Public attitudes harden against riot hooligans
IHAPPENED to be in the UK last week, during the riots in London, Manchester and Liverpool. A palpable sense of shock and horror was evident amongst the public as they awoke to burning buildings and mayhem. The police were clearly unprepared. With high levels of holiday leave, inadequate numbers and poor intelligence - they became bystanders as high-street shops were looted and torched.
Eventually, 16,000 officers were deployed to restore order. Riot shields and batons result in arm to arm combat. In future, expect deployment of water cannon that can shift rioters from a distance, leaving them wet and cold. A dye in the water provides later identification of offenders under ultraviolet light. Access to and surveillance of new technology is also likely to deal with blackberry blogs, used by gang organisers. With the London Olympics less than a year away, these measures and new police powers to remove facemasks and order crowd dispersals will be enacted.
Most interesting facet to observe was the shift in opinion as the violence extended throughout the week. The shooting of Mark Duggan, current political climate of public expenditure cutbacks and obvious social problems within urban ghettos might have led ordinary people to be somewhat sympathetic or understanding of the underlying despair of deprived youths. The opposite reaction ensued. Everyone is finding the going tough. Sympathy for theft of trainers, televisions and jewellery was non-existent. The public demanded a swift, stern ' law and order' response to stamp out wanton destruction.
Lessons to be learned? Street violence can happen in any modern city. It won't be tolerated, because foremost responsibility of the state is to safeguard citizens and protect them. People are entitled to live without fear. Last week provided absolute clarity for British society. Public services must aid parenting and community network support, along with effective education - all providing an opportunity for urban youths to better themselves. However, there are no circumstances that can justify or condone vicious violence and opportunistic crime.
NO STRESS TESING IN EDUCATION
Mandarins in Marlborough Street are reverting to type. Total education expenditure of €9 billion has to be drastically cut. More than 80% of the education budget is spent on teacher salaries - fair enough, it's a people business. The next budget is anticipated to increase pupil /teacher ratios of 19 to 20 and 27 to 28, respectively at primary and secondary levels. This would be applicable from September 2012. This is a slide rule adjustment that procures savings, with maximum administrative convenience. It disregards alternatives.
Back in 1987, when Mary O'Rourke was Education Minister, the same old adjustments applied. Only difference was an increase of three in the PTR in national schools. There seems to be little appetite to make qualitative assessments on taxpayer value. In 1996 education comprised 19% of total expenditure, it's now 16%. Social Welfare, increased from 22% to 36%, Health has risen from 21% to 25% in the same comparative period. Arguments for health and welfare reform seem obvious.
Within the education budget, there seems to be no stress testing. Do we need to be selective about the 1100 teachers to be taken out of the system? The junior cert curriculum is set to reduce subject choice from 14 to 9. Parents and pupils should be given options of more radical subject rationalisation. The scrapping of the transition year would yield savings of 16% (i.e. one of a six-year cycle). In abolishing teaching posts, no regard is given to the quality of individual teachers. Last in, first out operates through the panel system. Evaluation or even dismissal of bad teachers isn't pursued. It would materialise in the commercial workplace.
A menu of other cuts has been suggested: administrative staff reductions, abolition of free lunches, greater teacher productivity (through adjustments to weekly rosters& holiday arrangements), revisit the Croke Park agreement, more discriminate state funding arrangements for private fee-paying schools relative to disadvantaged schools, etc. Third level colleges can be rationalised and consolidated, with less top brass paid mega salaries. Former FÁS, now SOLAS, preretirement staff could have their 70 days of annual leave abolished. All of these tough decisions address conflicts of interest, modernisation and leadership from the Department - sounds like hard work.
RENT RACKETS MUST END
Commercial property lease law is outdated, unable to cope with recessionary realities. Currently, courts enforce "upward only" rent reviews. Insolvency practitioners (e.g. Examiners and Receivers) have powers to repudiate leases. This means they can leverage landlords into reduced terms for the tenant or end up with an empty unit. This incentivises even strong retailers towards re-structuring.
30,000 jobs have already been lost in the retail sector. What's required? A new legal 'sunset' clause should be provided whereby a loss-making business can obtain a market rent. This is based on the cost of what a new tenant could be expected to pay with the property being vacant. Qualifying circumstances can be verified through criteria of reduced revenue and established certified losses. Utmost urgency is required in overcoming any Attorney General concerns about constitutional property rights.
A Rent Ombudsman can be established, similar to the financial services equivalent. This can ensure fairness and consistency. If the present law remains, there is little attraction for businesses to enter into long-term leases - merely five-year terms, with full rights of renewal. They won't then be handcuffed to boom-time property costs. Nama and the two pillar banks are now so powerful, I fear sustained procrastination, obfuscation and delay. Taxpayers are also being ripped off through €130 million of yesteryear rent liabilities on OPW leases for government offices. Alan Shatter must make good on FG and Labour pre-election promises to provide a new framework for high-street traders.
I can't see past a Dublin/Kerry football final in September - take the short odds on an early bath for Donegal and Mayo.
My main bet is Godolphin's Lost in the Moment in the Ebor handicap at the York Festival (first time to be run on a Saturday). Frankie Dettori's mount stayed on really well to be a close second in the Goodwood Cup. He's well handicapped & absolutely consistent. At 7/ 1 odds, he is excellent each way Knavesmire value.