Author Archives: Shirley

What Will They Inherit?

What Will They Inherit?

Our children - how will the budget  deficit affect them?

No, it’s not Boujis, it’s Woodland Hills High School Prom no. 1, 2012. Photographer: Mark Neville.

A colossal debt is what our grandchildren stand to inherit. Let’s be clear about this, because politicians are not always clear, perhaps because they don’t understand it, although that’s unlikely.

  • The National Debt is the total amount of money that Britain has borrowed and not yet repaid.
  • The Budget Deficit is our yearly overspend, when there isn’t enough tax income to pay for Britain’s expenditure.We borrow the necessary amount of money, and it is added to the National Debt, which has been increased yearly, both by the Labour and Conservative/Liberal governments.
  • There’s a Budget Deficit because every year, there’s not enough money to pay handouts to all the people that want them – and they include all of us, from pram-pushers to pensioners. Because we all want our piece of the pie, the Chancellor borrows money to pay for it all.
  • Interest must be paid promptly on the National Debt, because otherwise nobody would continue to lend money to Britain.
  • The total National Debt is now over £1,430 Billion pounds: that is, over a million pounds, multiplied by a thousand, with that amount multiplied again by another thousand … I hope that’s absolutely clear.

In the last tax year Britain’s National Debt increased by £43 Billion. Britain is spending more on National Debt interest than on Defence and almost the same as on Education. And we are not repaying that borrowed money.

This week, the Treasury sends a letter to every one of Britain’s 24 million taxpayers; it contains a gaily-coloured pie chart, so we can see how our tax is spent. I cannot see that any money is being paid to reduce the National Debt.

Tax pie chart

HMRC tax summary

What can be done about it? Ask your would-be candidates before next year’s General Election.

Why not reduce the National Debt by 3% a year? Then, after 33 years it will have been repaid, so our grandchildren will not inherit this terrible burden. Less than 3% a year will not repay that debt fast enough.

Where can the spending cuts be made? Perhaps on Overseas Aid and Defence – who’s going to invade us? And perhaps Business and Industry might stand on their own feet, unsupported by my tax and your tax?

If we steadily paid off the National Debt in that way, it would reduce the relevant amount of interest payable, and so, gradually, that big slice of the pie would also get smaller and smaller.

But politicians publicly ignore this debt. They know that, to get our votes, they had better pay us our piece of the pie.

But not paying off our National Debt is as morally dishonest as not paying our personal debt. It is even more immoral when we know – conveniently pushed to the back of our mind – that we are leaving this huge burden to our children and – if we don’t do something about it – also to our chubby-cheeked grandchildren.

Clearly, this is morally wrong. So perhaps that 3% repayment should be included in next year’s budget plans and the gaily-coloured pie chart.

Main photo: Pulitzer Prize nominee photographer Mark Neville, famous for his socially focused projects, is about to hold two exhibitions in London. Admission free.

London/Pittsburgh is at the Alan Cristea Gallery from 21st November 2014 – 24th January 2015. Details at Art as Social Document is at the London School of Economics, 2nd – 19th December 2014. Details on the LSE website.

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How Julia Broke Big

How Julia Broke Big

Julia Hobsbawm

Julia Hobsbawm










My friend Julia failed academically at school and didn’t go to university. So how did she become a professor?

“Networking is social navigation – it’s as much about what to look for as who to know,” says Julia Hobsbawm, who wrote and presented the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Networking Nation’.

Think of networking music producer and talent-spotter Simon Cowell, who built up his business through classic networking. Think of, which started small with a good idea and now gets more than 60 million page-views a month – which is more than the entire population of Ireland or Greece, as every politician knows. So start small, think big.

“Building up your own network is like building your fitness,” says Julia. “You don’t diet and lose weight overnight, or run a marathon in a week. You slowly change your behaviour as you find out what works and what doesn’t. You need patience and stamina to keep going.”

By 2012 Julia had been made Honorary Visiting Professor in Networking at Cass Business School in London. In 2014 the Foreign & Commonwealth Office invited her to join its Diplomatic Excellence Panel.

“It’s not enough to join Facebook or Twitter then leave it at that,” Julia warns, “Face-to-face matters hugely, even in a Facebook age. You get a direct connection when you meet someone, look into someone’s eyes and hear their voice. People who meet others are happier than those who simply stay online.”

So leave the keyboard sometimes. Get out there and party.

Follow Julia Hobsbawm on Twitter: @juliahobsbawm
Find out more at

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Breaking Big

Breaking Big

Author Tara Mohr

Author Tara Mohr

It’s an irritating fashion. Internationally famous businesswomen are writing advice books, firstly to publicise themselves as not being a one-trick pony, secondly so that ordinary women can … just get off their arses and DO IT TOO. I’ve been yawning through these books for months when … suddenly … here comes the glass-ceiling smasher.

I had only read halfway through Playing Big when I realised it was one of the most important books in my life. If I see a good point in a book, I underline it in red. The first part of Playing Big looked as if I’d haemorrhaged over it.

I read the second half slowly, one chapter a week, so that I could absorb and practise what this life coach teaches so well. (Don’t think Tara Mohr looks too young to know the Secret of Life.) Some of her book had taken me years to discover, some of the practical stuff I thought I’d invented myself. Much of Playing Big, I quickly realised I needed to know. The New Age bit I took on trust … and it worked: I now have an Inner Mentor.

So, have you ever felt not-good-enough? Of course you have. Ever suffered from fear, self-doubt or lack of confidence? Join the club…

Secretly, every woman aspires to something. If you want to do anything other than housework and homework, this is your guide. If you want to achieve anything, or simply be less stressed, this book will help you do it. In it you will find your voice, your ability, your self-confidence and perhaps even your mission in life. Buy it. Pass it on.

Playing Big by Tara Mohr , is published by Hutchinson, hardback price £16.99.

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Entitlement / Biker Menace

ENTITLEMENT  “Working class” no longer describes a group of people. We all work. The Queen is working class. Union leaders probably work just as hard as Madonna.

So what replacement phrase to use?
Lower-income group and middle-income group. We can all be groupies.
The Rich stay The Rich.


BIKER MENACE  Maybe city cyclists need to pass a highway code test, pay for a road license and display their number on the back of their bike – ready for CCTV cameras to record their breath-taking, lawbreaking stupidity, and save NHS bills for themselves and their victims.

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Big Investment

Ben has two young children and is considering a mortgage with a deposit of £160,000.

Ben, gloomily, “It’s a big investment.”

Me, “A baby costs more. The Daily Telegraph says a child costs £227,000 to rear, if it doesn’t go to uni.”

Ben, still gloomy, “Trouble is, you can’t sell the baby.”

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Celebrating Women of the Year

Celebrating Women of the Year

Women of the Year 2014

Women of the Year award winners, 2014

The Women of the Year luncheon – 500 influential women at the Intercontinental Hotel

The focus of the Women of the Year luncheon was on global brutality towards women as the result of medieval practices, often tolerated for so-called cultural reasons.

What brutality? The exploitation of children as sex slaves; genital mutilation of young girls to prevent their future enjoyment of sex; “honour killings” – which could correctly be called dishonour killings; horrific domestic violence, rape … and plenty more.

I had the pleasure to make new acquaintances and catching up with old friends including Yasmin Alabhai-Brown, Tanya Byron, Lorraine Kelly, Liz Chapman – the Library Director at the LSE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC who has done such fantastic work and her hand is all over the lunch which was very professional, international, up to date and glamorous! Also Diana Makgill, Lindsay Nicholson, Eve Pollard and Zandra Rhodes.

Read about the inspiring award winners here: Women of the Year Award Winners, 2014

Money Stuff: Going Global, and a fifth ebook?

MONEY STUFF by Shirley ConranI spent time this week with my design consultant, Elke Hanspach, looking at the visual aspects of my work, in particular the possibility of a fifth step for Money Stuff, making the course eligible for the GCSE exam.

My American colleague, Sarah McFadden, has been editing the international edition of Money Stuff. Watch this space!

My Treasures

I was photographed by the Daily Mail for a piece in a series called My Treasures in their colour magazine. I was asked what was most valuable to me (besides family) and immediately named my P.A. But you’re not allowed humans, but pets are allowed. My cat Ginger is very unfriendly and snarled at the photographer when asked to pose for a photograph. It seems he doesn’t want to be famous.

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Six Money Survival Tips

Six Money Survival Tips

1. a) From now on, take ALL responsibility for your financial future. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, especially someone you love. This is simple, but it takes time.

1. b) Don’t rely on ANYONE ELSE in financial matters. Not your mum, dad, boyfriend, girlfriend, accountant. NO-ONE.

2. Allocate a specific time, say two hours on the first Saturday morning each month. Your money and your peace of mind will depend on this adult habit.

3. Always check – by email if possible – that what someone says they will do is actually done ON TIME. Monitor anything that is to be done by someone else. Monitoring is polite nagging and you will quickly find out that it is ESSENTIAL.

Nagging is the repetition of a question that someone doesn’t want to answer.

a) Together, fix a day for the job to be completed.

b) Send an email before the due date as a reminder.

c) Send an email the day after the due date, to ask if they’ve done it.

d) If the answer is anything but YES, repeat this procedure until the job is done.

4. Keep a scribbled note of any financial meetings. Don’t rely on the person who is supposed to be taking notes.

5. Years ago, I asked a Texan oil zillionaire what was the most useful financial tip he had ever been given. This is what he told me and I’m grateful.

Date notes. Date everything you write – top right-hand corner – and always include the year, which at the moment is 2014.

6. Always check your bank balance. Banks make errors.

I wrote this for the financial literacy course for 1st year university students in Newcastle.

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Sexism and Maths

Sexism and Maths

Carol Vorderman and her daughter Katie

Carol Vorderman and her daughter Katie

Carol Vorderman (seen above with her daughter Katie) is the popular face of maths in Britain. Carol recently wrote about the myth that men are better at maths than women (not true) and the myth that maths is an unsuitable subject for girls (not true). Here are some excerpts from: The Disproving of Sexism’s Last Theorem.

“Last week’s A-level results (in Britain) showed that maths has overtaken English as the most popular subject…yet boys still lead the way, with 18.4% getting A* grades at A level, compared with 15.7% of girls.”

“It is undoubtedly a myth that men are better at maths than women. There is no factual basis for that assumption.”

“During the Renaissance and throughout the 19th century it was claimed by popular opinion (male) that women’s brains were too soft to sustain rigorous theory… That the female skull was too small to hold a powerful brain, and that exercising a woman’s brain would shrink her ovaries.” The threat was that she might not be able to have children.

“There persists in Britain a belief that girls shouldn’t do maths…and this can have a massive effect on girls’ performance.”

“The one thing I tell parents all the time is: please do not tell your children (male or female) that maths is ‘hard’, or ‘boring’, or ‘girls don’t do it’, as you will set them up badly for life to believe that is the truth, when it isn’t.”

“If you aren’t taught maths well by the age of 11, you will rarely catch up without outside help.”

(Source: The Sunday Times, 17 August 2014)

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A week free of interruptions

A week free of interruptions

Cannizaro House

Cannizaro House

Last week I left home and went to Cannizaro House in Wimbledon to a place recommended by my taxi driver. It’s an utterly wonderful 18th Century house with grounds open to the public and I could see children of two or three with their mothers tottering around on their way to the park. This was to give me a week free of interruptions in order to finish the international dollar edition of Money Stuff. I had a good rest into the bargain.

Evelyn Waugh's Scoop

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop

I took quite a lot of books with me. Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop – something light that would make me laugh – and Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning. I also took Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, which I didn’t get to read.

I also took a book by the mother of a friend I went to school with, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.

She was an early feminist and pacifist. She had a job persuading her parents to let her work.

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain

I also watched Kate Adie’s Women of World War One on BBC Two which was about women taking up men’s work during the war. We owe a lot to those women – when taking on a mortgage, for example – they paved the way for us.

I had a long email from a Jewish friend in Australia about the situation in Gaza. We had a long email correspondence and I thought afterwards that both sides have grievances but it’s about time it was defined as a modern, not a medieval matter. Killing doesn’t get you very far but destroys too many young men and families.

The troubles in the Middle East and the Balkans, as it was known, are all caused by the indiscriminate carving up of countries after world war one, by drawing lines on a map without taking any account of the language spoken or what Gods they prayed to.

I’d like to see an end to the international arms trade. If we sell arms, they are used against neighbours. It’s still a man’s world.

I came home to find all my in trays full.

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Why do women have such a negative view of maths?

Why do women have such a negative view of maths?

Jane Austin and money - on the face of the £10 note

Jane Austin and money – on the face of the £10 note

Had lunch at the Bibendum with Baroness Margaret Jay, who was a former Minister for Women. We want to find out the origins of the bad image that maths has with women.

This was not in the 18th Century when Jane Austin’s women were all busily discussing how much a man was worth and how to get their hands on that worth. I suspect this happened in the 19th Century as a follow on from the Industrial Revolution in Britain (which started around 1820) which produced what we know as the middle class. Some of these women wanted to “better themselves” by conspicuously never having anything to do with money. Husbands handled that.

I like the Bibendum. It has tables that are far enough apart and noise levels are very low. I don’t go to the Caprice any more. After footballers’ wives discovered it, the crescendo of noise was such that you couldn’t hear what your partner was saying.

Thursday 31 July – Went over the research from the Centre for Social Justice into women’s attitudes to maths.

In the afternoon, I looked at the pile of letters for signing in my in tray. I had meant to get round to them at 9am.

At 3pm, I jumped into a taxi and booked myself in at Cannizaro House in Wimbledon for 5 days. That’s the only way I’m going to get the US version of Money Stuff finished. It needs a four-day attack, and the only way I can do that is to leave home. I’ve written instructions for the cat (not that he can read).

Cannizaro House was built in the 18th Century. My room overlooks the park. It reminds me of staying at Woburn, all it’s missing are the stags and the Duke. This is an act of desperation and one that many writers resort to to get a book finished.

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