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I have been diagnosed with depression on two occasions. The first occasion was a direct result of marital breakdown. I can easily identify the causes and, given time and a change of circumstances, can also chart my recovery. It was unpleasant but took a matter of months. The second occasion was worse. I was successful at work. My marriage had recovered and everything was good in life. Then, in the space of 48 hours, I felt myself slide. My confidence vanished, I withdrew from my family and, despite good results, I believed I was a failure at work. I was stressed by each and every non-issue that appeared in front of me and struggled to make decisions. I took immediate medical advice and was prescribed prozac. This actually helped to deal with the stress of decision making - it took me to a point where I didn't actually care. It took the edge out of my day to day activity and, combined with the depression, left me as a physical being but removed the mental entity that is me. It is hard to describe what I was feeling at the time. Imagine having a brick inserted in your head and replacing your brain. Imagine not being able to envisage the outcomes of your actions beyond the next 5 minutes. Imagine losing interest in sex. Imagine losing interest in your family. Imagine developing dangerous addictive behaviour. My addiction was online gambling. It took over my life and became the most important thing to me. This coud have financially ruined me, except I got lucky. And discovered the art of "arbritage" - betting on all outcomes of an event to guarantee a profit. I made £10,000 over 3 years. But this had become more important than my family and work. A few months in to my depression my boss, who had been supportive and understanding, retired. His replacement attacked my weaknesses, undermined what little confidence I had and after a few weeks offered me the choice of standing to one side or follwoing a "performance action plan". After a couple of weeks fighting him, I accepted the inevitable. I was not capable of maintaining a motivaional management role while feeling thoroughly miserable, not really caring and being unable to think clearly (due to the brick in my head!). Working for a large company, I was immediately "protected" by the HR department. I was transferred to an easier role. Salary frozen, not cut. My company arranged for 8 counselling sessions at their expense. Had I continued to fight, I would probably have found myself managed out of the company and unemployed. And an unemployed depressive is not attractive to a potential employer. So, into an easier work life and counselling. One session a month which I quite enjoyed. I'm not sure they helped me directly at the time, but 3 years on they are probably worth everything to me. They help me to "choose my attitude" each day. The easy work life for a managerial salary was great. For a few months. Then as my condition slightly improved my self awareness improved. And the way I valued myself improved. And I needed something more. While not completely recovered, I started applying for new jobs within my firm. Which was a BIG mistake. When I first got my job, after leaving school, I was the only candidate. Several promotions were achieved through demonstrating competence. No job interviews. Simply placed up the ranks as the best the company had. Now I was expected to perform in job interviews to return to a proper career. And I put across the personna of "I'm a failed manager who has been ill". I didn't say it, but I conveyed it. And the last thing I needed was what I got - rejection. Several roles I was perfect for knocked me back. Lack of confidence was hit further with ongoing rejection. Nobody wanted me and I was useless. I then tried 2 or 3 other secondment roles. Not enjoying them. Not getting the "buzz" of job satisfaction that I needed. Declined for a couple more positions I looked desperately for help. And found it in the heart of a department set up originally to support people who were made redundant. I had two meetings with a guy called Chris. I outlined my career, my depression, my innermost fears and my feelings of failure. He focused on my successes and strengths. Told me that is who I really was. And then talked about job interviews. Nothing earth shattering, but at the age of 38 I had never got a job as a result of an interview. A month later my "dream job" was advertised on the company's internal vacancy system. The salary was £6k less than it used to be (but still a small rise for me) and the role itself made use of my exceptional numeracy skills. I was right for it and I knew it. I spent 18 hours preparing for the interview. Drove to Manchester in fear. And placed my "Paul McKenna- Instant Confidence" cd in to my car player and reclined the seat and closed my eyes. Half an hour later I locked the car and walked to the interview venue. This felt different to my list of failed interviews. I was confident. Full of belief. Full of ideas. And I really wanted it. That last sentence is vital. In the last 3 years (yes, that long in the 'wilderness') I hadn't really wanted anything. Not had a day off sick, but not wanted to be there at work either. Not really wanted to be anywhere. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got the job. I love the job. I have a growing vibrance in life. I'm more interested in my family. My love for football and cricket has returned. The old me is more or less back and I like him. I now know that I am not necessarily cured from the evil demons of depression, but I am back in control. I can see the triggers that could send me back in to depression. And I can counter them. I hated my firm for taking my job off me, even though I know it was needed. I hate them for making me go through numerous job interviews when I was in no fit state to deal with the failure that was inevitable. And I so admire the guy called Chris who listened to me and then empowered me with a few words of kindness. Even though I haven't seen hm since! He didn't really do anything. I did that. But he helped me find the self belief and confidence that I needed to leave the mediocrity that my career had become and move me in to the new job that I now hold. And I am back to being the intelligent, assertive and agreeable individual that I always used to be. I didn't enjoy depression and it is still a threat to me. But the point at which things started going right for me was the point where I actually took control of my destiny rather than being shunted around by my firm. I feel good about myself. I feel good about my work. And I feel good about my family. And the brick in the head is now long gone. If you find yourself in depression, the light at the end of the tunnel may not be visible. But it is probably there. Try to find it in youself to move towards it. You're worth it.
I have always enjoyed a wide and varied taste in music. But over the years, it seems that I have always come back to much the same dozen or so artists for those moments of magic or comfort. As I've aged, I've found it harder to acknowledge new acts as exceptional. I thought I'd have a go at listing my all time top ten. Ask me another day and I'm sure the list will be different. Or at least the order. Here goes pop pickers: 10. Steve Winwood - Back In The High Life Again: taken from the Grammy winning album of the same name, I thought Winwood was black when I first heard it. Possibly one of Britain's finest all round musicians of the 20th century, the sheer power of this track is in the lyrics - you can always bounce back from the knocks life gives you to be stronger and better. 9. Chris De Burgh - Don't Pay The Ferryman: while Lady InRed was the ballad the made De Burgh big, Ferryman perhaps encapsulates what is best about the diminutive Irshman. Real power, great song and check out the video on youtube - I swear that Dr Who Tom Baker is in it! 8. Don Henley - The Heart Of The Matter: this was originally a lost album track for me taken from his early 90s offering The End Of The Innocence. The I saw the Eagles live at the old Wembley stadium and Henley belted this moving piece out with spectacular results. A great tune well worth investigating. 7. Fleetwood Mac - Songbird: beautiful song that has been covered by many recently, including the late Eva Cassidy. Chris McVie's finest moment within the great band. 6. Mark Knopfler - Sailing To Philadelphia: the former Dire Straits front man shares the vocals with James Taylor. The song tells the tale of mapping out the new territories. It is gentle, but genuinely beautiful. 5. Bonnie Raitt - I Can't Make You Love Me: George Michael topped the charts with his version of this, but Raitt's original interpretation of a fine piece of song writing bares the soul of a heart that realises a relationship has had its day. 4. Joe Cocker - When The Night Comes: a colaboration with Bryan Adams that topped the US charts and sneaked in to the top 100 in the UK! Its a powerful rock classic that proves what a genuine talent Cocker really is. 3. Ry Cooder - How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live: originally recorded in the 1920s by legendary bluesman Blind Alfred Reed, this was brought back to life more recently on Bruce Springsteen's tour with The Seeger Sessions Band. Despite this, Cooder's version delivers the drama, dexterity of guitar and sheer brilliance that is usually assoicated with the world's greatest slide guitar genius. 2. Chris Rea - Stainsby Girls: a song that stands the test of time, Rea, one of the UKs most under-rated musicians, has written a magnificent track that appears on two albums, Shamrock Diaries and New Light Through Old Windows. The latter version loses the saxophone but delivers a slide guitar solo that is probably my favourite 20 seconds of music of all time!! 1. Lou Reed - The Last Great American Whale: with a closing line of 'stick a fork in its ass and turn it over, its done' you don't expect this to be wonderful. But it is. And the whol of the New York album that brings it to us is well worth a download.
Bruce Springsteen live at Old Trafford cricket ground 29th May 2003 There are occasions in life that are set aside in the memory archive as highlights. I have been to great gigs before. I have been to the occasional live disaster. Bruce Springsteen has always evaded me as a live artist. Family commitments, sold out concerts and holidays always seem to get in the way. But last Thursday was different. We had tickets and we were off to see The Boss. The venue itself is unusual for a concert. Not many cricket clubs like 50,000 people trampling on the pitch for hours on end, but the home of Lancashire County Cricket had to get a magistrate to grant them a licence to hold the event, after neighbours objected. Give that magistrate a knighthood! For those of you who know the place, consider the bowler at the Warwick Road end of the ground bowling to a right handed batsman. The stage was at third man and the evening sun set behind fine leg an hour or so in to the gig. We paid £10 to park in an unofficial car park and walked ten minutes to the venue. No food or drink was allowed to be taken inside, ensuring massive profits for the hosts on the hottest day of 2003 so far. Programmes, at £10 a time, were high quality paper with nil quality content and typical tour t shirts sold at £24 a time. The money making machine that had already claimed £42 per ticket was in full swing! The man himself took to the stage solo at 7.25pm, 5 minutes earlier than scheduled, to play an acoustic version of Born In The USA. The bluesier licks were a joy, even if this wasn?t a patch on the original. The E Street Band joined him at the end and launched straight in to The Rising, title track of his recent excellent album, followed by Lonesome Day, another offering from the same album. What immediately struck me about the man is the sheer energy he puts in to his music. While close ups of his face on the big screens adj oining the huge stage confirmed his 50something years, his voice was magnificent and the power of delivery beyond that of any other artist I have seen. Nine of the tracks here were from The Rising, an offering massively influenced by the World Trade Centre atrocities, but Springsteen made no reference to this outside the music, instead letting the lyrical brilliance of Empty Sky and the excellent Into The Fire (including a stunning vocal performance from his wife) do the talking for him. Regardless of the music, Springsteen is, above all, a performer. You get the talking with the audience. You get the demand for those in the seats to stand up. You get guitars thrown in the air and you get the man himself sliding on his knees across the stage on many occasions throughout. This guy was in town to entertain. Not quite the energy of Jagger, but better music! He commented on the Cricket field his faithful were standing on, comparing the rules of cricket to baseball "the pitcher runs with the ball before pitching" and the knowledgeable statement "you don't want it to hit you in the nuts" drawing laughter from the crowd. While the extraordinary scenes of an audience knowing all the songs from the new album, there was room too for the oldies. Badlands, the exceptional Jungleland and Thunder Road stood out while Born To Run was greeted with a huge cheer towards the end of the first encore. A real rocker, Seven Days To Rock, ended this part of the show in electric style. There was no room for the solo stuff given to us on the marvellous albums Tunnel Of Love and The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Presumably because the E Street Band had little or no input to these, but the final encore including My City Of Ruins (Rise Up) and the inevitable Dancing In The Dark epitomised the joys of mixing the old with the new, the former starting as a sparse solo piano ballad and ending as a rousing anthem as layer upon layer o f instrumentation appeared in support of the moving lyric and belting vocal. I have never witnessed a show as good or as long as this one. I never felt bored during a minute of the 3 hours plus he was on stage and was mesmerised by the genuine efforts to please the crowd beyond the sheer brilliance of the music. Springsteen had a city in the palm of his hand. The guy is in no way pretentious, the band work as a team, and the show is simply great. While the venue could be criticised for a lack of ladies toilets and an eerie echo off the hotel that overlooks the ground, it added to the joy of the evening far better than a football stadium would have done. The nine piece E Street Band, each and every one an accomplished musician in their own right, lined up as follows: Patti Scialfa (Mrs Springsteen) on guitar Roy Bittan on amazing keyboards Clarence Clemons an exceptionally popular saxophonist (tenor and baritone) Danny Federici on keyboards Nils Lofgren on guitar Garry Tallent on bass guitar Steven Van Zandt (the gypsy looking bloke) on guitars Max Weinberg on drums Soozie Tyrell on violin (an addition to the original line up) Bruce introduced them in a tongue in cheek preacher man way midway through the exceptional Mary?s Place. This is a time when many other artists would leap in to encore mode and depart. 90 minutes in and Springsteen was only half way through a mammoth 3 hour 10 minute gig! 1. Born In The U.S.A. (acoustic) 2. The Rising 3. Lonesome Day 4. Candy's Room 5. Prove It All Night 6. Darkness On The Edge Of Town 7. Empty Sky 8. You're Missing 9. Waiting On A Sunny Day 10.Two Hearts 11.Loose Ends 12.Worlds Apart 13.Badlands 14.Out in the Street 15.Mary?s Place 16.Meeting Across the River 17.Jungleland 18.Into the Fire 19.Thunder Road 20.4th of July, Asbury Park 21.Bobby Jean 22.Ramrod 23.Born to Run 24.Seven Nights to Rock 25.My City of Ruins 26.Land of Hope and Dreams 27.Dancing in the Dark He ended with a genuine thank you to those who supported his music and a promise to return. When he does, I recommend you join me in the queue for tickets! Bruce Springsteen is the best live rock performer in the world. Manchesteronline.co.uk Brucespringsteen.net
National Savings & Investment Guaranteed Equity Bond Play the stock market without risking a penny exclaims the brochure. This product gives you the opportunity to invest as little as £2,000, and benefit in the returns the stock market makes over the next 5 years, without risking a penny of your capital! It sounds too good to be true. So, how good is it really? What Can I Invest? £2,000 is the minimum investment. £1m is the maximum, although this is doubled for joint holdings. Strangely, neither Mrs Opinions4u or myself is going to be troubled by the upper limit. Can I Access My Money? No. This is a 5 year investment maturing in June 2008. The only way you can get to the money within that term is to die! You cannot add to a Bond during its term, although you are allowed to hold up to 5. Is It Tax Efficient? No. All gains made are subject to UK income tax. In other words, the gains made will all be liable for tax in the 2008/9 tax year. This can have its advantages. If you think that you will pay a lower rate of income tax in 2008/9 than you do now (eg retirement, planned career break or family etc) this can be an excellent way of deferring the tax bill. There will, however, be 5 Budget?s between now and then for Chancellors to change tax rules and blast any prudent planning on your part to smithereens! Interestingly, the interest will be paid gross (without tax deducted) and you will need to declare the income on your tax return. The gains are treated purely as income and are not subject to Capital Gains Tax. Gains made from "real" dealing in stocks and shares are subject to Capital Gains Tax. It may well prove more tax efficicent to realise a capital gain in 2008/9 rather than get a big income tax bill. Can I Invest For My Children? Not directly. But you can take out a bond in trust for a minor. Seek professional advice rega rding the taxation of income for a minor after checking out the rules in www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk. How Much Will It Make? First of all, the investment runs from 17th June 2003. If you invest prior to this date, you will earn 3.25% pa (gross taxable) on your money up to 16th June 2003. The full amount is then invested. Secondly, you cannot lose capital. While the return on this bond is linked directly to the FTSE100 index, if the FTSE should fall, you will get back your initial investment. Remember, if you had chosen to invest in a normal bank savings account, you would have earned interest. In this scenario, you have risked the interest you would have earned for no gain. Thirdly, if the FTSE100 rises between 0% and 65% during the 5 year period, you will get the FULL return of the FTSE100 without taking any of the risks associated with stock market investment. This is the best scenario, unless interest rates on bank savings account rocket over then next few years, which seems unlikely. The final scenario is that the FTSE100 grows by more than 65%. You will only get 65% of the growth in this situation. In other words, if the FTSE100 grows by a massive 200% (unlikely), you will only get 65%. There is also a proviso that averages the FTSE over the final 6 months. This means that if the FTSE enters the final 6 months of your investment on a high, and the crashes prior to maturity, you will still receive a return based on the average of the FTSE in the final 6 months. This could work against you if there is a big gain close to the end of the investment. Are There Any Charges? There are no management fees or charges. It should be pointed out that any dividends paid by the companies in the FTSE100 are NOT added to your investment or the value of the FTSE100. In other words, if you invested directly in to a Tracker Fund (a fund that buys shares directly in the FTSE100 on your behal f), you would benefit from the dividends paid. Is It Right For Me? It could be. As a low risk investment that could defer tax liability to a time when you would pay less, it has a lot going for it. You should also consider the interest you would lose by not investing in a safe savings account, if the FTSE100 only grows a little or falls. And you should consider the dividends you would lose by not investing directly in the FTSE100. There is also the money you will not make if the FTSE100 grows by more than 65% over the 5 years! Using the following examples, I have made approximate calculations as to what you can typically expect to make in the following circumstances. These are pure conjecture as I do not own a crystal ball and you should not make an investment decision based on this information. Investment: £10,000 FTSE100 Growth: 8% per year High St Savings Rate: 3.5% per year Income Tax Rate: 20% FTSE100 Dividend Yield: 3% per year reinvested Tracker Fund Charge: 1% per year High Street Bank Account: £11,480 Guaranteed Equity Bond: £13,754 Tracker Fund: £15,751 (the £5,751 is subject to capital gains tax, although this sum is less than the tax allowance, so if this is your only gain in that tax year, no tax will be payable! If that does not make sense, I refer you to www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk again! Investments in an ISA wrapper legally avoid Capital Gains Tax anyway). Different returns can paint a different picture though ? FTSE100 Growth: 3% per year High St Savings Rate: 3.5% per year Income Tax Rate: 20% FTSE100 Dividend Yield: 3% per year reinvested Tracker Fund Charge: 1% High St Bank: £11,480 Guaranteed Equity Bond: £11,274 Tracker Fund: £12,427 And finally, let us repeat some of the happenings of the last few years and watch the FTSE100 slip! FT SE100 Growth: -1.25% per year High St Savings Rate: 3.5% per year Income Tax Rate: 20% FTSE100 Dividend Yield: 3% per year reinvested Tracker Fund Charge: 1% per year High St Bank: £11,480 Guaranteed Equity Bond: £10,000 Tracker Fund: £10,017 Now, I apologise for totally confusing you there. The message I was trying to get across is that while on the face of it, this seems good, if you really want to play the stock market and are prepared to risk your capital, you have a much greater potential for gains than the Guaranteed Equity Bond. Equally, if you were considering investing in this because you do not like risk, it is possible to get back less than you would have done in a normal bank savings account! I will give you the chance to ponder your own attitudes to risk, your own tax situation and the other options available for your money. Ethical investors should remember that this is an investment in the UK Government!! If you still like this one, have a closer look at www.nsandi.com or ring 0500 500 000. There are also blue leaflets with a shell on the cover in most Post Offices.
In a world of many wrongs, the financial services industry offers the typical investor a range of ethical investment options. But over 99.5% of all money invested is not specifically placed in such funds. Perhaps it is time for us all to think again. Ethical investing is a serious matter. While most people do not have strong feelings one way or another about how their money is invested, many prefer to know that the financial organisations they deal with operate in an environment that meets certain standards. They want to know that the money they invest is invested ethically. So, how do you actually define ethical? With difficulty. It is a broad subject. An investment manager who invests in tobacco companies may be considered ethical by some, and not by others. Investing in arms companies could be considered unethical, but sometimes weapons can defend freedom. Investing in the chemical industry could be seen as a polluting influence on this beautiful planet, while at the same time chemicals can be developed to counter pollution. And would stopping the extraction of oil send the planet back to the stoneage? It is a tough subject to master. Does a company that lends money to an arms company fail your test of ethical? Or does an investment fund that invests in a bank that lends money to the arms trade fail the test? Does a clothes retailer importing from countries employing child labour fail the test? As the investor, you, ultimately, have to decide! The FTSE themselves operate a share index based on a wide range of companies they consider ethical. Banks, petrochemical companies and many other sectors are included. The criteria for companies to be members are found at the website below, but can be summarised as: 1) Working towards environmental sustainability 2) Developing positive relationships with stakeholders (eg staff and customers) 3) Up-holding and supporting universal human rights Excl usions include: 1) Tobacco companies 2) Owners or operators of nuclear power stations 3) Companies manufacturing whole weapons systems Companies like Shell and BP are included, so must have passed the test for environmental sustainability. Banks like HSBC and Abbey National, whose investment managers invest in tobacco companies are also included, so while the concept of the FTSE4Good index is a positive, the typical ethical investor may not be comfortable with the criteria used. During its short life, FTSE4Good has marginally outperformed the FTSE250 index. The most vocal advocates of ethical investing in the UK are the Co-Operative Bank who also own the internet bank Smile. The Co-Op approach to ethical investment is one of listening specifically to customer requests. The policy is regularly reviewed and contemporary issues considered. The website clearly discusses the difficulties of defining the word ethical. For example, the arms policy of Co-Op allows the manufacture of arms for the purpose of national defence. But not for internal oppression or external aggression. You can draw your own conclusion as to where war in Iraq fits. At a time when many of the larger high street banks are seeing drops in profitability, Co- Op have seen a 14% growth in profits. They also have the highest satisfaction rating of any UK bank, matched only by their own Smile subsidiary. Perhaps the ethical policy is both good for the customer and great for the business. The Ethical Investment Research Service (Eiris) provides an excellent support forum to help you decide. The organisation is a charity set up by other charities to help identify the policies of investment companies. Their website is excellent. This site has researched the policies of many large organisations, compared them and produced examples of where they are strong and where they are not. While again, Co-Op scores highly, smaller organisations such as the Ecolo gy Building Society and Norwich & Peterborough Building Society are drawn in to the equation. For the investor, the Eiris site tells you which companies attract the most ethical investments. Vodaphone, HBOS, BT and Tesco are amongst those chosen. Companies that offer ethical funds include Axa, Abbey Life (part of Lloyds TSB), Clerical Medical (part of Halifax/Bank Of Scotland), Friends Provident, and several others. Many of the companies on the list are embroiled in endowment and pension mis-selling to varying extents, so you already have a compromise on your ethical beliefs! In summary, the only way to select an ethical investment that suits you is to research hard. The Eiris site is the best place to start, but before you invest a penny, check your own standards to the company's standards, and be prepared to compromise your beliefs. The only way to be perfectly ethical is to stash your cash under the mattress, which ensures that its value will erode. Oh, and while research is limited, there is no evidence to show that ethical investment funds perform any worse or any better than any other market sector. In other words, if you pick the right fund for you, you should do ok for yourself. There is a belief that ethical investment funds have a higher risk profile than a general fund, due to the narrower range of companies invested in. While this is probably true, a well diversified fund would significantly narrow that risk gap. Interested? Over to you! www.ethicalconsumer.org www.eiris.org www.smile.co.uk www.ftse.com/ftse4good www.coopbank.co.uk
I would tell you about the facilities of Wembley Stadium, but in their wisdom, somebody knocked it down. Three years on, and the construction of a brand-new stadium on the site of the old one has commenced. No Twin Towers. No white horse. And no sign of Bobby Moore. So, why do we need a new Wembley? Well, the old one was, simply, pants. My five visits to the Mecca of English football all ended in defeat for my teams (courtesy of David Elleray on two occasions, but that?s another story), but even in the mid eighties this was a stadium on its last legs. The view from 25% of the seating was obstructed, the toilet facilities were inadequate and the parking arrangements around the ground were non-existent. So, the decision was taken to destroy the old stadium, including the historic Twin Towers, and give the nation something to be proud of. We have on offer and under construction a £757m masterpiece which promises to be the best stadium anywhere on the planet. Well, as it will cost twice the amount of new stadia in Cardiff, Paris and Sydney put together, it had better be bloody good! What will it do? Well, it will be primarily a football venue. No room for the greyhounds or speedway that occasionally shared the old stadium. Certainly no room for athletics, as the decision has been taken to get the fans closer to the pitch than at the old stadium. On a point of principle, I support this. I am a football fan, and as such anything that helps build an atmosphere of excitement is a good thing. Huge gaps between supporters and pitches diminish the passion a football ground can generate. The capacity of the new stadium will be 90,000. About time too. This is 12,000 more than the old Wembley. The more people who can attend the big games the better. These 90,000 people will also be able to urinate in the luxury of "more toilets under one roof than any other building in the world". You read it here first! We will get a lovely iconic arc, lighting up the night sky above this centre of English football. Presumably not at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in May though. So, what is wrong with the plan of more seats, closer to the pitch, with a better view for all? My first concern is the corporate market. The interest on the financing of this project will be £40m a year. If interest rates double, the whole project could collapse. To ensure that this is not the case, 17,000 of the seats in this new stadium have already been allocated to the corporate market. In other words, 11 times the old level of 1,500. Effectively reducing the real capacity by 3,500. The corporate market themselves are being asked to pay over £200,000 a year for 20 seats. If you are genuinely interested in watching 5 home England games, the FA Cup and Worthington Cup Final and 3 play off finals, that works out at £1,000 per person per match. Is the market there? Does England v Liechtenstein and Lincoln v Bournemouth mean that much to you and your business? Will your shareholders allow you to increase your cost base and do this? I have, in that 17,000 figure, classed some allocation to individuals who can pay £3,900 to book a ticket for every game for 10 years. Plus an annual fee of £1,350. That totals £17,400 or £174 per match. But your seat is guaranteed! Even if the less exciting fixtures interest you, do you really think that 17,000 people will pay between £174 to £1,000 per game? Anybody who has ever attended an event at Wembley Stadium knows that it is slow going from the end of the M1 in to the heart of Brent. Any London fan who has had to travel to Manchester for an FA Cup semi final will know that railway capacity in this country is also inadequate for moving large numbers of football supporters. So I am amazed that the new Wembley will only have 3,000 parking spaces. In the unlikely event that every ca r has 4 passengers, this still leaves 78,000 people having to get to Wembley by other means. Walking from Merseyside is unlikely (I will avoid any Liverpool jokes at this point). The trains cannot cope and while the underground is handy, the capacity of the tube is not big enough. And do you really envisage the corporates who paid £210,000 a year for their box travelling on the tube alongside proper fans? I don't. They would want to drive (or be driven) and park. I would love a national stadium that the nation can be proud of. I would, despite being from the North, love Wembley to be the home of that stadium, as it looks like being (I simply cannot reconcile the idea of going to Birmingham for the Cup Final if a national stadium was built there). But as ever with this great nation, we have allowed political correctness get in the way of accommodating the motorist. We have set over ambitious targets for the revenue that can be generated by the corporate sector and how many England friendly internationals can attract a full house? The project may build us the stadium. It may indeed be a wonderful place to watch the beautiful game. But, I promise, the finances do not add up and this project will fail. Hopefully after completion of the building work! And with huge losses to the foreign banks financing it. Is this the new Dome? No. I find 22 men running after a ball a lot more interesting. But it is a financial folly.
There are times when I just cannot be bothered to get in the car, drive to the town centre and pay £3.50 to park. The internet is a wonderful invention. Using a link from www.mypoints.co.uk, I have recently made a couple of purchases from WHSmith online. WHAT DO THEY SELL? Books, videos, CDs, DVDs, stationery, computer equipment, printer cartridges etc. This is not an endless list, and the range of stuff they seem to be able to get their hands on is excellent. The CD range appears to be much broader than instore. WHAT WAS I BUYING? Guilt. I have failed in my duties as a step parent. Having nagged the eldest to revise for his GCSEs, which start in two weeks, it finally crossed my mind that (1) he was not paying the slightest attention to what I said and (2) I had not provided any practical support in the way of revision guides. So, with the unenthusiastic teen sat beside me, we ordered a range of revision guides. I also decided to take advantage of the free postage if you spend £39 or more offer and tagged on the first 4 series' of Cold Feet on video for the better half. WHAT OTHER OFFERS WERE ON? All online purchases with WH Smith qualify for double WH Smith Clubcard points - effectively 4% of the transaction amount. Some of the books I ordered were on 20% discount and printer cartridge refills were on a 3 for 2 offer. All the in store offers appear to be available online. HOW DID I FIND WHAT I WANTED? The search engine was the best way and was very good at finding things. It did, however, throw up several possibilities for a copy of the book Kes. The "more detail" option provided only minimal detail and we ended up paying £7.99 for a transcript of the play, rather than the book itself. The lesson I have learned from this is to check out the ISBN number prior to purchase. WHAT ARE THEIR PRICES LIKE? My view is that WH Smith are on the higher side of competitive. Like Boots, they rely on their high street brand and loyalty card to charge at the top end of acceptable. Postage is a flat £2.49 plus, typically, 50p per item ordered. Ordering 5 items would be £4.99. Bulkier items will charge more than an extra 50p. HOW EASY WAS ORDERING? Very easy. You can also permanently register your details, including Clubcard, for future use. The site also indicates the likely timescale for delivery, from available now, to 72 hours, to not really got a clue! Payment is by credit or debit card, including Solo. Payments are only charged to your account on despatch, so while you may submit a £50 order, if items are despatched on different days, your card will be charged each time. eg £20 day one, £17 day 2, £13 day 3. HOW DO I KNOW WHERE MY ORDER IS UP TO? Again, the site makes it easy. You can check progress online and they also send you emails updating you. My only criticism is that my multiple order has arrived in three bundles, the most recent being nearly 14 days after the order was submitted. Having experienced far superior service from Argos, I was disappointed. ANY OTHER INFORMATION? Well, yes. They really piffed me off! The Cold Feet videos were ordered while series 5 was still showing on ITV. The prices varied from a steep £14.99 to £18.99 for each series. The week after the last video set arrived, the prices dropped to £9.99. So I had paid around £28 more than necessary for the set and they refused to refund anything as a gesture of goodwill. So wait for the existing series to end before you order video collections like this! My email exchanges with them were also slow. Often two working days for a reply. Worth considering if you have a major complaint. SUMMARY: Well known name. Wide range of goods. Slow delivery (although this is probably a result of their wi de range and using suppliers for storage). Slightly pricey. Poor customer communication when there is an issue. Annoying postage costs offset by free postage for larger orders. Well run website, although not enough detailed information about individual items. Oh, and use the link from Mypoints as well. With mypoints, Clubcard and cashback credit card, I have knocked about 6.5% off the transaction value. I suspect I will use them again. But not regularly. CONTACT DETAIL: www.whsmith.co.uk www.mypoints.co.uk
I have always been a little bit of a gambler. I am a statistical person by nature. So I was rather keen when www.mypoints.co.uk offered me 750 points to join William Hill online at www.willhill.co.uk. Registration with Hill's was straight forward and simple, as, not surprisingly, was charging £20 to my credit card for my William Hill account. you can actually start with as little as £2 and that gets you as many as 200 bets! Now, at this stage, you should take care. Gambling can be addictive. If you have an addictive personality, I strongly recommend you read and rate this review but do not join any online bookie. If you just fancy an occasional flutter, and can control your spending, this is for you. You can bet on anything. My first bets were on the cricket World Cup. Thanks to a lucky flutter on Kenya to beat Zimbabwe a few weeks back, I still have £28 in my account, an £8 gain! But if you like football, greyhounds, or horses, there is a bet here for you. Rugby. Motor Racing. Irish Lottery. American Football. There is a lot more too! The "specials" of the site currently covers I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. At the time of writing, Phil Tuffnell is the 7/4 favourite, although Linda Barker may be a better price at 7/1. The site will also display odds in decimal form. Eg 7/4 is quoted as 1.75. I prefer the traditional way though. Ah, you want me to explain what 7/1 means! Well, you place your bet. £1 for example. If Linda lets you down, you lose your pound. If she wins, you get £7 plus your stake back, making £8 in total. Stakes are deducted immediately and winnings usually credited within 2 hours of a race or match finishing. You can withdraw either by recrediting your credit card or sending funds to your bank account via the BACS system. While I have not yet taken money out, it should take 3 working days to move from A to B. One excellent feature of the site is the live betting option. In other words, you could be watching an event on telly, in my case football, and you can bet on the outcome of a match after it starts. In other words, if a team is losing with a few minutes left, you can still back them to win and make a massive gain if they do. But I refer you back to the health warning above. Bookmakers make big profits! Out of punters! My £8 gains so far will doubtless be frittered away and certainly will not put this lot out of business. The stability of the site has been excellent. It is maintained up to the minute usually, although in the evenings information is occasionally an hour or so out of date and will advertise events that have finished! Unfortunately, it does not let you bet on those though! Right, what else do you need to know? 1. The minimum bet is 1p. Yes, a single penny! This is fabulous, as I would feel ashamed to bet less than £1 in the shop. Online anonymity for me please! 2. Maximum bets are stipulated depending on the event. A lower division football match usually has a lower maximum than a Premier League game. This presumably helps them to minimise the risk of match fixing! 3. You can bet on a single match, so winnings are not reliant on three or more teams doing as you predict. 4. No tax is deducted from your winnings following one of the decision of Gordon Brown to scrap betting duty last year. 5. William Hill prices are usually competitive. It is rare that Coral or Ladbrokes offer a better price on anything. 6. The online statement facility shows you exactly where you are up to with all your bets. 7. It is easy to pick singles, doubles, trebles, accumulators, Yankees, lucky 15 etc. All multiple bet permutations are available. To the uninitiated, this means that you can bet on, for example, 3 horses in different races. If all 3 win, you have a successful treble. If only 2 win, you lose your money! The advantage o f a treble is that if your 3 winners come in at 3/1, and you stake a pound, your first winner turns £1 in to £4, which becomes your stake for the next horse. £4 turns in to £16. Then £16 turns in to £64. An easy way to make money? Never managed 3 winners myself! 8. Your account balance is always shown at the top of the screen, with the value of all bets place deducted. I am impressed with all the basics of willhill.co.uk. I recommend them to anybody who enjoys a flutter and can manage their spending in this sort of environment.
WHAT ARE THEY: The same as the traditional Cadbury Chocolate Fingers that have been around for donkeys years. With one exception. The biscuit is crunchier. More like a Hob Nob. But the finger shape is still coated in booootiful Cadburys Dairy Milk chocolate. HOW MUCH DO THEY COST: 99p for 30 fingers. Although last night they were on Buy One Get One Free in Tesco. Those bought for family consumption have now all gone. ISN'T CADBURYS CHOCOLATE INFERIOR: Simple answer is no. A couple of years ago the European Commission decided that because Cadburys have a lower cocoa content than other chocolate it should be renamed Breakfast Chocolate. This madness disappeared after never being enforced. For me, Cadbury's make the best choccie in the world. ARE THEY HEALTHY: Of course not. At 25 calories each, made up of 90% fat/carbohydrate, these will do nothing for your health. But they do taste bloody good, and if it is true that chocolate can stimulate the need for sex you will hopefully wear off the calories soon after eating! WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW: They are suitable for the veggies in society and look beautiful when removed from their plastic packet and served out on a plate, concentrically arranged. they tend not to stay on the plate long. I also use them to treat my staff on a good day at the office! Give them a try. You'll like them!
Easter holidays. No money to spend. Kids driving me mad. So, what can entertain them, educate them, and defend the integrity of my pocket? Museum! After a quick discussion around the available options, the Manchester Museum, part of the University complex on Oxford Road, won. The Museum itself benefited from a multi million pound refurbishment a couple of years ago and charges nowt for admission ? one of New Labour?s better decisions since coming to power. The cynic in me would question the value obtained from the refurbishment, but as a source of interest and education, there a few places better in the North of England. The first problem encountered was parking. On previous visits to this part of Manchester, I have always enjoyed using the hospital car park nearby. Unfortunately some carbuncle of a healthcare building has been placed on this location, so a 10 minute drive eventually found a £3 a day nearly full car park 5 minutes walk from the Museum entrance. Inside, we were met by a reception desk but no eye contact. It seems that you should just wander in and start walking round! So, after a quick visit to the gents for the little one, we did just that. The Museum itself is set on 4 floors, with lift access for the disabled and toilet facilities on the two upper levels as well as in the basement. Visitors can take photographs for personal use, but do need to obtain authority for this from the reception. Opening hours can vary, but you can ring 0161 275 2630 for advice. Educational facilities beyond the exhibits are also available but should be arranged prior to visits. So, what is there to see? Ground Floor A display of meteorites, the planets in scale and fossils (big and small) as well as dinosaur skeletons (not on the same scale as the British Museum, but impressive nonetheless). A wide range of rocks and minerals too, from across the UK and beyond. First Floor Mammals. Life size polar bears, lions, tigers, cheetahs. An elephant skeleton. Numerous antelopes. And then, for me, the highlight. Mummies! Many very dead, very real, Egyptian mummies! Those bandages do not half discolour over the centuries. In addition, lots of relics of ancient Egypt tell us about the life and times, with things like tools of pyramid building, sandals etc all taken from real excavations in the Land Of The Pharaoh. Again, nothing as grand a Tutenkhamun, but an impressive collection all the same. You can also explore the inside of a human cell! This is a great piece of fun for the kids, and is far better than anything found inside the ill fated Millenium Dome. Second Floor The birds. Hundreds of our feathered friends from across the world. I could not find any Dodo, which disappointed my five year old who is in love with the Dodo form the film Ice Age, but we did find all sorts of owls, eagles, sparrows etc to look at. The Vivarium and Aquarium house a number a non-poisonous snakes and extremely poisonous frogs. My kids were particularly excited by the boa constrictor! Mediterranean archaeology is also a feature of this floor, tracing mankind back to Greek, Roman and even Phoenician empires. You get information on language and cultural changes across the centuries, as well as the rise and fall of various civilisations. Third Floor Save this until the kids get a little bit fidgety. This is the most interactive part of the visit, allowing kids (and adults) to play with computers, put the insides of a human body together, match up DNA and look at a video of a real live foetus! Oh, and you can also check your pulse rate. This is certainly the modern science part of the visit and is quite good fun too. I do strongly recommend a visit. It was an enjoyable half day for my 3 kids (you could do the Trafford Centre af ter finishing here, or catch a bus down to the Golden mile in Rusholme and pick up a good curry) and I loved it too. If I am to be critical, I would question the value obtai ned by the multi million pound refit and some of the supposedly interactive things were in a poor state of repair, although this was the exception and not the rule. The small shop is best visited prior to leaving, to avoid dragging stuff round with you. Personally, I would not bother. There is little of interest to buy! For a free trip, this could be just what you need! Thank you for reading.
Well, if you can make more than 4% interest on your savings in the current climate you are doing a fine job of managing your money. For the context of the review, with a bank or building society investment, you are effectively lending your money to the bank to lend to someone else to buy a house. It should be as safe as houses. But what are those weird and wonderful bond things that you see in the financial press, advertising returns of 6%, 7% or even 8%! They are Corporate Bonds! Still none the wiser? Well, in short, a Corporate Bond is a loan to a business. Simple as that. You lend a company your money, they invest it in their business (expansion, restructuring, takeover - it's their call), and then repay you with interest. In likelihood, your investment will probably be pooled in a unit trust or investment company and lent to a number of different companies. Sounds good? Well, in certain circumstances it is. But just because something quotes a high rate, does not mean you should start throwing your money at it. Is your investment safe? The answer is safeish. If the company you invest in goes broke, you will lose your money. But if there are remaining assets when a company ceases trading, you get your money back before the shareholders. The company can also default on payment, which creates expense in recovering money owed. In other words, Corporate Bonds are a safer bet than stocks and shares, but a little riskier than an investment in a bank account. Will they make you rich? The simple answer is no. The idea is that this sort of investment will pay you interest, and at the end of the term you get your capital back. The interest paid is higher than that from a bank or building society account. So, £100,000 in the Halifax at 3.5% will pay less than £300 a month, whereas a 6% corporate bond fund will pay £500 a month. You can see how beneficial this would be to a pensioner trying to maximis e their income in the latter years of life. But the value of your initial investment will only grow if you buy in to a corporate bond fund when things are going wrong, and it subsequently recovers. And it could fall. Is it taxable? Well, the income generated is subject to income tax, although you can invest £7,000 per tax year per person (£14,000 for a couple) in an ISA and escape the tax! You can also offset any capital losses against Capital Gains Tax (unless you're capital is invested in an ISA), although you would not expect to make significant losses in the sort of investment. How much does it cost? Well, this varies from plan to plan. There could be initial charges (anything from nothing up to 5%), annual management charges (anything from nothing up to 1.5%) and exit fees if you wish to withdraw capital (anything from nothing up to 5%). Additionally, a plan manager paying a high income (eg 8%) may deduct these fees from the capital, whereas one paying a lower income (eg 5%) may already have deducted the charges, so a 5% advertised return could actually be as good as an 8% advertised return! With pooled investments, the advertised return cannot be guaranteed. This is because each time a new arrangement is made by your fund manager with a company, the rate agreed will be based on that point in time. In other words, a 6% return now could become 6.1% next month and 5.9% the month after. The bigger the fund, the less volatile these changes should be. But the advantage of pooled investment is spreading the risk across a range of businesses. Many funds prefer to pay income quarterly, which should be fine, but make sure it fits with your individual needs. So, why do different Corporate Bonds pay different rates? Well, as well as the different ways of charging investors, there is also the risk profile of the companies lent to. M&G quote 5% for their Gilt & Fixed Interest Fund. Seems a bit average, but because of the exposure to Gilts (a loan to the government, as opposed to a loan to a business) th e investment is safer. Halifax quote 6% for their Corporate Bond fund. They only lend to companies with AAA ratings (companies considered to be financially stronger than the Halifax themselves), so it is a relatively safe investment, but not as safe as M&G. That nice killer from Eastenders who advertises Abbey National, offers us in excess of 7%. A decent return, although achieved with a loans to higher risk companies than the Halifax equivalent. In other words, the higher the return, the higher the risk. The old lesson for savers. If it looks too good, it probably is! Should you have a Corporate Bond? Well, see an independent financial adviser before making any investment decision. Speaking generally, if you need an income with only modest capital risk (usually the older among us) this could be the way forward. Make sure you maximise your ISA allowances each year on it as well. Over 5 years a couple can end up with £70,000 invested tax free, which is not to be sniffed at! If you are saving for the long term and looking to grow a fund for a specific reason, such as pension or school fees, this is probably not the right option. www.halifax.co.uk www.abbeynational.co.uk www.mandg.co.uk There are a large range of providers and the three mentioned here are not necessarily the best. Please feel free to use this article to help form an understanding of Corporate Bonds, but do not make an investment decision because of it. See that IFA!
You can always tell when I have hit writers block. I talk football, current affairs or review an album. I find the latter quite a difficult art, and really admire those who do it well. Chris Rea finished the eighties and started the nineties on a high. The Road To Hell and Auberge were exceptional albums with exceptional sales figures. While not quite as successful commercially, God?s Great Banana Skin shared the same qualities as these two predecessors. If you have never head any Chris Rea material, as well as the shame that should be heaped on to you, I strongly recommend picking up one of his Best Of albums and then moving on to some of this exceptional material. It is a fabulous album for driving to. From the mellow slide guitar opening of NOTHING TO FEAR, released as a 9 minutes single, the references to the way children can see beyond deep religious differences are as valid today as they were 10 years ago. Despite its length, it also made the upper half of the UK charts. MILES IS A CIGARETTE finds the jazz of Mile Davis, triggering thoughts of smoke filled clubs and leading the listener within the song to start smoking again! You may have given up but you are always addicted. The best track on the album is the title track. GOD?S GREAT BANANA SKIN is a classic of our time. As is typical of many Rea songs, it is already lost to modern history, but the wonderful guitars, great lyrics and thumping beat make this a winner. The gist of the song is not to mock those suffering misfortune, as it will one day swing back on you! I also love NINETIES BLUES. At this stage of his career Rea had made noises about releasing a blues album (eventually achieved with Dancing Down The Stony Road in 2002) but never got round to it. He interprets the blues in his own way here, with environmental mentions and a typical bluesy mood. TOO MUCH PRIDE is the best song on the album. Plays on the saying ?pride comes before a fall?, in truth its just a bloody good piece of pop music and was also a minor hit. BOOM BOOM talks about the joys of Fender guitars, ironic given Rea?s own genius with the things! THERE SHE GOES is a cracker. Great song. Great musicianship and remarkably not released as a single, despite having the potential to make good radio in the early part of the nineties. In a world where the ideals of politicians is long gone, I AIN?T THE FOOL picks up the theme of politicians who do it for their own smug satisfaction, not the greater good. I?M READY is a fast moving driving song, not one of the best on this CD, but passable. BLACK DOG was popular with my kids, but I confess to actually fast forwarding through this one to the classic final track. Always keen to write music for film, SOFT TOP HARD SHOULDER was a modestly successful British film of the time, but, above all, a cracking piece of Rea at his best. Great for the car. Great for the home. It is a driving song above all, and one of my favourite ever Chris Rea songs. The album is made with excellent musical support from Max Middleton, Martin Ditcham and Robert Ahwaii, and is a cracker. Enjoy it.
It is nearly local election time again. Despite people dying to give us the right, it is anticipated that as many as 75% of those eligible to vote will fail to do so. So, what is on offer from the parties locally in 2003? It is likely that you have a Labour candidate. Labour is the party of local government. They have dominated urban councils for 20 years. As well as the wilder side of politics in the eighties (Derek Hatton in Liverpool and Ken Livingstone in London), you have probably just experienced a massive rise in your council tax. Strangely, the biggest rises tend to be in southern areas where there are fewer labour councils, but even in their northern heartlands rises 3 or 4 times the rate of inflation have just been implemented. As a direct result of the Labour Government. I am yet to see any evidence of local services improving, despite successive rises in excess of inflation. The Liberal Democrats are a popular lot at local election time. Their influence in the town halls has become significant of late. They wriggle their way in to school governor roles and are probably the main torch carriers of the increasingly ridiculous politically correct world that we live in. They actually run my local authority which has seen huge rises in spending with zero improvements in service. The cost of running the council itself has doubled, as allowances and committee meetings have rocketed. They love a committee. The chance to vote on putting road humps and double yellow lines on an estate that doesn't want them is a favourite past time of the locally active Liberal. It is amazing how you always get their "regular" Focus newsletter in April every year, but never at any other time! And their total failure to improve recycling locally, despite promises made, switches me off. Conservatives. Getting stronger in local representation, but only because what used to be their natural power base has died as their me mbership has aged, so they are improving from a low base. If I actually knew what the Conservatives stood for these days, I might actually consider voting for them. But internal division, a hint of smugness and a complete lack of presence locally make them a difficult horse to back. The nation needs a strong opposition in Parliament and a worthwhile alternative locally. No sign yet. Green. They once commanded 15% of the vote in Euro elections, but the Greens have become a fairly insignificant lot again since. One Manchester candidate is called Elvis Aaron Presley. Supporting the notion that they are a bunch of loons. While a lot of Green politics is eminently sensible (reducing household waste, encouraging use of bicycles), it then also touches on the ridiculous, almost suggesting we should go back to the Stone Age industrially. A mainstream party that genuinely embraces some of the more sensible Green policies could well become the successful political party of the 21st Century. Little practical evidence from any of them yet. British National Party. Read any of their literature (they regrettably are active locally, so I do) and they will produce a brilliant piece of work pointing out the wasteful and politically correct work done by your locally elected representatives. They will show you how your local council has acted in the name of the minority, and totally ignored the basic services they are meant to deliver to the majority. In many of these cases, they are totally right. But then read between the lines. They are pulling on strings that they know will irritate the silent majority in to voting against the mainstream. They are twisting reality; just a tiny bit, to wind you up. It is clever. But it is also dangerous. My town was hit by rioting a couple of years ago. Stirred up by the BNP and other agitators. They are a nasty, insidious lot, feeding off peoples' weaknesses to whip up racial hatred. Our mainstream parties need to find the strength to deal with the genuine issues, to ensure that the BNP disappears from politics forever. So there you have it. It is a poor choice. I urge you to vote anyway. Who for? You decide. But by exercising your right to vote you may actually strengthen the resolve of local politicians to act in your interests, instead of pocketing their fat allowances and pursuing irrelevant agendas that benefit nobody. And you may jolt national politicians in to raising their performance because, at the end of the day, these people represent YOU.
Just in case what I have written below gives you the wrong impression, I believe in taxation. The state raising money for the greater good of the nation is a good thing. Unfortunately, in many cases, I am a believer that given choice, incentive and opportunity, most people will spend their money in a way that is usually more cost effective than state spending. In other words, the state should provide a basic infrastructure (well funded schools, hospitals etc not blighted by political interference), while giving the people a freedom to think, choose and spend in a way that they see fit. If we want the Iraqi people to have this, we should want it for ourselves too! An article in the Daily Mail reminded me just how many ridiculous taxes we have. While I have not deliberately "stolen" the article, it was chillingly accurate in reflecting my own thoughts. 1. INHERITENCE TAX. The fabulous concept that if you die, and your estate is worth more than £250,000, the government should receive 40% of it. An easy take for the Treasury. One that actually costs more to administer than it raises in revenue though. It has the added advantage of, in many cases, forcing people to sell the family business when a loved one dies, to pay the bill! In other words, it costs jobs. And should the children really have to raise loans to pay the bill before they can sell the home that caused the tax? 2. CAPITAL GAINS TAX. Yes, if you make a profit on the sale of something (usually shares when the market is buoyant) the state takes 40%! You earn your money; you pay income tax and invest your money. You then are clobbered again for being enterprising or investing in enterprise. Madness. Another tax that costs the nation more than it raises. 3. ISA TAX. If you have invested in a stocks and shares ISA, you would expect it to be tax-free. Wrong. The Treasury taxes income generated by your shares at 20%. This is only a ta x break for higher rate taxpayers. The complexity of ISA rules frightens people off saving anyway! 4. STAMP DUTY ON PROPERTY. As if moving house is not already expensive enough, the 1% tax on buying a house is a killer. This rises to 5% for properties over £500,000. Mobility of labour is a key component of a successful economy. Taxing mobility stifles growth. That statement should be considered when traffic authorities consider congestion charges. Interestingly, the Inland Revenue made a perfectly legal lease back deal with an overseas company on its own office buildings. This meant they avoided paying £millions in stamp duty. 5. STAMP DUTY ON SHARES. You may only occasionally buy or sell shares. So, a 0.5% tax means nothing to you. Actually, an average earner will pay £8,000 during his lifetime. Through endowment policies, pension funds and supposedly tax free ISAs. Its abolishment has been announced by two Chancellors, but never actually enacted. Most overseas markets do not charge this. Not surprisingly, London has a reducing share of international share trades and thousands of jobs have gone in the City. Not all of them on excessive bonuses! Strangely, share purchases in foreign firms are exempt, directly encouraging British people to invest outside the UK! 6. PENSION FUND TAX. Despite the fear of an ageing population crippling the state within a generation, the current Government has openly chosen to take money out of the existing workers pension funds and pay it directly to todays pensioners. My retired Dad earns £20,000 a year, but he too receives fuel allowances and full pension increases. Meanwhile, employers have made a decision to pass retirement responsibility back to the state, by closing final salary schemes up and down the country. Talk about storing up a massive problem for tomorrow, when Brown and Blair will be long gone. 7. AIR PASSENGER TAX. Yes, if you choose to go on holiday, you wil l get charged £20 each in tax for flying. £100 for a family of five. Plus, tax at 17.5% on travel insurance. This is not what the airline industry needs in the current climate! 8. HEALTH INSURANCE TAX. If an employer chooses to provide private health cover for an employee and their family, the state will collect a tax of 22% or 40% on the cost. Perhaps as much as £200. Surely, it would make sense to incentivise employers and employees to arrange such health care privately, freeing up the NHS to deliver at the point of contact. But do not tax it. 9. INSURANCE PREMIUM TAX. Insure your home and contents against theft, because the government ties the police up with red tape, and you are taxed for it. Insure your car, you are taxed. Insure your health to allow you to meet loan payments if you are ill, they tax you. Insure your income against unemployment, they will tax you. 10. SAVINGS TAX. Earn your money. Pop it in the Halifax. Get a little bit of interest. Pay tax on it. BUT I ALREADY PAID TAX WHEN I EARNED IT!!! This is a ridiculous tax on the elderly. It hurts them the most. It penalises those who have saved for their retirement and should be abolished. God forbid the Government should encourage savings! Many of these taxes disincentivise the economy as a whole. Therefore, while they are seen by the Treasury to raise money, you cannot measure the lost VAT and Income Tax that would have been paid if these taxes did not exist. While aimed at the rich, clever accounting moves can mean the wealthy avoid many of these taxes, but Mr Middle Class policeman, married to Mrs Middle Class nurse end up paying the full whack. Perhaps if we did not have such waste across our education services, health services and, in particular, local authorities, all 10 of these taxes could be scrapped. www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk
Now, I am an occasional online shopper. Not because I do not trust the net. Merely a phobia of paying delivery charges. Anyway, I recently changed workplaces and, as manager of a new office, have tried to improve morale among my downtrodden colleagues. I do not usually pay much attention to staff rooms. No time for breaks in the heady world of big business. But on a rare excursion to find a missing person, I noticed a kitchen area with no toaster, chipped plates and mugs and precious little cutlery. Not exactly fitting in with my principles of looking after my staff. Action needed. What do I do? Delegate? No, a risk of delay and excessive cost. Sort it myself? Well, I am on a training course for a week, so I will not get time! Then, a moment of inspiration! If my beloved employer is paying, do I care about postage charges? No! So, the simple solution sprung to mind. Argos. Online. While I have never been particularly thrilled by Argos on the high street, they do have a habit of stocking just about anything the typical household could need. So, despite a promise to Mrs Opinions4u not to bring work home, on getting home I spent 10 minutes solving this problem. I logged on to www.mypoints.co.uk and the link for www.argos.co.uk. The search facility is excellent. Key in the word TOASTER and 39 toasters will appear. You can sort by price and this identified the cheapest as £6.99 or £9.99 for a four-slice model. £119.99 for the top of the range model!!! Be a devil, I thought. Clicking on "Add to shopping list" I added the four slice to a shopping list. 30 seconds. £9.99. Cutlery. We do not need a lot and a silver service is certainly not needed. £3.99 bought a basic 24-piece stainless steel set. Not particularly pretty, but clean, new and functionary. A 24-piece dinner service. Some glasses. Some mugs. A few other frilly bits. Overall, my bill added up to around £37 with a £3.95 delivery charge. Just within the expense cost I am empowered for!! I then had to register my details, on a secured (padlocked) part of the site, including a basic password, address and credit card information. A very comfortable "delivery address" option allowed me to key the office in for delivery, saving me the need to carry lots of heavy equipment from home to work. The order was submitted on a Monday night. Delivery was made early on Wednesday morning. I think this is fabulous service. So did the guys I manage!! I also earned 80 mypoints (worth around 60p) and used my cashback credit card to pay with, so for stocking up the office I am also £1 better off myself! My Argos.co.uk experience is a good one. Easy to use website. Minimal data collection to make a purchase. 3rd party delivery address and rapid delivery without excessive additional charges. Personally, this one experience is a first class one. The available range of products is wide and varied. While I have not had to return items or contact them by phone, I would fully recommend what I have seen so far. This is what online shopping should be!