Saturday, 31 July 2010

Iain Duncan Smith vs. The Telegraph

Iain Duncan Smith, the Coalition’s Work and Pensions Secretary, says that the benefit system has ‘trapped generation after generation in a spiral of dependency and poverty’. I don’t always agree with everything Iain Duncan Smith says, but I do think that on this occasion he has a point. So I was not at all surprised to see a rebuttal in the Telegraph. “The Coalition wrongly assumes that poverty is the result of worklessness caused by barriers outside individual control, writes David Green”.

“Imagine that the only help available for a person losing his job was from a family member. Your brother or sister says ‘OK I will pay you £300 a week until you get back on your feet’. A month later you are asked how the job search is going and reply, ‘Well I found a job for £310 a week but it’s not worth taking because I will lose the £300 you give me. In effect I will be working for only £10 a week.’ The kindest of siblings might find this a little selfish. But this is exactly the attitude being taken by people on benefits who will not work because it does not pay.”

Mr. Green might have a point if that was how the situation actually worked, if the person finding work could actually be sure of being better off, even by just £10 a week. But that is not how it works at all. What happens is, the government pays an unemployed job seeker various allowances, such as Housing Benefit and Job Seeker’s allowance, which together usually amount to just enough for a frugal person to scrape by on and they are conditional on the recipient being able to prove that he or she is actively seeking work. I’ll use Mr. Green’s figure of £300 (well above the minimum wage) for the sake of argument, but usually the figure will be nothing like that.

The job seeker then finds a position which pays £310 per week, but since it is a considerable journey to work, the fares are £12 a day, or £60 per week, leaving a net income after transport costs of £250 per week. Then there will be new clothing and shoes to be bought, since the stuff that was good enough for at home won’t be good enough for the work environment. The benefits will stop straight away while the wages will probably be paid a month in arrears, leaving a one-month “black hole”. Then there are taxes to pay, and all the other incidental expenses that arise from having to travel … the result is that for someone who was just scraping by on benefits, the effect of actually finding a job can be financially devastating, unless that job pays very significantly more than benefits. That’s why benefits shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing thing, cut off instantly and in their entirety the moment a person finds employment.

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Friday, 30 July 2010

Retirement Age

Are you looking forward to retirement or is it the moment when you will be forced to leave the work you love? The fixed retirement age is 65 for men and 60 for women but in October next year there will be no compulsory retirement. At first glance this is a great step forward. You may now choose to continue to work if you love your work. If you don't then it doesn't matter because you can still retire.

For the individual the great advantage is that you have greater earnings. What is wrong with working five or ten years longer if you feel fit to do so? The coalition government agrees. Money would be saved on paying out pensions, the workers will still be paying tax and the biggest advantage is that the move provides freedom of choice to individuals.

On the other hand many people will choose to extend their working life simply because their pension is not good enough. They may well choose to work when they are not capable and employers will have a much greater incidence of having to sack failing employees - not an easy process at the best of times. If it is alright to work for five of ten years then what about fifteen or twenty? Is it possible to have an 85 year-old postman? If there is no compulsion then who is going to tell them they can't deliver letters? I have also heard the criticism that businesses will be limited in their ability to manage their workforce. At the moment they know when their staff will retire. Also, if members of staff are not retiring at 60 or 65 then there must be fewer jobs for a younger, more able workforce.

It looks like there is more adverse criticism to the move than there is praise. How do you reconcile the complaints? Well the demographics are looking like we have no choice. We need people to work so young people will be employed. We do need a simple method of ensuring that members of staff are fit for their work, but this shouldn't be beyond the wit of this government.

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

A small victory for sanity

So bull fighting has stopped in Catalonia. It may have been part of Spanish culture for centuries but barbaric blood sports have no place in the 21st century. They have no place in any century but we may think of ourselves as more civilised than our forefathers.

These moves are bound to put more pressure on other areas of Spain to ban bullfighting but the vote was not that convincing with 68 voting for the ban and 55 against. It seems likely that we will have to live with bullfighting for some years to come.

Rome wasn't built in a day and Catalonia is only one of seventeen autonomous areas of Spain, however not too far away is Pamplona where they think it is fun to allow bulls to get excited, run with people in the streets and gore a few of them. Today's news is a small victory for sanity but we have a long way to go.

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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Letters to the editor

I have heard others complain about bias in Morecambe's local press but so far I have refused to believe them. I don't normally send letters to the paper but I have sent three this year. The first was published, the second wasn't but it was just before the election. However the editor could have quite easiliy used her powers and published half of it. Two weeks ago I sent my third letter and it hasn't yet been in the paper. This letter may be seen at

So I sent the following email to the editor:-

Dear Ingrid,

I was sorry to see that my letter, sent by email on 14th July wasn't published last week or this week. I thought it gave a better balance to the debate than the article about the "Councillors wage war on VAT hike" article. I had written quite a long letter that I revised a few times to get it to your 300 words limit. Could you let me know how I need to change it to get it published? Thanks.

I am adding the letter just in case it got lost in the ether. I did send it to Was this correct?

Michael Gradwell

I'll let you know if I get a reply. For that matter I'll let you know if I don't.

Change the world

P.S. My letter was published in the paper on 4th August. No reply from the editor but I did send an email saying thanks.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Well done M&S

Marks and Spencer has made the news by selling a 'Plus' range of school clothing for overweight children. Well done to their advertisers. They have recognised that obesity is rife and managed to obtain more advertising space than money can buy.

The debate has moved on to how we as a nation tackle obesity but Marks and Spencer has managed to get its name into this debate. I don't think children went to school without a uniform prior to this initiative. Billy Bunter cartoons may have made it look like pupils attended school with a uniform that didn't fit but the answer is not to label bigger sizes as 'plus' but simply to buy a size of uniform that does fit the child.

I am sure there is a simple answer but how did M&S manage to create a difference between a larger size and a plus size, or is it all just a marketing ploy?

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Monday, 26 July 2010

Acceptable Cheating

Even if you didn't follow the German Grand Prix closely you will probably know about the controversy surrounding Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. On the news we heard an order going out to Massa telling him that Alonso is faster, and then Alonso overtakes. Some may call this cheating.

In the same weekend Alex Higgins dies and we see old news reports of him saying that there is no game that is more corrupt. He is said to have refused to accept money to throw a game on more than one occassion. About ten years ago one person told me to bet on a particular horse the next time it was running in Scotland. I didn't know enough about racecourses never mind betting to have taken this advice.

I am sure that many will be aware of corruption in sport. Most accept professional sport as a form of entertainment or a financial commodity rather than a competition between individuals or teams - ask Manchester United fans if you want an explanation. Does it matter? Well it probably does to the fans who jump up and down when a goal is scored. It matters to people who watch cars go round a racetrack without any overtaking for 18 laps. It matters to me because many will accept that cheating is acceptable.

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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Aesop and Morecambe

In Morecambe and Lancaster there is not much point in breaking the speed limit. If there is a gap in the traffic in front of you then there will be more congestion just around the corner. Even if you wanted to break the speed limit then you would be caught by the car driver who is not speeding. Aesop could have based his tortoise and the hare story on Morecambe traffic.

I drove through Preston on Friday and yesterday and here things are different. I noticed that cars were accelerating faster than I am used to. I noticed cars routinely breaking the speed limit. I would guess that on average Preston cars were travelling at 35/40 mph. It took me two trips but I realised that the cars that accelerated and broke the speed limit managed to get through the next set of lights.

I don't know if there is a great traffic plan in Lancashire but it certainly looks like there is a reward for speeding in Preston.

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Speed Cameras

I was travelling from Morecambe to Windermere two days ago, and as soon as I drove onto the motorway at junction 35 I could see standing traffic. The radio report told me that two lanes were closed around the next service station due to a lorry shedding its load of plastic bottles. When I passed the services 2 miles and 40 minutes later I could see some cans being cleared up. I could also see some spray coming from newly punctured cans. Fortunately I had given myself enough extra time to get to Windermere on time.

It looks like many drivers don't give themselves enough time for their journeys but I have never thought that static speed cameras do anything to improve driving. Swindon scrapped them a year ago and the BBC did a special report to mark that anniversary, headlined "is it the end of the road for the speed camera?" Their answer, it seems, was mostly "yes", though in the interests of balance they also included comments from PC Ian Tanner of the Devon and Cornwall police, giving his opinion that they do work. Whether you agree with him or not, though, the fact is that the government has cut speed camera funding significantly for this year, and is likely to do so even more in the future.

It looks like most of you agree with the BBC on this (and with me) and not with PC Tanner. Just look at the comments at

Comments are already closed at the BBC site. This blog is always open for constructive comments, so if you have something to say on the subject you can say it here?

Change the world.

P.S. Driving in Preston yesterday I passed a fixed speed camera near Deepdale. It was hidden by trees. It may catch more people but the local racers will hit their brakes and accelerate afterwards. Is your camera hidden?

Friday, 23 July 2010

G20 No Charge

I was going to write about speed cameras today but you will see it tomorrow. Instead I was moved by the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service who found no grounds to prosecute for the death of Ian Tomlinson. He died shortly after he was hit by a baton and pushed to the ground during the G20 protests in April last year. There are reports that Mr Tomlinson was also bitten by a police dog.

There was conflicting medical evidence. It may well be that being bitten, hit and pushed over was not related to his death. It may well be that these actions did not cause substantial harm. Following the conflicting medical advice, the CPS decided to investigate further and this took time, in fact so much time that it became impossible to prosecute on the grounds of common assault. Common assault does not require proof of injury. It is a prosecution based on process rather than outcome, and that is where it seemed obvious that a prosecution was a piece of cake.

The evidence was there for anyone with a computer or television to see. You may like to read my blog entry for Thursday 9th April 2009 in which I was remarkably restrained. It seemed so obvious to me at the time, and it seems so obvious now that all is not well with our police force. I can only hope that further investigation leads to a fair outcome. Why am I thinking of the word incompetent?

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P.S. I haven't had a comment about the word incompetent so I want to elaborate. The decision makers at the CSP are clever people. I don't think they are incompetent. I think they wanted this decision. If you read my previous blog you will see that I noticed that the police officer was slow in coming forward. Why? I mentioned that the officer was wearing a balaclava and no number for identification. I hope that we eventually have answers but it has only been around 16 months of investigation.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Simple answers are often the best

Technology in football has been in the news again. Obvious goals are still being missed and it looks like the referee is going to get help from two more officials, one near each of the goals. According to the TV news it is still possible to miss a goal which is obvious to television replays. Graham Poll also reckons that the two additional officials on the payroll could miss goals but if a fan is sat higher in the stands then the goal may be seen.

As is often the case, the answers are obvious. Use technology if it is much more reliable. However there are criticisms of the delay involved by using replays. Alternatively place the extra officials in the stand. I am sure that they could wave a flag which could be seen by the referee. You have to allow for the speed of light but I think we can deal with that. No delay of game there then. When you measure ingredients in the kitchen you don't put yourself in an awkward position when measuring. Technology is already being used. Why go to extra expense?

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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

It's time for a link road

There are more vehicles on the road than ever. I'm afraid that I don't have any statistical data to confirm this but my gut feeling is that we own more cars. My family didn't own a vehicle until I was about ten. Since then family members have multiplied and so has vehicle ownership. So this trend makes me think that the amount of traffic on our roads is going to increase.

When I have discussed Lancaster's traffic problems I have generally agreed with protestors to a bypass in the sense that Lancaster's specific congestion problems will soon be back where they were if a link road were built. I should point out that I feel they would more rapidly worsen without the link road.

Yesterday I travelled through Lancaster. I crossed the Skerton bridge which may be a bottleneck for traffic except that traffic is usually not much better on either side of the bridge. Yesterday the lane to the motorway was significantly busier than the lane to the city centre and I have noticed this many times.

So the argument about Lancaster's traffic problems not being resolved by a link road have been holed. There are times when it is obviously the case that bottlenecks are caused by vehicles travelling to the motorway.

There is one further point that I would make. Serious accidents have been caused on this bridge as HGVs move lanes to get into the lane for the motorway. I remember one accident in which a car was pushed off the bridge into the river.

It's time for a link road.

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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

We're Not Worthy

What is your definition of dignity? Is it something to do with value? I remember from my Latin O' level that dignus translates as worthy and this makes me think of Wayne's World and the hero worship that went with "we're not worthy". Should we aspire to be worthy people? Of course hero worship comes in all forms and a facebook page managed to make out that Raoul Moat was a hero.

There were calls yesterday for clarification of the law for so-called mercy killings. One man who has had a stroke wants his wife to help him to die. If you look up the details you will find that it is a severe stroke, but what about a mild stroke? What is the big deal about the severity of a stroke. People don't lose value because they are less able. If that were the case then we should reconsider all the anti-discrimation laws that have been passed.

My main concern when I hear calls for mercy killing relates to the message that this sends out to those who are less able. In fact it relates to the message sent out to anyone. There are times when we all feel less able. Just because someone cannot dress and feed themselves does not make them a less worthy person. If this were reason enough for life to be taken then there are thousands of people in this country who are in this position. The message is going out to them that they are not worthy and this is not a message that I want to hear if we are to call ourselves civilised.

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Monday, 19 July 2010

Accidents happen

Have you ever watched a child running around and you thought something might get knocked over, like a stack of tins? Then when something happens the child get told off. I have always thought the guardian should be told off before anything happened.

I was watching a rugby league match yesterday between Batley and Widnes. It was the Northern Rail Cup final so it was an important match and both teams were playing aggressively. Normally it is so much easier for me to agree with rugby, rather than football commentators and referees because the discipline is so much greater in rugby. However yesterday some decisions were not quite right and the referee tried to make up for it by being wrong to both teams. His decisions were probably fair to both teams in the end and the best team won.

However the main reason for thinking about the match was because of an accidental injury when a finger went into an eye which immediately became black. The commentators called it an accident but it would be hard to distinguish this from a deliberate attempt to injure made to look like an accident. Maybe it's not a big deal. I used to play rugby and I wouldn't think twice about being tackled high. My tackles were usually around the waist but accidents do happen - ask children running round stacks of cans. However I have also met rugby players who would deliberately try to injure.

Change the world

P.S. Congratulations to Batley

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Playing cards close to chest

If something is going wrong and two groups or two individuals are not getting on then what is the best way to deal with it? The easy answer is to let the two sides speak with each other informally. Formal discussions can leave a nasty taste in the mouth, but if these talks fail then there is always the choice of legal action.

In Oldham East and Saddleworth the MP Phil Woolas is being challenged by the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in the last election because of a possible libel action on account of Labour newspaper put out during the election. Labour won only by 103 votes so there is a good chance that a powerful argument in one newspaper may have caused 53 voters to change their minds. At first Labour thought there was little chance of legal action but have now accepted that the courts will be involved.

What struck me is that we are well past informal or formal discussions which is a shame, but I also noticed that both sides are now playing their cards close to their chests. The opposite of what I would like to see, but that's justice for you.

Change the world

Saturday, 17 July 2010

End Water Shortages

I wrote about the hosepipe ban last week and I suspected that the waste that we would hear about would be caused by domestic users. The call is now for every home to be fitted with water meters. Well it doesn't seem to have stopped raining since the ban came in and many Lancastrians have also been affected by flooding. It is fairly obvious that we need water. It is vital for life and if we charge for the amount that we use then it is going to hurt those with young families who are not in the best position to pay for it.

I know that the ground was dry. I know that heavy rain means that most of the water runs into the drainage system. I also know that countries with very much less rainfall manage very well. I am not sure if the Green Party would object to building dams but some countries build giant dams and they are seen as architectural works of art. They also mean that arid countries manage very well.

If other countries can build dams, limit flooding, improve their economies and use water as a source of electrical power then we should be thinking along similar lines. I am surprised that I have not yet heard about sharing baths, but it has rained every day during the ban. We should be careful with our resources but the calls we are hearing are diversion tactics caused by a lack of political will.

Change the world

Friday, 16 July 2010

Graduate Tax

When I was studying in higher education in the 1980s all my tuition fees were paid by the government. In fact students received maintenance grants to study for degrees. I think most people remember those days but it is a worthwhile reminder when you consider the suggestion that is now in the news for a graduate tax. Students now take out loans for their tuition fees but it must be fairer to ask a high earner to pay back more for the training received in order to earn that extra money.

Universities don't like the idea of a graduate tax because the money has to go through the government and then be passed on to the university. They feel some money may not get to them. Students who have trained for work with high earnings feel penalised because their predecessors have not had to pay extra tax.

The answer seems so obvious. Have a tax system that pays for higher education. It sounds radical because the fundamental problem is that we are finding 'academic excellence' in far too many of our youth. We need to return to a time when to matriculate meant that your name was part of a small list going to university. Wanting everyone to become academically excellent may be an admirable aim, but it can't be achieved just by matriculating and graduating everybody. There needs to be some way for employers to distinguish between those who have differing aspirations.

Also, to tax graduates regardless of what field they may aspire to is to force them into those fields where personal financial reward is more-or-less guaranteed, ignoring whatever more intangible benefits might arise from greater diversity or from career choices which benefit the country as a whole but which are not the most high-paying. Is that really what we want?

Change the world.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Letter to Morecambe's local newspaper

I don't normally write to the local paper about national matters but I was prompted to do so by a former Labour councillor. I hope that it will be published next week, expecially as it is a reply to a national comment...

A strong opposition is a good thing, so I welcome David Whittaker’s letter to The Visitor (July 14th) in which he criticises the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition’s budget. In particular he dislikes the rate at which the Government wishes to cut the deficit and the impact on the poor.

The fact is that the national debt has turned out to be vastly larger than even the greatest pessimists feared. Four trillion pounds! That’s around £65,000 for each of the 62 million people in the country. With figures like that the interest on the debt could easily grow to be more than our GDP. It’s hard to overstate the urgency of cuts needed to bring about deficit reduction. Unfortunately things have gone far beyond the point where we could place the burden just on the very richest.

It’s important that we target cuts so the worst-off don’t become the hardest-hit, and that is what the Liberal Democrat influence has largely achieved. It is unfortunate to see a cut to the Sure Start Maternity Grant, but the cut is to restrict it to the first child only, and the first child is the costliest. The health in Pregnancy grant is given regardless of income. Can we afford to give this grant even to the wealthiest? The figures say otherwise. There has to be targeting.

The Liberal Democrats’ influence is there for all to see. There has been a raise in capital gains tax and in personal tax allowances, and a restoration of the pensions to earnings link. It is useful to remind David that it was the Labour Party that got us into this mess. They created the costly surveillance state, increased the gap between rich and poor, and one of Labour’s first acts in Government was to restrict benefits for lone parents.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Tragic circumstances, bad law

I heard on the news a couple of days ago that a family of a woman from Stockport are taking legal action after she died just weeks after breaking her toe. Her death was caused by a blood clot. It was certainly a tragic death as she died at a very young age and in front of her husband and children.

My motivation for writing today’s blog is because of the legal action. Lawyers have obviously advised the husband that he can sue and the legal basis for the action must be that the signs and symptoms of a blood clot could be found at a follow-up appointment. However these appointments are not a means of screening for blood clots. They are to check on the healing of the fracture and signs of a clot may be found on examination but primarily if signs and symptoms of a blood clot develop then you go to casualty or you see a doctor or a nurse. You don’t rely on outpatient appointments.

There is always a slight possibility that symptoms may be found at appointments. This is called coincidence but the reports in this case she died a couple of days after the surgery. Follow-up appointments would not have helped unless they were every couple of days.

I do not blame the husband for taking the advice of lawyers, but I do think that the lawyers might be at fault. Not every tragic death shoul be the occasion for legal action.

What is certain is that if this becomes the norm then medical decisions will not be made on the basis of medical need but on what lawyers may say. Our country is stagnating under the weight of legislation. Packets of nuts tell us they may contain nuts. Printed instructions tell us not to eat silica gel.

It will be unfortunate if NHS appointments are given out on the basis of protecting our medics from litigation. We need to retake the initiative from the lawyers, and make sure appointments are given out based on medical need.

Change the world.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Anyone for ping-pong?

Warren Bradley, the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Liverpool Council was on the television criticising the coalition government. I was waiting for the punchline saying how well Liberal Democrats were doing at any level but there wasn't one. As I understand it the coalition is allowing Liberal Democrat policies to be enacted. Alright there are some Tory policies too but that is what coalition is all about.

The choice is clear. Liberal Democrats act in the coalition and have influence or they stay in opposition and come up with the policies that may affect Government decisions but only if that is what the Government wants. I thought I knew which choice I preferred. What was Warren's motivation to come up with this criticism? He doesn't like defending Tory policies, that much is clear. If we are to exert influence in government, we have to take our position as coalition partners seriously, even if that sometimes means compromises.

Not everyone will agree with me on the definition of democracy but I really don’t think it is about implementing one party’s policies then alternating them with another party’s. Locally in Lancaster there is a coalition too, which makes it difficult to criticise local decisions, but isn't this what democracy is about? I think so. Adversarial politics may be appropriate sometimes, but if we are to represent more than just a minority then we have to work together, sometimes setting aside our differences in the interest of harmony and progress. We have to implement policies that are negotiated between coalition partners. What is the alternative? Well we can go back to adversarial ping-pong and change policies with every election.

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Monday, 12 July 2010

Composed Armed Officers

Have you ever been in the company of someone who has killed a wasp. Then you find out that someone else in your company is shocked by this action as the wasp was a living creature and deserved respect. There are so many other methods of removing a wasp without hitting it with newspaper and some methods will keep it alive. These two people don't usually become firm friends.

Raoul Moat has made headlines for more than a week. There are so many points to be made and I am sure he will make headlines for days to come, but the one small aspect that I want to highlight comes from the photographs of the policemen whose guns were aimed at him. I don't have a photo so let me describe one face. Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi happens to be the longest name of a muscle in the body. If you understand Latin then you will already know that I am talking about the muscle that raises the nose and the upper lip. Try it on one side of your face and you may be thinking of Elvis. Now really exagerate the use of this muscle if you can. I can only use this muscle on the right side of my face. You will now appreciate the expression of one of the policemen with guns.

I don't know about you but I don't expect professional sharpshooters to be photographed with such expressions. There will be questions asked as to the role of the Tasers but if a Taser did hit him and he had the gun pointed to his head then it may not be the case that the Taser prevented him killing himself, it might be the cause. It may well be the case that he was a violent man with malicious intent. It may be the case that the safety of others was paramount but if some people can get worked up about a wasp then you can be sure that there will be plenty of people upset by these events.

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Sunday, 11 July 2010

Strong arguments to improve the educational infrastructure

There was talk of education on Any Questions this week. The specific question was related to the importance of cuts in the schools building programme but there were subsidiary points including one about whether we can trust the comprehensive system or whether private education was the answer.

There is no doubt that capital expenditure has been cut (but was it ever affordable in the first place). We can argue for a long time about the importance of good quality buildings as compared to portacabins or rattling windows in an old building. We can debate the need for state of the art laboratories in our schools or whether pen and paper is more important.

Of course we need an appropriate infrastructure for our education system, but much more important is attitude. Maybe for some pupils a nice building is a reflection of the respect that is shown to them. My feeling is that attitude is so much more important than the building. Last year I was speaking with a teaching assistant from Senegal. He was amazed at the attitudes that he had come across in Britain. Our pupils don't appreciate their facilities so the argument for improving our infrastructure is very much weaker.

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Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hosepipe Bans

Here we are on the second day of the hosepipe ban in the north west. The last time this happened was in 1996. I can't remember 1996 but I can remember floods in November. I also remember yesterday when I was in Great Harwood and the gutter of Mercer Hall couldn't cope with the amount of rainfall. The roads were like rivers and this water was going straight into the drainage system.

We have plenty of rain, plenty of leaks and plenty of water, but not enough for us to use our hosepipes. It seems that we have to accept climate change, wet winters and dry summers, and we will have hosepipe bans in the future. I can agree with the view that we have had less rain than usual and our store is low. Where I disagree with United Utilities is that there is not much water in Britain. We have lakes full of it in the Lake District but we do not collect most of the rainfall. This message will not be heard. We are now going to hear about waste, including the hosepipe ban, but the use of hosepipes may be an efficient use of water rather than waste.

There will always be waste within the system. Water mains will burst. Something will always go wrong. However the waste that will hit the headlines will be about sharing baths or putting bricks in toilet cisterns. I think that there are domestic practices that could improve just as it is possible to have less leaks in the system. I'm afraid that I am going to water down the message from United Utilites. We have plenty of water. All we need is the political will to collect it if we want to limit threats of crises.

Change the world

P.S. I had written this blog and I saw a comment from a United Utilities spokesperson on the local news last night. He said that the tarns in the lake district would last a couple of days if they were plumbed into the system. Well lets use the lakes and if locals find this offensive then lets make more.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Delaying Decisions

About four years ago I was part of a team that carried out a survey on Broadway's speed limit in Morecambe. It is 40mph but we wanted to know if it should be lowered as it is a broad way and there are drivers who treat it like a racetrack. In summary we supported a lowering of the limit.

There have been a couple of accidents this year, one of which closed the road for a few hours and caused a lamppost to be replaced. The light is now working properly but the light was on during daylight hours for around three months. I know of three phone calls to the council to correct it and save some money but I am sure they have a good explanagtion as to how it was cheaper to leave the light on.

As for the speed limit, this is Lancashire County Council business and I am sure they will eventually decide what to do, but I have heard that there has been a delay because of one objection. I have the details of many more who like the speed limit at 40mph and more who want it lowered, but if I pass over this information then there is a good chance that the Council would never make a decision.

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Thursday, 8 July 2010

Turkeys voting for Christmas

Which career is the least popular? I haven't seen any popularity charts but I think the tax man would rank high in this poll. I don't think that many of us say thank you for having tax taken off us. However I would also guess that much less popular is a career in politics. Politicians never had good publicitiy and it hasn't improved in recent years. So one popular move is to vote for less MPs which would save the country money and give us fewer numbers of these unpopluar people. This was put forward by Nick Clegg a couple of days ago so that should go down well.

He also proposed a referendum on the voting system for the next election. What is the reason for looking at change? Well less and less people are voting. Apathy rules OK. Most votes don't count so it is easy to see why people don't vote. If we don't vote we don't have a democracy and democracy is important because we want political decisions to reflect the will of the people. The people aren't always right and with authority comes responsiblity. It is easy to come up with the strictest of regimes if we are not responsible for any backlash.

However a change in system will change the composition of our MPs. How do you get MPs to support change which means they have less power? How do you get them to vote for their numbers to fall? Well they should vote to improve our democracy and not vote for what best serves their purposes. The words Christmas, voting, for and turkeys come to mind but not necessarily in that order.

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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

More on Morecambe Prom

It was only six days ago when I wrote about the developments on Morecambe Prom near the Midland Hotel. I was walking along the prom yesterday and there is an amusement arcade window displaying the plans. The owner is not happy. Complaints range from a lack of consultation to a Prince Charles type assault on the architects.

It is often the case that great architecture is contentious and beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. The arcade (and letters in the local press) protest also claimed that the local press would not publish an artist's impression of the smallest of the proposed buildings, the Midland and surrounding area. I seem to recall that I have seen this image in the newspaper. I may be wrong but I don't see why they wouldn't print it. I would guess that the accusation is that the press are conspiring with the council and the developers in order to endorse the planning application.

Last week I stated my main concern about developing anything by the coast - can it be protected from global warming and rising sea levels? My view of the artistic impression was that it didn't look bad at all. I thought it gave Morecambe a Mediterranean feel. The protest did mention that the prom belonged to the people (so should not be developed). Well there are not usually many people gaining the benefit of their possession and there weren't many today.

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

North versus South

If you live in rural Lancashire then it is fairly easy to get to a major city. I am not one for going shopping but I am quite happy with the number of events that I can attend locally. I guess I am saying that the world may revolve around Morecambe. However not everyone has the same view. Some will say that nothing happens outside London.

It would be nice to have less centralisation. Our national sporting stadia are mostly in London. Most of our national museums and galleries are there too. It is refreshing when you get a building of national importance elsewhere - particularly in the north of England but there are not many examples.

Have you ever seen subtitles for people who are speaking in English? It is really demeaning for them. The producer is saying "you may be speaking English but we can't understand you". Not quite as bad but demeaning too, is when I see the North of England correspondent on the television news. You don't see a South of England correspondent because this is obviously where all the serious news comes from. It says to me that the broadcasters will devote one of their reporters to the north and all the others are for the south. At least we don't usually see subtitles when a northener is speaking.

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Monday, 5 July 2010

The rights of the prisoner

I was listening to local radio a couple of days ago and they were interviewing people in the street on their views about prison. They happened to interview someone who had just come out of prison and he said that life was too easy inside. They all have their own TVs and kettles and they spend time playing pool. It sounds quite a nice existence if you add on to this that meals and a bed are provided.

I admit that my experience is limited but I have played a few rugby matches behind closed walls. The opposition players were very nice people. You could see that playing against a "normal" team was a privilege for them and they were certainly on their best behaviour - and that's the point. You need privilege so that you get best behaviour. I have also had direct experience of speaking with the staff of a few prisons. Order is maintained by agreement and without the little luxuries then life would be much harder for both staff and prisoners.

I guess it is a little like any organisation. People don't like change, but it does seem that prisoners have things a little too easy. If we are all tightening our belts then we could do worse than looking at the rights of the prisoner.

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Sunday, 4 July 2010

I thought Andrew Neil was clever

In the last couple of days I have heard three or four comments about the VAT increase and the Liberal Democrats' poster concerning the Tory plans to increase this tax. Andrew Neil is one person who seemed shocked that the Liberal Democrats were part of the coalition that has increased VAT. Why should he be shocked? I thought he was a fairly clever man.

Before the election the Liberal Democrats were warning that great savings would have to be made and an open and honest approach was needed. An increase in VAT was not ruled out. It just so happened that if we were to believe Tory information then money would have to be raised elsewhere and the guess was that it would be VAT. Now that it has been discovered that the economy is much worse than anticipated then cuts will be deeper and taxation greater.

The Liberal Democrat position is completely reasonable. As for the Tories and their increase in VAT that they denied before the election, then there defence is... well I suppose it is the economy is worse than anticipated. However they can defend themselves but I really don't know why Andrew Neil and others should be shocked by the decisions made by Liberal Democrats.

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Saturday, 3 July 2010

How to nurture English talent

The news is that Fabio Capello is to remain the England manager. It is refreshing to hear that a manager is supported even when the team that he is managing does worse than expected. I am not keen on the idea that we employ football managers and then sack the ones that are in the bottom half of the league because the team is in this position, and then sack some of the managers who are in the top half of the league because the team are not doing as well as the fans or the board would like. I would like to see contracts that are honoured. If you give a manager a three year contract then stay with it. This is what has honourably been agreed.

However there is another side to Fabio's contract. It may be that he was the best candidate for the England post, but how does he inspire national pride? What would have happened if England played Italy? If he were truly professional and didn't want Italy to win then what kind of role model is this to inspire national pride? Secondly, when Fabio began his role in England his English wasn't brilliant. How does he inspire through communication? It may be that he is inspirational but did the selection panel consider the inspirational value of his translators?

If we learn anything from this World Cup it should be that we need to nurture English talent, whether it is management or players. We can't do that with a Premier League full of non-English players and managers.

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Friday, 2 July 2010

Dark ages for the NHS

I was listening to a phone conversation yesterday. The person on my end of the line was asking about someone we both know who is in hospital. The first question was is she on the ward. I was only half-listening but it seemed to take a long time and there was still no answer. I think the person on the other end of the line was using a computer, because I know there are boards on the wall that tell you the names of the people on the ward and it also tells you which bed they occupy.

The delay continued and I was thinking that this person could not see the board, however I did feel that it would have been much easier to shout out the person's name and see if anyone answered. I was busy otherwise I would have suggested a phone call back to the hospital in a few minutes to see if they knew where their patient was. I said nothing and after what may have been ten minutes we discovered her whereabouts.

This is not an example of human error making computers look bad. I mentioned in a recent blog that someone I know had taken early retirement because a new generation of software had slowed down her ability to make appointments. Everyone was at best uncomfortable with the new system and at worst it was a cause for anger. This is the age of the computer and everyone can find out anything. However it is not that long ago that patients were known by name. Now we are lucky to know the doctor by name. Now we are lucky if staff who work on a ward know their patients. Why do I think that in many ways we are back in the dark ages?

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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Building by the sea

A few years ago I read an article about global warming and how the sea levels would rise. It went into great detail as to how our island's boundaries would change. I lived in east Lancashire at the time and my area was quite safe so I managed to sleep soundly. However I did notice that even though the north west did not do too badly, there was some land lost by the coast.

Now I live in Morecambe and the whole peninsula is fairly flat. It is easy to see how the whole area may be at risk and we have good sea defences which are constantly upgraded, unless you live in Sunderland Point and Heysham is under serious threat of erosion too.

This leads me to another letter in the local paper (see yesterday's blog) about a possible development by Urban Splash near the Midland Hotel. There have been objections on many grounds, amendments to these plans and consultation is ongoing but I am not clear why attitudes have changed to building so close to the sea. Will any building on the sea side of the promenade get insurance against flooding? Will any building be designed as flood-proof.

It is a while since I saw buildings on the news on the east coast fall into the sea due to erosion, and places like St Peter's Heysham and the whole of Sunderland Point are under the same serious threat. It seems strange to me that we can allow our heritage to disappear under water but afford to build in areas that are at sea level.

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