Friday, 28 December 2012

Spotting the Signs

There is a new plan to spot abuse victims. It seems that hospital professionals did not have enough information and a new database will identify children who are at risk of abuse. According to one doctor this information is long overdue. Compare that with the news before Christmas that the health minister was 'disgusted and appalled' at NHS failings in Worcestershire which included patients going hungry and thirsty. In one case an 84-year-old man  starved to death in Redditch.

You don't need a degree or even an A level to recognise when someone is thirsty. You don't need a great deal of training to recognise abuse. What you do need is the confidence and authority to raise a concern. An increasing reliance on computers may relate to increased authority but it doesn't add to confidence. Has the professional checked all the information that is available to them? Do they have the time to check all available avenues of information? One answer is that they have to make time. Another answer could be that the signs of abuse are in front of them.

Taking a child from a parent is a really difficult decision and not one to be taken lightly. Maybe knowledge about a child's history would help but what the new database certainly does is add pressure to the work of the professionals. What it doesn't do is remove the necessity for making a decision, especially where the signs are there for all to see and all the database does is to add corroboration where none may actually be needed.

Pressure is added to the care role (see my blog on the pressure on nurses and the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha written on the 14th December) and that means the professional will find it more difficult to evaluate the patient's signs and symptoms. You don't need a plan to spot abuse victims just like you don't need one to feed patients. What you do need is a professional with the character to act. What we get are professionals who hide behind protocols and plans and forms that are filled.

Change the world

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Piers needs our help

I was paying for some petrol last week and had a brief conversation with the person taking my money. She could not believe that Americans had gun laws that were partly to blame for the killings that took place in Connecticut. I agreed but mentioned that guns had their supporters and Michael Moore met up with Charlton Heston who was president of the NRA when he made his film Bowling for Columbine. He didn't get anywhere with Charlton and she had to be careful because gun owners in this country may not be in total agreement with her.

Yesterday Piers Morgan was not as careful and managed to upset gun owners. He got in trouble for criticising the views of Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America on American TV and now 31,000 Americans have signed a petition calling for him to be deported. That's a lot of people. There is some reassurance in knowing that this is less than 1% of the American population but the NRA does have 4 million members. Even more worryingly "there were 88.8 firearms for every 100 Americans in 2007"

We need to show solidarity with Piers. He needs our help. We need a petition from the whole UK population saying that we don't want him back (nothing to do with his gun law views).

Merry Christmas

Sunday, 23 December 2012

All in this together

There are signs on the M6 that tell you whether traffic is flowing freely on the toll road and these signs are just before you have to make your decision as to whether you pay the toll. The toll road is usually free of traffic jams because most drivers choose to avoid paying and take their chance with possible jams.

There are other signs elsewhere in the motorway system that tell you how quickly you will travel over the next few junctions but this information is not available near the toll road. Choice is hardly informed but you do know that you will be certain to avoid a jam by paying the toll. This is not a problem if money is no object. In this case the toll road has to be the best choice.

The news is that the government is looking at tolls to fund new roads so those who can afford to use them will pay for them. When David Cameron tells us that we are all in this together he must not be thinking of toll roads.

Change the world

Friday, 21 December 2012

The NRA's Considered Thoughts

The National Rifle Association, the NRA has spoken. Well they have left it a whole week since the  terrible shootings in Connecticut so there has been time for them to gather their thoughts and speak rationally.

According to the NRA's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,"and he felt quite strongly that there should be an armed officer in every American school. He needs to apply more logic. No good guy with a gun stopped Adam Lanza. No good guy with a gun would have helped those in the first classroom even if they have been in the school. However it may be that the good guy isn't quite as good with a gun as the bad guy and the good guy is killed too.

This was an elementary school. Think how many gunmen America would need. They have holidays and sickness like everyone else. They also need support staff. Don't forget the activities after school and multiply the costs to ensure a good guy is present at all times. Let's say the NRA get their way and there are thousands of armed police. Now think of another institution, any institution. What happens if a gunman goes there?

The NRA have gathered their thoughts and this is the best that they could come up with.

Change the world

Thursday, 20 December 2012


Would you be more concerned if your child used the F word or a word like pleb? I find it hard to believe that Andrew Mitchell's friends are trying to say that an injustice has been done because there may be doubts about whether a police officer acted as a witness. Mr Mitchell has never denied using the F word. He should count himself lucky that he was not arrested as there are many who would have been for using this type of language.

According to the BBC, 'senior Downing Street source told the BBC that Mr Mitchell was in a "much stronger position" following the latest developments in the plebgate story' but this report also tells us that there was "no reason to doubt the accounts of officers directly involved in the incident".

Let's guess that Andrew Mitchell actually said "plod", and the policeman misheard. Mr Mitchell would have been glad of that because it allowed him to say, correctly, that he had never used the word "pleb", while diverting attention away from the true issue which was his swearing and his denigration of a police officer just doing his job. The media, in turn. would have been happy to run with that because they could hardly call it f*'%#£&gate.

Change the world

Friday, 14 December 2012

Time to support nurses.

I almost wrote a blog last week about the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, but as is my wont, I looked to my advisory group for their comments (I spoke with a couple of people) and the advice given was that my blog should not detract from criticism of the hoax callers in Australia. Now you see how each of my blog entries is carefully crafted. My emphasis was not on the mistakes made in Australia. The hoax callers were wrong. Every time someone pulls a prank it may not be appreciated by the person on the receiving end. Many pranks are harmless and funny, for example Candid Camera and Dom Joly, but what would have happened if the mask came off to reveal Jeremy Beadle and the practical joke ended in a heart attack? In this case the hoax callers had done something much worse. They say they didn't want to hear confidential information but they did, and then the radio station used it. They should have known that hospital management would have to act against their staff.

Everyone knows that the Australian DJs went too far. However my emphasis in the blog was with the reaction from the King Edward VII Hospital. Something wasn't right. We were continually hearing reports that no disciplinary action was being taken and the hospital had shown full support to their staff. Why? Their significant errors meant that private information was given out. The nurses should have faced some action from management. I didn't wish to criticise nurses but this is why I was given the advice not to publish. I wanted to highlight the underlying pressures caused by general working practice.

Every breach of confidentiality is important but when the hospital deals with celebrities then confidentiality becomes so much more important. Errors will always happen however good the training and protocols but you would expect a greater emphasis on this sort of training in a hospital like King Edward VII. How often are nurses in this hospital trained to deal with possible journalists? Sometimes a patient will not want other members of the family to know what is happening to them. There must be protocols to identify how information is given out. I would even expect codes to identify those to whom information may be given. Personal contact or no phone calls to the hospital may be needed for the specific protocols related to celebrities including members of the royal family. And that's what was odd. The hospital must be partly to blame. Nurses work under a great deal of stress as it is your life in their hands. Management have a duty to their nurses but they surely have a higher duty to their patients and confidentiality must be high on that list.

On Sunday Andrew Marr interviewed Peter Carter of the Royal College of Nursing. It wasn't about the royal hoax but Peter was briefly asked about the suicide. He had no wish to speculate on this particular case but immediately blamed the hoax callers. What about the significant level of pressure that all nurses work under? What about the denial of pressure by hospital management? What about the Peter Carter's answer which deflects blame and doesn't recognise this pressure?

Nurses make mistakes. If the mistake is big enough then it will end their career. Nurses do an excellent job but they are under pressure. It won't be helped when hospital management doesn't recognise it or at least refuses to acknowledge it.

And the reason why I am writing now? It is because Jacintha left a suicide note which criticised the way the hospital treated her following the hoax call - and this is the same management that said it was fully supportive. Time to recognise what support for nurses really means.

Change the world

Ed on the wrong track

Later today Ed Miliband is going to talk about integration. He may say a lot of sensible things but what is making the headlines is that public sector workers should speak fluent English. The trouble here is a definition of fluent because speaking easily and accurately is often difficult to assess and we don't have pass or fails when we speak with others. I can get my points across in French. You may think that makes me fluent but others may not. There are many words in French that I cannot translate. Conversely there are many words in English that I don't understand.

 It would not be difficult to trip up anyone regarding their command of English. The main problem is not a definition of ease and accuracy, and we are all on a sliding scale of ability, but how the general public feel about immigration. The first reaction will not be whether you have a stutter or whether you have a wide enough vocabulary to deal with the public. It will be that foreigners are coming here, they can't speak English and they are taking our jobs. If this is Ed's intention then he has succeeded. The trouble is that these 'foreigners' may well speak a better standard of English than many who are born in this country.

Everyone will have a story where they have had trouble communicating with someone whose first language was not English. Ed is tapping into this difficulty and may well win votes. He won't improve racial tensions.

The answer is firstly to treat people on merit and to ensure that people in a public sector role have all the essential skills for that role. The second answer is to treat people as you would wish to be treated. I was a physiotherapist for many years and if I had wanted to work in France then I would have to ensure that my language skills were good enough. I was not barred but if Ed had powers over Europe then he may well want to put a stop to my freedoms.

Change the world

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The frack is back

Fracking is back today in the UK. It has been reported that earthquakes were caused by fracking, so fracking was halted. New restrictions are in place to minimise the risk of seismic activity but it would be interesting to see the details of these restrictions as earthquakes are notoriously difficult to predict. It must be less difficult to attribute cause because that is what has been done with shale gas exploration. As for the restrictions, are they going to just create little explosions so that we don't get earthquakes? Are they going to gently 'inject' water, making it sound like a doctor is using a hypodermic needle, or will they still be using the phrase hydraulic fracturing which doesn't sound quite as nice.

Listening to Radio Lancashire this morning one listener felt we had to listen to facts, not opinions and then told us that water supplies would not be affected where the drilling is taking place because water does not run upwards. The contaminated water will simply drain away. However these are exploratory wells and there will be many more sites if drilling is successful - and water is contaminated in the USA. At some point the fields of shale gas must impose on water supplies.Yes water comes from the sky and falls on the ground but high pressure is moving water and gas to places where they shouldn't be going.

I have just read Schumacher's book Small is Beautiful which was written in the 1970s. He is an economist and looks closely at the environmental aspects of our planning. Generally the environmental aspects are ignored and success is based on whether a product is cheaper. We don't appear to have learned much in the last 40 years and we don't appear to be calculating the cost of seismic activity.

Is shale gas going to lower bills? This isn't likely as energy prices are controlled by global factors. If energy prices go up then shale gas prices will go up and profit will go to the private companies. In fact George Osborne is considering tax incentives for drilling companies

There are environmentalists who have many concerns about fracking. There are scientists who support  fracking who tell us that we have to use the shale gas resource. Schumacher's book made a lot of sense to me. He would be asking us to put a value on the environmental costs but these costs appear to be ignored. We continually strive for an expanding economy with expanding energy demands whilst using more and more of our limited resources. The standard answer is that those resources are there for using but we need to have reservations about the direction in which society is heading. Just because an energy supply is cheaper (without calculating the cost to the environment) doesn't mean that we have to take it.

Change the world

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Animal Experimentation

I was listening to Victoria Derbyshire on Radio 5 this morning and she was presenting the show from an animal research laboratory. We heard descriptions of procedures that were being carried out and we heard the views of those who supported animal experimentation and those who didn't. Those who supported the experiments said they were useful but didn't mention any experiments that had been a waste of time. Maybe they think that negative tests are useful too. Those against said that testing wasn't useful and we shouldn't be using animals anyway.

Well either animal experiments are useful or they are not. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground here so it is surprising to hear this level of argument. Dogs were used to discover insulin so if you have diabetes, and even if you don''t then you may find yourself on the side of animal experimentation. The counter argument may be that dogs were not required but I would find this a difficult case to argue.

There was great discussion as to whether mice had to die in order to experiment on their embryos. Could an operation be carried out that allowed them to live after donating embryos to research? I had an image of teams of surgeons and anaesthetists working on thousands of mice but Victoria felt this was a valid question. Mice have short lives anyway, and in the outside world the end would normally come painfully, from a predator or disease or a mousetrap or poison. Think of the absurdity of surgically saving these mice at great expense, only to euthanize them shortly thereafter.

There appears to be stringent criteria to animal experimentation. The main argument against the tests is that we should not be treating animals in this way but I would find a stronger argument against the way we treat farm animals. Protestors have chosen to concentrate their efforts on laboratories rather than farms because here they hope to find more public support, not because animals face worse treatment.

Change the world

Should we ban fracking?

It can be argued that the earth has plenty of reserves of energy. We have enough coal for many many years and gas and oil are plentiful too. This may mean that we have to search further and further afield to get to these reserves but they are there. Then it can be argued that the date when we run out of fossil fuels can be put back because we will use other forms of energy like nuclear. Well there are much less reserves of uranium but they'll help to keep our lights on until the day we invent new forms of energy even if there are significant disadvantages to using nuclear fuels or for that matter to using fossil fuels.

Regardless of the advantages and disadvantages we see everything as viable if it costs less than the alternative, and as cheaper sources of energy go, the oil and gas produced by fracking is viable. Well it is if you believe the Cuadrilla Resources, the company involved in fracking in the UK. At the moment fracking is banned in the UK because it was blamed for two earth tremors in the north west in 2011. If you pump water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas then there must be at least a possibility of an earthquake. However earthquakes occur at any time at any place so I suppose Cuadrilla can blame the earth moving on an act of God.

Whether we have Cuadrilla supplying us with gas and oil depends on the cost. On Sunday their spokesperson said "Britain is spending tens of billions of pounds importing gas...We don't have infinite patience and our investors don't have infinite patience." In general economic terms, we don't want the company to lose patience because they are hoping to provide us with cheaper fuel. However if those two earthquakes are down to fracking then I presume that the company would have to pay for any damage.

I live in Morecambe and I felt one of those earthquakes that came from Blackpool where the drilling was taking place. If you need some pointing doing then there would be a small cost. If a new wall is needed for your house then costs would be significant. Drilling has not been going on for long but I have never felt any other earthquakes and I have always lived in the north west.

It seems that money is the big motivation for energy policy. I think there are more important considerations like the damage to the environment but even if you don't agree with me then you have to quantify the affect of driving water at high pressure into rocks that may move and then give that bill to the company.

Change the world

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Hopefully the last blog about BT

On the 30th September I added a note to my blog entry about BT. My reservations about naming this company have long gone as so many things have gone wrong. This note said that I had set up a direct debit and was hopefully the end of many problems that I had had with this company. I won't repeat these problems except to say that I had been asking them for their services since the end of July and it still hasn't been sorted as I received an automated phone call today telling me that I hadn't paid my bill. I tried to set up a direct debit again but this time I was unsuccessful maybe because I already had one.

I searched my records as I was hoping to speak with a real person and then I phoned BT. It only took eleven minutes this time. After going through many options, giving my account number and waiting, the automated voice suggested that I phone again to the number that I had already rung. I decided to decline this invitation and kept on the line. A few minutes later I spoke with someone who asked for my name, my account number and confirmation of my telephone number. Am I completely wasting my time putting in automated information?

I told the gentleman that I thought that I had already set up a direct debit and I was now told that I had failed to pay my bill. His reply was "there is no direct debit - oh yes there is". He then put me on hold. A few minutes later I was told that the direct debit was already set up and he apologised for their mistake.

I have been trying to get a service from BT for five months. I don't have the service that I asked for and there are still problems with the service they gave me. I am tied in for 18 months - only 13 to go.

Change the world

P.S. I feel bad writing a P.S. to what should be my last blog about BT but I have wanted to check the amount that I have used broadband. I normally use around a third of my allowance but who knows? For the last two days I have read "The usage monitor is currently undergoing maintenance. Please try again later". I don't check that often but it would be nice to know.

P.P.S. It is now 29th and still no monitor.

P.P.P.S I received an email on the 2dn December to tell me that so far, November I had used  7GB of  my 10GB allowance. It is nice that they are thinking of me when I get close to my allowance but this was sent to me two days after November finished. I checked today (3rd December) and the monitor is still not working.

Add another P. I phoned BT on Thursday. I had received recent adverts about BTVision so I thought I would try again. However I am still a bad debtor and this time it is not a check internal to BT but an external company tells BT that I need to give them a £50 deposit. I won't be taking them up on their offer. I did ask about the usage monitor. It is not working but should be working by weekend. It is now Sunday evening at 10pm. It isn't working.

Monday, 26 November 2012

36 reasons to avoid debating female bishops

Yesterday there was only one question on the television programme The Big Questions (should that be Question), should Parliament force the Church of England to appoint women bishops? However the question was hardly discussed as most of the time we heard something about the recent vote at Synod that rejected women bishops and we heard a lot of insults. I counted 36 examples of rudeness, insults, derogatory jokes and generally unchristian attitudes and emotions but there could easily have been more and the programme only lasted 43 minutes.

Christina Rees, a lay member of the General Synod was extremely upset (1) this week and feels that the Church looks "appalling"(2).  Bishops, clergy and laity have all been betrayed (3) by the House of Laity. She, and those who agreed with her "walked the extra mile" to accommodate those who disagreed but still they didn't get the result they wanted. It seems that nothing (4) will satisfy those who want to keep the status quo.

There is a problem with toxic (5) conservatives (the c is small because it belongs to members of the Church) who are defining the Church by what they despise (6), and according to the Rev George Pitcher this includes homosexuals, women and people who aren't it (conservatives). When one commentator felt that these conservatives needed protection from being pushed out (if there were women bishops) Christina felt that the use of the word protected was offensive (7). Peter Hitchens called this a furious dogmatic rage (8). I wouldn't quite use those terms but certainly the debate was heated (9). Christina told Peter that he was absolutely wrong (10), so I suppose that makes Peter right. He went on to criticise the use of the word toxic as he sees reasonable arguments from both sides of the debate.

Christina asked the conservatives how they would compromise, but her own position was clear. She wants women bishops who are not second class(11). Christina refused to accept that she is a purist and told us that this label should go to those who oppose her views (12). Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin felt that "there would never ever be anything good enough for them (13)" - the opposition. "That's a fact" she added. Not only is this opposition toxic, offensive, purist with no intention of compromise, all these are matters of fact(14) and do not need debating. She wants a new vote which is simple and asks for women bishops. If other members of the Church don't like it then Nicky Campbell suggested they should leave but Rose answered by saying they should behave like adults and accept the decision.

According to Rose, nothing was sorted out 20 years ago when women were ordained to the priesthood. It was a silly fudge (15). Others were calling it compromise. Women remain as second class and she added "that's a fact" - end of debate (16). Rev Pitcher came back with a "how dare you suggest"(17) when referring to apostolic mission and Sacred tradition. I don't think he was trying to cause offence but he was having a good go.  Ben Bradshaw MP reckons that Parliament could well act in the next few months if nothing changes. This is because there is a unique relationship with the Church of England which allows it to make decisions about Sacred tradition.

Rose spoke about a biblical illiteracy(18) within the Church referring to those who did not agree with women priests. "What on earth (19) are you (these people) doing on the General Synod?" The situation is ridiculous (20). "It - does - not - make - sense"(21). Peter recognized that what was just said showed no tolerance at all (22). Rose dismissed her opponents with contempt (23). According to Peter this is the source of the problem. Ruth Gledhill from The Times thought that Peter's view should be dismissed because this was the pot calling the kettle black (24). She was saying ignore Peter's views because he is not worthy of holding any.

Peter was speaking again when Christina kept interrupting (25) and when challenged she told Peter that he kept talking nonsense (26). Shortly after this she tried to interrupt another speaker (27). She did manage to speak again and quoted Rowan Williams by saying that her opponents did not show trust in the Church (28) and if you do not trust someone what do you say next to them. I had thought the Church in its wisdom had kept the status quo and so this is where trust should lie and it is Christina who needs to show trust.

Ruth spoke about the flying bishops who care for Anglicans opposed to female clergy. The aside from Rev Pitcher was "or the flying bigots (29) as we sometimes call them". Shortly afterwards George asked Ruth to wait a minute (30), to which he received the reply "no you wait a minute"(31). It didn't sound very pleasant. One had been talking for a great deal of time (31) while the other had monopolised (32) this debate. Well done the two of you because that is quite a feat in a chat show, or it could be that they were just arguing on air.

Peter saw rudeness (33) towards the conservative wing of the Anglican Church over and over again, and as if to prove the point Rose told him that this was madness (34). At this point he did manage a "there you go again" (35). Christina added that the House of Laity was holding the rest of the Church to ransom (36).

In the last five minutes of the programme a member of the audience spoke about her ambivalence towards women bishops. She has a point. Christians must think that God must be wondering how rude his supporters can get. Rudeness, insults and derogatory jokes even if you find them funny are not a basis for Christians to debate the role of women as Anglican bishops.

Change the world

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

An ash tree disaster?

There are 80 million ash trees in the UK and it is estimated that 95% will be affected by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, I quite like ash trees. There are other trees with pinnate leaves that I happen to prefer like the rowan tree but the ash isn't bad. That is unless you live near them. They are huge with thousands of seeds that fall distinctively. Consequently those who live near ash trees think of them as weeds.

I used to live near them and my neighbours told me how bad they were. I didn't particularly agree but I did find a dozen of so small ash trees growing in my small garden and understood how they could be thought of as weeds. I didn't want any ash trees growing in my smallish garden and they were tough to take out.

So why are we importing ash trees? It can't be difficult for nurseries to grow them and we have 80 million already. Everything I read about ash trees tells me that we are facing a disaster. It can't be that bad can it?

Change the world

Fewer tariffs must be good.

The government says it wants customers placed on the cheapest available tariff and if you are paying more then you will be switched automatically to your supplier's cheapest rate.  Consumer groups warn that the plans could mean some of the cheapest tariffs on offer disappear. Well companies will want to  make what they consider to be a fair profit so they tell us that the government plans will lead to less choice for consumers.

Well I don't want a huge choice. I don't want to work out whether I am on the best tariff from the company that provides my energy. I don't want to compare the charges from my company and its rivals. For me four choices of tariff are three too much. It's not like going to a supermarket and comparing the price of a tin of beans with the rival supermarket and who does that? Supermarkets entice us with adverts and loss leaders and before you know it we are hooked. We go to the same supermarket(s) out of habit. Advertisers know the importance of image when we are buying anything. There isn't a lot you can do with the image of gas and electricity but if you can make people feel cosy with an image of an energy tariff then you will make more money.

If the choice of tariffs is reduced then that's not a bad thing. If we get value for money then that's a good thing.

Change the world

Nothing wrong with tax avoidance?

If some companies are avoiding corporation tax then there are those who say that they are doing nothing wrong. They say that any criticism should not be aimed at companies like Amazon or Google or Starbucks but at the government which allows avoidance. I have written previous blogs on the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Carr, and the latter at least decided that what he did may have been legal but it wasn't ethical.

In the case of Starbucks it may be that their coffee outlets in the UK aren't making a profit but how do they allow their traders in Switzerland to make a healthy 20% profit without seeing a bean? This type of avoidance needs a broader answer than that which may be supplied by the UK government.

The companies are saying that they have done nothing wrong. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes MPs said that about their expenses.

Change the world

Friday, 16 November 2012

Why did the otter cross the road?

The otter population is growing in the UK and has been welcomed back as they look lovely and mean that the environment is cleaner. They have been welcomed back so much that they are protected. Well they haven't been welcomed back by everyone. Did you know that otters kill for fun? If an otter family moves in then they can do a lot of damage.  They eat duck eggs and the ducks if they can catch them. Fish farms are vulnerable too.

Regardless of whether you like or loath otters there is no doubting that the otter population has increased dramatically and otter families are now seen in most rivers. In part this has been due to a decline in their natural predators, in part it is due to a much cleaner environment, and in part it is due to the release of otters bred in captivity.  In recent years the otter has received significant support and European law protects them from injury and from moving them from their holt. Even if you took the otter from its home, another otter would fill the void as they are territorial animals.

If you wanted to build a mooring and your land happened to coincide with a holt then all is not lost. Help is available from Natural England. Otters are adaptable and with that advice they will live nearby. I have walked across Morecambe Bay and seen a great deal of wildlife. It so happens that wildlife was most abundant near humans and there isn't much to see in the middle of the Bay.

They have found a family of otters near the prospective link road from Morecambe to the M6. This means that Natural England are advising the council as to what they have to do to continue building. This isn't the emphasis in recent reports. Those who oppose the link road see the otters as their saviour. At the very least they believe that the cost of delay should preclude the continued development. However, even if building stops then the County Council money will go towards a link road elsewhere. Ironically the protestors have cost the council much more money in delays than any otter.

Change the world

P.S. Today's news (20th November) is that protestors still feel that the otters are the excuse they have been looking for. It is a non-story. Steve McCreesh, director of the project for the council, said the otters are not living near the area of woodland which will be built on. "They are not actually living close to the construction site, there is no holt near the site," he said. Still, it didn't stop the headlines.

Any space left in Room 101

I like the Lancashire Tory PCC candidate's message that he will be 'critical but supportive' of the chief constable. Now critical usual means that you are finding fault but Tim Ashton must be talking about the less used definition of critical as 'expressing an analysis of merits and faults'. The trouble is that even with this definition critical and supportive just doesn't make sense.

I'd put the expression 'critical but supportive' in Room 101 along with 'zero tolerance'.

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A mandate to oppose democracy

I laughed out loud when I read that one ballot box in Doncaster contained five voting papers. And then it sunk in. We have replaced something that many people haven't heard of, the police authorities with something they don't understand partly because we haven't had commissioners yet. What is the difference between a Liberal Democrat, a Tory and a Labour philosophy on policing? I am sure that if I read out an election address from the vast majority of candidates then you would not be able to name the party.

There was no funding for a postal leaflet so most people had no in depth knowledge of the views of any of the candidates. The few that went to vote only saw the party name when they voted. The trouble is that there will always be some who blame the electorate. They will say that people are lazy for not voting and they are lazy for not taking the trouble to find out about the candidates.

My view is that this election was not advertised well and those who shift the blame to the electorate are those who are in power and looking to keep it. Who chose November? We did manage to get leaflets out in some areas but that could have been doubled if daylight hours were better. Who chose to forbid a postal leaflet? 

Now that the results are coming in and we have figures for the dreadful turnout they will then say that the people have spoken - they don't want to vote. Then they will tell us that we shouldn't bother with elections. It appears that they have a mandate for telling us.

Change the world

P.S. I'm not laughing now. One ballot box in Newport, Gwent contained no voting papers.

P.P.S. I now read that it wasn't an empty ballot box but nobody went to one polling station in Newport. Incredible. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Will the last reporter please switch the light off

If you have had any direct knowledge of a news report and then seen those reports then I would guess that you already know that reporters don't always get things right. Partly they get things wrong because they are human, partly because they are told the wrong information and partly because they have to sensationalise the story. So if reporters had to resign for getting things wrong then, to paraphrase a Sun headline, the last one resigning would have to switch the light off.

Sometimes human error may be so great that a resignation is justified, and maybe that is the case with the DG of the BBC but it seems to me that there are much bigger areas of concern. Steve Messham told the BBC’s Newsnight team that he was raped by a senior Tory politician while he was in care at the Bryn Estyn home in Wrexham. Let's presume that there is the slightest truth in his allegation even though Steve recognised that the name that was leaked was not the alleged aggressor. Steve must have got the idea that it was a senior Tory politician from somewhere, and there are reports that say the police themselves gave Steve the name. This name must have been burning inside him for months and years.

Then there was the police investigation which didn't put out the flames. Then there was a Newsnight investigation which didn't put out the flames.Nobody put him right. I am not excusing Newsnight as it is a pretty serious error, but they have interviewed a man who passionately accuses an unnamed individual but who remains calm enough to be interviewed.

I don't believe the stories that say Steve Messham is a totally unreliable witness. I thought there was some truth in his allegations when he said he was raped and before I saw his heartfelt apology I suspected that he had been paid to change his story. I don't hold this view now because I believe Steve told the truth. Abhorrent acts have taken place and I hope David Cameron's resolve that 'no stone would be left unturned in getting to the bottom of these appalling matters' will continue.

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Sunday, 11 November 2012

The System Isn't Good Enough

It was interesting to read that a group of local Quakers may spoil their ballot papers for the PCC elections
The headline for the article was 'Quakers angry over police poll' which is hard to believe considering that they are pacifists and lovers of peace and this includes the absence of anger. However I couldn't find fault with the article itself. As I write this blog the commemorations at the Cenotaph are just finishing and I noticed that Quakers were not represented. They probably think about war much more than the rest of us and they certainly made today's local news.

They are considering the validity of the election because of the lack of information on all candidates. Me too. I have read the election addresses on the internet for all four candidates in Lancashire but the vast majority will not know anything about the candidates apart from which party they represent. Many will not have the ability to access any further information. The Quakers are also concerned about the possible politicisation of the police. Me too. I would also add that corruption is simpler when power is held by one person. I wrote about this on the 24th June 2009. If you don't see how corruption is possible then simply consider the role of Mayor Quimby in the Simpsons.

All four candidates in Lancashire represent political parties. What does political ideology have to do with setting the priorities for the police force? What has party politics got to do with holding the chief constable to account? Local Quakers may spoil their ballot paper and there is nothing wrong with that. They will be saying that they want to vote but the system isn't good enough. There is no doubt that the system could be better.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Don't expect any PCC Surprises

Occasionally parliamentary elections throw up surprising results and an independent wins. The local media will be involved. Newspapers, radio and local television will highlight the story and as a consequence the national media will have picked it up too. You need an outstanding candidate and exceptional circumstances.

Now think about the PCC elections where the boundaries are so much larger. If any independent candidate has a chance of winning then we would have heard about it by now. It looks like the party machines are taking over which will be helped by the independent candidates all saying the same type of thing. They all want a more accountable police service. They all want to concentrate effort on crime against the individual. They all see victims as more important than the criminal. They all want to avoid secrecy. They are all competing against each other.

Any candidate with a long association with the police could be seen as the right person for the role. On the other hand they could also be in cahoots with the police service because of this association, and their emphasis may not be to give the public what they want but to give the police the support that they desire.

Who is this wonderful independent who is distanced from the police but knows exactly what they need and what the public desire? What sort of person would make the best candidate? Whoever it is it is looking less and less likely that any will be elected independently. I received a comment from my blog last week which asked how we can realistically vote for a PCC because voters know so little about the candidates. The answer is that voters will resort to voting with their party hats on.

The comment also mentioned the £5000 deposit. Well if any independent candidate wants publicity then they can throw their money away but they won't become a PCC. I may be wrong but I wouldn't expect any surprises at these elections.

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Monday, 5 November 2012

Another hush up?

Sexual abuse is alleged to have taken place in children's homes in north Wales during the 1970s and '80s and we know that an unnamed senior Tory politician is involved. Compare that with the Savile investigations. We not only know that the perpetrator was Savile but we have seen photographs of the arrest of Gary Glitter and Freddie Starr. Gary Glitter was filmed leaving his home and it wouldn't be difficult to identify the house. Freddie Starr lives in Warwickshire. I didn't know that and I am sure many more of his personal details are available in this technological age. Both have been released on police bail.

What is the difference between those involved in the Jimmy Savile investigations and those involved in north Wales? Both have household names but we don't know the name of the politician. Should we know details of those who are arrested? 

The alleged victims in north Wales don't think that they have been listened to, but even Jimmy Savile's relatives find him guilty. There may be more politicians involved in north Wales but nobody knows their names. Surely if we have learnt one thing from the Savile case it is that he got away with it because everyone hushed it up. If we know what is happening then maybe more victims would come forward.

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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

PCC Elections - A Question of Priorities

I mentioned one concern about the PCC elections in the last blog. I hope that all candidates are committed to the role and would not treat it as a part-time job. I have another concern. Candidates want to gather support and they will do this by talking about what is important to the electorate. They will prioritise the offences that are significant to individual voters. Even the adverts that ask us to go and vote are doing the same thing by showing someone smashing a house window and stealing a small electrical appliance. Does this mean that nobody will prioritise serious fraud? Who will investigate the likes of Asil Nadir?

If there is corporate fraud then individual voters are only affected indirectly. If there is serious crime which means that a large company has to put a penny on its costs - say a pint of beer from an international producer of beer - then no individual will take this crime seriously, not for election purposes.

I have another concern. We know that Government ministers can't make decisions for themselves but rely on a team of experts to blame for any of their errors e.g. Justine Greening as Minister for Transport. We cannot possibly expect any individual to be an expert in every field. This equally applies to the role of PCC, but let's say we get a candidate who has years of experience within the police service. Are they the best candidates to know what the public wants? This begs the question do the public know what is the best way of directing money within the police service. This begs the question as to whether we should be having these elections.

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Vote for a full-time PCC

I was speaking to someone today who had been to a hustings meeting for the PCC elections. One of the candidates tried to distinguish themselves by saying that a vote for them would be a vote for someone who would treat the post as a full-time job. That's great considering they will only receive between £65,000 and £100,000. It wasn't for the Lancashire election but I would be embarrassed if any of my candidates were to say this.

I would suggest that if you hear anyone saying this then don't vote for them. How can they even contemplate a part-time role is beyond me and just by talking about their commitment to a full-time role means there is the possibility of less hours in their head. I would guess that many candidates are willing to give more than a full-time hours to the post so let's hope that hard working candidates become hard working commissioners.

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Monday, 29 October 2012

Zero Tolerance to Zero Tolerance

Last week I watched the TV programme 999: What's Your Emergency. When I saw PC Claire van Deurs Goss putting on lip gloss I thought it was a bit strange as she was driving at the time and some drivers go to court if they are not giving enough attention to their driving. The officer said that "lipstick is more effective than a Taser" when dealing with some dangerous situations. That may be the case but driving may be fairly dangerous when you don't give it your full attention. She was disciplined.

So how would you manage this situation? Would you say that the officer was in control of her vehicle and she is quite right when she talks about her attitude to policing? Lip gloss is important. Maybe you would say that this officer was setting a bad example but she was in control and you as the manager should be seen to do the right thing and make an example of her. Maybe you think that there should be 'zero tolerance' to driving without due care and attention and she should lose her job.

I don't agree with the last scenario but you often hear about zero tolerance and I never quite know what it means. Does it mean lock them up and throw away the key or does it mean an apology will suffice? The people who use the phrase want to be seen as tough but they don't know what they mean by zero tolerance and neither does anyone else.

We are going to hear this phrase many times in the run-up to the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. I would like to ban the phrase 'zero tolerance' as it is meaningless. There should be zero tolerance to zero tolerance.

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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Iain's Big Brother

Yesterday I was listening to Any Answers and of all the subjects on Any Questions, the possibility of cutting benefits caused the most replies. The subject came up because Iain Duncan Smith announced on Thursday that child-related benefits for families may be capped at two children. He did this because he feels that benefits meant that some families no longer thought about whether they could afford to have children. According to Iain families had to cut their cloth according to their capabilities and the money available.

The welfare state looks after the poor and needy and if you have children then it's much easier to fall into that safety net. The trouble is that it isn't a very good net. If you want an idea on the strength of that net the you could do worse than watch the programme on TV yesterday evening -  What Sitcoms Say About America Now. The comedy in The Middle summed up the devastating impact of a parent losing a job, and it doesn't agree with Iain's view. This family are panicking and it isn't related to a few pounds of benefit related to a third child. 

What if the parents have jobs and then lose them when they already have children? Iain's answer is quite simplistic and he is a person who is often praised for his concern for the poor. Families do not tend to be rich. Iain believes that benefits are too generous and working parents have to think twice about the cost of having children. I wonder what he thinks about the Chinese one-child policy. George Orwell's Big Brother would have been in favour.

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Schumacher would have been proud

I could have written this blog a few months ago as I had noticed a new pelican crossing in Galgate, just south of Lancaster. I saw it again today as I drove past it. There is a pub called The Plough on one side of the road and four houses on the other. It may well be the case that the siting of the lights is significant. Well it is for me because I just can't see how it can be used unless you happen to live in those four houses. Everyone else can cross the road at the nearby traffic lights.

I know how difficult it is to get any money out of the County Council for any adaption to the road. Every change is so expensive and we live in austere times. A few years ago I put forward a petition to have a roundabout at the junction of Broadway and the promenade in Morecambe. It would really help traffic flow in the area and would have limited ongoing costs as compared to lights that need an electrical supply with their subsequent costs for their use and for their maintenance. Schumacher (see last blog) would have been proud.

I don't see any benefit in running cars in traffic jams, whether it is trying to get to the M6 from Morecambe or whether it is trying to get onto the prom. It seemed to me that the County Council were not looking at traffic management but had a reactive policy of accident prevention. We need a broader outlook.

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Link Road and Winter Gardens

I have to travel from Morecambe to the M6 fairly regularly and I have written previously about the traffic problems on the Morecambe to Lancaster road. However there are protestors who aren't keen on a proposed link road, mainly because of its environmental impact. This week we discover that otters in the River Lune will delay matters further and increase costs. Those who are opposed feel that this is a reason to cancel the plans despite all the procedures, delays and added costs that have already taken place. It is ironic that if the road does not get built then a bypass will be built near Ormskirk along with its environmental impact.

I am not in favour of widespread expansion for its own sake. It may well be the case, as Schumacher argued in his book Small is Beautiful that the modern economy is unsustainable. I agree with him when he puts the case that we have to gain the maximum amount of wellbeing with the minimum amount of consumption and in this respect we need a thriving Morecambe. In particular we need a thriving Winter Gardens, which is still a fine theatre even though it closed in 1977. There are so many uses for this building which has achieved some or its potential because of the hard work of the Friends of the Winter Gardens, but even they cannot develop the building fully without  the infrastructure to allow it to flourish i.e. the link road.  It would be a fitting tribute to the architect of the Winter Gardens if we had a flourishing theatre once again in Morecambe.

I drove to the motorway at 10am this morning (a Sunday) and yes there were delays on the road. Unfortunately I was advised to expect delays because of roadworks which will be an added problem for the next ten days. I hope that I don't have to repeat this journey for some time.

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Monday, 22 October 2012

You heard it here first

On the 2nd July I wrote a blog about the closure of A&Es around the country and in particular how the people of Burnley now have to travel to Blackburn. On the 20th September I received an email and then a phone call from a reporter with the Mail on Sunday. He was interested in my personal experience of hardship caused by a closure of an A&E. I had visited someone in Blackburn but as this person lived in Blackburn then this wasn't the story he was looking for. I did pass on Tim Farron's name as he ran a campaign against the removal of coronary care services from Westmorland General but I don't think this was the angle that the reporter was looking for.

On the 5th October I wrote that back in November 2011 Jerry Sadowitz was touring the country with his unique brand of comedy and had been telling anyone that would listen about the exploits of Jimmy Savile. Then today the Mail Online came up with the headline 'Why did no one listen to Jerry's howl of rage?' at The trouble with the Mail's headline is that they too ignored the howl, but at least they are reading about it now.

Don't forget that you read about Jerry Sadowitz's allegations here first, or is that second or third...

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hospitals support procrastination

I don't often need to phone anyone who is in hospital (touch wood) but I recently phoned and heard an automated response that said hello to me. That's nice. I was through to the bedside number of someone in hospital. Good because that's the number I phoned. I was told that maybe I phoned because this number was a missed call. Well no. Good guess but I had phoned because I had been given the number.

Then the automated voice said that this call will cost me more than usual. It would be nice to have been put through but I was sure that I was nearly there and I suppose there is an obligation to tell me that phone calls cost money. Then I was asked politely if I could be patient. Well I was feeling patient so that piece of advice wasn't really needed, but who knows, some listeners may have been feeling impatient so the advice could have been useful.

I was told the name of the hospital that I was phoning and it was the right one! I was starting to feel the need for the advice about patience. Then there was a full spiel about the costs of the call from various kinds of phone but that wasn't too bad because the automated voice was very polite and thanked me for listening.

When someone you know is in hospital then it can be a difficult time so it is nice to be told that I can make a gift to them over the phone so that they can use the phone. I was given a number to ring if I wanted to make this gift, and then I was told very calmly and slowly that they were connecting me now... and then I received a message that the person in hospital was not available.

Apart from not speaking to the person to whom I wanted to speak, my main concern is that the automated waffle is sanctioned by hospital authorities. I am not keen on procrastination at the best of times and I am even less keen when it costs me money. Still, it only cost me £1.50 to get nowhere.

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Plebgate continued

I wrote about Andrew Mitchell on the 24th September. He had the support of David Cameron which is usually a sign of imminent departure. Well it wasn't imminent as he only resigned today. Headlines will say that Mr Mitchell resigned because of 'plebgate' and I suppose that is right as he may have lost authority following this embarrassing incident. My main concern was not Mr Mitchell's standing in his party but his party's relationship with the police service and society in general.

The loss of a chief whip is not a big deal. The big deal is that we still have no answer as to what was said and the consequent underlying opinions. We have heard a defence so many times that an apology has been offered, the apology has been accepted and a line should be drawn. Even Mr Mitchell did not draw a line at this point.

In the blog on the 24th I wrote 'In this  particular case we can be fairly sure that the word "plebs" was used as Mr Mitchell did not directly say that he didn't say it. He only said that he had not used the words that had been reported'. Now he says he did not use the word 'pleb'. Why was this denial not reported at once? Probably because it took some time for the denial to be given. It would still be nice to know what the officer misheard in their contemporaneous notes.

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Is George Osborne arrogant?

I can't read George Osborne's mind but I think he knows that he only had a standard train ticket today but sat in a first class seat. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that he made a mistake when buying the ticket or maybe,as reported, his plans changed after buying it. Let's go one step further and blame one of his assistants making George perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing.  We have to blame the assistant again because, according to the BBC, 'An aide to Mr Osborne initially refused to pay the £160 supplement'.

The problem for George is that there will always be people who think that he was trying to cheat Virgin trains. At the very least it shows an arrogance that allows him to sit in a seat to which he is not entitled.

It seems so simple to me. If one of my aide's had made a mistake (I don't have any) I would admit to a communication error - it's no big deal. The big deal is the arrogance that was almost certainly shown (unless of course he is a thief). Arrogance by sitting in the wrong place, arrogance by not saying a word to waiting reporters.

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Time to move house

MPs' expenses are in the news again,

They have done nothing wrong so I don't blame the 27 MPs but I do blame a system that allows them to gain another income from their position in Westminster. We want our MPs to be paid appropriately for their important role. The trouble is that we have gone through one scandal in which MPs could rent a DVD or get their moat cleaned and bill the tax payer. More importantly the same scandal allowed MPs to have a second home a few miles from their first home and not pay for it. There is a long list of abuse and some MPs were found to have acted illegally. What the public wanted is a system that is transparent and fair and that is what we still want.

MPs don't need to be given a second home across the road from the Houses of Parliament. They do need accommodation nearby but that's not the same thing. So an MP with the bonus of an expensive home in Westminster is still seen as wrong and that's why the Telegraph's story will gather support from across the nation. There have been important improvements in how MPs can claim expenses and if this means that some can't afford a really expensive flat then there is a really simple answer - move house.

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

What does this robust mean?

The last time I wrote about a 'robust' system it related to Justine Greening describing the selection process for the West Coast main line. She was obviously wrong in using this word but I haven't heard any apologies yet. Apart from the obvious error that the system was far from robust, her use of this word must now mean we need to take a pinch of salt whenever we hear it. Another Tory offered a possible defence for Justine in that ministers don't look at any details and rely on their advisers. My point was that a minister still remains responsible regardless of how much advice they receive.

Today I heard that the Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond had used the word robust. So did he mean to say frail? The Sunday Times had filmed some retired military officers who were able to lobby on behalf of defence companies and so influence ministers. What did these officers do wrong? It is fairly certain that ministers can't make decisions for themselves and need help from experts.

The BBC reported that 'The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was investigating whether it was possible for anyone to secure "privileged access" and whether any rules had been broken'. You don't need an investigation as I can tell you what one former Secretary of State for Transport (Justine) would say. Ministers need help from others and this may be termed privilege as many companies, and individuals for that matter, would like to bend back their lug holes. These retired officers fit the bill as advisers except for one detail. They retired less than two years ago and rules state that retired officers have to be out of touch before they can offer advice.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Andrew Marr "There is no way that retired officers influence the way military equipment is procured. I'm satisfied that the system we have is completely robust". Well why is it only possible to get help from officers who have retired for at least two years?  Does robust mean frail or does it mean out of touch.

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Thursday, 11 October 2012

More for support than illumination

David Cameron went to a posh school and wants everyone to go to a similar school. Yesterday the theme of his speech may have been aspiration and there is nothing wrong with that, but does he really expect anyone to believe that all schools will become like Eton. I can't believe it, I don't think most people would believe it, in fact I don't even think David's audience believed him. The local comprehensive does not have Eton's facilities and never will. I suppose David is right and aspiration is always possible but when does this simply become not the politics of greed but the politics of envy.

David's adoring crowd liked the idea of the aspiration nation, it sounds so much better than a divided nation but you do need division in order to promote aspiration. If you cut benefits then you have to admit that benefits are not being used appropriately. If you explain why benefits should be cut and give specific examples of how overpayment is being made then that's fine. If you just want to hurt those on benefits then don't explain yourself, just announce it to a Tory conference.

I was also moved by David's emphasis on getting rid of red tape. One business had plans to build in Liverpool but planning took so long that the company went abroad. Wouldn't it be nice to know the detail as it sounds like we won't get any further investment in this country. Could it be that the company wanted to carry out an unsafe practice which is legal in other countries? In this case we should be looking at criticisms of those countries. I don't know because David didn't tell us.

Whether it is welfare savings, school reform or simply a nice anecdote, this speech was similar to a drunken man using a lamppost, more for support than illumination.

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Low Police Morale

Morale can't be too high in the police service and raising morale must be a priority for those who are standing for election as Police and Crime Commissioners. The police are facing significant cuts despite the major party in the coalition being the 'party of law and order' and add to that at least one member of that party who thinks the police are plebs. It also doesn't help morale when officers are murdered. Add to that the Hillsborough effect. The errors of judgement by some senior officers followed by an extensive cover-up must have tarnished the reputation of all officers.

Then yesterday evening there was an article on the news about an officer from Greater Manchester who used excessive force on a teenager This officer was given a suspended sentence and had resigned the previous day. However the CCTV that we saw did not look that bad. If there was CCTV footage of a fight in the street or a heavy tackle in a rugby match then the force used in this case was much less. I have been to one open day at a police training centre and the arm behind the back was a basic technique.

This particular youngster repeatedly ignored instructions to empty his pockets. He 'may have posed no threat to anyone' but he wasn't doing what he was told. Even his mother said he was no angel, so when I heard the words 'an exercise in deliberate degradation and humiliation' I thought it referred to how the officers must have felt when their repeated requests were being ignored. What is the appropriate technique for getting anyone to empty their pockets? The GMP say that the officer's actions were totally unacceptable but no mention was made as to what was acceptable.

The officer was described in court as a broken man. No wonder. The problem I have is that I have come across many people who have given anecdotal evidence of excessive force used by the police. There will be many officers, perhaps all serving officers, who are now concerned about there previous use of force. They must be wondering how they are to deal in the future with those who do not cooperate.

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Friday, 5 October 2012

Should we investigate?

Should the allegations made against Jimmy Savile be investigated? This is the question as I watch Question Time. Janet Street-Porter answered by  giving us the background details which mentioned that inappropriate sexual activity was endemic in the 70s. The problem with this particular investigation, of course, is that Mr Savile is not around to defend himself. It may well be that he would be arrested if he were alive. It may well be that he could have been found guilty on all sorts of charges, but all of this is hypothetical. What does matter is that investigation may set an example and act as a catalyst to changing attitudes in which the silence of victims would not be an issue.

This catalyst may lead to Janet coming forward with her evidence regarding her suspicions of illegal sexual activity. I didn't name Jimmy Savile in my blog of the 8th November 2011 but he was the subject of very strong allegations by Jerry Sadowitz. Who was listening to Jerry? Why was there so little on the internet about Jimmy at that time. The closest I got to digging any dirt was to see a documentary on the Nolans and this evidence is far from conclusive. I also found that Jimmy had managed to stop any mention that he had visited a children's home but that didn't prove any guilt. I wasn't convinced but Jerry Sadowitz was, but if he was then why weren't others.

There is hope. Any suspicions are easily checked on the internet. Mobile phones and technology in general allow support for those who are not in authority. Video footage was a great help in stopping the death of Ian Tomlinson being swept under the carpet. Prince Harry knows all about the use of technology at private parties. We don't have a perfect world with perfect people in it, but at least we have a more open society in which the guilty have less room to hide.

So yes, we should investigate the Savile allegations even though the police had insufficient evidence in 2007 and even though the BBC have no evidence of any abuse.

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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Everyone deserves fair treatment

When Nick Clegg recently called for the Conservatives to back a wealth tax there were some Tories who suggested that there was no need for any further redistribution of wealth. You often hear about a brain drain and maybe some people do leave the country because of slight changes in the rate of taxation, but I can't see this being top of their list.

I also heard comments along the lines that high earners deserved their money because they worked hard for it. The trouble with this argument is that everyone works hard. You used to be able to make jokes like how many council workers does it take to plant a flower - three. Two to lean on spades and one to do the planting. You can't make jokes like this now because they are all working. Many people work very hard on minimum wage.

There may well be extra pressures on those who hold greater responsibility and this may be a factor in them deserving extra pay. These extra pressures sometimes make the news. Three senior civil servants were suspended following the West Coast rail fiasco but the trouble is that it could turn out that they receive full pay and then return to normal duties. I wrote about the minister at the heart of the fiasco in my last blog entry and she seems to have made a side step to avoid responsibility. We hear today that the head of the Rochdale Social Services has resigned having missed opportunities to protect children in the sex abuse scandal. There were calls for sackings but this manager managed to get promoted and now leaves with 'many fond memories' despite last week's damning report. In all these cases the extra authority does not seem to relate to extra responsibility, but this hasn't affected their pay.

The point is that many of those who are well paid do not receive the same treatment as those whose work is more mundane, and everyone deserves fair treatment. Jimmy Carr can tell you how a good accountant can help those who can afford their service. We don't need to protect the wealthy. They can look after themselves, even if they do work hard.

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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Where does the buck stop?

On the 18th August  I wrote about the success of FirstGroup in winning the franchise for the West Coast Main Line. I did not understand how this company could do so much better than the current provider, Virgin, and shortly afterwards we heard that Virgin didn't understand it either. Now the Government don't understand it.  The Department of Transport tell us today that the contest was flawed but Richard Branson knew that the system was "flawed and insane for some time".

I know that it is an expensive mistake and just paying the four companies back for the cost of their bids will cost £40 million. Heads may roll. The loss of this money is significant and there may be  more financial implications but responsible people sometimes make genuine errors just like those with less authority.

For me there were two important points. Firstly, what does Justine Greening say now. She was the transport secretary when the winning bid was announced and she described the process as robust and fair. It would be nice to know what she has to say for herself now but I guess she will just be  blaming her civil servants. Where does the buck stop? If it stops with the minister then she should stand by her words and apologise for her error.

Secondly, what is the DfT doing issuing any announcement at midnight? Are we expecting future press releases when most of the nation are tucked up in bed? It sounds like the Government are trying to bury their bad news but wouldn't it be nice if they actually apologised.

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Sunday, 30 September 2012

John Terry's lucky escape

There are those who support John Terry and say that he is not a racist. There are those who feel that he did racially abuse QPR's Anton Ferdinand. I have heard that he was good friends with Ferdinand and he would not verbally abuse him Well he doesn't appear to be good friends with him now. If you have the money for the best lawyers then an element of doubt can lead to a verdict of not guilty but that is not the same as innocence,

I can't read lips and I have never read the actual words that were spoken. Most reports shy away from mentioning the actual words but I have almost seen the words in print except that many letters were shown as an asterisk. I would say that the expletives were deleted but you could tell what was said and it wasn't nice. Regardless of the words used, all you have to do is see the manner in which they were said. This was not banter between friends and if there are people who think that these words could be friendly banter then it is time to change their attitude.

It is also time to change the way that reports claim John Terry was cleared of racial abuse. He was found not guilty and even non-lip-readers know that racial abuse did take place. Football is competitive and aggression is needed but lines have been crossed and the wrong messages are going out. If this sort of abuse had happened in most other workplaces then suspensions and probable sacking would have followed.

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Monday, 24 September 2012

David Cameron supporting the wrong person

My summary from Welease Woger (see blog below) was that I had to agree with the Police Federation Chairman that the Andrew Mitchell outburst has raised doubts about the Government's relationship with the police service. Since then David Cameron has told us that Mr Mitchell took the right action by apologising. Well that's right but what about the more important aspect, the reasons behind the outburst that caused the need for the apology.

The chief whip told reporters he was sorry for not showing enough respect to the police, but also said that he "did not use the words attributed to me". If that is the case then he has insulted the police and then called at least one officer a liar. The words insult and injury come to mind.

It is good that an apology has been offered and accepted, but the accepted part is purely down to the good nature of a particular officer. It tells us nothing about whether Government ministers have any respect for the police service. In this  particular case we can be fairly sure that the word "plebs" was used as Mr Mitchell did not directly say that he didn't say it. He only said that he had not used the words that had been reported. So maybe the notes made by the officer had one word that was not remembered by the minister.

Many will feel that the outburst was simply a sign of frustration and has been blown out of all proportion. Well David Cameron now gives his full support to Andrew Mitchell which means things have escalated. We have a minister who looks down on the police and a prime minister supporting him.

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Welease Woger

There is a scene in the Life of Brian in which those at the back of the crowd can't hear what Jesus is saying. Somebody hears the words blessed are the cheesemakers but this doesn't make sense and another member of the crowd tells us that it's not meant to be taken literally but refers to any manufacturer of dairy products. In another scene Brian becomes Bwian and Roger becomes Woger and this causes misunderstanding.

Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip has caused misunderstanding too. He denied that he swore at a police officer but has apologised for not showing the police enough respect. Ken Clarke thinks Mr Mitchell is a "perfectly reasonable man" even though he had a "flare of bad temper". However it doesn't really matter what you think about a stranger who is insulting you. What matters is what has happened and Mr Mitchell has apologised.

What has he apologised for? He is said to have sworn and told officers to "learn your place" and "you don't run this government".  Mr Mitchell actually apologised for not showing the police enough respect as he swore in frustration at not being able to cycle through the main gates of Downing Street,

Mr Tully, the Police Federation Chairman believes this shows that  "there is an inbuilt dislike of the police service in general from the government". I hope the chairman is wrong and all it will take is for Mr Mitchell to tell us how the words that he uttered could be misinterpreted in such a profound way. I just can't think of any slight changes that would make Mr Mitchell's remarks sound reasonable and for that reason I have to agree with Mr Tully.

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Saturday, 22 September 2012

BT Fiasco Continues

I prefer to write about things that are important to many people. Well this is important to me and maybe to others but it is good for me to have this record of how many things can go wrong when changing my internet provider. I received a bill this week telling me that I was no longer a BT customer. 'Sorry you're leaving BT' was their headline. I was not aware of this as readers will know already that I have fought long and hard to gain a service from BT.

I phoned yesterday and I was assured that I was still a customer. It is a long story made longer by the system of speaking to someone on BT's phone. I had to input my account number twice so that their service could be an efficient service, then I had to tell the person my account number twice. At the end of this conversation I was reassured a little and I was asked if I found that person helpful. I said yes but the letter causing the phone call was the complete opposite.

I will look again for my online bill and broadband usage in a couple of weeks and see if it can be found. I may be phoning them again to find out how I can see my bill but when I phone up now I am getting automatic responses telling me that I have already phoned a number of times, How can automated responses sound sarcastic?

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P.S. It is now eight days later and I can log on to my account. That's good. Unfortunately I still can't access my broadband usage. as the connection was reset. I think that is another language for 'you can't see how much broadband you are using so we may charge you more at the end of the month'. 

I did try to check on how much I had used broadband yesterday but maybe in another week or two I will have access. After all, I only asked for BT's service in July.

P.P.S. It is now the 4th October. I still cannot see my broadband usage so I phoned BT again and after the usual options I spoke to someone at once! They were also very helpful and passed me onto the technical department and after only 27 minute I can now see that........the 'usage  monitor is currently undergoing maintenance. Please try again later'.

I have had emails linking me to my bills. Unfortunately the links were broken. I now find out that I have a bill that should have been paid a week ago - it is now paid. I thought I had set up a direct debit but it is now. The good news is that there was no sarcastic automated message telling me that I have phoned for help again. I was told that I had gone over my broadband allowance and been charged £5 extra. I can't see this on my bill. Dare I phone again?

Help for the Duchess of Cambridge

There is no doubt that the Duchess of Cambridge has had her privacy invaded when a photographer took the topless photographs. He was staked out for days with a long lens and the kindest words for him would be that he was a peeping Tom. Privacy should be protected for the Duchess and also for the Z list celebrity but how do you do this when there are newspapers and magazines that publish this sort of photo every day?

We get the media we deserve but regulation is so much better on television than it is in the papers than it is on the internet. On one hand you can turn the television off or not buy the paper or change the internet security settings but this isn't good enough because privacy is still invaded and many will still want to see those topless photos. Can we allow our media to hurt the feelings of others without punishment? Some will feel that it is the Duchess' fault because she knew that she could be seen from a public area. Some will say it is the magazine's fault for employing a Peeping Tom.

Although page three employs models there is still the problem of how we treat women. At best they should not be seen simply as an object of desire. At worst these photos inculcate misogyny. If you can't follow this argument then reverse roles and see how you would feel if you were only valued for your looks. I do not think of The Sun as a newspaper even if there is some news in it. The newspaper is not bought because it contains 'the truth'. More likely it is bought  because of page three. We get the papers we deserve but that doesn't mean that The Sun should be banned. However we should be leading people away from thinking that it is a newspaper. There are arguments that page three should be banned and I can understand these arguments, but then do you ban top shelf magazines? If The Sun were reclassified and sale was restricted to adults then sales would probably go up.

You don't change hearts and minds by banning things, but it is wrong to be a peeping Tom. It is wrong to have a 'newspaper' that thinks page three photos will keep up its circulation but injunctions won't help, reclassification of newspapers won't help. Specifically for the Duchess, a private area would definitely help. She has won a victory in court which still gives a profit to the media so stalking will continue. I am not a lawyer but it may help to go after the photographer with anti-stalking laws.

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Job Cuts in the NHS?

My local hospital trust needs to save money. In fact it needs to save "£1 for every £5" spent to balance its budget within five years. So what is it going to do? What would you do if you had to cut back your budget by 20%? Well if most of my expenditure was on staffing then that would be the first thing I would look at but that's not an easy answer.

 There is a five-year plan to balance the books but they aren't sure yet what that plan is, but it is good to know that they have decided on five years. It is also good to know that they are going to ask the public because these financial difficulties have been caused by making services safe and the public aren't to blame for that. Well I can find those savings.

In recent years the biggest developments in the NHS have been with information technology along with huge costs. What are the benefits? Well doctors and nurses still use pens but additional records are placed on the computer. Appointments are made by computer. The additional records and appointments are available to others not on site. Management can be at a distance because of collective staff records. Diagnostic records may be shared with professionals throughout the trust and elsewhere. All sorts of information may be accessed at the press of a button.

Now think of the downside. It takes a second to give an appointment with a pen and paper. Computer training alone must be expensive but add on the costs of the soft and hardware. Have you ever walked into a computer room. It is hot. Add on the heating bill. We don't need instantaneous access for appointments. We just want to know our next appointment. We don't want professionals duplicating information expensively for the sake of the latest technology.

This view is not popular. It is opposed by the technology industry. It is opposed by all whose professional status is raised by association with the latest technology. However I don't want to walk into a casualty miles away and have all my details accessed immediately (with all the consequent risks to data protection).

I love computers. I'm using one now. What I don't like is the way they have added extra burdens. There are some aspects of technology that really make a service more efficient. When I go to a checkout and the stock levels are measured as quickly as I can pack my goods into bags. There are great improvements to the way lectures may be delivered, to access of information, and some information sharing is really useful. However there is too much vested interest in saying that record keeping improves with the latest technology. Reception and appointment services deteriorated greatly in proportion to technological advances.

I have more ideas to help my trust but it will take a radical view to appreciate that the techniques of the 80s are valid today, like ticking someone's name when they arrive in a building. I heard how management supported change with arguments like doctors in any part of the country will have instant access to everyone's detailed medical records. Arguments like every professional can have instant access to every diagnostic test. These arguments are specious if we are to save 20%. Why is it that I think we are heading for job cuts?

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A Sorry Lot

I recently wrote about Hillsborough and asked the reporter to look at his own culpability for his article in the Sun. The reporter was blaming the editor, Kelvin McKenzie. Well today everyone is saying sorry including Kelvin. I have heard that his apology is seen as too little too late but at least he has apologised. He could have stuck with the line that this is what he had been told was the truth. We have known for a long time that his 'truth' was lies.

Everyone is apologising. The police, David Cameron, Sheffield Wednesday, as well as Kelvin. Apart from apologies today's news highlighted the shortcomings and failings in the emergency services. There was no evidence of any government trying to conceal the truth but how I wish I had been writing blogs in 1989 as I remember politicians confirming the failings, I remember them telling us how the fans were drunk and how they forced the gates. This may not be the same thing as concealing the truth but there can't be that much difference.

There is also the matter of how the coroner got away with telling us that all the deaths had occurred by 3.15pm and this in turn led to the verdicts of accidental death. Relatives were not allowed to see their loved ones but were asked about how much they had been drinking. Is there an apology from the person responsible?

There are many more questions to be answered but today has been satisfying for those in search of justice. I was starting to feel a little sorry for Kelvin because he is in the public eye as compared with the police officers who were responsible or the coroner or the reporter or many others. Then I thought what would Kelvin write about another editor who had been exposed in this way? I don't think he would be reticent in condemning his actions.

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Fairtrade, Gandhi and Radio Lancashire

I was a member of the audience in the Sally Naden show yesterday at Radio Lancashire and I can thoroughly recommend going to see a live show (is show the right word for a radio programme). There is no cost to attend and all I had to do was reply to an email. I went to see Chonkinfeckle, a duo from Wigan who play the ukulele. Sally also had two other guests, Bruce Crowther who spoke eloquently about fair trade and Fairtrade products. The third panelist had her own business that looked to promote businesses by quantitative and qualitative research as well as networking and I am sure a lot of other things.

I nearly managed to give a plug to the Morecambe Ukulele Club when Sally asked if anyone else played the ukulele. Unfortunately there were three players on the front row who had travelled from west Yorkshire. Still, I can give Morecambe a plug now.

I did enjoy listening to the music and I was also interested in what the panelists had to say. I am not a great fan of networking which strikes me as who you know not what you know. I don't particularly like the level of research or the context in which it is carried out. I feel that it leads to successful companies compounding their success to the detriment of the smaller competitor. Similarly I have heard that advertising may promote a particular brand but does not sell more of a particular product.

To summarise my dissatisfaction with this aspect of our society I would mention a comedy sketch from 'Come Fly With Me' a TV programme with David Walliams and Matt Lucas. They are working at an airport check-in and sell priority boarding tickets to everyone. If everyone had equal access to expensive research then everyone would be where they were in the first place but it would cost society so much more.

Bruce responded to the lady's role by saying that there are some aspects that were necessary because of accountability but he preferred Gandhi's attitude about doing something because it is the right thing to do. I have since looked up the quote and it is 'It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

It is important to make a profit, at least occasionally. It is important to be successful in business but wouldn't it be nice that profit and success could be achieved simply by doing the right thing?

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Friday, 7 September 2012

Hillsborough Truth

The North West news today includes a story about the Hillsborough disaster because Harry Arnold, the reporter  who wrote the original article claims he was 'aghast' when he read that the title was 'The Truth'. He says that he wrote about allegations and it was a version of the truth. His article  had been written in a 'fair and balanced way'. It was only a 'version' of the truth. So what kind of truth had Liverpool fans urinating on a police officer? How much truth was there in writing about stealing money from dead people?

This version of the truth intrigued me. Let me use my imagination. Somebody spoke to Harry who said these things had happened and Harry thought it possible that the allegations were true. He looked to corroborate the stories and as they were made up he found no support. However the allegations had still been made and were worthy of the Sun newspaper. Harry's only problem was that it was one person telling him this and the evidence was not reliable.

Harry blames Kelvin McKenzie for writing the headline. I think Harry has to think long and hard about his own culpability. It wasn't a version of the truth Harry. It was lies. Don't just regret the headline, apologise for the article. Maybe Harry does apologise. I'll have to watch the BBC 1 programme on Sunday evening and who knows, maybe we will learn more about a cover-up on Wednesday when official papers will be released.

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Monday, 3 September 2012

Bad Timing

Oscar Pistorius has made the headlines by claiming that he was beaten to a gold medal by someone who broke the rules. His outburst came immediately after the T44 200m final and he has since apologised. Well that's what the headlines say but he has only apologised for the timing of his criticism. It seems quite a technical complaint in that the blades have to be in proportion to the person wearing them and he feels that the gold medal winner, Alan Oliveira had an unfair advantage.

I am watching the BBC 10 O' Clock news and again they say that Oscar is apologising but he isn't. Oscar felt that there was a technical problem and I understand that he did raise his concern prior to the race so maybe there is a communication problem as everyone else is saying that the winner won legitimately.

Maybe it is sour grapes or maybe it is a one-man quest for justice when everyone else is against him. Whatever it is it was certainly bad timing and we have an apology for that, but I can't help feeling that the apology should be about the insult to the winner.

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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Political Photos from London

I have recently been to London for a couple of days and you can see some of the photos that I took at

I know that events are particularly painful for those involved and even for those who just see what is happening on television. It was surprising then to see the smiling faces on the left. The only serious aspect was a sign that read 'Assad Stop Killing Children'.

The view of the Palace of Westminster is a little different because there are only five people in the photo and one vehicle. Well it was early morning.

I also took a look at the crowds outside the Ecuadorian embassy. There were around 15 demonstrators and a similar number of police officers. I asked one officer if he (Assange) was still in there then. She replied "I certainly hope so". I did get a supplementary question as to why it was costing £50 000 per day in policing. She hadn't heard about this so I put forward that she hadn't noticed this type of figure in her payslip. I would guess that a lack of knowledge of policing costs is now the standard reply considering that it was a police officer who accidentally revealed plans to arrest him 'under any circumstances'.

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How much do I charge BT?

First the good news. David phoned me on Thursday and he tried his best to reduce or remove the charges as outlined in my last blog entry. He couldn't change anything. I did ask about the deposit and how a credit check had caused this charge as I don't know of any previous debt. He told me that I was not a bad debtor but couldn't explain the reason for the charge. He was still looking for a better price for BT Vision when I had to tell him twice that there really was no reason to do so. I was going to go out and buy a recorder.

All I had wanted was the ability to pause live TV and to record those programmes that were not convenient for me to watch at the time. I had thought that BT Vision would provide me with this facility for £4 per month. It turned out that they tried to provide this with the ridiculous hidden costs of  £125 plus the £4 per month.

David did change my telephone number - well no he didn't. He was billing and it was the technical department that had to deal with me. Unfortunately they were busy and I was off to work and not able to phone them back until this afternoon. So, with an expected wait of 5 to 10 minutes I waited to speak to a real person and managed this after 15 minutes. They left me on hold for a further 10 minutes then told me that the number had to be changed by the billing department. He just had to check something. I did say that I had spoken to the billing department on Thursday and they wanted the technical department to deal with it. This didn't work and he put me on hold. After 33 minutes he had done his checking and repeated that he was putting me through to billing. I think I sounded like I was begging at this point as I repeated that I had spoken with them on Thursday.

After 40 minutes I spoke with someone from billing who dealt with my request for my old number within a couple of minutes and then told me it would take 24 working hours for it to be working. Now to me 24 working hours takes me to Wednesday or Thursday if you count a 9 to 5 working week from Monday to Friday. I couldn't believe this so asked what 24 hours meant. She explained that not all departments were working at weekend so I should have my old number by Monday evening, 60 of my hours and 24 of hers which must mean that her working hours are all the hours God gives but only from Monday to Friday. My call lasted 42 minutes.

It looks like I will receive a working landline not on the 9th August, but on Monday 3rd September, exactly six weeks after I requested it. She may have sensed my frustration (or it may be a routine question) and asked, for her personal feedback if I was happy with what she had done. I told her that she had been wonderful. Unfortunately she had no idea of the difficulties that I had encountered.

I have now bought a TV recorder for £89 and it does exactly what I want it to do. BT were going to charge me £35 for an engineer to visit me. I am going to provide them with a service by returning their BT Vision package when I get my number. How much should I charge them for a taxi to the post office and my time?

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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Monty Python would be proud

Following on from my last blog, I have just paid the bill as requested and then looked for the full BT Vision package. I will need to pay an extra £50 deposit for the equipment that is already in my possession. I will need to pay an activation fee of £40 and as far as I can see neither of these fees are on their website. I will need to pay £35 as an engineer's fee as my line speed is so slow. I can't see this on the website, so basically I am being asked for £125 as a hidden bonus for receiving BT Vision.

I have always asked for BT Vision and never received it so reluctantly I decided to cancel everything.  I was then told that I would be breaking my contract and there would be a charge of £197. I thought  was on strong grounds not to pay this as I have never received the service that I wanted and the service that BT chose to give me is still not present as I still don't have my old phone number. I have not been in court before and I don't want to start now so I decided to forget the Vision part of my requests and go for what BT have given me, the broadband and anytime calls.

I was then passed to someone else regarding possible compensation. I was looking at all the frustrations of not having a service. They were asking for my mobile phone bills. We were talking on different levels and I was not asking for the £5 or £10 it has cost me on this bill. If I wanted compensation of £197 because I believe that they have broken the contract then I would have to pay £197 to try to get it back. Any lawyers out there are welcome to comment.

I still want David to phone me tomorrow as I still want my old phone number, so I asked if he was going to phone at 5pm tomorrow. The time needs changing as I have to leave the house at 4pm. At this point I was passed to a manager and this is the Monty Python bit. I asked again if David would call and he told me that he saw that he would be phoning at 5pm. I asked the manager if he could put a note on my records that I need the call before 4pm. He said that's fine but I sensed that he didn't understand so I asked him to repeat what I had just said (something I don't remember asking anyone to do previously), and he said that David would phone me at 5pm!!! I repeated my request and this time he said that he would ask David to phone before 4pm. Unbelievable.

Needless to say I am looking forward to a new provider when my contract runs out. BT simply have no records of any of my many requests so they would have no counter-argument. How do you argue against that?

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