Nov 2007 19

Liam Byrne, Minister for the West Midlands, has revealed plans for a major new Birmingham acting school according to a report in the Birmingham Post today.

Negotiations are underway regarding the ‘Brit School’, a school with an ‘arts led curriculum’ for 950 students aged 14 to 19, and designed to be a flagship project in the Eastside area which is the focal point of new development plans. The public are to learn more next month, but what we do know is that Birmingham City Council, Birmingham City University and Advantage West Midlands will all be major players in the scheme.Facesad

But why, when the country is so short of skilled young workers, are our public bodies encouraging young people into careers in theatre, television and the media?

Acting is not a profession that should be ventured into without considerable thought, and it is certainly not a career option that should be foisted upon impressionable young people who only see the glamorous successes of film and television. On average an actor will work only 11 weeks of the year, but many will never work at all. Big breaks are few and far between and life is tough temping between auditions, or signing on to the dole between jobs as is often the case.

Knowing the trials of a handful of young actors, all trained on intensive three year degree courses at the big drama schools in London, it is difficult to see why any young person would be encouraged into a life of heartbreak and rejection (not to mention poverty) unless they were quite clearly talented, driven and truly committed to the arts as a vocation. The trouble with arts jobs is simple – there aren’t very many of them, particularly when set against the scores of budding entertainers who want to perform and get paid for it. Nice work if you can get it, as they say.

It seems strange that taxpayers should be called upon to fund training more young people for a saturated profession when there are so many vacancies in numerous practical areas. And as Claire Short pointed out, the city already has the Birmingham School of Acting and Birmingham City University has developed a reputation for the arts. The school itself even appears to be a surplus.

Without intending to insult the artistic professions, it is still the case that the UK doesn’t need more performers. So why should we all pay for them?

Nov 2007 19

BBC correspondent doubts
We currently spend some £26bn pa on incapacity, disability and injury benefits. We have 2.7m people of working age drawing IB.

Everybody agrees* that many recipients are claiming for pretty dubious reasons (eg see this blog), and this morning we get some more detail:

"Almost two thousand people who are too fat to work have been paid a total of £4.4 million in benefit. Other payments went to fifty sufferers of acne.

More than £2 billion was paid in 2006-07 for mental health complaints, including £518 million to those with what are described as “unknown and unspecified” diseases.

Overall more than £1.1 billion was paid to people suffering from a depressive episode plus a further £276 million to the estimated 116,000 claimants with “other anxiety disorders” and £122 million to the estimated 50,000 suffering from a “reaction to severe stress”.

A total of 15,600 people received benefits for “malaise and fatigue” and a further 8,100 for “dizziness and giddiness”. The figures disclose that 4,000 claimants had headaches, 2,700 migraines and 1,890 suffered from eating disorders. About £100,000 in benefits went to those with acne and a similar amount to 60 people with “nail disorder”. Nausea and vomiting cost £2 million in benefits for 900 people."

The reboubtable Frank Field comments:

“It is a racket, which governments have allowed to exist for far too long. I do not blame people for working the system, it is the job of politicians to stop them doing it.

The big change over the last decade has been into illnesses which largely defy a clear medical classification: depression, dizziness and such. It is a move from the tangible illness to the intangible.”

The proportion claiming for difficult to diagnose mental ailments has doubled over the last decade, to an eye-watering 40%.

Of course, if you were unemployed in the North East, you might claim it too. Because incapacity benefits contine to be higher than the alternative Jobseekers Allowance. Yet another of Whitehall’s perverse incentives.

*Footnote- When we say everybody agrees about dubious IB claims, we should exclude Kim Catcheside, the BBC’s social affairs correspondent. This morning Humphrys asked her about the one million people claiming IB who are capable of work, and she reckoned she was not familiar with the figure. We think it probably comes from the Department for Work and Pensions 2005 report A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work. "We should aspire to reduce the number of incapacity benefits claimants by 1 million over the course of a decade" (para 15). True, that doesn’t mean DWP reckons it can get existing claimants off IB. It’s more a case of reducing the number of new younger claimants coming onto IB to replace those dropping off through hitting pension age (the cohort effect).
Update- Kim Catcheside has been in touch with us following this post. She feels we misinterpreted what she said, and on reflection, we agree. She is of course fully aware of the DWP paper, and its aspirational target of reducing IB recipients by 1m. But that’s not the same as DWP saying 1m existing recipients are false claims. And we can see that. Yet at the same time, the way ministers present this figure, they make it sound like they’re mounting a massive crack-down to get 1m workshy scroungers off benefits and back to work. Sure, the DWP smallprint explains what’s really happening, but that’s not the headline ministers apparently want to see in the Sun and Mail.
Nov 2007 18
£25 grand brekkie

In the news this week:

Fry up costs us £25,000- "When Denis Breading went for a fried breakfast at his work canteen it was meant to be a short break before getting on with his job. Instead he has been suspended for the past six weeks during an investigation into claims that he tried to avoid paying the £1.60 he owed for the meal. During this time he says his employers, the Legal Services Commission – which runs the legal aid scheme – has spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money attempting to prove he "misused public funds"… In all, the great fry-up fiasco could land the public with a £25,000 bill. Mr Breading insists he has done nothing wrong. He claims no staff were present to take his money and he was still eating in the canteen when he was accused of "thieving". (Mail 14.11.07)

£2.4bn pa on new quangos- "Gordon Brown is creating NINE new busybody quangos costing £2.4 BILLION. That pushes the number of bureaucratic organisations interfering in our lives to 528 with a combined bill of £175billion. The move comes despite Mr Brown vowing in 1995 that a Labour government would ABOLISH most quangos. They land each taxpayer with a bill of £2,000 a year – even more if NHS trusts and the BBC are included… Meanwhile quangos like the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee and the Home Grown Cereals Authority will continue." (People 18.11.07)

£6m pa to run hollow department- "TWENTY staff are employed at the £6 million-a-year Scotland Office to cope with just three letters a day. The Scotland Office occupies plush Dover House in Whitehall… but its role has shrunk dramatically since devolution in 1999… 20 staff employed to deal with mail replied to 1252 letters in 2006-2007 – just over one per member of staff every week. The letter scandal follows a series of damning reports on money-wasting at the department. Its 50 staff, who work between Edinburgh and Dover House, claimed £75,000 hotel expenses last year and another £8000 on hiring plants." (Sunday Mail 18.11.07)

Another £1.68bn for Euro-satellites- "Serious concerns have been raised about the merits of the Galileo global navigation satellite system… MPs on the transport committee say the European Commission is requesting a further €2.4 billion (£1.68 billion) for the project to continue, effectively asking UK taxpayers to contribute to a spiralling bill for the project… Committee chair Gwyneth Dunwoody said… "The government must stop this folly, and endeavour to bring the European Commission to its senses. The commission is poised to spend billions of taxpayers’ money on a satellite system without any realistic assessment of its costs and benefits." (In the News 12.11.07)

Total for week- £4,086,025,000

Nov 2007 16

Download friendsform.doc

Nov 2007 16

The draft 2008 Budget passed the Italian Senate yesterday. The Budget sets out plans to lower housing taxes, while at the same time the main rate of corporation tax will fall from 33 per cent to 27.5 per cent.

The main rate of corporation tax does not include regional corporation tax rates, which according to KPMG’s corporate tax database average out at around 4 per cent. So the overall corporation tax rate will remain slightly higher than the 30 per cent falling to 28 per cent in the UK.

But still, cutting corporation tax by 5.5 percentage points in one go. And Italy of all countries. Confirmation indeed of the steep downward trend of corporation tax rates in Europe. Britain is being left behind.

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