Posts Tagged ‘government’

Today I finally read through the Nyberg Report on the cause of the banking crisis in Ireland. The report was released recently but doesn’t really contain anything that someone with a brain and a heartbeat didn’t already know. Hence I will not rehash the content as there are legions in Ireland already doing so.

Playing the blame game seems to be de riguer at the moment, we’re all frantically pointing the finger in a desperate attempt to assign blame to some faceless party for the mess we are in. It’s the bankers, the government, the developers, the regulator, the media, foreign banks, the EU, the ECB, Lehman Brothers who are at fault. However what you rarely will hear is that we the people living in Ireland (or at least the majority) are just as much at fault. Yes we had banks with unhealthy lending practices and we had a government who not only failed to prevent a crisis but who actually encouraged unsound financial practices but we also had people buying 1, 2, 3, 4 and more houses at inflated prices, we had people taking out 2nd & 3rd mortgages on the same property, we had the frenzy of buying a new car every time the year changed. We had people from lower & middle-income classes taking multiple foreign holidays. We had designer kitchens, designer luggage, designer clothing and designer weddings. We even had designer pets and designer pet accessories. Most of us basically went mad.

Allthis was paid for with borrowed money. Not our own borrowed money but money that our banks borrowed abroad without actually applying logic to the feasibility of ever being able to repay it. And when the economic shit hit the financial fan we were way up the proverbial creek with not a paddle in sight.

However while reading the Nyberg report there was a paragraph on page 116 that really put the frighteners up me;

The result, as shown by the crisis itself, was that no effective brake on risk-taking existed for years.
It does not appear wholly unfair to propose that this is what may happen also in the future if
and when another new financial or banking paradigm appears. Many of the very reforms that
recently have been undertaken, at short notice, to shore up the functioning of the present
financial system could turn out, once again, to be ineffective.

And there you go. In spite of all the talking, report, and the endless stream of Primetime, Frontline, Vincent Browne broadcasts we have learned nothing….

 

There has been much mention of the term “parish-pump politics” or parochialism in the last week since the publication of the Moriarty report. I wrote on my opinion on this report earlier this week. PoliticsDairy.com give a very plain description: “local politics concerning only minor or local issues”. However the popular (critical) definition refers to the type of politician who gets elected on to the national government on a record of achievement in local issues. It’s the type of politician who you go to when you need the streetlights outside your house fixed, when you’ve been on the waiting list for the local hospital for ages, the guys who gets a grant for the local school etc. Basically he’s the “go-to guy” in your constituency if you need anything done.

However this style of politics is coming under an increasing amount of criticism. Most of this has come recently after the release of the finding of judge Moriarty alleging that Deputy Michael Lowry was guilty of corruption while being minister of communications while the 2nd Irish mobile phone license was awarded. Now this is *not* parish-pump politics, it’s corruption plain and simple. Where parish-pump politics come into play is by the tolerance of Lowry’s action by a core of local supporters who basically state that he’s a great guy because of all the things he has done for his constituents. Never mind that he might have enriched himself a bit along the way. All this is causing huge amounts of anger and emotion at both sides of the divide and is followed by the usual knee-jerk reactions. I’ll try to create some clarity by breaking my position down in a few points:

  1. If the national government and all its departments & services were working correctly and to their full capacity there would be no need for someone fast-track the repairs for your road, your surgery at the hospital, your planning application and whatnot. By creating or maintaining an unequal or faulty system of government and services the Irish government has created an environment where this type of backroom favouritism can flourish. It allows people to achieve Godfather like status in their community by “getting things done”. Fix the system and you will eradicate the corruptness.
  2. In an equitable & functioning system of government there is a place for the healthy form of parish-pump politics. The presence of a “person of power” in your community who will “kick ass” when things are not being done the way they should is a welcome thing. We should not eradicate parish-pump politics we just need to fix it.
  3. “Parish-pump politics should stay in the parish” ; we should stop rewarding people for their achievements at a local (constituency) level by giving them a place in the national government. There are very distinct differences between politics at a local level and politics at a national & international level. The former is very much an operational affair. It’s about getting things done, finances and services. National & International politics operate on a much higher level. It’s about making laws, economic and financial planning, it’s about the county’s place in the world and more of that “abstract thinking stuff”. Sending really efficient & competent local politicians to the Leinster house is wrong for two reasons. Firstly it presents them with a list of task and requires a level of thinking that they are unused and/or unqualified for. Secondly it gives them less time to do what they’re good at: dealing with local matters. Would you send a really good brain-surgeon to run a hospital? Probably not. He/she might not be very qualified at the various (non-medical) tasks required to run the hospital efficiently and secondly you would need to find another shit-hot brain-surgeon to replace the one that you just promoted.

So how do we fix the current system that is clearly faulty and creating an environment primed for corruption. We need a two-tier government. Create a level of local government at county or constituency level and let that be run by the kings & queens of parish-pump politics and parochialism. Make them directly elected so that the most efficient of them gets elected. A local government with more powers will also place more responsibility at local level and will allow the people of their country to hold an elected representative directly responsible.

Next get rid of the current mickey mouse electoral system for national elections, introduce a proper list system and make the party whip illegal. That way we ensure that the houses of government are full of the smartest people with no other agenda than what is the best for the country. And that’s irrespective of what side of the political divide they are from. Removing the party whip will also allow for discourse and internal criticism within the parties making sure that party leaders are constantly kept in check.

Really it’s time for grown up politics in Ireland….

The Irish Governments Innovation TaskForce Report was published last week. I had a read through the summary yesterday as I just do not have the time to read through the full 132 pages of the report. Now overall I am quite pleased with the report. It contains some good suggestions, seems to identify most of the issues that need attention and contains very little “stoopid stuff”. Not surprisingly the Task Force contained a good few quality people from the private sector to keep the bureaucrats in check and to give them the occasional good kicking.

Anyway I have a few comments on the content of the report:

  • The buzzword is obviously “INNOVATION” and rightly so. a lot of the current economic, financial and governmental thinking in this country (and globally) is rotten and failed. We need something fresh to lift us out of the doldrums of this recessions. However it is important to realise that innovation can *not* be created, structured or manufactured. Innovation can only be stimulated by creating the right environment and putting an infra-structure and system in place that enables innovation and that rewards it.
  • The report clearly identifies the need to stimulate and encourage companies and ventures that are “Irish headquartered and owned”. For the last few decades there has been an overdependence on FDI which more often than not led to foreign-owned companies setting up business in Ireland purely because of tax breaks, cheap labour and/or grants. The second any of these factors disappeared these companies would move to cheaper countries with lower costs. The move by Dell to Lodz, Poland is a prime example of this. Our EU membership as well as the constant expansion of the EU into “cheaper countries” will only facilitate this. Companies that are Irish owned will not be as quick to make this move and are more likely to knuckle down and fight their way through a recession.
  • It also clearly identifies the need for more and “better” risk capital. While I agree with this I would include the caveat that we need more early stage investment rather than “series B”  level investment. Relatively small amounts of funding ( +/- 50k) combined with a simple and short application process will do wonders for stimulating growth of ideas into a viable start-up. Once these viable start-ups are in place funding will “show up” there are enough private and institutional investors constantly prowling for a good opportunity. Also past the seed/angel funding stage it is more important for the government to provide a good infra-structure and access to knowledge than to provide further funding.
  • The report suggests that Ireland should “brand itself as an innovation hub”. Now while I agree that establishing an “innovation hub” would be a good thing I also think that the branding should come *after* the establishing a suitable environment and infra-structure rather than prior. Branding is mostly “smoke and mirrors” and we need actual tangible assets to create an “innovation hub”.
  • It suggest using public procurement to stimulate the development of “innovative solutions”. There are two sides to this; While this is a great way to use public spending as a direct stimulus it also has the drawback that innovation is inherently “dangerous” & risky. Innovation lacks stability. Using public funds to procure services or goods that require a certain level of performance and accountability excludes it as a means of stimulating innovation. By all means put a directive in place that more public procurement funds have to go to SME’s but I don’t think that there is a fit with innovation here.
  • “a sea change in attitudes – in public and private sectors – towards innovation and entrepreneurship, to recognise that they involve risk, and occasionally result in failure” This is a really good point and one that is often overlooked. While in some other countries it is accepted that the road to success is sometimes paved with failures in Ireland the consensus is still quite often that a failed venture is a personal failure. Nothing is less true. The saying “there is no such thing as failure, there is only the failure to get back up” still goes in my opinion. Learn from your mistakes and use them to improve your next venture! The suggestion in the report that Ireland’s’ personal bankruptcy legislation needs to be reformed is only a small step in that process.
  • A substantial part of the report deals with Intellectual Property. This is indeed a “hot” area and in my experience there is a huge under-used resource there. Most 3rd level educational institutes have a wealth of IP resulting out of academic research that is just gathering dust. The institutes themselves are quite often to rigid and protective to release this IP and VC for instance have no interest in identify in it as an opportunity. Smart teams of entrepreneurs should access (and are in some cases) this IP and use it as a basis for a venture. Again; you do not need to “own” the idea that a venture is based on. Just be the best and first to market it.
  • “we strongly support placement schemes in companies for both graduates and undergraduates”: Another very valid point. I am actually working with a number of educational institutes to get graduates & undergraduates involved in some of the start-ups that are going through the Greenhouse Incubator process. This has benefits for both parties; the start-ups have access to knowledge (and manpower) needed to get their venture of the ground and the graduates gain valid real life experience (and possibly a job if the venture is succesful). To many graduates exit our educational institutes without the slightest bit of knowledge of the “working environment”.
  • The need for broadband is mentioned again. This crops up again and again but we still do not have it. Why?
  • My last comment is that while this is a good report it is mainly filled with “what’s & when’s”. How about creating a document that deals with the “how”? Let’s work out a time-line and a set of actionables? How are we going to achieve is the next pressing issue. It’s time to end the workgroups, committees and task-forces and start transiting to action and deeds.

T-shirt-I-don't-care-785391

In case you hadn’t noticed; the world is in the middle of a economic recession.

Also if you hadn’t noticed: Ireland is being hit worse by our over reliance on the property industry.

Lastly if you hadn’t noticed: our politicians across the board are being quoted left right and centre on how they want to combat the recession and create new employment.

So being the kind of person that I am I decided in January to do my bit and open a start up incubator called “The GreenHouse“. Great initiative aimed at actually creating employment through the establishment of new companies. The project has come ahead in leaps and bounds and has received lots of support from the private sector. But interest or support from the public sector has been close to zero in spite of all the talking heads on TV and in the paper saying how “something needs to be done”.

So 11 days ago today I sent an email to all Limerick County Councillors, Limerick based TD’s and other local politicians. The email went as follows:

“Dear XXXXXX,

I’ve read your recent comments on the growing unemployment in Limerick and I agree that it’s time that something is done.

Unfortunately there are is too much talking going on and not enough action.

The assigned task force is only due to release its first report over the next few weeks and Tus Nua and other so-called work groups have not progressed beyond discussions and information sharing.

It seems that the Greenhouse Incubator that I have set up is the only initiative that has taken any concrete steps towards creating actual employment.

I’ve started the Greenhouse initiative in January after Dell announced its first redundancies.

The aim is to put people with a business idea through a 6-month incubation cycle. The Greenhouse will develop their idea into a fully formed business with all the “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, looking after incorporation, finances, patents & intellectual property, R&D, marketing etc.

At the end of this 6-month cycle the start up will be ready for further investment and expansion and we will assist them with this also.

And now for the real “surprise”: the Greenhouse does NOT charge for this! Instead of this we take a small equity stake in the start up (typically between 2 -10 %). This also ensures our continued commitment as we will only be viable if our “graduates” are successful in the long term.

We can accommodate 20 people in every 6-month cycle which basically means that twice a year we will take 20 people of welfare and help them to create jobs for themselves and others. Rough indications are that this will result in 100 new jobs every year at a minimum!

Our progress has been nothing but stunning as we are run on no-budget at the moment, just myself, my time and all the moral & material support I can get.

I think that it’s now time for Limerick County Council, it’s councillors, TD’s and business community to actively support the Greenhouse.

It is time for action not words!

I therefore suggest that we meet to discuss how you can support us helping the people of Limerick.

Regards, Evert Bopp.

Founder, The GreenHouse”


Number of emails sent: 38 Total feedback so far: 3 emails.

varadkar

Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael Enterprise Spokesman) who could recently be seen on Oireachtas report questioning the head of Enterprise Ireland on how much they had really done to create jobs replied by telling me: “my best advice would be contact the Limerick-based TDs and Senators“. Well Leo, your “best advice” sucks, stop passing the buck and actually do something yourself.

peter power

Peter Power replied advising me that: “The Minister apologises that he was unable to attend your recent Public Meeting due to Official Department commitments but would be most anxious to meet with you at a convenient time. We will be in touch with you shortly to arrange a time that is suitable.”” Interesting point is that we did not have a public meeting recently. Also they have not been in touch since that email so obviously the ministers anxiousness is relative…

willie

But the real price goes to Willie O’Dea. Willie who cancelled a previously arranged meeting at the last moment several months ago. He had his office contact me last Monday to arrange a meeting. Where did he want to meet me? In a pub! Only in Ireland.

Anyway I was told to make myself available at the Windmill bar on Henry street in Limerick at 5 pm on Friday. So of I went and took my place at the bar at 5 o’clock on the dot. Did Willie O’Dea show up? Did he hell! I sat there, like the gobshite that the collective Irish population gets treated as, for two hours without a sign or a word from the minister or his office.

Two hours wasted! Two hours that I could have been working trying to create jobs or that I could have spent with my family. Two hours that I could have spent in a multitude of ways without being made to feel like an ass!

windmill

Besides the personal insult in being stood up like this it just again clearly indicates the total disregard for public opinion amongst the political establishment. They feel that they’re untouchable, do not have to consider the needs and wishes of the electorate and have obviously completely forgotten who pays their wages and what the definition of “civil servant” is.

On my return I tried contacting the minister on a few of the numbers on his website to leave a “friendly message”. The 061/454488 number just rings out and hasn’t even got a voicemail facility. And the “lo-call” number listed rings straight into the Department of Defence. Obviously only to be used to report an invasion.

So there you go people of Ireland: the political establishment couldn’t care less!

You’re buggered, but we’re fine so please leave us alone.

gravy train

But don’t get me wrong, the Greenhouse is going full steam ahead and will open it’s doors next month. The political establishment has however (again) missed the boat…