The Missing £50 Billion

Two days ago, I saw a short news report on the BBC. It stated that a finance committee had discovered that over £50 billion worth ($67 billion) of all banknotes issued in the UK had gone ‘missing’. They are not circulating in the economy, and nobody actually knows what has happened to them.

On top of that, the Royal Mint is to cease making any more 20p or £2 coins for the next ten years, claiming ‘lack of demand for coins and cash’ as the reason. Some reports suggested that this was yet another slide into a ‘cashless society’, but considering that £50 billion of all banknotes is a signifcantly high percentage of all the notes available, (75% no less) I for one think there should be some sort of serious investigation.

And for readers in Europe or the USA, it seems you have similar problems with the Euro and the Dollar. For anyone else who thinks this is very strange indeed, here are some of the details from that BBC report.

The Bank of England should be trying to track down £50bn of “missing” UK currency, a committee of MPs has said.
The figure amounts to about three-quarters of all UK banknotes in existence.
The cash is not used in transactions or held as savings, but may be overseas, tucked away in homes unreported or being used in the “shadow economy”.
The issue was first identified by the National Audit Office (NAO), which highlighted it in September.

Now the Public Accounts Committee has said the Bank should “get a better handle” on the currency.
The committee said there were “implications for public policy and the public purse” if a material proportion of that large volume of banknotes was being used for illegal purposes.

However, the UK is not the only country to face this problem – and other major global currencies could well be more seriously affected.

A Bank of England spokesperson said: “It is the responsibility of the Bank of England to meet public demand for banknotes. The Bank has always met that demand and will continue to do so.

“Members of the public do not have to explain to the Bank why they wish to hold banknotes. This means that banknotes are not missing.”

Ill-gotten gains.

This rising demand is “a trend being seen with other major currencies”, as the committee itself admits.
It particularly affects the dollar and the euro, which are widely held as reserve currencies around the world.
In the case of the dollar, only about 15% of the US currency supply can be accounted for – a significantly lower proportion than for the UK.
Both those currencies are more attractive to criminals because they have higher-denomination notes which make it easier to smuggle or stash ill-gotten gains.
For instance, there are more $100 bills out there than any other denomination of the greenback, with 80% of them estimated to be held outside the US.
As for the euro, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt no longer issues the €500 note because of concerns it could facilitate illegal activities.
However, it remains legal tender, while €100 and €200 notes are still in production.
By contrast, the highest-value note issued by the Bank of England is £50.

Is this interesting to you, or not? You decide.

Going Private

Sixteen days ago, my wife found a significant lump on her breast. She went into our local doctor’s (where she works as a receptionist) and had it examined. She was told it might just be a benign cyst, but the doctor contacted the Norwich Hospital, and put her on a 14-day referral for investigation. Under government guidelines, potential breast cancer is considered serious, so nobody is allowed to wait more than fourteen days to be seen and examined.

When the fourteen days were up, she phoned the hospital to ask why she had not received an appoinment. They immediately blamed the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that they had to reduce numbers in the clinics, so there were delays approved by the health authority. The told her she might be seen in late December, possibly later than that.

Over two weeks of worrying about a breast lump was beginning to take its toll. Lack of sleep, constant concern, and genuine worry that it might be a cancerous growth spreading out of control.

I decided to telephone the local private hospital, Spire Norwich. As much as it went against all my principles to seek help in the private sector, I was not prepared to let Julie carry on like this for another six to twelve weeks.

The lady apologised that the Wednesday clinic was full. However, if I was prepared to drive to Genesis Healthcare in Newmarket, fifty miles south, they could see my wife on Tuesday. Of course, I accepted the appointment, for 5:10 pm today.

The clinic is very swish, and cost £7,000,000 to set up. I was not allowed to go in with Julie, due to Covid-19 concerns, so had to sit in the car out in the car park. She was welcomed, given a latte coffee, and all of her details were taken by an impeccably polite receptionist. When she was shown in to see the doctor, she was chaparoned by a female nurse, and put at her ease. Following a short examination, the doctor sent her for a mammogram on both breasts. Just in case.

The good news was that he was 99.9% certain it was caused by ‘fatty lumps’. Whilst that may sound a little embarrassing, who cares? It is not cancer. He will arrange to confirm his diagnosis with an ultrasound in around three week’s time, at Norwich Hospital. That will be free of charge, under the NHS.

Julie was in there just over one hour. The charge for that? £460 ($610 US)

Relief all round, nothing sinister.

We had the money to pay the bill. We don’t regularly change our old cars, do not take foreign holidays, or spend money on unnecessary luxuries.

Nobody is a greater defender of the NHS than me. I spent one-third of my life working as an EMT, and my wife still works for the NHS now. But the current problems mean that for the first time ever, it let us down. Consider that the doctor today is a consultant at Norwich Hospital, in his regular job. So too the nurse, and the specialist radiographer. All three were trained at the expense of the Britsh taxpayer, yet the system allows them to work the minimum hours for the NHS, then add lucrative hours at private clinics such as Genesis, to boost their already substantial incomes.

We have both paid into the NHS all our lives, but have been forced to dip into savings to get some treatment that was not offered under the self-imposed rules.

That goes against the grain for me, and makes me seriously doubt the future of the NHS as we once knew it.

Annoyed With Myself

This country recently changed the size and composition of its currency. The old paper banknotes were replaced by ‘plastic’ money. These new notes are slippery, stick together, and cannot be folded. I didn’t like this new money from the start. It just didn’t feel right, and had a tendency to easily slide around. But then I don’t use a wallet, never have. I have always been someone who carried his cash in a trouser pocket. Wallets are easily stolen, especially when carried around in a back pocket, and when you live in a crowded city like London.

Since moving here, I have little need for cash. I can buy everything I need with a bank card, even tap the card against devices in shops to pay small amounts without having to enter a PIN number. For many of us, cash is almost obsolete now. You can even pay for something as small as a bus fare using a bank card.

However, I wanted to get some cash out yesterday, to give to Julie to take on a trip south this weekend. She is meeting a group of friends just outside London, and it is handy to have cash when it comes to splitting bills, or giving over her share of something, like an entrance fee. Outside the supermarket, I used a bank machine to draw out fifty pounds, and that sum was delivered in five ten-pound notes. Brand new plastic notes, all stuck together so firmly, they looked like just one. I made sure there were five of them, and carefully placed them into my trouser pocket before heading inside with my trolley to get the weekly shop.

I knew I would not have to go back into that pocket, as my bank card was in another one, and my car keys were clipped onto the trolley so I didn’t lose them. After getting the ‘big shop’, I had to go into town to sort out someone to come and investigate problems with the TV aerial. I was in the TV shop for just ten minutes, and didn’t have to go into my pockets for anything during that time. I then drove home, and unloaded the car.

Not long after that, I reached into my pocket to give Julie the fifty pounds.
It was gone, all of it.

A search ensued. All the shopping bags were examined. The car searched inside and out. My steps from the driveway to the house retraced, and my clothes examined in great detail.

Nothing.

Julie phoned the supermarket, in the hope that someone might have handed in the cash. They were very helpful, and said that the manager would instruct the cleaning staff to look for the money, once the store closed. If they found it, he would call us on the phone.

By 5 pm, I was so angry with myself for losing the money, I became frustrated and very dejected. I blamed the government for their stupid slippery plastic money, but I mostly blamed myself for being careless and forgetful. Fifty pounds is not a fortune, I know, but when you might just as well have thrown it down a drain, the loss of it is very annoying indeed. And when you are living on two work pensions and the State Pension, even that small amount is a loss that is noticed.

I managed to get to sleep eventually, and to forget about it. But when I woke up this morning, it was the first thing on my mind.

I fear it is going to ruin my whole week.

Blogging and Begging

Some bloggers have ‘Affiliate’ sites. They act as a conduit for retailers or specific products, and if you click through their site to buy them, they get a small commission.
That’s fine with me. The bloggers almost always state that fact from the outset, and they are just trying to make some money whilst featuring books, or other products.

Occasionally, a blogging friend faces genuine hardship. Maybe a bereavement, or serious illness. They might ask for a personal donation to help them out.
That’s fine with me too. I can choose to help them, or not. Mostly, I do.

Then there are those bloggers raising money for a charity close to their heart. They might be fundraising for medical charities after surviving an illness, or running a marathon to help out an animal rescue shelter. If they ask me to support them through a valid donation site, that’s fine with me as well.

However, I have noticed a recent trend is on the increase, and I don’t care for that at all. I saw on the sites of a few new followers that they are asking me to ‘Buy me a cup of coffee’.
In other words, send them some money that they may or may not spend on coffee. Why would I do that? I don’t ask anyone online to buy me anything, let alone the coffee I drink. You people are embarrassing yourselves, believe me. This is just begging by electronic means. I think it has no place on blogging platforms. Anyone else agree?

Then there are the ‘blatant’ beggars.

They put things like this on their sites. “If you enjoy this blog, please consider making a donation so I can continue to keep blogging”. Or, “Donate now, to see more great stuff”.
These bloggers have ‘Payment’ buttons on their sites, linked to companies like Paypal or Western Union.

Why would I ever want to send money to a stranger so that they can continue to blog? The platform is FREE, let’s not forget that. It costs them nothing except for their time, and if that is so valuable to them, I suggest they get a job instead.

So, buy your own coffee, and pay for your own time at blogging.

And if you are just blogging to beg for money, be honest about it.

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

Wealth

I woke up thinking about wealth today. Not for the first time, I was wondering about why people who are extremely wealthy just seem to want to keep accumulating more and more. Like the old saying goes, “How much is enough?” It has always seemed to me, that for some people, there is never enough. Even after earning more money than anyone could ever reasonably spend in one lifetime, they continue to amass more and more.

I have never been poor, but also never remotely wealthy. Like many people, I had always imagined what it might be like to have enough money to never have to work, and to not think about bills, or where the next penny is coming from. I play the National Lottery, even though my chances of winning are ridiculously low. But that ‘What if?’ is sufficient bait to keep me hooked. The chance of a jackpot win, enough money to not only sort out my own problems, but to solve those of my extended family and friends too.

Values change of course. In my youth, £100,000 was enough to buy a home, add a luxury car, and to never have to worry about money again. These days, that amount will barely buy a small flat, and some luxury cars cost a lot more than that too. In 2018, £1,000,000 is probably not enough for a younger person to do all that, and never have to worry again. But £10,000,000? That would be enough for anyone. At least anyone who is sensible.

When people start out in a lucrative career, or seek fame as a pop star, famous writer, or film actor, do they imagine that once they get that fortune, they will be able to stop working, and relax into a comfortable life, free of pressures? Obviously not, as many well-known celebrities have massive fortunes, yet continue to write, perform, and act. Is the accumulation of wealth not their prime motivation then? I suspect not. I presume they love the fame, the adoration, and the sense of importance that comes with being a celebrity in the modern world. If not, why would Paul McCartney, whose wealth is estimated at over $1 billion, continue to perform in concerts at the age of 75? And why would the writer J. K. Rowling still work on projects, when she is already worth something around $700,000,000?

What about the business people and entrepreneurs, those who have built huge corporations, and earned unimaginable fortunes in the process? When Steve Jobs died in 2011, he was still working. This despite his Apple company earning him a staggering $10 billion. Facebook has made Mark Zuckerberg an unimaginable $74 billion, and he is just 33 years old. He remains as the CEO of the organisation, still working, still increasing his fortune. How much is enough, Mark? Donald Trump was already well-known, and very rich, when he decided to try to become the President. He was said to be worth over $3 billion, which may pale in comparison to Jobs and Zuckerberg, but is still enough to last even the greediest person a lifetime. But he wanted more of course. More fame, more celebrity. No amount of money was enough on its own.

I can tell you for certain that if I ever did win that lottery jackpot, I would be very content. I would not be investing it to get more money, and would happily live quietly and worry-free, seeking no fame, or celebrity status.
For me, enough would really be enough.

Things I would like

Since the advent of the National Lottery, and even long before, with the Football Pools, people will often discuss what they would do , if they should find themselves suddenly rich, beyond their wildest dreams. Like most of these people, I have often thought of my potential wish list, just in case the day should ever arrive. Some of the things on it are simple enough, others require substantial funds to realise. So, here it is, not as extravagant as you might think perhaps, but all the items mean something special to me.

1) A new razor blade every morning.  For those of us still using a conventional wet shave, with foam, and a multi-blade cartridge, there is nothing quite like the clean and fresh feeling achieved, when using a new blade for the first time. However, these blades are ridiculously expensive to purchase, which means that they have to be used for at least a couple of weeks, if not longer. A new blade every day would be one luxury that I would cherish.

2) Clean sheets and bedding every day.  There is nothing quite like the feel of getting into a freshly made bed, with cool, clean sheets, fragrant pillowcases, and a fluffy duvet. It is undeniable that you sleep better that first night, so imagine being able to achieve this feeling every night of your life. With enough money, I could afford the bedding, and pay someone to iron and wash it as well.

3) The best ingredients.  I like to cook, and I actually enjoy it too. Although we are not badly off, we do have to watch our expenditure on foodstuffs, meat, and other ingredients. With an injection of funds, I could always shop for the freshest, the best quality, and the rarest. That way, I would eat better, and enjoy my meals more into the bargain.

4) A house by the sea.  I have always felt more relaxed and at my ease, when close to the seaside. Something in the sea air, the sound of the waves, and the crunch of sand under your feet, a feeling that cannot be purchased. What can be purchased though, is the chance to live in this environment, and I would do so immediately I was in receipt of my new fortune.

5) Art Deco living.  I have always loved the style of Art Deco, from the 1920’s and 1930’s. The modernist houses, all white, with flat roofs, porthole windows, curving chrome handrails, and all the design fripperies inspired by Egypt and Bauhaus. So, my seaside house would have to be an Art Deco one, filled with armchairs with exaggeratedly curved arms, walnut furniture in glorious yellow woods, and wonderful Tiffany lampshades, together with dramatic layered mirrors. There would be a roof terrace, surrounded by metal handrails, and original metal framed Crittall windows, impractical perhaps, yet in keeping with the design. The bathroom would be fully tiled, in green and white, and there would be an original kitchen, with pastel-coloured units.  This would be my biggest expenditure, so I would have to get it right.

6) Car and driver.  I am at an age when I am fairly fed up with driving. I can’t be bothered to find a parking space when I get anywhere, and tire of endless sweeps around large car parks, looking for a gap. Traffic jams bore the pants off me, and driving in bad weather, or poor visibility, makes me unduly fatigued. With this in mind, I would buy a reasonable car, nothing too showy, with a lot of room in the back. I would then employ a driver, who would be smart, but not uniformed. He or she would have excellent references, and a good sense of direction, not reliant on the dreaded Sat-Nav. I would pay them well, provide excellent working conditions, and only ever drive on their days off. They could then run me to anywhere I wanted to go, drop me off, and be there when I was finished whatever I was doing. Now that is luxury.

7) The best stuff.  No longer restricted by price considerations, I would only have the best stuff. What is the best TV in the country? Oh that one, OK I will take it. The best computer available anywhere? Wrap one up for me, or deliver it here, if too big. Suits at Savile Row? I will take a dozen, in all different cloths please. Hand-made shoes? Ten pairs, I think. A fabulous watch, that always works; a marvellous fountain pen, with exquisite stationery to write on.

8) Using tradesmen.  Imagine never having to do washing or ironing again; sending it all out to a laundry, or dry cleaning shop. Having all your decorating done by the best available contractor, and someone to weed your garden, and cut the grass. Is your Art Deco house looking a bit shabby? Just get an expert in to re-paint the whole place. You don’t even ask how much.

Money does not guarantee happiness, we have all seen enough examples of that. It does supply freedom from price lists however, and the opportunity to attempt to live a happier life; so the chance to try it would be nice. That is my short list. What’s on yours?