A BRISTOL CULTURE-VULTURE?

For a year or two I’ve been sending out an occasional “culture-vultures’ bulletin” by e-mail, to my Bristol-based friends. My aim has been to flag up just a few upcoming (is that a word?) events that I fancy, from the impossibly wide selection of things going on in this lively city. There is nothing scientific or even systematic in my selection; just things that have caught my eye.

Here’s a recent and cut-down sample from my bulletin.

JUNE

24-26: Foodies Festival. Bristol Harbourside. http://www.foodiesfestival.com/bristol/

24: “The Opera Picnic”. All Saints, Clifton, Bristol, 6:30. Ffi Andrew Morgan, Hollis Morgan, 0117 973 6565

24: Mozart Requiem etc., Bath Choral Society. Bath Abbey, 7:30. http://www.bath-choral-society.org.uk/index.php?page=mozart-requiem

25: Andy Sheppard vs Moscow Drug Club. St George’s Bristol, 8 pm http://www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/

30: RWA fundraising event, “Midsummer Magic”. Royal West of England Academy, Queens Rd, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1PX. 7.30 pm. www.rwa.org.uk

30 (till 2 July): “Romeo & Juliet”, GB Theatre Co. Blaise Castle, Henbury, Bristol. www.gbtheatre.com/blaisecastle_bristol.html

JULY

29-31: Bristol Harbour Festival. www.bristolharbourfestival.co.uk/

AUG

11-14: International Balloon Fiesta, Ashton Court, Bristol. www.bristolballoonfiesta.co.uk/

SEPT

11-12:   “Telling Tales of Drunkenness & Cruelty.” Tony Rowlands, with the Henri Passat Band featuring Madeleine MacMahon. Brewery Theatre, 291 North Street, Bristol BS3 1JP. http://tobaccofactorytheatre.com/visit/directions/

ALEC SALMOND TALKS ON FOOTBALL AND BOOZE

A few days ago I was listening to an interview with Scotland’s First Minister Alec Salmond on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 June). The topic – and I was most impressed with what Salmond said – was the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle both alcohol abuse in general and the sectarian violence that’s recently been in the news associated with Scottish football.

On the alcohol question, I was less impressed with interviewer Jenni Murray’s suggestion: “but surely (the classic interviewer’s knee-jerk) the Scottish economy depends on the whisky industry”, or words to that effect. Salmond countered by saying that whisky wasn’t the main issue in Scotland, in his view; his primary concern seemed to be with binge drinking among the young, therefore less to do with whisky and more to do with cut-price supermarket vodka, cider and high-strength beers, as in England.

Drinking north and south of the border

By the way, Salmond said “we drink more per head (10%, was it? I can’t recall) than you do in England, and you drink too much.” That last throwaway line “ … and you drink too much”  I might have ignored, if said by your average teetotal hellfire preacher; but said with a smile (this was radio, but I can tell) by someone as humorous as Salmond is known to be – a man that I’ll wager likes a drink or two himself – it was OK by me. As G K Chesterton said: “humour gets in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling with the door-handle”. Or words to that effect.

Whisky exports

Going back to the health of the whisky industry (financial health, that is): it wasn’t mentioned but I’d always assumed its success was based largely on exports, not on sales in Scotland. I have in fact heard that Venezuelans often claim to drink more Scotch than the Scots.

Domestic violence links

Salmond mentioned the increased incidence of domestic violence connected with both alcohol and football (especially after the combination that occurs after so-called “Old Firm” matches between Celtic and Rangers). He referred to a scheme they have in Scotland to try and address the problem of domestic violence in general; it’s called the Caledonian System.

Questioning this connection, Jenni Murray said (I can’t recall if she might well have prefaced it with “but surely …”) that the organisation Scottish Women’s Aid have stated there is no link between football, alcohol and domestic violence and that it’s purely a matter of attitudes. Salmond disagreed; and from police statistics I’ve read in the past I would have disagreed too, if they’d asked me.

Want to know more?

… about the Caledonian System: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Equality/violence-women/CaledonianSystem

Michael J MacMahon, Bristol, UK

e-mail michael.43@blueyonder.co.uk

Book: www.back-to-the-black.com

Voice: www.uk.voicespro.com/view.php?uid=358656

DOMESTIC RING-FENCING?

I heard an interesting discussion on the radio yesterday (BBC Radio 4 but I can’t recall which programme). The topic was the massive increases in retail prices for domestic energy, Scottish Power proudly leading the way with a planned 19% hike in domestic gas prices. (Have you ever heard of a 19% drop from any energy provider when wholesale gas prices are falling? Answers on a postcard, please.)

This news has led to predictions of widespread hardship next winter for those older people for whom energy costs are a major proportion of their budget; thus the discussion turned to the annual Winter Fuel Payment, which here in the UK will be £200 for winter 2011/12 (unless you are over 80, when it’ll be £300).

To put that allowance in perspective, the predicted energy price hike is expected to add around £175 to average annual bills for Scottish Power’s 2.4m customers; and up to £300 extra as a UK average, according to an industry commentator, when other energy companies follow suit.

Benefit used for its intended purpose? Discuss.

A contributor to the programme said “studies have shown” that in general the Winter Fuel Payment is in fact used to buy energy; 40% of recipients use it for the purpose intended. As this is the predominant use of the benefit, the measure is seen as appropriately targeted.

This made me wonder: “how do they know?” These days the payments will predominantly, if not totally, be by cheque or bank payment. So the money goes in to a bank account. It comes out to pay for … what? The concept of ring-fencing in domestic economy only means something for the minority of people who do regular and accurate budgets and cash-flow forecasts.

The alternative: they asked people through an opinion poll. Fine … but if you were in receipt of this fuel benefit and wanted to hold on to it; and then a pollster came to your door or your telephone and asked for what purpose you’d spent the money … would you admit it was for drink or drugs or gambling or going to football or a few dinners out?

Have I missed something? If not, I rest my case, m’lud.

DEBTORS IN DANGER FROM DMP FIRMS, SAYS OFT


A BBC investigation has found that some debt management companies have been holding on to clients’ cash rather than paying it to creditors, The practice has left many debtors thousands of pounds worse off and facing financial ruin.

If a firm goes out of business and client funds have not been kept in a protected account, some or all of the money is likely to be lost and the debtor becomes liable for the shortfall.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has condemned the practice as “totally unacceptable” and has promised a crackdown.

Repossession order

One couple mentioned in the report had to put their house on the market and could face repossession, after responding to a cold-call from a debt management company and taking out a Debt Management Plan or DMP.

That company, Global Debt Solutions, based in Bolton, offered to arrange a repayment plan for £40,000 of credit card debt and loans. However, after having made payments to Global Debt Solutions for several months, the couple found the money was not being handed over to creditors.

Those creditors have successfully taken the couple to court, so they now have County Court Judgements against them. They’ll also have to go to court on their mortgage, so their debt problems have got far worse instead of being solved. It could soon be at a point where they’ll lose their home.

A widespread practice?

Global Debt Solutions, later known as 3 Step Finance, has been shut down by the Insolvency Service, which found that it did not monitor payments properly.

However, it has emerged that other companies have adopted the same tactic of accepting money from people in debt and not passing it on to creditors.

OFT action

A debtor taking out a DMP with a company using this tactic runs a real risk that the company might fail while the funds are in its account.

David Fisher from the Office of Fair Trading is promising action. “We regard the practice as unacceptable,” he warns. “Where we have evidence we will remove a company’s consumer credit licence, which means it cannot operate.

“We will also next month (i.e. June 2011) be issuing stronger rules for the entire sector, which explain what we expect of them.”

That is welcome news but sadly it is already too late for those debtors who are already dealing, or will soon be dealing, with a repossession order for their home.

Conclusion: take impartial advice

I conclude by saying what I always say: before making any important financial decision – including taking out a Debt Management Plan with a commercial company – take advantage of the free and impartial debt advice which is available these days. I stress the word “impartial”, because some advice is advertised as free but is not impartial, i.e. the organisation has a commercial motive for advising a certain course of action.

The advice you’ll get from the three major national charities working in this field – Citizens Advice, National Debtline and Consumer Credit Counselling Services – is indeed both free and impartial.

There are also many similar (i.e. “not-for-profit”) organisations that operate at a local level but check out carefully that they indeed “not-for-profit” before taking their advice. You can also refer to the Resources section of my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”; there you’ll find contact details for about 50 advice organisations.

 

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

The full BBC story is at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13568152#story_continues_2

My book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, is available on the following retail sites:

Kindle Store: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PLMAQM

Smashwords store for other e-formats, including .pdf: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/22886