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Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This, my latest is up on Brian Monteith's ThinkScotland website. Please put your comments there.:

The 5 Holyrood parties seem to be agreed on doing nothing to improve Scotland that would cost money. They are willing to spend lots on their respective pork barrelling (anybody who thinks otherwise name a single thing, for the common good any of them have pushed through). Suggestions for positive things will not even be discussed by any of them. We have an election coming up in which all coverage is limited to 5 parties who even pundits admit have barely a slip of paper between their policies.
So I am going to be less ambitious. These are 77 separate reforms which would cost nothing (well ok somewhere between the cost of a can of paint and some hours of civil service or Parliamentary time).
Some of these ideas are new, some are ones I have been proposing for years, some are variants where I have cut the cost to zero (usually the option that costs would still be the better one but clearly politicians don't work that way), some are from UKIP's manifesto (the only party which has even attempted to come up with anything original) and are marked as such.
It would be nice if Holyrood adopted any of them. It would even be nice if any MSP was thoughtful enough to be willing to give a reason why not, or any Scottish journalsit to ask.
1) Instead of paying for the Red Road flats to be demolished give them to their occupants, on condition they sign up to a good factoring agreement. Any unoccupied flats or where the occupants choose to be rehoused rather the ownership to be offered free to neighbours or sold at auction. These flats used to be Europe's highest & are still impressive. It would be interesting to see if private owners & private enterprise can run them more successfully than the Council or GHA. Require the same offer to be made for any other blocks of flats which GHA wish to demolish.

2) Paint a big line along the pavement between Glasgow Central & Queen St stations with the distance in metres written so that strangers know the way.

3) Immediately allow First the right to run a hovercraft across the Forth to Edinburgh - skip planning controls, environmental impact statements, inspections, long lunches discussing it etc. etc. (First first suggested this in 2006 and I supported them then. Still waiting)

4) Run a public competition for proposals to showcase technology projects costing under £1 million.

5) Invite tenders for the building of an arcology (a town enclosed as a single building) of 10,000 homes somewhere in the Highlands or Borders with a low population. Such an arcology not to be subject to any planning permission but must carry long term building insurance.

6) Pass a motion in Holyrood stating that we have a national goal that Scots should be at the cutting edge of scientific achievement and Scotland should, proportionately to our size, contribute to space development at least as much as any nation even Singapore.

7) Legislate as unenforceable any restrictions in insurance policies on car sharing (there is an incentive on any insurance company to limit its liability by preventing this but overall such sharing marginally reduces risk, as well as substantially reducing cost and only legislative action will be equally fair to all companies)

8) When jobseekers have their on the job training costs 100% paid for the "employer" still has to get his public liability insurance policy changed. Such changes are likely to cost at least £100, almost entirely through administrative costs. The government could amend their own PL policy to cover all such cases. I suggested this some years ago to a Holyrood committee

9) Declare Scottish Enterprise Zones - no tax cuts (though no rates increases on new buildings going up) just without the regulations. 10 square miles per year would have no "damaging" environmental effects and enormous positive economic ones

10) Allow the free market to build as many nuclear plants as there is a market for. Allowing the free market to decide such things without a government diktat is a radical new idea from a guy called Adam Smith

11) Allow people to build houses. 75% of the cost of housebuilding is regulatory. Unlike the south of England we have no shortage of land and no excuse when young people in Plockton have to move to the central belt because of a shortage of new housing.

12) Strategy of Technology by Possony, Pournelle and Kane should be required reading in Holyrood so that they might get some idea of how much national progress depends on supporting new technology.

13) Set up a Parliamentary Committee charged with actively reducing the burden of legislation on business, particularly small businesses and preparing at least one composite Bill annually removing such regulations

14) Extend the legal aid remit to individuals and small businesses seeking to register international patents and copyright I am not calling for the overall legal aid budget to be increased though I think that once the stimulus to innovation bore fruit we would see an increase in revenue which could, in part, be used for this purpose.

15) Require the First Minister to make an annual State of the Nation speech to Parliament in which he gives our growth rates, the UK's (averaging about 2.5%), the world average (5%) and the best (10%+) and explains why we are doing so badly (or boast why we are doing well should that ever happen)

16) Set a "bonfire of the quangos", as repeatedly promised, or at least prune a few of them

17) Fire the worst 10% of teachers. Our politicians vie with each other in boasting about lowering class sizes but in fact the evidence is that, below about 50, class size is of little importance whereas the ability of the teacher definitely is. Currently our education system is run as if the priority were to ensure the teaching unions have the maximum number of members rather than that pupils get the best education.

18) Prune the vast number of rules and regulations that prevent small companies bidding for government and local authority contracts. For example currently those without disability lifts, for 3 person companies, need not apply.

19) Allow people in prison or mental hospitals to have pets. The therapeutic and responsibility inducing effect of looking after pets is quite amazing.

20) The smoking ban was not introduced in prison but is maintained in mental hospitals. The former was done because they were afraid prisoners would riot whereas inmates are more helpless. This is a cruel and unusual punishment by the PC brigade for being quite literally "the most vulnerable in society" and an affront to human decency.

21) End almost all restrictions on GM plants used for foods and medicines. The "precautionary principle" here is just another name for Luddism. Millions of acres around the world are devoted to GM crops and nobody has yet proven any damage caused by them.

22) Release Scottish businesses and our economy from Brussels red tape UKIP

23) Require the direct election of all key officials in national and local government UKIP

24) no more wind-farms UK

25) Repeal the Climate Change (Scotland) Act, (which requires the destruction of 58% of our electricity supply over the next 9 years) UKIP & me

26) Abolish the Department of Climate Change. UKIP

27) End all subsidies to monstrous, climate-irrelevant, cost-ineffective wind-farms. (that is about £1 billion a year) UKIP

28) Support new nuclear power stations, particularly next to existing nuclear stations. (note "particularly" rather than "only". We could have up to 7 units on one site which would be 14 in Scotland - roughly 3 times our present power. However limiting it to those 2 sites give Ariva a monopoly over nuclear electricity here and would also mean greater than necessary hysteresis losses getting power to Peterhead. This shows they do understand how important this issue is while the very best of the feeble five, Labour and the Tories, are still dithering) UKIP

29) Spare taxpayers the huge bill for needless carbon capture and storage. UKIP

30) Spend no taxpayers’ money on the non-problem of man made climate change UKIP
31) Let pupils leave school early provided they are entering approved apprenticeships or training schemes. UKIP & the Conservatives

32) Give parents the right to choose the school they want their children to attend. UKIP

33) Scrap useless paperwork and enable teachers to do their jobs. UKIP

34) Cut NHS bureaucracy and waste, but make no cuts in front-line treatment. UKIP

35) Introduce Health Vouchers allowing patients to opt out of the NHS and use the vouchers towards the cost of private treatment. UKIP

36) Scrap the smoking ban as a needless restriction on freedom, giving owners of pubs and other buildings the freedom to set aside rooms for smokers if they want. UKIP

37) Or indeed abolish it in its entirety (me).

38) Abolish costly, useless Home Reports for property sellers in Scotland. UKIP

39) support airport links. It is a scandal that the Edinburgh main line passes the airport runway, but has no station. (just building a platform and linking path/road would have minimal costs though spending a few million for a better link could be justified too). UKIP

40) Stop subsidising other "renewables" too. me.

41) Legislate bread or some other staple food to contain added vitamin D. Vitamin D is caused by sunlight and is a vital hormone for human health. It is not just multiple sclerosis and rickets, though they are the extreme effects of its lack. Scotland, being one of the most northerly places in the world with a large population is a world leader in MS and has a very poor record on almost all health issues. Adding Vitamin D would do more to improve health than all these bans and probably more than any NHS reform. Adding vitamins would have a low price per unit, purely because of the vast number of units, and probably would add no more than 1p to a loaf (I am assuming government wouldn't pay for it).

42) Privatise water. The government currently subsidises it by about £150 million annually. Maybe Scots do really think this and our relatively poor water quality, is a cost worth paying for the pleasure of state ownership and it will not be accepted but the option should surely be discussed. To keep this revenue neutral put half of this into technology prizes (#43) and half into the fund for cutting business taxes (#60).

43) Extend charitable tax relief to allow relief on donations for technology prizes. A recent paper on the Royal Agricutural Society proved that even quite small prizes have a significant effect sufficient to make one behind the times businessman to complain "It is unfair because there will always be sure to be somebody trying to find out some improvement or other and there is no knowing where will be the end to it.” The power to do this is not listed as a reserve power and appears to be within Holyrood's legislative competence. The Scottish government is already doing this with the Saltire Prize for a "commercial sea turbine". I doubt that such a machine producing at truly commercial rates can be achieved and suspect the rules may be fiddled. This demonstrates both the strength and weakness of government running such schemes - they have the money but its uses may be determined for political rather than technological or economic reasons.

44) Audit Scotland to annually give its best estimate of the value to our economy of such technology prizes developed in the current year over the next 10 years or, once it has been running for 10 years, all value gained that year from all ideas stimulated by prizes. Legislation to be introduced to take 50% of that figure (i.e. roughly the total accruing to the taxman) and distribute it as extra tax relief on such technology prizes. This would be revenue neutral and if such technology prizes turned out to be ineffective would involve a zero payment.

45) Extend the Enterprise Zone concept, where planning controls, environmental impact statements, inspections, long lunches discussing it etc. etc. do not apply, to both ends of potential tunnels. Legislate that when such a tunnel is completed and only then, the owners will be entitled to a feu duty of £10,000 on the sale of any new build house. This costs zero if no entrepreneurs build suggested tunnels (Gourock/Dunoon.Rothesay, Loch Fine, Mull, Hebrides). They will never be built by Holyrood who insist that even a 3 km tunnel under the Firth would cost £6.6 billion. They could easily be built by somebody employing the Norwegian tunnelers who have criss crossed Norway at a cost of £4 million per km. At least they could if all that was required was cutting through the rock, which is why the Enterprise Zone concept should be used to cut through the far more expensive red tape.

46) End the regulating of Highland and Island airports by the same regulations as the major international airports. This would require negotiating with Westminster but if we can do it for silly stuff like air rifles we can do it for this. The regulatory cost of treating airfields that land 2 small aircraft a week like Heathrow artificially increases cost per passenger making flights to the islands more expensive than transatlantic ones.

47) The current subsidy system of H. and I. airports includes both 2/3rds of the running cost plus a bureaucratic system of ticket subsidies for individuals. The total cost is greater than a 100% subsidy of all landing costs. Changing it to this cheaper system would allow low cost airlines to operate at very low ticket costs and, by increasing numbers greatly improve tourist access to the Isles.

48) When tunnel connection is in process give one of the Isles, probably either Islay or Jura, the same legal status as the Isle of Man plus a development corporation constituted to promote an entrepreneurial and technological experimental community of tomorrow.

49) Cancel the Scottish governments Debt Arrangement quango which, as long ago as 2007 was acknowledged to be costing more to run than the total debts of all the people who had taken advantage of its "services". Despite that it is still going strong.

50) Legislate for all MSPs a bonus of 25% of their annual salary for each full 0.5% the Scottish economy grows above the UK one.

51) Legislate for all ministers a 50% bonus of their annual salary for each full 0.5% the Scottish economy grows above the UK one. Explanation - Scotland's economy has been growing about 1% lower than the UK's 2.5% long term average; If we managed to get up to the Chinese level of 10% each MSP would be taking home 4.75 times their current income i.e. £251,000 and ministers 8.5 times i.e. £790,000 totalling about £50 million; however if they managed that our economy would be growing by over £10,000 million annually, so we would be well in profit and they would have earned it. This is the most personal sort of Fiscal Responsibility I can imagine. Possibly they would earn nothing out of it.

52) Centralise type approval of house planning so that local councils cannot insist on putting in petty changes. Councils could retain control over what size of houses are allowed and colouring but any regulation which is supposed to be safety related is more properly centrally done, where there are more resources overall. This reform would allow mass production to play a larger part, hopefully including modular building techniques and as Henry Ford proved, mass production lowers costs.

53) Alternately abolish all nominally safety based regulations and merely require that new houses carry substantial insurance. This is what is don in France and does not appear to result in homes more jerry built than those by British councils, who apply these regulations.

54) As with the tunnel enterprise areas offer such an unregulated endpoint to anybody willing to build a High Voltage Direct Current electric cable to Iceland (such cables have far smaller energy losses than conventional cables and would make Iceland's electricity competitively available just in case windmills turn out to continue producing the 0.2% of our power they sometimes do.

55) Fire everybody in the Health and Safety Executive and related organisations. It is easy to prove that the effects of the reduction in economic performance kills about 1,000 times those saved. 21 per 100,00 die annually per lost per 1% of GNP.

56) Lets do the same for everybody in building planning departments, or at least cut them sufficiently that they only have time to control Green Belts, areas of scenic beauty and historic sites.

57) Change civil service rules so that people can be and are fired for laziness, incomptentness or doing something useless and officious.

58) Introduce a hiring ban for new public employees except where they can be demonstrated to provide a vital front line role, after all it was a Labour minister who said the civil service would work better with half as many people. Keep this until budget cut aims have been achieved and we have a smaller public sector than England.

59) Abolish 90% of SEPA for the same reason. SEPA have demonstrated not only a willingness to push false pollution scares but "scientific illiteracy" in the process.

60) Abolish Scottish Enterprise and put the £350 million saved into cutting business taxes. This was an SNP promise at the last election.

61) Ditto Historic Scotland who consider it their job not to maintain our heritage but merely to ensure nobody does anything with it.

62) Allow apparent medicines which have not yet completed testing to be sold, very clearly packed as such and without public liability. I am suggesting packaging much clearer than homeopathic or alternative "medicines" which are equally unproven. Let people choose for themselves.

63) Replace Scotland's Chief Science Advisor, a purely political appointment whose current holder, approved cross party, believes climate change will make days longer and has declined to give any advice on whether we can keep the lights on without nuclear. The new advisor to be chosen not by politicians for agreeing with them but from among the 5 Scottish scientists most commonly cited in papers. By this definition and it is a good one, Scotland's scientists are the world's 2nd best per capita after Switzerland. Looking at the lack of scientists among our publicly appointed "great and good" you wouldn't know it.

64) Don't spend £2.3/£2.4/£1.6 billion on building a new Forth crossing. The original one, which cost £19.5 million (£320 m in today's money) is fine. The cables are actually 10% stronger than was expected for this stage; are being dehumidified; can be replaced with far stronger materials available today. All that is needed is to put in a 5th, tidal, lane in the centre which can be done for £10 million and will increase capacity by 50%.

65) Get out of the government tram funding business. If you can't quit when you are ahead better to quit when you are £500 million behind.

66) Make a promise that if the economy grows faster than historically achieved the take of business taxes will not be allowed to grow but the excess will be used to cut business rates. This would be revenue neutral and tend to produce a virtuous circle of growth and lower taxes.

67) Declare that Scotland will welcome shale gas exploitation. This is a new technology which is sweeping the world and bids to match the oil and conventional gas industries. It is likely we have substantial reserves but unlikely companies will invest in finding it if they think that, under the influence of the anti-progress movement, we will not let them develop it.

68) Charge rates on unused land in built up areas based on the land value and at the same rate on unoccupied buildings. Make this revenue neutral by cutting business rates by the same amount in each council area. This is known as Land Value Tax. Whereas normal taxes habe a depressing effect on the economy, because they discourage producing things, nobody is producing more land and in fact such a tax incret.ases pressure against land hoarding. In particular it would have the most positive effect on cutting business rates in the most deprived areas where empty sites and buildings are most common.
69) Introduce a legal right for individuals or organisations to challenge any regualtion or law on the basis that cost benefit analysis shows it to be at least 4 times more expensive compared to the danger averted than regulations in similar industries or circumstances. If government does not change it to conform to the 4 times ratio within 1 year it will automatically be voided unless 2/3rds of Parliament vote to keep it. Unfortunately this could only apply to things not reserved to Westminster or Brussels,

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