapeake involves the printing of cigarette cartons for the export trade. At Wiedenhammer’s Bradford site a large proportion of the work involves the production of drums for loose tobacco and, if this business disappeared, then it is estimated that turnover would decrease by at least a third. The threat to the business is, therefore, very real and...there would be major implications for investment, jobs and the tobacco packaging supply chain across the UK. 

 The briefing note continues by noting the problems of counterfeiting:

...unbranded packets and containers are far easier to counterfeit, using a simple, four-colour machine, and that, if the UK government decided to implement the measure, then it would be ‘a gift for organized criminal gangs’. The growth of illicit cigarettes and contraband products would undermine volumes for bona-fida manufacturers, as well as reducing government revenue by even more than the current estimate of £3.1 billion per annum lost from illicit trade in tobacco.

The conclusion from officers says:

Members need to consider whether they wish to support manufacturing businesses in the Bradford area and protect high value engineering jobs by taking part in the consultation process.

I shall be urging Bradford Council to act in the interests of jobs and business in the City and to oppose the proposals.