Friday, 26 November 2010

Where has all the money gone?

At the risk of sounding like one of those "in my day" boring old farts, I'm just wondering where the heck all of the money paid to the Government goes.

During my lifetime, the following money grasping methods spring to mind, although I'm sure there are far more:

  • VAT - introduced (I believe) in the 70's, initially at a rate of 10%. We are now facing another VAT rise to 20%. And we now pay VAT on home energy bills too (which used to be exempt from VAT);
  • MIRAS - this mortgage tax relief was done away with several years ago;
  • Free eye tests and free dental check-ups - done away with (apart from those on benefits) some years ago;
  • Having to pay to get money out of the bank - this is a clever little trick, given that most people have their wages paid straight into the bank (which incidentally swells the Bank of England's cashflow no end). I guess that most readers aren't aware that wages used to be paid in cash, in a little brown envelope with the edges of the notes neatly folded over the edge, so that the employee could check his money before opening the envelope;
  • Education - grants for university education are long gone. Ok, so going back 20 years, only 10% of school leavers went to uni, but nevertheless;
  • Parking - used to be free in most small towns. My local town now charges circa £1.20 an hour. There are 60 empty shops in the town centre, the town's Marks and Spencer are losing £1000 a day, due to the re-development of the nearby car-park (sold off for building). The M & S has a sizable food department and people just can't trundle their groceries across town to the car-park. I guess there will be 61 empty shops soon. My local town is just one of hundreds suffering the same hardship;
  • Amenities - my local town has no public toilets, there used to be three sites, but one by one the Council have closed them. A local hospital was sold off for building and the town has no public funded sports facilities. There is one sports centre two miles out of town, which is attached to a school. It was old and inadequate 20 years ago, it's dropping to bits and a joke now. Again, this is just one of many towns that are in rapid decline;
  • Housing - well, what can we say, the Government have washed their hands of it altogether really. This harks back to my recent post about section 106 agreements - most new housing developments have an obligation to provide a percentage of affordable housing (usually 15 - 20% or so). The building of new schools is often burdened on the developers too. Developers are often obliged to contribute sizeable sums to 'local' existing amenities too - ranging from public transport to parks and play areas;
  • Council tax - I don't imagine that there are many people who are better off since the abolition of rates some years ago. The extra revenue must equate to many, many millions;
I'm sure there are hundreds of other charges that equate to vast sums of money going into the Government's coffers, but just what the heck are they doing with all that money?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Work experience review

I've just finished my 2 weeks work experience at the planning consultancy and found it to be a most enjoyable. I'd somewhat naively thought that the role of a planning consultant was merely providing a service for those who can't be bothered to fill in planning applications, or for those who have been refused permission. Little did I know! The role is in fact very law orientated and is extremely complex at times, not least because of the different policies that each Council adopt.

The Consultancy have a number of clients who are large scale developers and the work that goes into preparing applications for large developments is enormous. Several other specialists are required to carry out surveys on various matters such as nature conservation, flooding and transport/traffic issues. By the time an application is ready to go before the Council, thousand's of hours have been put into preparing documentation. A planning refusal means that tens of thousands of pounds have been wasted. It's a costly business!

I have carried out a lot of research this week, and was very frustrated yesterday when I couldn't find any case law to shed light on a planning matter involving window openings. It was all the more embarrassing because the consultant who gave me the work isn't very trustful and tends to do all his own background preparation. The Consultancy's planning database wasn't a patch on Halsbury's, being very difficult to navigate and scant on information.

I went over to a local planning department yesterday to trace the planning history for a building plot that is the focus of a forthcoming application. The work is very dry at times and as a novice to planning, everything has taken me ages to research because I have little in the way of prior knowledge to use as a base to build upon. I had been warned beforehand that sometimes planning officers refuse to leave you alone to peruse the papers, and will sit closely watching each and every move. Thankfully, on this occasion no such close encounter arose and I was left to my own devices in a little grey cubicle, much like a Soho dirty rain mac client scrutinising the wares of a stripper.

Today I read through the case papers for a matter that is up for judicial review in the near future and was quite gleeful to notice that there were quite a few typos/grammatical errors in the statements of case. I hope that the Consultancy will keep to its word and invite me along to watch the case.

There were a couple of members of staff who I felt didn't quite take a shine to me. So I was somewhat surprised when one of them went out and bought some fancy cheeses and wine for my last lunch and the other one gave me a great big hug as I was leaving. Perhaps it was relief that they'd finally gotten rid of me:-)

Last week I felt exhausted each night because I was learning so much during the day, but this week I've had a little more energy. The 3 hours travelling each day was a bind, not least because I missed out on valuable Bar-Os spoiling time. Barman has been bringing him up home from the paddock each day and doing the feeding and mucking out etc. I have ensured that Bar-Os hasn't missed out on his daily massage and grooming routine, which takes me about an hour each evening. Horses are creatures of habit, and when Bar-Os was very poorly, I had to lace jam butties with his regular medication - the medication has ceased, but the jam butties have inexplicably remained. Each evening, last thing, I go out to the stable, give Bar-Os his butties and bed him down for the night. I was so tired on Wednesday night that Barman sent me off to bed early, promising to see to Bar-Os. I was awoken at 1am by an irate horse kicking his stable door, demanding that his slave attend to his needs (another jam butty) IMMEDIATELY. I still haven't been quite forgiven for this wanton equine neglect, but plan on grovelling for forgiveness this weekend.

So, I've learnt much about the nuts and bolts of planning and have gained an awful lot of experience in a short space of time. Time will tell whether the pupillage committees rate this pro bono activity, but I certainly do.

Oh, and I need to diet - it seems that office work doesn't burn off the calories like my day job. I admire Rumpole, but looking like him is taking things a bit too far:-)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Desk OCD and the Office Slob

I work from home quite a lot - my dining room is no longer, having been converted into a sort of office. The administrative side of my work (plenty of it) is a solitary affair and I'm used to doing my own thing. So this week's working in an open plan office, with others, has been a bit strange for me.

I got into work yesterday to find that my desk had been tidied by someone else (no-one owned up to it:-)) and the little calendar that was stuck on 27th October had been moved to the correct date. I would have changed it myself, but the desk belongs to another, who's away on a sabbatical, so I didn't feel comfortable moving anything. I thought that my desk was 'comfortable' - neither too messy, nor too neat, but it seems that it required a tidy up (oh dear). I was quite pleased that the plentiful supply of food crumbs had vanished from around my chair. I don't have time for breakfast in a morning, what with taking Bar-Os to the field and semi mucking out his stable, getting changed twice (transformation from a make-upless, 3 jumpered tramp to respectable, office apparelled lady), so tend to spend the day munching on a plentiful supply of butties and anything else I can get my hands on. I eat loads compared to the others, which is a bit shameful seeing as I'm the only female and about half the size of the others, but I suppose I burn off loads of calories what with my country-girl lifestyle. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it *oink*.

The 3 bosses were out of the office attending a business meeting yesterday. One of the bosses it seems has desk OCD - everything has to be at a PERFECT right angle, PARTICULARLY THE DESK LAMP. I am informed that a whole morning's work can be interrupted by the constant tiny shifting of THE DESK LAMP. So, a bit of 'while the cat's away' ensued and the boss' desk was re-arranged, with everything moved a few inches and the previously perfectly stacked documents shuffled about a bit. I expect said boss' face will resemble that of Edvard Munch's, The Scream, when he sees his desk first thing Monday morning:-) And no, it wasn't me who did the re-arranging.

I've learnt loads in my first week and am coming to realise that planning is a very complex issue, not least because each District Council has its own policies, which need to be scrutinised to ensure that planning applications satisfy those policies. I am currently working on a planning permission refusal, which dates back a few years. The client is thinking of re-submitting an application and my job is to compare the Planning Authority's policy from a few years back to current policy. I should have made greater progress, but by 3pm yesterday afternoon my brain had gone on strike and I couldn't concentrate on the finite details of the comparative policies. Neh mind, hopefully by Monday morning I shall be revitalised?

Next week I shall be drafting a S.106 agreement for a forthcoming planning application and have my ICSL Drafting manual at the ready. I feel very rusty on all things written and hope that it will all come back to me once I get cracking. It's for a fairly large project, so I hope not to make a complete arse of myself.

The firm have been anxiously awaiting a judicial review decision which came out on Wednesday. The litigation arose from the scrapping of Regional Spatial Strategies, which provide the blueprint for housing development and policy within Districts. Planning consultancy firms rely on these regional planning frameworks to support their applications for developments, so their revocation was somewhat worrying, particularly for major developments which have been months or years in the planning process. In the absence of reliance upon Regional Spatial Strategies, the power to grant or deny planning permission would have rested solely with the local councils.

So far I'm enjoying the work, but I do miss my own work too. I hadn't realised just how much I combine my day job with doing things around the house. Barman, who has been doing my job this week, hasn't quite gotten the knack, in fact he's done bugger-all. The wash basket has gone from 'could do with putting a load of washing in', to rival that of Widow Twankey's parlour. The house is a tip. There appears to have been no progress whatsoever on any paperwork and a 262 page document which I printed off last weekend hasn't been posted off, nor has the all important invoice been sent off. It would appear that we now work pro bono! There's another 200 page document which should have been completed Thursday or Friday, which seems to be still awaiting any attention whatsoever. We've run out of printer paper and ink too. The best of it is, Barman is completely oblivious to all of this 'I've done bugger-allness' and has gone off to watch some footy with a mate. Perhaps as well, as I could secretly throttle him. No prizes for guessing what my weekend will entail.

First things first though, I must re-arrange my desk lamp:-)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Yesterday I started my fortnight of work experience at the Planning Consultancy. I got an overview of their work in the morning and also sat in on a meeting with two consultants and two engineers, who are to prepare detailed information regarding traffic control for a forthcoming planning application. I was given a brief introduction into S.106 applications (which I'd never heard of before) and read through a fairly hefty and somewhat tedious document on 'obligations'. I'll get shot for seeing it this way, but the long and the short of it is: if you have a planning application that's a bit dodgy, offer the Council a bung and the job's a good un. Of course it's all far more formal and transparent than that, but as a newcomer to planning law, it made me feel quite uncomfortable that in certain situations a controversial planning application can be eased along the process by the offer of certain pecuniary enticements. What a cynical old bag I am:-)

In the afternoon I did some reading into a matter that the Consultancy had taken on regarding a topic close to my heart - garden extensions. I have been carrying out research on this topic for some time and was very pleased to discover that my work to date is correct.

I also looked at some model S.106 agreements. The style of drafting used is very different to that taught during BVC and the complete absence of any punctuation, save for fullstops, makes the drafts difficult to follow. I read through some background information for an appeal against an enforcement notice that the Consultancy are dealing with. Later this week I shall be drafting part of the appeal and have been searching databases for policy that supports my section of the appeal (it's thin on the ground)! I came across a case that I'd encountered before on my BVC travels, but alas, on closer inspection it doesn't help me out.

I was rather hoping to impress the Planners with my research skills, but Council planning databases are not the easiest or quickest things to research, particularly when looking for historic applications. I imagine the Planners saying "nice enough woman, but she's a bit, you know, slooooow".

The Managing Director of the firm is very knowledgeable on planning law and also has a very firm grasp of public law/judicial review and procedure. He gave me a lift into work yesterday and the journey went very quickly due to the chatter about law (not sure it went quite so quickly for him:-)). The firm have a forthcoming judicial review hearing and I have been invited along to give submissions on behalf of the appellant watch.

I was quite concerned that my work experience with the Consultancy wouldn't give me much exposure to planning law, but the job is (thankfully) very heavy on law, particularly policy. Due to the vast nature of property law in general, there's always something new to learn about, even for those who have been in planning for many years. The downside of the work is that it can be very tedious and dry, but I had rather expected as much.

Keen to impress, I have brought some work home with me and have the job of trying to figure out how many houses have been built in a town over the last 10 years. Not the easiest task when the information is contained in a mish mash of Council documentation and statistics.

Well, they say that a change is as good as a rest, and I'm pleased to say that I fully agree with that adage. I've learnt such a lot in the 2 days that I've been with the firm and feel that the experience will add far more to my pupillage applications than a mere box ticking exercise.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


There is a saying that horses were born to make fools of men. I think that saying can be extended to horse vets too. Bar-Os has recently finished a course of anti-biotics for a bladder infection. Being a law student and all that (bit of an anorak when it comes to research), I have looked into Cauda Equina Syndrome and the associated paralysis that it causes. A common side effect is bladder weakness, with inability to empty the bladder fully, which leads to recurrent cystitis. I have a tube of dip-sticks to test Bar-Os’ urine for infection; they’re quite easy to use – dip one of em in pee, wait a bit, then compare the coloured squares to those on the side of the tube. On Friday I tested Bar-Os’ pee and it showed blood in the urine. I wasn’t exactly surprised as his urine was a very dark colour. I tested it again on Monday and it was still the same, so I rang and left a message for the vet.

Vet rang back whilst I was out and left a very condescending message on my answer-phone, explaining that the dip-sticks are very difficult to ‘read’ and that I would need to take a pee sample in. I should at this point explain that a normal reading on said dip-stick for no blood in urine is pale yellow. Bar-Os’ reading was top-end of the scale, showing a very clear, unequivocal dark green square. Vet also explained that the detailed urine analysis carried out one month ago showed no infection (in other words, I’m clearly a dip-stick who can’t read squares, or have Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy).

Anyway, when I test Bar-Os' urine at home, it’s not too difficult because he’s a bit dribbly and I only need a drop to wet the dip-stick. Vet however, wants a ‘proper’ urine sample taken in for him to dip-stick. Not too bad thought I, Bar-Os tends to pee when I first put him in the stable (nice clean bed, just begging to be urinated on). So, there I stood in the stable, in my anorak, with high viz (I have to lead him home on the road at dusk), complete with cheerful pom-pom hat and a plastic jug. I stood there for an hour, ever hopeful, pretending to be disinterested in Bar-Os' peeing apparatus. Bar-Os just kept eyeing me suspiciously. Can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday thought I (yes, that’s right, I’m 28 (again!)). The quest was fruitless, but undeterred I shall try again this evening.

Talking of being considered an idiot. I went to the Parish Council meeting on Monday. It was packed – there were 4 members of the public present. There I sat, patiently waiting for the ‘any other matters’ bit. Mr Pompous was in full swing. Resplendent in his (polyester) pin striped suit, he waxed lyrical about important matters such as the purchase of the village telephone box (£1), the Tidy Village Competition (we lost:-)), and the piece de resistance, the pot hole in the road on the outskirts of the village. It was at this point that Mr Pompous (who has a VERY posh accent) waved his arm theatrically at his vast audience and referred to us as ‘peasants’.

I should perhaps point out that Mr Pompous has form as long as your arm. He lives in a house which he says has a long sweeping drive, flagged with willow trees, a drawing room, a nursery, a morning room, as well as a snug and a lounge. Funny thing is, from the road (about 10ft away), it looks just like the other 2 bed bungalows that neighbour his property. Must be the bloody Tardis;-)

Mr Pompous just lerves the American that has purchased the Hall, so wasn’t too pleased when I brought up the nuisance caused by the fireworks. “No, you’re wrong, they’re not fireworks from the Hall, they’re from the Lodge” he said. I pointed out (through gritted teeth), that the Lodge is over a mile away, and the fireworks in question explode over the top of my house. Nope, he wouldn’t have it. Another ‘peasant’ said that she had an email from the American confirming the fireworks provenance. Mr Pompous then changed tack, saying that it wasn’t a matter for the Parish Council. “Well” said another ‘peasant’, “you were the ones that entered into the agreement with the American allowing 6 – 8 displays per year”. The childish response was that the fireworks are the ‘quiet’ ones that cause no noise and he knew that because he had never heard them.

I pointed out that there was a compromise to be had out of this – the Hall stands in substantial grounds with a lake, ideal as a firework backdrop, which is situated well away from the residential part of the village. Mr Pompous snorted that if I thought I could do anything, I’d better think again because Environmental Health wouldn’t entertain my complaint. Watch this effing space, thought I, whilst smiling at him serenely, in a village peasant sort of way.