Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A ban on smoking in cars isn't enough.

For some reason, this subject often elicits more response than writing about something like capital punishment, human rights or even state education. It seems that there is no political line when it comes to smoking – this isn’t something that falls on right or left politics. People are often against anti-smoking laws because of the civil liberties aspect and naturally you get alliances from liberals, libertarians and the centre left. But equally people in those camps also see the wider health aspects and can support measures that reduce the health cost to the state of those who smoke.

My position is quite clear and quite simple: smoking should be banned completely.  I accept this is a serious and somewhat controversial opinion but I don’t think it should be. We outlaw all manner of substances without the same level of controversy or opposition so what is it about smoking that makes it so different other than the fact that it currently isn’t banned? Surely if you look at this from nothing but a logical viewpoint, there can be no argument? It is a dangerous substance; it has no positive qualities (any supposed benefits – stress relief – are psychological, not physical) and is a massive financial drain on the health service. Obviously there is significant tax revenue from smoking but this is negated by the negatives effects smoking has on society.

If you want to argue against banning smoking then surely you would have to, by default, argue that the bans on heroin, cocaine, and cannabis in particular are just as invalid? After all, what sets them apart from smoking save for the social acceptability factor? It’s also not just drugs that we ban when they present a danger to society – we ban driving dangerously fast, we ban bad Doctors from practicing, we ban convicted sex offenders from working in schools, and we ban people from drinking alcohol and then driving. Yes, I am well aware of the various differentials but the point is that the precedent is set. When something is a significant danger to society it should be banned unless there is a very, very good reason not to. Civil liberty, often, is not one of them.

There is, of course, evidence that shows that smoking in public places or even very well ventilated places does very little damage to those not smoking themselves, so why not just regulate smoking so that people can only do it under those circumstances? Well, this is the bit about socially acceptable behaviour. Smokers often complain that they are already being made to feel like social pariahs. Good. I’m glad. The very last thing we need is for people to start thinking that smoking is socially acceptable again. However, we need to go further. I took up smoking because others around me took up smoking. They took up smoking because grown-ups smoked.  They did so because it was, to some degree, an acceptable vice in society. That has to change.

The next generation have to grow up with an unquestioned perception in their heads that smoking is as socially unacceptable as alcoholism or drug taking. There must be no silent tolerance of parents pushing pushchairs while smoking or hanging their fag out the car window. The message these actions send to kids is clear – this is an acceptable way for adults to behave. I compare it, in terms of giving your kids the wrong impression, to spitting.

This is, admittedly, a pretty controversial stance to take and, understandably, many who smoke will feel it is an attack on them but really, it’s not: it’s an attack on our society for not properly addressing the issue. I have never understood why smoking was allowed to remain legal and for the most part poorly regulated whilst other, arguably less dangerous substances were banned. Look at the swift action taken on ‘legal highs’ recently. There was no proper consultation, no time allowed for research into the health effects; just knee jerk legislation to appease the public mood.

I used to smoke. I started young (13) and was a very heavy smoker until I was 26 when I first made the effort to stop for good. I can’t remember my last cigarette but it was a very long time ago. This doesn’t give me any deeper insight into the mind of smoker nor does my conversion to a non-smoker inform my opinion. I have had held this opinion since I was a teenager and it is borne from my frustration at what I see as staggering inconsistencies in the law.

While the Minister for Health, Edwin Poots, ponders whether to back a bill calling for smoking in cars where children are passengers to be banned, I hope he considers taking it a step further. It will upset many people for many reasons but for me it’s about the only time I agree with Helen Lovejoy of The Simpsons: won’t somebody please think of the children?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

State Employment for the long term unemployed? Yes, please Mr Cameron

Don't be surprised: the socialist in me is naturally delighted to hear that David Cameron is considering offering state employment to those who have been unable to find work. That is, in effect, what is being advocated, yes? Well, seeing as it's being advocated by a Conservative Prime Minister I should maybe hold my enthusiasm back and wait for the devil in the detail. Until that comes, however, let's have a completely hypothetical run down of why any such scheme is almost, always doomed to failure in the UK when proposed by a conservative government.

1. Minimum Wage

The absolute surest reason why any such scheme is doomed to fail. Whilst it may be a long held fantasy for many Tories to scrap the minimum wage, the reality is they don't have the political will or courage to try because they know that even if they did, they would fail. You can't very well bleat on about the Unions having to much power if you also think you can take on every single Union, at the same time, united on one issue, and win. So, minimum wage exists and will continue to do so. The only option for the government is to make sure that any work undertaken on a compulsory scheme is paid at the minimum wage but that would be a little bit, well, socialist for a conservative government. It is, for all intents and purposes, mass state employment - an even larger public sector. Not really the objective I imagine.

2. Compulsory Aspect

A fantastically ridiculous introduction to the proposed scheme from the Daily Mail: "under new plans, long term jobless would be forced to undertake voluntary work." I know standards of journalism aren't the highest at that particular newspaper but even a child knows that if you force someone to do something, it isn't voluntary. It highlights though, what problems the government will face with it's proposals. No government in it's right mind will want to use the term 'forced labour' but that is, in effect, what it is. If you don't work, you lose your only source of income. Ideologically, I actually don't have an issue with this provided that the work is reasonable and the pay fair. However, for this to be a Conservative success, it won't be - the right wing public won't tolerate it.

3. Cost

A socialist can make this scheme cost effective. A conservative can not. That's not a claim based on my own bias but a reflection of the facts. The two different perspectives measure success differently - the socialist looks at the value to society, the individual, the state as a whole - the conservative will look at the cost to the exchequer primarily and the cost to society secondary but it will boil down to cost and not value.  So for this scheme to be a conservative success it would have to save money. Being good for society is not a good enough measure. The problem is - it will cost money. The added administration burden alone would be massive and that's pretty much undisputed. The only way this works out financially is if the work undertaken is essential and would have to be done anyway. Of course that presents another problem - if the work is essential then a real job, and not a made up one, exists and should be filled properly.

4. If the job needs doing, someone should be employed to do it.

No matter how you look at it, people on this scheme will be engaged in non essential work. It has to be non essential because unemployment levels are rising which means all essential roles have been filled and all non essential roles have been cut. That's the line we have been fed from the government when questioned on cuts. So why make some people redundant from 'non essential' roles only to have others 'forced' into them? presumably those being made redundant by the state have certain skills, attributes and knowledge that makes them suitable for the role and those who will have to pick up the slack will be untrained, poorly paid and even more poorly motivated.

This idea has not been thought through at all. How can it have been when such staggeringly obvious obstacles seem not to have been addressed before the idea was floated to the media? Obviously, people will disagree with me and dispute, dismiss or even ridicule the points I've made but these points will be made by many others, in real and serious positions of opposition should such the government run with the idea. I repeat: I'm all for the state offering employment to the long term unemployed. But, if you're going to bring in a scheme dripping in socialist principle, at least get a socialist to draft it.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Tories & The UUP - The end of the affair.

When you first read the letter from The Conservatives to the leadership of the UUP, in which they advise the UUP to disband and effectively let The Conservatives take over, you can’t help but laugh at the sheer audacity and cheek of it. Here you have a party with no foothold whatsoever in Northern Ireland suggesting to the oldest party in the province – and despite recent election results, a large, well represented party - that they pack up shop and move out of the way so that The Conservatives have a free run.  It appears idea of crazy men. However, the intriguing thing is that it isn’t. At least, while the idea may be crazy, the men behind it most certainly are not.
Don’t underestimate The Conservative Party: they are not stupid – quite the opposite – and don’t do things without first thinking of the consequences. If we look beyond the suggestion within the letter we start to understand that the suggestion wasn’t at all serious but the message behind it most certainly was – any UUP led partnership with the Conservatives in NI is over. The Tories in NI will play their game now and it will be their rules. If the UUP want to make use of The Tories in future, they will have to accept that.
It’s easy to say that the UCUNF project was always doomed to failure but it wasn’t and for the most part the only thing The Conservatives did wrong was formalising the link up in the first place. After that, every mistake was down to the UUP and those mistakes were borne from the UUP’s own organisational problems. It’s likely that had the UCUNF project never happened, the results we saw for the UUP would have likely been the same save for one or two notable exceptions (yes, I am referring to Lady Hermon). The UUP have no significant activist base (members are not activists by default) and their constituency associations are run almost autonomously by their Chairs.
The only way the project would have worked is if the two parties formed a joint executive that really did have executive power over the two parties. It’s important to be a democratic party, of course, but there are some areas where it’s not democracy that is needed but instruction and orders. None of this brief retrospective analysis is entirely scientific but from the outside looking in, it always seemed like the UUP were in it for the money, so to speak, whilst The Conservatives genuinely thought they were entering a genuine partnership based on mutual objectives.
Now, it seems to me, they Conservatives have re-evaluated exactly what benefit, if any, a formal link with the UUP can bring and have summarised that there is none. Consequently the Conservatives have to assess how they can steal the UUP vote because without a good chunk of that, it’s unlikely the Tories in NI will make any significant electoral impact. How do they do that? Well, getting a few disillusioned UUP members or, even better, elected reps to leave the UUP and join the Tories would be a good start. It’s always easier to campaign with candidates that already have a profile in the community.
My guess is that this letter was an initial step in that strategy. It is a message to UUP members that the Conservatives are serious about their ambitions and that the UUP are now an obstacle to achieving them. The mention of the Secretary of State and The Prime Minister being entirely supportive of the proposal (though one wonders just how much consideration David Cameron really afforded the issue) is there to reinforce the message. How successful the Tories will be in NI is inextricably linked to the UUP whether they like it or not – the stronger and more successful the UUP are, the harder the Tories will have it but if the Tories continue with what I believe is their strategy, then they could well speed up the decline of the Ulster Unionists.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Poppies, Remembrance & Peace.

I was in my early teens when my Grandfather died. I loved him very much and was, naturally, very sad to lose him. However, I remember just how much more of a loss it seemed to be to my sister, 8 years my elder, and never really understood why, at least not until I started thinking about Grandpa recently as the time of year comes around again when remembrance poppies are everywhere and the long running and oft ill tempered debate over their use (ubiquitous on television), symbolism and message rears it's head yet again.

It's clear to me now that my sister's grief seemed to be so much deeper because she had a more mature relationship with my grandfather. For most of the time I knew him, I was very young and as such, I saw Grandpa as most young children do, another elderly relative who, whilst being very nice and generous with his chocolate, had little in common with me. Now, in my early thirties, I would give anything to be able to have him with me now, so that I could engage with him on a different level, ask him questions that would never occur to a child and discuss issues that had little relevance previously.

One thing I was aware of whilst he was still with us was that he, like so many others of his generation, had fought in the second world war. It was never discussed with me directly by either my grandfather or my parents or even any of my siblings but there was no doubt. I had seen photos of him in uniform, I had seen many medals of all kinds, and my Grandpa was also a champion shot (he shot for Scotland and I later realised that many of his medals were for sport shooting, not fighting). A young boy in possession of these facts doesn't need  any more information to jump to the right conclusion. However, I never ever raised the subject of the war with my grandfather and I realise now, looking back with a different perspective, that it was because he never discussed it, or at least he never discussed it when I was around and somehow the unspoken inference that it wasn't to be discussed got through to me.

As a youngster I took this lack of discussion as unquestionable proof that my Grandpa must surely have been some kind of super secret agent who couldn't talk about what he did in the war. I don't know for certain but it is much more likely that the reason my grandfather didn't talk about the war was not because he couldn't but rather that he wouldn't.

Many claim to have the loveliest grandparents but in my case, it was proven in the way he was revered by all he met and not just his family or close friends. He was the very essence of a gentleman and as fine a man as you could ever meet. It is hard for me to imagine this lovely man ever taking part in such a terrible and violent thing as war but it goes some way to explaining why a man can have a room full of memorabilia from his time in service but is unwilling to talk about it. It is the difference between remembrance and glorification.

In the debates about the wearing of the Poppy, that line is all to frequently blurred.

This country has been fighting an awful, awful war on 2 major fronts for the best part of ten years. Whilst we may no longer be deployed in Iraq, the toll is still being paid by the men & women who returned. Not only are the wars truly awful for those fighting, they are also deeply unpopular with the public at home. No wonder then, that the issue of wearing a poppy is courting more controversy each year as many people no longer feel that to wear one is a choice but more of an obligation.

I will wear a red poppy this year, as I have every year. I will wear one because from a young age I understood why it was important to have some recognised form of remembrance for those who had died while fighting in the service of their country. Be in no doubt, they did indeed die for their country. Whether you agree with the political ends of whichever conflict they may have been engaged in, they were ordered there by the people we elected to power. Rightly, or wrongly, each serviceman or woman that dies is owed a debt of honour by us.

What I won't tolerate, however, is the almost fanatical insistence from some that not wearing one is disrespectful, offensive or in some way displays hostility to the armed forces. A friend & colleague of mine wears a white poppy and I fully support his right to do so. I understand his reasoning perfectly and support him wholeheartedly. He will also wear a red poppy on Remembrance Sunday, yet for sure there will be those who take issue with his decision or cite a lack of respect on his part, even if they don't voice it directly to him.

There should never be, in any circumstance, an order to remember the war dead in a certain way and at a certain time. Of course it is correct that there exists a day of remembrance and a symbol of it but never, should people feel bullied into observing that day or wearing the red poppy for surely that defeats the very point of fighting for personal liberties and choice?

Let's remember the original reason for the red poppy was not strictly remembrance: it was a fundraising tool. The British Legion was formed to pick up the slack where the government of the day had not, or more correctly - would not, provide adequate care for injured or retired servicemen. It evolved into the recognised symbol or remembrance some time after it was first used. The British Legion did, and continue to do a fantastic job in caring for ex servicemen and providing the support they needed. Unfortunately, nearly 70 years on and still our service personnel have to rely on charity to get the appropriate care, this time in the form of Help for Heroes.

On Remembrance Sunday, the heads of our armed forces and our political leaders will line up, with the Queen to lay poppy wreaths and the public, largely, will ignore the irony of the sight of those who sent troops to war, failed to care for them while in service and failed to care for them out of service using the poppy to show their respect whilst not doing anywhere near enough to rectify the situation that led to the poppy being adopted in the first place.

It is right that people are educated as to the sacrifices made on our behalf. It is right that people have a way of honouring their memory. It is right that people can show their objection to war. It is not right, nor never will it be, to demand it of people. Wear a poppy, don't wear a poppy. It's up to you, not me.

Build, Build, Build.

Of all the things that annoy me about the ineffectiveness of our political leadership, the constant and stubborn ignorance of the benefits of a strong construction industry rankles more than most. Obviously there are failings in many other areas that, on a day to day basis are more of a concern for me but mostly that's to do with ideology. The attitude to the construction industry though, is not so much about ideology as it is incompetence. There have very rarely been people in positions of power who have either a) understood the industry properly or b) understood it's economic importance properly. Mostly we have had people who have combined both these faults.

Whenever times start to get tough, whether it's a recession or even just a slight downturn, the construction industry is nearly always hit first and hit hardest. There is a misguided belief that when money is tight it should only be spent on essentials and new construction is rarely classed as such. In reality, economically, the reverse is true.

Construction is the great multiplier. More so than any other form of public spending, construction creates revenue for the state. I am aware this is a slightly controversial and for the most part statistically unproven statement but that's because the statistics don't, and often can't, take into account just how much of a multiplier effect that spending has. The statistics also rarely consider the spending in terms of value over cost and as such a project that costs the state £25 billion mostly does stay, statistically, as a negative revenue project. It is nearly impossible to understand the reach that kind of spending has once it goes into the private sector.

This doesn't mean I'm advocating a massive drive to build more and more office towers that stand empty. It doesn't mean I want to see house builders taking on ever more debt to build poor quality homes to be sold at over inflated prices to people who have taken on mortgages they will never be able to repay. What I am advocating is massively increased state spending on key infrastructure projects - urban & rural rail projects, canal projects, port projects, school builds, road upgrades, and perhaps the most important of all; social housing.

These aren't just the sort of projects that help boost the economy in terms of direct and indirect employment or by increasing trade but also by adding value to the country. A country with superior infrastructure is a top competitor for inward investment from both businesses and individuals. We currently compare our infrastructure with others and for sure, it is often equal or favourable to other first world countries but frankly that's not good enough - we don't want to model our infrastructure on other's success, we want them to model theirs on ours. This means construction and it means lots and lots of it.

I don't accept the argument that there isn't any money. It's simply not true. We are, and will remain, a very rich country with significant resources to bring to bear when needed. Undoubtedly, there is an economic crisis but it is not because of our lack of funds but our mismanagement of them. We must address that mismanagement by first stopping the self defeating policy of reducing state spending on construction. People are often keen to apply business norms when looking at the way the government manages state money so they should have no problem with this. For a business to survive and grow, they have to spend on their own infrastructure, be it staff, facilities, plant or stock. The state is no different in that respect. When we scale down our spending on infrastructure, we scale down our chances of a strong, prompt recovery.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The SDLP have bigger problems than bright lighting.

Unsurprisingly, a good deal of the media coverage of Alasdair McDonnell's maiden speech as the new leader of the SDLP focused on the mechanics. McDonnell, blinded by bright television lights, seemed unable to focus on effective delivery, went 'off script' several times, and stopped his speech more than once to complain about the lighting. The broadcast ended before the speech and so the SDLP missed the most important visual; their leader getting a standing ovation from the delegates.

Given that this was speech was being broadcast live this level of unprofessionalism is unforgivable. There is no excuse for it and if the SDLP want to be the party they need to be to win the next election, their media management will have to step up a level. Naturally, the SDLP have implored us to focus on the content and substance of the speech rather than McDonnell's delivery. Having done just that, I'm left thinking that the they should be thankful more people aren't.

The speech, absent the ad libs, weighs in at over 3000 words. Yet nowhere in the speech is there any substantive mention of the most important people of all - the people. The only slight allude to them is when McDonnell mentions how the SDLP need more votes. Apart form being blindingly obvious, that doesn't really cover the subject properly does it? Let's remember that politics is supposedly about serving the public so you would think a major speech such as this would at least make reference to the importance of appealing to the wider public.

McDonnell spoke, unknowingly, almost exclusively to party members & supporters and to their counterparts in the rival parties. You would hope he can rely on SDLP members to vote SDLP and for sure he cant count on not getting votes from party members, so why aim your whole speech at just them? What was there in the speech for the ordinary, non aligned voter? Where was the appeal to people, generally disinterested in politics, to pay attention to the SDLP?

If you were generally ignorant of the political world, listening to that speech yesterday would have given you no clear insight as to what separates the SDLP from Sinn Fein (or, terrifyingly, from the DUP), despite McDonnell's jibe about sectarian turkeys. He goes onto make the most substantive part of his speech, at least in policy terms, on the constitutional issue but echoes the old Gerry Adams mantra that Unionists just don't know what's best for them  when he speaks of 'teasing out where their best long term interest lie'. I'm sorry, Alasdair, but Unionists are quite capable of working that out without your help and have been telling you the answer for many, many years.

I'd like to see McDonnell take the fight to Sinn Fein and win: on a personal level, the SDLP are much more favourable than Sinn Fein. However, this won't happen by merely shaking up the structures within the party or by reviewing and republishing policy. It will only happen by building new relationships with the electorate and by repairing and rebuilding old ones. That means activists, not just members and it means them out, every week, knocking on doors, attending events, listening to the people and helping them. It means making the connection between the SDLP & the people. A good place to start doing that would have been the maiden speech from a new leader. Oh well.

Friday, 4 November 2011

How The Daily Mail proved Hugh Grant's point.

Ah, The Daily Mail. It really is an incredible piece of work isn't it? A newspaper so extreme and twisted that even those dedicated to parodying it struggle to produce anything The Daily Mail isn't prepared to do itself. This week we've had a double helping of the Mail's particular brand of crazy: firstly, in the form of a column from Liz Jones, (who previously asserted that murder victims Joanna Yeates' choice of pizza signalled her desire for a better, more middle class life) where she details, a little too well, the steps she took to try and become pregnant by first her boyfriend and then her husband by effectively stealing the sperm from their discarded condoms.

Second: A column of immeasurable spitefulness & bitterness from Amanda Platell where she almost joyously attacks Hugh Grant for being less than perfect. This column for me is by far more of a worry than anything Liz Jones has or could produce. Liz Jones has personal problems, Amanda Platell has a problem with other peoples personal lives.

It seems the reason for Platell's attack on Hugh Grant is based on two factors: 1. He is a vocal and extremely well received critic of the media and it's behaviour regarding the private lives of famous or newsworthy people. In particular, his criticism in the light of the phone hacking scandal made him an almost de facto spokesperson for the celebrity aspect of the hacking. 2. He likes to have sex with women without being in a formal relationship with them. What Platell mistakenly believes is that the latter issue somehow negates Grant's opinions on the former issue. of course she is totally wrong - it actually validates his opinion.

Platell has an issue with the way Hugh Grant has conducted himself with women. She may well have a point and it may well be the case that his behaviour has been less than exemplary (though the way that she brackets the mother of his newborn child as a victim is staggeringly offensive) but none of that is her business and it certainly isn't the business of the wider public. Hugh Grant has never held himself up as a moral campaigner, as Platell labels him, but as a campaigner for the right to privacy even for those in the public eye. On numerous occasions he has acknowledged his inappropriateness as a role model, even gently mocking his career. I wonder would Platell prefer he take his art completely seriously and advocate his films as serious pieces of cinema. I suspect that, too, would find him attacked for being pompous and taking himself far too seriously.

As far as I'm aware, Grant only ever committed one crime - the Divine Brown incident - but even that wasn't a matter of public interest, just public curiosity. This column from Platell is nothing more than her projecting her morals onto Grant and expecting him to play to her tune and she is using his campaign against press intrusion as a stick to beat him with, not realising that by detailing his love life, bit by bit, with no recognisable purpose other than to shame him; she is making his point for him.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The tricky subject of politicians pay.

Any politician or commentator looking for a nice safe position to take won’t ever go far wrong attacking the pay & perks afforded to elected representatives. More so than any other public sector employees, politicians salaries, expenses and any freebies they may get are scrutinised and, for the most part, condemned as excessive, unwarranted & distasteful in the current climate (though I’d argue if it’s distasteful, the financial climate is irrelevant). Often the condemnation ticks all those boxes and people can really go to town on the issue.

I, however, tend to take the rather unpopular view that, contrary to popular opinion, most of our politicians are underpaid and yes, I am including MPs in that statement. I don’t particularly care if MLAs, MPs or Councillors enjoy the hospitality of the MTV European Music Awards. I certainly have no issue with them claiming expenses for genuine out of pocket expenditure.

My reasoning: Expectations. I expect my representatives to be a cut above. I expect them to be leaders in their field. I expect them to serve their constituents with a dedication unmatched. Why on earth would I expect all this but not expect them to be well compensated for it? More to point; why would you?

When you set a salary for a role, you consider the role and not the individual and the role of legislator is surely one of the most important in the public sector so why would we want to devalue the role by attaching a less than commensurate salary? Of course, in reality many of our politicians are simply inadequate or incompetent and the expectations of the position are not being met.

In other type of employment this underperformance is addressed by either taking measures to bring the employee up to standard or replacing the employee. Only in the field of politics is it deemed appropriate that the people who were responsible for choosing the employee abdicate that responsibility and call for lower wages, less perks and attack the employee for earning the agreed salary. What logic is in play when people call for measures to devalue the role instead of simply finding a better candidate?

The recent review of MLAs pay at Stormont unsurprisingly returned a verdict that our MLAs should receive a pay rise. It was unsurprising not because that’s what MLAs wanted – in fact, they had no input into the report, it was entirely independent – but because those reviewing the pay applied the correct logic: what should someone fulfilling the demands of this role receive.

Anyone who doubts that being either a full time MLA/MP or even a part time Councillor is not a demanding role needs to shadow one for a week. There is a never ending list of demands placed on these individuals who nearly all do the role through a burning desire to serve their constituents and create better conditions for us all. They do it under constant, mostly biased, & often unfair scrutiny from the media and their peers. They face more criticism in a month than most people would expect to face in a year. Are they effective? Not always, but that, frankly, has little to with their salary. Do we think that knocking their pay down will suddenly spur them into effective work methodology? 

There has been plenty of sniping over elected representatives receiving tickets to the MTV EMAs or the free Snow Patrol concert at Belfast City Hall. So what? It is elected representatives who ultimately make the decisions that bring events like this to the area, why would you not want them to enjoy their success and why would you not want other politicians others to witness first hand just how important these events are for the region?

It is perfectly understandable, especially if you are unemployed and facing real financial uncertainty, to feel aggrieved at those who enjoy reasonable salaries from the public purse. However, your recourse is to make them work for their money or replace them with someone who will, it is not to devalue the role so much that no one with the skills or desire required can afford to take it on.