Friday, November 28, 2008

A Good Train Service

As my local station is one of the minor ones on the West Coast Main Line, there are only two trains per hour into London, which makes it very annoying when the one you're going to get in the morning is cancelled. Now, don't get me wrong, it doesn't happen very often - my usual gripe is that the trains are often several minutes late - but when it does it can really mess up your morning.

So, it was with a heavy sigh of resignation that I sat down in the waiting room this morning to read my book for half an hour. Less than ten minutes later, though, I was up again because a service that usually blasts through on the fast line was diverted to stop instead.

For once, then, I'd like to commend London Midland for their good service.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Unless you've spent the last twelve months in a cave somewhere in Outer Mongolia, you won't need me to tell you about the woes that have afflicted the global economy. Every day there's yet more gloomy news from the City and as the recession begins to bite, this is more and more about jobs being lost, particularly in Financial Services.

So, what is it like to work in Financial Services in the City at the moment? Well, if you were to ask a banker or stock market trader you may well get a very different answer to the one I'm going to give.

You see, there is one sector within Financial Services that may not be staring into the abyss in quite the same way as the others. And it happens to be the one I work in.

Lloyd's had its own problems in the early nineties and since then has cleaned up its act considerably when it comes to dodgy dealings and the like, so the market is in the right kind of shape to weather the current storm. Of course, it doesn't hurt that when the economy hardens, insurance rates (premiums) tend to go up because the competition in the market drops off. And because it doesn't necessarily follow that claims will increase, it can be a lucrative time to be in the industry. As long as you don't insure a large percentage of the American mortgage market against defaulters, of course.

Credit Crunch Silver Lining #3

It's finally possible to choose sides in British politics once more.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Council Tax Idea

Given that the chancellor is going to be announcing a raft of tax-cuts tomorrow in the hope that they will soften the landing as the economy heads further downwards, allow me to set out the basis of an idea that could be used to help reduce the financial burden of council tax while, at the same time, improving the local environment and possibly even fostering better community spirit.

The inspiration for this came from the very intriguing Orange Rockcorps []. If you haven't heard of it before, the idea was this: there was a concert at the Albert Hall featuring a pretty good lineup. Tickets for this concert could not be bought; rather, they had to be earned by doing 4 hours of voluntary work on a community-based project run by the organisers. A great idea that puts a value on people's time and uses it as currency.

So, I thought, why not extend this idea and allow people to pay off part of their coucil tax by volunteering their services to the council during weekends? Here's how it might work:

The council wants to improve the character of the local town centre and commissions a programme of work including jobs like removal of graffitti, clearing the rubbish out of ponds and streams, repainting the local subways and trimming back the undergrowth in the park. All of these could, to some extent and with varying levels of supervision & training, be carried out by volunteers, who, in return for their time, get a reduction in their council tax bill.

Of course, there are many kinks that need ironing out and any fully-realised plan would have to:
a) set a value on people's time that is high enough to induce people to get involved but low enough to ensure that the council doesn't end up with a smaller pot of money to fund all its other services
b) appease any fears that unions may have over council workers' jobs
c) be administered as effectively as possible to minimise the overhead on the part of the council

Would a scheme like this be a success? Well, I've got some ideas on that, to but I thought I'd see what you have to say about the idea before I lay out my reasoning. So, please, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Family News

Nimbus is now almost four months old and weighed in at 21lb 12oz yesterday (that's a nice round ten pounds more than when he was born). He's now wearing 9-12 month clothing and, amazingly, cut his first tooth at the weekend. We're going to see some friends on Saturday whose first daughter is just a couple of weeks older than Nimbus - it'll be interesting to see the difference between them.

Cirrus (now three and a half), meanwhile, is doing really well at nursery, beginning to learn how to read and do basic arithmetic. A month ago we had just finished applying for a primary school place for him so now we are just waiting for confirmation that he's got into our first choice school.

When we moved house eighteen months ago, we knew there was a primary school within a hundred yards of the front door but we hadn't looked into it at all so we didn't know whether it was any good, so it was with some surprise, when we went to see it, that we found out it's more than just good - it's one of the best schools in the town! And with a two-form entry, it's exceedingly unlikely that there will be 60 other children who either have siblings at the school or live closer than we do (the two main criteria), so we're not at all worried about it. Two more months and we'll know for sure.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Credit Crunch Silver Lining #2

The word 'banker' is no longer merely a euphemism for someone who enjoys spending time with himself, it's a pejorative in its own right.