Autumn Statement #AS2014, the Google tax and how it relates to Free Software

One of the attention-grabbing measures in the Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne was the google tax on profits going offshore, which may prove unworkable (The Independent). This is interesting because a common mechanism for moving the profits around is so-called transfer pricing, where the business in one country pays an inflated price to its sibling in another country for some supplies. It sounds like the intended way to deal with that is by inspecting company accounts and assessing the underlying profits.

So what’s this got to do with Free Software? Well, one thing the company might buy from itself is a licence to use some branding, paying a fee for reachuse. The main reason this is possible is because copyright is usually a monopoly, so there is no supplier of a replacement product, which makes it hard to assess how much the price has been inflated.

One possible method of assessing the overpayment would be to compare with how much other businesses pay for their branding licences. It would be interesting if Revenue and Customs decide that there’s lots of Royalty Free licensing out there – including Free Software – and so all licence fees paid to related companies are a tax avoidance ruse. Similarly, any premium for a particular self-branded product over a generic equivalent could be classed as profit transfer.

This could have amusing implications for proprietary software producers who sell to sister companies but I doubt that the government will be that radical, so we’ll continue to see absurdities like Starbucks buying all their coffee from famous coffee producing countries Switzerland and the Netherlands. Shouldn’t this be stopped, really?

Posted in Autonomy, Community | 1 Comment

software.coop reduces price of .coop domain names

During the Co-operatives North West “Co-operation Now!” event, software.coop heard concern at the price of .coop domains. We listened.

Having negotiated with our suppliers, we’re delighted to announce a significant reduction in the price from £75 to £64 per year.

You can transfer existing domains and benefit. We can make you a web site, too. Visit www.software.coop or email info@software.coop.

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Three systems

There are three basic systems:

The first is slick and easy to use, but fiddly to set up correctly and if you want to do something that its makers don’t want you to, it’s rather difficult. If it breaks, then fixing it is also fiddly, if not impossible and requiring complete reinitialisation.

The second system is an older approach, tried and tested, but fell out of fashion with the rise of the first and very rarely comes preinstalled on new machines. Many recent installations can be switched to and from the first system at the flick of a switch if wanted. It needs a bit more thought to operate but not much and it’s still pretty obvious and intuitive. You can do all sorts of customisations and it’s usually safe to mix and match parts. It’s debatable whether it is more efficient than the first or not.

The third system is a similar approach to the other two, but simplified in some ways and all the ugly parts are hidden away inside neat packaging. These days you can maintain and customise it yourself without much more difficulty than the other systems, but the basic hardware still attracts a price premium. In theory, it’s less efficient than the other types, but in practice it’s easier to maintain so doesn’t lose much efficiency. Some support companies for the other types won’t touch it while others will only work with it.

So that’s the three types of bicycle gears: indexed, friction and hub. What did you think it was?

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

#coops14 sees last days of Downham Food Co-op

image

While  cooperatives fortnight is mostly a celebration of how well cooperatives are doing in the UK, this year is tinged with sadness for me because it sees Downham Food Coop stop trading.

This Friday and Saturday will be their last market stall, 9til 1 on the Town Square, aka Clock or Pump square.

As you can see, the downturn has hit the market hard and I guess being the last stall left outside the market square (see picture: it used to have neighbouring stalls!) was just too much. The coop cites shortage of volunteers and trading downturn as reasons for closure.

But if you’re near Downham today or tomorrow morning, please take advantage of this last chance to buy some great products in West Norfolk!

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New comments methods

After years of resisting it, I’ve added the least evil Twitter/Facebook comments plugin I could find to this blog as a test and updated the comments policy a little.

Please kick the tyres and try commenting to see if it works, phase.

Posted in Wordpress and Blogs | 6 Comments

The Kelly Lessons in About 1555 Characters

So the Kelly report “of the independent review into the events leading to the Co-operative Bank’s capital shortfall” was published yesterday. During the day, I was putting odd bits from it out in 140 characters with the hashtags #coops #kellylessons. Here they are in one more permanent place. How many of these lessons has your organisation – whether a co-op or not – learned?

  1. “Running a full-service bank… is a complex business… Bank failed to understand the limits of its own capability”
  2. “The most important task for any board is to put in place the right Executive leadership for the business”
  3. “Ownership of a regulated bank…requires a clearly articulated statement addressing…mgmt & gov’nance relationship”
  4. “Failures in board oversight are inevitable if the criteria used to elect… do not require… the necessary skills”
  5. “A bank board must include sufficient numbers of technically competent directors”
  6. “Boards need…good m’gmt info’ and to demand it if it is not forthcoming. Failure to obtain…explains…failings”
  7. “A bank should develop&implement robust risk gov’nce&oversight and an appropriate control framework”
  8. “IT transformation…keep…as simple as poss’, phase delivery.., deploy the right resources, plan for contingencies”
  9. “Bank should have paid closer attention and responded with greater urgency to what the Regulator told it”
  10. “Pay careful attention to the advice of…external advisors. The Group…ignored well-founded…inconvenient advice”
  11. “Postponing dealing with problems is almost never a sustainable solution.”
  12. “Values…need to be translated into meaningful guidance…The Bank’s ethical positioning should be…more apparent”
  13. “Mantras about scale and ethics are no substitute for strategies grounded in a real understanding”
  14. “Talent management is critical… Lack of capability…driven…by weaknesses in its recruitment&subsequent m’gmt”
  15. “Tolerating…culture of underperformance, weak transparency and a lack of accountability, constrains an organisation”

Are there other lessons that you would add?

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Request for West Norfolk to Complete the PCC Consultation

Please excuse the intrusion to your usual software and co-op news items but vine seems broken and as part of my community and democratic interests, I’d like to share this short clip quoting Norfolk’s Deputy Police Commissioner Jenny McKibben about why Commissioner Stephen Bett believes it’s important to get views from the west of the county about next year’s police budget:

Personally, with a King’s Lynn + West Norfolk Bike Users Group hat on, I’d like it if people supported a 2% (£4/year average) tax increase to reduce the police’s funding cut (the grant from gov.uk is being cut by 4%) so that we’re less likely to have future cuts to traffic policing. The consultation details and response form are on the PCC website.

Posted in Community, Democracy | Leave a comment

About Co-ops & Governance

There have been some dark days for UK coops recently – the crystal Methodist and all that – and I have not been able to talk about it much because of the amount of work that I want to do before the end of the year.

Happily good colleagues have been writing about it and here’s another good article from Kate Whittle that links to Ed Mayo and Ian Snaith who are the other two that I’d suggest.  http://www.cooperantics.coop/2013/12/09/co-ops-governance/

I should be back in a few days to summarise the event I attended last week.

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The 2012 Update to the Worker Co-op Code

We like guidelines. In our work, things like the Debian Free Software Guidelines, pep8 and Koha Coding Guidelines are quite useful. I follow guidelines for how I work, too. In addition to the financial reports required by government, our co-op produces an annual social report which we share with our members and other key stakeholders. Since 2007, the backbone of it is The Worker Co‑operative Code of Governance published by our national federation.

In 2012, the Worker Co-op Council updated the code. I don’t remember why an update was felt necessary, but as a side-effect of producing of our 2013 social report, I’ve made a list of the changes:

  1. Principle 1 is reordered, with information becoming the first point and membership offered to all becoming the last item.
  2. Principle 2 sees democratic processes drop down the order, plus it loses the item on long-term planning.
  3. Principle 3 has the point about reserves clarified and gains a last item about distributing surplus fairly.
  4. Principle 4 loses its first item about regular reviews, the skills assessment point moves to principle 5 and it gains a “build capability” point.
  5. Principle 5 gains items on replacing key members and skills assessment (from the previous section), while most points seem rephrased.
  6. Principle 6 is reordered, active co-operation is split into distinct points about referring and collaborating and the point about actively sharing good practice is deleted.
  7. Principle 7 is unchanged.

Are these good changes? Much of it seems like tinkering and maybe shifting emphasis – the reorderings add little and make it harder to spot the changes – while the lost points on long-term planning and sharing good practice are surprising. I would have preferred to see the items that seem mainly to promote the code itself and its publisher Co-operatives UK deleted instead. The additions and clarifications about surplus are good, though, and there’s nothing new that I think should stop us adopting it.

What do you think? Should all business behave this way?

Posted in Cooperatives | 1 Comment

Send updates to live cycling news reports to the speech synth

The BBC coverage of the UCI Women Road Race World Championship wasn’t starting until 3pm, BBC Radio 5 Live had football and Sports Extra was playing an advert loop (really BBC?), Eurosport wasn’t covering the race at all, RAI Sport 2 had coverage which was fine while I was watching the TV, but my Italian isn’t good enough to follow the commentary and I wanted to get some other stuff done.

So the obvious thing is to have the computer watch for changes to the great http://live.cyclingnews.com/ ticker and read them out, right? Well, it was to me. Here’s the script I used:

#!/usr/bin/rc
# Send updates to live cycling news reports to the speech synth

# initialise
url=http://live.cyclingnews.com/
if (~ $1 *:*) {
  url=$1
}
last=""

while (true) {
    # download the update and strip html - if you don't have html2text try
    # sed -e '1,/<ol/d;s/<br[^>]*>/n/g;s/<[^>]*>//g;s/ / /g;s/[[:space:]]*$//'
    next=``(){curl -s $url | html2text -width 9999 | sed -e 's/^ *[0-9]*. //' }
    # look for some added lines in the update section - timezone will need changing for non-European races
    say=``(){diff -u <{echo $last} <{echo $next} 
      | sed -ne '/^+/!d;s///;s/**//g;/ CES*T/,/^ *$/p' | head -9 }
    # feed them to the speech synth in reverse order
    echo $say '
      Race Update' | tac | spd-say -e
    # update variables, pause and loop
    last=$next
    # set this to a prime number over 60, like 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89
    sleep 67
}

Any questions, comments or improvements? I could have done more, like not saying “Race Update” even when there was no update, but I wanted to start listening as soon as possible!

Posted in GNU/Linux | 4 Comments