19 July 2011


The Tory backbencher, Nick Boles, who lost his cool when Harriet Harman kept interrupting him on BBC Newsnight on 18th July, then uttered a phrase that will come to haunt him, when he described the hacking and police bribery scandals as "a little local difficulty". The revelation that Millie Dowler's phone messages were hacked and some deleted, potentially destroying evidence and giving her parents false hope that she might still be alive, was absolutely vomit-making. I hope that those responsible are prosecuted to the furthest extent that the law will allow. The occasional bent copper taking money for a tip-off? That seems as surprising as the information that bears defecate in the woods.

But when you think about the global issues facing the Government, such as the possible collapse of the euro, Libya, Afghanistan, the recession, the debt, you can see where Boles was coming from with his ill-judged comment.

Harman is following the Labour plan of conflating issues to cause as much noise and confusion as possible around these scandals, on the basis that making noise now will make life uncomfortable for the Government, and hoping that people have short memories and will forget that this mess started on Labour's watch. They have a clear strategy to set a trap for Cameron by demanding an apology for appointing Coulson. If he apologises, he'll be seen as following a lead given by Milliband, if he doesn't then Labour can keep on and on suggesting that Cameron doesn't "get it". The ball is rolling on the enquiries and these should be allowed to run their course.

04 July 2011

EHIC - passing off?

She Who Must Be Obeyed asked me to renew our E111 European health insurance forms today, and I knew that these have been replaced by something new.  I used Google and found e111-nhs.org and nhs-ehic.org.  The first is a site with Universal Check Services and seems to cost £14.99 per application.  It mentions at the bottom of the form that it has no affiliation with the NHS, Department of Health or any other official Government body.  The second also admits that it has no connection with any Government department, and seems to charge £8.99 per application.  There's another one - e111.org.uk, but at least this doesn't use NHS in its web site name.

Now, all of them are offering a service of 'checking' your application, but the online or telephone application service is simple, free and connects directly to the people who will actually process your application.  All you need is your name, address and a permanent (not temporary 'TN') National Insurance number.  It will even work out your proper address from your house number/name and postcode.  The National Health Service Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) EHIC site is at https://www.ehic.org.uk/Internet/home.do.

I don't think that the 'checking' services should be allowed to use NHS in their web site names.  To me there's a nasty niff of 'passing off'  of their sites as something official, and could catch out people who are short of time or patience to read the small print.  How dumb do you have to be to need someone else to check your name, address and NI number?   Of course, our lawmakers and Google encourage this by allowing the sites to place their ads at the top of the search results, instead of excluding them altogether.  Regrettable - either Her Majesty's Government or Google could stop this practice dead in its tracks.

Zopa UK - a little less P2P

I felt a little sad that the peer to peer (P2P) lending site, Zopa UK, has decided to stop offering Zopa Listings.  This facility allowed individual borrowers to pitch to the Zopa lending community for backing for their individual needs, instead of having to convince the people who evaluate loan applications through the standardised Zopa Markets process.  It let the lenders make their own judgments about the rates and amounts at which they would be prepared to lend.

As the loans were filled Dutch auction-style, it was possible to end up with what seemed like a very acceptable rate as a lender, and the borrower could always decline if the overall net rate was too high.   Having said that, the predicted default rates in the Listings looked higher to me, and it's possible that some of these will turn out to be a case of  'a fool and his money... '.  Maybe these loans were high risk investments which weren't being priced correctly by the auction process.

I suppose it's a completely justifiable business decision, but it takes a little bit of the sport out of the game which becomes a little less P2P as a result.  Zopa Markets provide a more controlled way to lend. I  went there because of my frustration with the deposit rate I could get from a high street bank.   It may not be the thing for widows and orphans; only time will tell how good an investment this is, but so far, I seem to be ahead of the high street rates.  If you want to try it, the graphic below has a link (health warning: this includes a little incentive for me if you lend enough after signing up from here)