About Chris Pickard

After gaining a degree in Business Studies and IT, Chris Pickard started work for a large organisation, in the areas of web development and E-Commerce. A few years later he moved into Business Consultancy, working across the organisation in a variety of roles from project management to departmental reviews. Outside of work at this time he gained an MBA qualification from Kent Business School. After gaining further promotions to senior project management in charge of several E-Commerce teams, he resigned to take a career break. He spent a year travelling the world - including China, Egypt, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, USA and Australia - and funded his travel through personal trading and investing. After having many life changing experiences, he decided not to return to the company and now he's in the process of setting up his own company - My Guru - to explore a multitude of business ideas.

Restricting Internet Porn

‘There’s no point in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted!’  I hear some of you shout incredulously. Well let me put it another way for you in a form of a question:

Would you let your 12 year old child sit down in the living room and let them watch hardcore porn on your TV?

‘No of course not!’ I hear you shout indignantly. Welcome to 2012, where your child can access adult material via any device connected to the internet. Shocked?… Well then, we need to find some way of getting that horse back into the stable or at the very least in the controlled environment of the paddock.

I’m not going to discuss if porn itself should be banned, that’s for another time. I’m going to discuss the access to porn on the internet by the under 18s. Only a complete imbecile would say that a child viewing porn at an early age would not have a detrimental effect on their behaviour and actions. It obviously does and so we will take that as a given. The question is how do we protect them from it?

Some sites have a pathetic ‘confirm you are over 18’ confirmation click in order to view any form of content considered over 18. The majority of sites don’t even bother to have this. I’m sure you know this is completely ineffective and just the website owners covering themselves legally. A pretty weak legally required responsibility don’t you think?

Today, the majority of children are far more tech savvy than their parents and can run rings around them, so it is quite easy for them to access adult material if they want to. A recent Ofcom study showed that 91% of children live in a house with access to the internet. That’s fine I hear you say, the parent would be able to control them. The survey goes on to say that only half of parents of children aged 5-15 supervised the child’s internet use.  They, perhaps quite understandably do not see the danger, as when they were younger they had a computer. Me too, it was an Acorn Electron and if you got it to play Snakes you were doing well. It didn’t even display anything near a photo. Relying on parents to control a child’s internet access is flawed. Even the best parent in the world would struggle. Three million 8-15 year old have a Smartphone, which also gives access to the internet, so unless that child lives in a Mormon household, there’s the opportunity and curiosity for them to easily view adult material.

It’s normal for most young children to have access to a computer, their own computer or a phone  which has access to the internet. Fifteen to twenty years ago this was unthinkable and reported on programmes like Tomorrows World. (Yes I remember it, I am that old) but it’s completely natural and normal in today’s society to access information anywhere, anytime.  Just as years ago there was a debate whether children should have a TV in their bedroom, so the debate is with PC’s today. However this is not the same argument. A TV gives access to many channels, SKY etc  which not only a parent can control by ‘parental control’ functions on the freeview box,  but also these channels are regulated so that adult content is shown only after the watershed or PIN protected. As long as a parent activates these controls, the child is protected from this passive form of media. With the internet however, things are very different. There are millions of ‘channels’ available with no watershed or parental controls.

Firstly, I have to say that I think  that the internet is perhaps one of the best inventions of the 21st century, revolutionising civilisation. It gives you access to the entire world’s history, information and connection to many people, all from the comfort of your armchair. That is miraculous and amazing.

The downside is it gives you access to the whole world’s entire history, information and connection to many people, all from the comfort of your armchair without a filter. Just as the internet holds a repository of the very best of human civilisation, society and achievement, it also holds the very very worst, which we’ve all seen reported in the press all too frequently, relating to content such as paedophiles, suicide sites and a new breed of internet user the ‘troll’ who comments on social network sites. So what do we do to stop this?

The exponential growth of the internet caught governments and organisations by surprise. Times changed very quickly and the very core in the way in which we view information changed forever. Now each country has been quickly trying to play catch up to implement new laws to control this ever since with triage plasters and duct tape law.  The police recently raided the homes of a huge paedophile ring. It won’t shock anyone that the internet and technology played a big part in this group’s activities.  The police are doing the best they can but are fire fighting at the moment, similar to the governments frantic introduction of new laws. We need proper all encompassing laws relating directly the internet. There should be no objection to putting a form of control on the internet to protect young children, not just from pornography but all the dimly lit parts of the internet.

The more liberal among you might say that the internet should remain completely free of control or censorship. Some of the ISP’s and search engines back this argument perhaps because any change would involve a hefty cost for them to implement and affect their bottom line. (Do they tell you how much they make in advertising revenue from this content?) But this isn’t a ‘freedom for the individual issue’ It is about protecting the young and vulnerable. I think protection of children trumps the usual rolled out blanket ‘freedom’ argument. If an adult wants to view adult material on the internet, as long as they are over 18 and the content is legal then its their choice. That access would not change. There might be additional controls and settings that need to be selected  but they won’t be stopped viewing it.

Let nobody be in any doubt, it is completely possible to restrict and control the content of the internet to prevent children viewing pornographic content. The internet in its basic form is 1’s and 0s,  computer code and that code can be changed, added to and re-written.

There are many different methods of putting these controls into place. I won’t go into them in any detail, as I do not want to be the cause of you slipping into a deep sleep or coma but these controls/filters can be implemented at many points in the internet machine :

By ISP’s at the source; by search engines and their displayed results; by browsers restricting the webpages they display; by  additional control programs installed on the PC and mobile, an OPT-IN process with proof of age on websites with adult content…to name but a few methods. It could be that the solution will be a combination of all of them.

It is entirely possible to do this and it can be done, it just depends on the will of the people to get it done. Continuing my stable door analogy at the beginning, we must bring that horse back willingly to the stable, if possible but forcefully back if necessary.

Is it going to be a simple process? No. Is it going to be a difficult, lengthy (meaning government consultation) costly process for all parties involved. Yes it is. But if done right it will protect children from the dangers of the internet while still allowing them access to its immense wealth of knowledge. So even if it is a costly process, isn’t it a price worth paying? They are only children at the moment but if they are subjected to the dark side of the internet at an early age, what kind of adults will they grow up to be and what kind of society will that create?

Image reproduced from markgarnier.co.uk

Your Holiday Decision: To Relax Or To Explore?

This is the question many people deliberate over each year when deciding upon what to do for their holiday. Is relaxing by the beach ‘a waste of time’ compared with exploring a new country?

 “Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”
 – Elizabeth Drew

I think she’s obviously had a bad experience from a couple of travellers at a dinner party! In my opinion travel/exploring really does broaden the mind. Now I’m not suggesting that you subject friends to the horror of your 2000+ slide show presentation with 5 hour video of your holiday, not even Guantanamo Bay would employ that sort of level of torture!

Having said that, travel/exploring makes sure you have at least one thing  interesting to talk about and gives you a new perspective on the day-to-day things in comparison with other countries. One of the best things about exploring a country is experiencing everyday things for the first time, no matter how small they may be. For example, why do we, as a nation, have cereal or toast for breakfast?  Why not try another country’s breakfast for a week? Go Mexican and have a burrito!

However, there is something to be said about going away just to relax and recharge your batteries. It may be the only time of year you can properly rest and switch off. You might be so exhausted that all you want to do is lie by the pool with a book and a cocktail. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Everybody needs that from time to time. All I would say is that if you do that please don’t do it on the doorstep of an amazing culture and sights to explore. If you do take a least a day trip or two. Bear in mind the words of James Michener…

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
– James Michener

Exploring a country firsthand challenges your perception of it. You finally view the world how it is, not the way you thought it was through all the influences of media, friends and family. You will see cultures and people in a new light and nothing will ever again be black and white to you again.

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”
– Bill Bryson

If you go on holiday to explore a new country you’ve never been to, even the most mundane part of the  journey somehow becomes a bit more exciting, as you’re heading into a completely new experience for yourself.

What I would suggest is this: why not compromise and have a few days or both relaxing and exploring? When it comes down to it, holidays are pointless unless they change something on the inside, whether it be the reset button on your stress levels or changing your life in a completely new direction from an amazing experience you’re had. Both are important and equally valid outcomes from holidays. At the end of the day its down to personal choice and what is right for you at that point in your life.

It’s important to remember that when you do choose, make sure it’s what you want to do and not what your others expect/want you to do.   You’re the one who’s worked hard all year, it’s your money paying for it, it’s your holiday entitlement being used .  It’s your choice, so make sure that it’s a holiday you can enjoy, otherwise  what’s the point?

Image reproduced from lifeforbeginners.com

Gay Marriage

Today I want to discuss a topic that’s never really in the public consciousness much, if at all. So I wanted to bring this little talked about subject into people’s mind to open it up for debate and give it the consideration it deserves. I want to talk about gay marriage…………………..what? there’s already a multitude of news stories and debates about it? How many?………..that many!

Now firstly I have to admit to you a bit of naivety on my part. I had already thought we had gay marriage in the UK, called civil partnership. That’s not me being flippant, I genuinely thought that was the case. Legally there is no difference in rights between civil partnership and marriage in the UK, it even has a process similar to divorce as well. At the moment however, UK law does not recognise same-sex ‘marriage’. Confused? Me too a little, so what’s in a name?….apparently a lot……

Now I’m not claiming to be as qualified or educated as some to speak on behalf of the government, churches, or the gay community etc but hopefully I can offer a reasonable argument which may give some food for thought.

I know the reaction from some of the ultra conservative religious groups in the UK ‘coming out’ (if you’ll forgive the wording) against gay marriage has been very strong to say the least. To hear some of them speak I think in their minds the gay couple getting married will be dressed up as an electrician, Indian, Policeman or Biker, walking down the aisle to ‘It’s raining men’, while the congregation are doing YMCA in the background. That does sound like a fun wedding though…
So let’s try to break down the issue into the main points:

1. Do gay people actually want gay marriage or is civil partnership close enough to marriage?

2. Should the government allow gay marriage and if necessary should they force the church to perform them?

3. How does gay marriage sit with the church and how is it dealt with biblically?

Isn’t civil partnership just gay marriage by another name? All the same legal rights as marriage in the UK are there after all and have been in place for 6 years. But if the whole debate concerning gay marriage was solely focused on legal equality, then civil partnership would surely be perfectly acceptable. However, the word ‘marriage’ is important in this debate. It conjures up words like love, faithfulness and permanence and stability. Civil partnership conjures up in my mind two people entering into a business legal contract with one another. Its not the same in its power to define a loving relationship to the public. What civil partnership perhaps misses in ‘name only’ is the essence that the word marriage conjures and why should we deny that to a couple just because the ‘love’ part of the word ‘marriage’ is between two people of the same sex? and what about the issues of equality?

Another point to consider is how the gay community really feel about all this. Is there an actual strong desire for gay marriage in the UK or do they consider it just a word? Is it instead a deliberate politicised issue in a cynical act by parties to get more votes?

The government have already accepted and allowed gay marriage in all but name. There is no difference in legal rights, so why didn’t they go all the way? The short answer is to avoid all the debates, backlash and press that would come along with it. That was six years ago. Now things are hopefully slightly different, we are more accepting and the issue of gay marriage has been broached again with that hope that people will be more accepting of it. Now I think the time is right, perhaps overdue, as the current situation does resemble allowing gay people onto the airplane of a ‘visible, public lifelong commitment of a couple’ but not allowing them to upgrade to first class ‘marriage’ section becuase they are the same sex. Its marriage but not quite and seems unfair.

In March the government began a 12-week consultation on the topic of allowing gay couples in England and Wales to marry. One of the proposals in the consultation paper is that both civil partnerships and same sex marriage will both be possible. Surely this should be one or the other? Why not reclassify civil partnerships to be classed as marriages? Otherwise we have two tier or classes of commitment vehicles with civil partnerships as economy and marriage as first class. (and more checkboxes on an application form.)

Another important proposal in the consultation paper says it will maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service. Firstly is it their right to legally ban or not ban gay marriage in a church? At face value it seems to be there to appease and put the mind of the religious institutions at rest. Or, is it a case of the government easing the church door open a bit more to allow at some point in the future gay marriages being performed there? first civil partnerships, then gay marriage, then gay marriages in the church, slowly bringing them round to the idea. I think that religious institutions have every right to comment upon the issue but it is up to the government to introduce gay marriage as a legal right. However, it is the churches right to allow, or not allow, them being performed in a church. The distinction is very different.

Roman Catholic congregations across England and Wales were read a letter from the Church’s two most senior archbishops saying the change would reduce the significance of marriage. I think they are wrong in this regard. It is the high divorce rate at all ages over the past years that have reduced the significance of marriage. If a gay couple were to marry and live a long, loving, committed relationship till the day they die, surely that increases the significance of marriage as something important and worthwhile?

I could write a entire doctorate on various points of biblical scripture that are: for, against, or indifferent to homosexuality and gay marriage. These different views depend on interpretation, context and historical social context at the time of writing each book within the bible. This produces the formation of somewhat individualistic views, which makes it interesting but not that helpful sometimes in getting a clear cut answer. Perhaps it was written with that in mind so readers would be challenged to form their own conclusions while still holding onto the overall message.

Now it might be the literary equivalent of walking into a lion’s cage with a rib eye steak in my boxers but I could, for example, say that in the New Testament Jesus never commented about homosexuality but Paul however did. If it was really important I would have thought Jesus may have mentioned it once or twice. Same sex marriages or partnerships are never mentioned in the bible, is this omission because they weren’t even considered at the time?

There are better people than me to debate this and I would suggest further reading on the wealth of information out there.

As a Christian, in my opinion the bible teaches self thought and free will. It says ‘do not judge, or you too will be judged’ and to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. If two people who love each other and want to make a lifelong commitment in front of their family, friends and God, then they should be able to do so. It shouldn’t matter if they are gay or not. There are Christians who are openly gay and I think that church leaders should be very careful in interpreting what they think God thinks about that. Its obvious that a big important discussion needs to happen within the church in this government consultation period, in order to come up with some form of formal option or response.

I also wouldn’t want to see atheist parties use the reluctance of some of the church members to accept gay marriage as an opportunity to oppose all faiths as an outdated concept. (Yes Mr Dawkings I mean you)

I think it would be wrong for the government to force churches to officiate over gay marriages but I hope that they will open their doors to them. Perhaps as a short term solution it could be down to the individual churches to decide based on their views.

Hopefully the government consultations will bring together all the reverent parties into an honest, open debate and the outcome will be understanding, acceptance and welcoming. In the end though the ultimate decision will be individually ours.

Image reproduced from blogs.telegraph.co.uk

Are Bankers Bonuses Justified?

"financial crisis", "banking", "bonus culture", "bankers"

The answer of course is never as simple as a yes or a no!  The question comprises of a highly convoluted set of circumstances and factors that some bright academic one day might use to write his doctorate. You’ll know who he is by the one who everyone will be avoiding sitting next to at a dinner party.

First let’s remove the political bandwagon from the question.  Here’s how I imagine a conversation went in either a Coalition or Labour Party PR meeting:

MP1 : We need more votes.

PR Man: Well, OK what we need is something all the public are angry about then jump on that and promise to support them to the hilt and be equally angry.

MP2: Like the expenses scandal?

PR Man: Yes but their anger directed at someone other than us.

MP1: Then we’ll get more votes?

PR Man: If the public see we’re as angry as they are and promise to change it, then yes.

MP1: Won’t they see through that?

PR Man: Maybe but they’re too angry to notice.

MP2: But isn’t the government in charge meant to ensure the mess doesn’t happen in the first place and ensure economic stability? Isn’t it kind of our fault as well?

MP1: You just don’t understand politics do you. Bankers witch hunt it is……

I not suggesting the banking community are blameless in any way, shape or form. Some were reckless, in cases,  some were greedy and had no proper self-regulation or forethought about the future. Some however were very good at their jobs and through no fault of their own found themselves in a global economic meltdown. So let’s not drown them all just yet and burn them at the stake. The last thing I want to see is small children walking around dressed in smart pinstripe suits on Halloween.

I could go on for pages and pages describing how bonuses can and cannot be justified. Neither of us want that! So I’ll try and be as brief as possible, providing an simple overview.

Firstly, the bottom line is that bonuses are performance related pay and part of the remuneration package in many different businesses in the UK and around the world. From call centre staff and sportsmen, to management, it’s an accepted part of many different professions.

Now let’s remove the amount of the bonus from the argument. Note, I’m not talking justification yet, just taking the amount of it. The bonuses awarded to bankers are in some cases a huge amount of money to you and I, millions,  some might say an obscene amount. (Or in my new currency: one Tamara Ecclestone bathtub) It’s an amount that you and I can possibly only dream of earning.

Does the amount make it wrong? No, I don’t think so.  If that’s part of an agreed pay package and comparable in that line of work then that in itself can’t be wrong.  A top footballer can earn £1 million a month. Is it an immense amount of money? Yes. Is it fair? Maybe. Is it wrong? No, it’s part of an accepted part of our capitalist society and it’s better than the alternative (another debate that we won’t go into now). I’m not suggesting that they’re the same thing or comparative jobs. I mean I have no idea how well a banker plays football… probably really rubbish and so they would end up playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Should a banker be rewarded for individual performance even if the company is failing or in serious debt? Let’s take a different example:

I’m the top call centre agent and have to achieve 100,000 sales in a year in order to get a 20% bonus of my salary.

Now let’s run through some questions:

If I achieve my targets and through no fault of my own the company is doing badly, should I still get the bonus?

If the company through external pressure refuse my bonus I worked really hard for, what incentive is there for me to perform at my best in the future or even stay at the company?

If the agent performed actions that were reckless and put the company at further risk to achieve that bonus should they still have it? Should they be fired?

A few questions to think about there and banks have to be careful in future that their targets set for bonuses do not force or encourage reckless activity in order to achieve them.

The governments around the world need to put into place more rules, regulations and controls to ensure the global banking crisis never takes place again. The banks in turn need to ensure that their bonuses and targets reward sustained stable growth and profitability.

Do we, the public, have a say in bankers bonuses?

A bank is a business. A business is owned by shareholders. The directors of that businesses have a duty to the shareholders and to run that business profitably. It is the shareholders that have certain power and rights over that business and can, if there are enough of them call votes, if necessary to change that business.

For banks such as RBS and Lloyds we all are now part shareholders. So do we have a right to speak against the bonuses awarded? Yes we do, its our money invested in those banks. However the great economic genius of their time, my grandmother, once said ‘don’t cut your nose to spite your face.’

The thing about a banker witch hunt is that they will often drown an innocent banker and one that could be the ideal candidate to get us all out of the crisis quicker and on the road to recovery. What people have to remember is if we want them to perform to the best of their ability we have to offer incentives, like their competitors will be doing. If we don’t do this and in some cases publicly force them to give up their bonus, then, like workers in any businesses, like you or I, they will look elsewhere and we will end up with the average mediocre people running our banks instead.

Should bankers have been awarded their bonuses before the banking crisis? In hindsight perhaps not but we must move forward. We have to reward those who will use their intelligence, knowledge and experience (including lessons learnt) to safely take the banks back to recovery. So before we cry out how unfair it is that bankers should get such high bonuses when we are struggling, we need to also think about the ramifications of not rewarding them.

Image reproduced from news.sky.com

Is There Anything Wrong With Tax Avoidance?

Ben Franklin once said:

“Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.”

I would amend that quote to add at the end: ‘….and that people will try to avoid them both’

Before I start this discussion I’m going to leap into a comment:

Tax avoidance may be immoral or at best ethically suspect but it is entirely legal and those who have done it, under the law, have done nothing wrong. Its seems to me therefore absolutely laughable that MP’s can take the moral high ground and shame individuals for carrying out such an act ‘depriving the British public’  of money that could be used for vital services.  Not too long ago a large majority of these MP’s fraudulently took public money for themselves in the form of expenses. That WAS illegal. The phrase ‘those in glass houses’ seams a little too tame somehow.

In some ways the government is blurring the line between tax evasion, which is entirely illegal, and tax avoidance, which is entirely legal. But as the’ benefit scrounger’ cause, which they all leapt on, has lost its edge, tax avoidance is the new moral cause to eliminate. It does seem a bit like a mad scramble to condemn anyone who has more money than the average person, in a desperate effort to connect with the British public in these times of recession.

JImmy Carr – the unfortunate poster boy for tax avoidance

Jimmy Carr therefore became the unfortunate poster boy for tax avoidance. I notice that Mr Cameron didn’t mention Conservative supporter and donor  Sir (pending) Gary of Barlow in his condemnation. ‘Take That became a little like ‘Keep Everything’. Former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott told The Observer: ‘If only Jimmy Carr had given £50 to the Tories, Cameron would have had to pull his condemnation’. It also made me wonder if any current MP’s and Lords are using a similar Jersey-based K2 scheme to pay income tax rates as low as 1%. I’m thinking at least a few of them are living in a ‘glass house’…..or mansion…..with a possible glass moat.

Singling a person out has become a  sorry trend among all the political parties in an effort to carry favour with the public mood. It is a cynical PR  ploy that should be beneath them all, as unless it is an act carried out solely by one person  they should not condemn an individual in public for an act carried out by many. A recent case in point would be Mr Diamond of Barclays Bank, concerning the interest rate rigging scandal.  Many people and many banks were involved in this  but the only name politicians want to attach to it is Mr Diamond, who will now be forever linked to it. Another important point is hasn’t our Prime Minister got more important things to worry about than a comic using the British  tax system in a legal way? If Jimmy Carr avoided a few billion in tax, which we could claim back, then by all means name him to the public and  go get it. But the truth is he hasn’t , unless his Christmas DVD does phenomenally well this year.

Taking a brief look at the statistics, HM Revenue and Customs reveal that in 2010/11, 80% of people with incomes between £500,000 and £10m had an average income tax rate of at least 40%. The actual rate they should be paying is 50% tax of earnings over £150,000. The figures also showed 6% of those earning more than £10m paid less than 10% in tax.

But one point that is being missed here perhaps  is that it’s the rich who pay the majority of income tax already. Indeed one could argue that a wealthy individual pays more than enough tax for himself many times over, so why shouldn’t they avoid some of it? The treasury released figures last year showing the top 1% of earners paid nearly 25% of all income tax and 75% was paid by just 25% of the population.

Jimmy Carr, who satirised “fat cat” bankers  protected £3.3m a year from tax by putting his money through the K2 scheme.  A scheme which is now  under investigation by HMRC. But why wasn’t it before? The government can’t chastise someone in public if a person legally uses the UK’s financial system for their own benefit. The government should have stopped this a long time ago and I suspect they have known that it exists for great number of years.  If the government wants to publicly announce when individuals do something morally ambiguous, they’ll be forever naming themselves on TV.

Any  accountant will tell you, there’s a big difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. One could put you in prison for seven years, the other is a  perfectly legal use of loopholes by anyone who can afford a financial advisor. I’m sure after Jimmy Carr’s ‘outing’ a lot of other wealthy celebrities and businessmen were frantically calling theirs.

Image reproduced from gigglebeats.com