Little at large

Is it guidance? Or advice? Let's refer it to the skeptics

- The Financial Services Authority, as we all know, was a tad lax in its regulation of the banks.

But it seems to be making up for past oversights in its dealings with the voluntary sector. Moneymadeclear, the FSA's money guidance service, was launched earlier this month after a pilot in north-west and north-east England involving several voluntary sector advice agencies.

But some are wondering just what they've got themselves into. Halfway through the pilot, the FSA demanded that confidential client interviews be recorded. It then used the evidence to criticise Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre for providing exactly the kind of problem-solving advice it was set up to give. A man had come in, clearly at the end of his tether, and an advice worker went beyond mere financial guidance - ie referring him to sources of information - and gave him practical advice that helped him to retain custody of his children and get the benefits he was entitled to. The FSA responded by demanding the worker's suspension. "They've got no feel for or understanding of clients," said Alec McFadden, manager of the centre. An FSA spokesman said: "It is important that Money Guides keep within the scope of Money Guidance sessions being offered."

- After the recent furore over NHS funding of homeopathy, the Big Lottery Fund is inviting controversy by awarding a £205,000 grant to research the benefits of healing therapy. According to one healing volunteer, healing even works on human tissue in Petri dishes. It's exactly the kind of thing to get a growing body of sceptical campaigners up in arms, such as the Merseyside Skeptics Society, which organised a mass homeopathy overdose in January, and UK-Skeptics. UK-Skeptics does, however, maintain the same forensically distrustful attitude to itself as it does to others. "Skepticism is not the same thing as merely being skeptical," it insists. "And not only can skeptics be skeptical of skepticism; they should be." It also insists on the archaic spelling.

- The Wall Street Journal recently asked a group of philanthropists how they would spend a hypothetical $10bn. Not all of them lived up to the stereotype of wanting to abolish hunger, want and disease and be rewarded by a 60-foot statue of themselves. One - more trainspotter than philanthrocapitalist? - said they would use the money to establish a statistics office in Africa.

- Mathew Little is a freelance writer, mathew.little@haymarket.com

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