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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 19 April 2021
19 April 2021 @ 10:29

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 

NOTE: Info on Galicia here. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon

Covid

Passports: A valid point? To understand the dangers of Covid passports, simply imagine an obesity equivalent. The Government should not let its drive for health certification stall at Covid-19 passports. If it is serious about saving lives and promoting personal responsibility then it must target the avoidable and identifiable disease of obesity. It’s an absurd idea, of course. Yet as a thought experiment, it perfectly illustrates the dangers of handing such powers over to government. . . . Please, given what is at stake in the complex relationship between citizen and Government, let us all tread cautiously and be careful what we wish for.

Spain: Goodish news: The 4th wave is progressing slower than the previous 3.

Cosas de España

You’ll need to quarantine if you come to Spain from any of these 12 countries.

Lo and behold . . . Suddenly there's been a lot of Brits wanting to regularise their legal situation in Spain - the ones who'd learned what Brexit was bringing down the track. But the number is small compared with the total believed to be living below the horizon. Perhaps the others didn't see the warnings. Or just ignored them. If they're still here, it'll be interesting to see what happens to them. The Spanish government has said, understandably, that there won't be a witch-hunt. But what it says and what it does are not necessarily the same thing. As we've seen with residence papers and the right to re-enter Spain after an absence in the UK. Here and here are relevant articles from The Olive Press.

Spain's most celebrated foreigner right know is probably the Madrid-based concert pianist James Rhodes, who avers that everything in Spain is better than in the UK. And then there's this. I recently cited this piece on JR by the rather more experienced/balanced/nuanced Guy Hedgecoe, who also lives in/near Madrid.

Cousas de Galiza  

Spain and Portugal have again prolonged their border controls, this time until at least May 3. But that's not too far away, so fingers crossed I can go there again soon.

María's Level Ground: Days 14 & 15

The UK

Even chimps grasp guilt. Shameless elites need to follow their example. See the full article here and another one on the same theme below, both from high-of-centre newspapers generally supportive of Conservative administrations.

I guess the opening pitch of the Times article applies at least equally to Spain.

Another good question: Can Northern Ireland survive Brexit?     

The Way of the World

How cheering that a gym worker has won £6,000 after her boss bragged in front of her that he and his partner “go for it every night of the week”. An employment tribunal her awarded compensation for the injury to her feelings. I’m now off to my solicitors because I’m clearly due a bumper payout.

English

In the 14th century, the suspension chains of wagons were replaced my leather straps, invented in the Hungarian city of Kocs. The wagons were known as kocsi szekér, the origin of the word 'coach'.

Finally  . . . 

The famous film ‘High Noon’   . . .  in Hispanoamérica: A la hora señalada. In Spain: Solo ante el Peligro.  Why??

US regulators have warned parents and pet owners that Peloton machines pose a “serious risk” in homes, after 39 'incidents', including one death. Is it too much to hope this presages the death of the TV ad which annoys me so much?

ARTICLES  

The conduct of David Cameron is a case study in shamelessness. It appears that personal interests have been allowed into the heart of government under the guise of public service: Nick Timothy. The Telegraph.

Having set out to “detoxify” the Tories, and disassociate himself from the shame of many Conservatives in the 1990s, David Cameron increasingly exemplifies what he once sought to purge. His recent conduct is a case study of the rapaciousness and shamelessness he used to condemn.

The Greensill affair, and the controversies spinning out from it, is complex. But the theme that runs through each subplot is the abuse of the supposedly noble calling of public service. There remain many unanswered questions and much information we do not yet know, but the facts established tell a miserable story of public servants tempted by the prospect of private gain, and private interests masquerading as public service.

Lex Greensill, a wealthy business figure, was invited into government by the then Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, who had worked with Greensill in the City. Mr Greensill promised to sort out the problem of the public sector making late payments to suppliers using “reverse factoring”. His firm would pay suppliers on behalf of public sector customers, early and in full, and retrieve the cost – with fees charged to the taxpayer – from those customers later.

Questions remain about Mr Greensill’s appointment, including about the process, who approved it and to whom Mr Greensill reported. But we know a series of conflicts of interest followed and that a position of supposed public service was abused. Mr Greensill was given a desk in the Cabinet Office, a government phone number and business cards describing him as “Senior Adviser, Prime Minister’s Office”. David Cameron singled him out for praise at a business conference. Downing Street officials introduced him to White House counterparts. Government departments and public services were encouraged to participate in his scheme. Senior officials were authorised to work for his business while still in government employment.

All of these facts are unusual and suspicious. Even aside from the special access and favours awarded to Mr Greensill, why was his solution to the late payments problem accepted with so few questions? As Iain Martin, a chronicler of the financial crash, has pointed out, 85 per cent of invoices are now paid by Whitehall within five days, and more than 97 per cent within 30. The problem that supposedly could only be fixed by Mr Greensill was fixed anyway without him.

Ministers and officials ought to have known that supply chain financing has been connected to egregious examples of accounting tricks and alleged fraud. The outsourcing company Carillion, for example, used supply chain financing to disguise its debts and deployed reverse factoring to hold on to income for longer, allowing it to report higher cash flows and inflate executive pay without justification.

Amid a great scandal, Carillion went bust, and something similar appears to have occurred with Greensill. Investigations suggest that the company did not only lend to its clients against the security of invoices for work already completed or even contracted, but against “prospective receivables” that the company had not yet generated, and indeed might never generate. Lex Greensill used this “creative accounting” to win the confidence of international investors, buy a bank and run four private jets.

He also used it, at some as yet unknown stage, to win the confidence of Mr Cameron, who really should have asked questions, if not about how this young business could sustain four private aircraft then about why, in any normal scenario, he might make up to $60 million – and make regular personal use of those jets – in return for 25 days of work a year.

It is probably unreasonable to expect Mr Cameron to have known the details of the more worrying aspects of Greensill’s financing. But it is not unreasonable to think he should have asked questions, and had qualms, about his mission. This, before the company started to collapse, was to help achieve the needless financialisation of various public assets, and to make a profit doing so from public funds.

For it was not just supply chain finance at stake. Mr Cameron justified lobbying on behalf of Greensill’s Earnd scheme because it helped public sector workers access their pay daily, rather than waiting until payday. He called this an “antidote to exploitative payday lending schemes”, but it was just a posh version of the same thing. Participants would not have paid interest on their advances in wages, it is true, but Greensill would have taken a cut from their employer – which could only have come from the overall wage bill or other publicly funded budgets – and converted the future payments into bonds it could sell on to banks. When Cameron pitched Earnd to Australian ministers, they rejected it, reportedly because it was too similar to a payday lending scheme.

This needless financialisation of public assets was purportedly motivated by propriety and public service, but in reality the motive was profit and personal wealth. And this is the real problem with the Greensill affair. Yes, there are questions about the accountability of the civil service, about lobbying, the professional roles taken by former ministers and officials, and decisions made by ministers and officials as Mr Cameron lobbied them. All these questions need to be answered and the issues and problems that arise must be addressed.

But the true scandal is about the corruption of public service for private gain. It is about how public servants appear to have made decisions because of the prospect of personal advantage. It is about how private interests have been allowed into the heart of government as they pretended to be motivated by public service. And it is about an attitude towards public assets – including even NHS employment data and the wages of public sector workers – that sees those assets reduced to a commodity that can be bought and sold, at a profit, and not just without public benefit but at the cost of the taxpayer.

Thanks to this culture, the legacy and reputation of one former prime minister lies in tatters. If Boris Johnson wants to avoid the same fate, he will need to investigate the Greensill affair without fear or favour, make sure his own ministers, advisers and officials are whiter than white, and eliminate the spectre of corruption from British public life. There are few things more serious.



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