Monday, 27 June 2011

Too many pharmacies

A row is brewing, or a decision has been "slammed" in Hartlepool Mail Speak, regarding a new pharmacy on Catcote Road. Predictably the owner of the shops criticised the decision, he after all wants tenants in the units and rents coming in. One of the local councillors also critisised the decision, after all that's his job to defend the perceived interests of his residents and getting his picture in the Hartlepool Mail always helps his re-election chances!

However, the decision to refuse the pharmacy was not just some random act of malice against the downtrodden of Rift House. There already is adequate pharmacy coverage in the area according to the NHS Litigation Authority, which received objections by nearby pharmacists who argued there was already sufficient provision in the area.

A local chemist is like any local shop, local pub, local bus service, local library, local anything. A well patronised and PROFITABLE local anything will have businesses cuing up to provide them. A poorly patronised and unprofitable local anything will go out of business. If there is sufficient customers for two business to survive in any area and a third one opens then unless it generates new customers then it can only take them from existing businesses.

Of course some altruistic person, charity or other organisation may be willing to run a business at a loss.Altruistic individuals are few and far between these days. Charities are also no longer in the loss making business. They have of armies of paid staff to support. The most altruistic organisations recently have been local authorities. These are willing to spend any amount of other peoples' money to provide services to their clients. One silver lining of the current credit crunch might just be that local authorities, like Hartlepool, who are proud of being high spending authorities, might just have to start looking at value for money on their spending schemes. However, don't bet on it!

Friday, 24 June 2011

It's an ill wind!

If Hartlepool Council is facing the difficult and troubled period we are lead to believe, and needs Mayor Drummond’s firm hand on the tiller, then how can he justify abandoning his post and effectively taking on a second paid job?

As part of the shake up of Cleveland Police Authority Mayor Drummond has reportedly been promoted to Vice Chairman of the Authority. When he joined Cleveland Police Authority, he added an additional £9,548 to his take home pay as Mayor of Hartlepool and the Vice Chairmanship bolsters that by another £6,131.

Councilor’s allowances are supposed to compensate Councilors for the financial implications (such as lost earnings) of serving their communities. They are not supposed to provide lucrative second incomes. Mayor Drummond is a full time politician who is paid over £1,200 a week to carry out his duties. What exactly is he being compensated for with the additional £15,685 he apparently now receives as Vice Chairman of the Police Authority?

If Mayor Drummond has time to devote to the Police Authority then his working day cannot be fully committed as Mayor of Hartlepool? At the very least Drummond should surely follow the example of his Chief Executive and return to the Council the extras cash he now takes from his second job. That £15,685 a year would keep a minimum wage employee at the council off the dole cue. Maybe Mayor Drummond could lead by example and show some restraint in what he is gobbling down from the public trough!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Constraint payments, the latest "set aside" to stop farms from producing anything

We all know about farmers being paid NOT to grow crops. "Set Aside" payments have been around for years. We might question the value of set aside in these days of rising food prices but now there is a another form of "set aside" available to struggling farmers.

This time farmers are being given "constraint payments"

These payments do not give farmers money NOT to produce food stuffs. These payments are to Wind Farmers and the crop they are being paid NOT to produce is electricity.

We really are seeing the economics of the mad house with wind turbines!

According to a written answer to a question in May this year from Labour MP Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire), the "constraint payments" made to Scottish wind farms over the last two financial years are as follows:

Beinn Tharsuinn Wind Farm,
operator Scottish Power,
payments received £31,950.00

Black Law Wind Farm,
operator Scottish Power,
payments received £134,960.24

Whitelee Wind Farm,
operator Scottish Power,
payments received £466,396.47

Farr Wind Farm,
operator RWE Power Renewables,
payments received £263,484.11

Hadyard Hill Wind Farm,
operator Scottish and Southern,
payments received £152,698.51

Millennium Wind Farm,
operator Flack Renewables,
payments received £32,533.80

According to National Grid estimates, by 2020 wind farmers will be receiving £300 Million a year to STOP the turbines from turning.

PS I don't want to say "I told you so" but here is a post I made on this very subject back in 2007!

No Change is not an option........

Did anyone hear BBC Tees this morning? They were discussing stoke care in Darlington.

A consultation has been started on concentrating the care in Durham and removing the specialist care from Darlington. No decision has been made (Yea right) but according to the spokesman "No change is not an option"

So if the choice is leave it as it is, or move it to Durham, BUT, No change (ie leave things as they are) is NOT an option, then all that is left is moving the unit to Durham?

Why can't people see these "consultations" are meaningless exercises to provide a pseudo-democratic smokescreen for decision that are already made!

Mind you Darlington has been a fairly safe Labour seat since Alan Millburn took it from the Tories in 1992, although the vote fell by 13% when he stepped down in 2010 taking it below the 50% level for the first time since 1992. Durham however is a definite Lib-dem target so the cynics amongst us might look for the political advantages and disadvantages of moving the health care provision from one town to another. Wasn't it Labour who relied on political heat maps to make these decisions. Closing facilities in solid labour areas (like Hartlepool), where the electorate could be relied on to vote labour no matter what, and moving the facilities to marginals or target seats (like Stockton) to bolster up weak support. The Tories are no different, it's just different heat maps so different decisions.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Britain a democrastic country? Not any more!

I used to think we lived in a democracy. Unfortunately the political classes have forgotten that. Or more realistically they have found a way to retain the pretence of democracy but without all that troublesome need to actually reflect the will of the ordinary people.

The recent farce of a referendum on changing the voting system shows how false our democracy really is these days. Everyone I spoke to wanted a vote on PR. That was what most people wanted instead of First Past the Post. The political class knew this and they knew the pressure was building for a change. So what did they do? They gave the people what they wanted, a vote on changing the system.

Well in fact they gave the people HALF of what they wanted. Yes they gave us a vote, but they rigged the question so that the result was irrelevant. Effectively the question was "Do you want no change to our voting system or do you want a change that will effectively make no difference to the results"

A brilliant piece of real politic. Give the people the appearance of choice and then do what you wanted to do in the first place. Anyone who has been through a government "consultation" process will know exactly how that is done.

With this in mind I was surprised by the honesty of a senior advisor to Ed Milliband who explained why the Labour Party will not back a referendum on in/out of the EU. The Daily Express contacted the Labour Leader, Ed Milliband, to ask if he would side with the Daily Express and back an In/Out referendum?

One of Milliband's aides thought about this briefly before replying: “The problem with that is that the British people would probably vote to leave the EU.”

The pro-EU blinkers were firmly on, it was Brussels first and democracy a distant second.

A letter written in response to a query from one of the Labour Leader's constituents also contained the claim that a referendum on EU Membership isn't necessary because we had one in 1975. This overlooks the fact that the EU did not exist in 1975. The vote the British people were permitted was merely to rubber-stamp a decision to join the “Common Market” that had already been implemented by the political class.

So do we live in a democracy? Apparently yes but in reality no. The political class pay lip service to representing the people but in reality they represent only the political class. The Tory Party used to make no bones about the fact that they represented the property owning, ruling classes. The Labour Party represented the working class. The Lib-Dems represented those people who were confused over their identity, working class people who couldn't make the intellectual step to the Tories or Tories who became embarrassed by the divisions in our society but couldn't quite bring themselves to join the nasty, uncivilised working class. Now of course all three parties are almost indistinguishable at the top.

The parties are like a growing forest. Initially separate trees grow and compete for sunlight and space. As they get bigger they retain their own roots and separate trunks but the uppermost branches merge into a continuous canopy where you can't tell one tree from another. The big three parties in the UK are now thoroughly merged at the top, to the point where it's almost irrelevant which trunk you climb up, once you reach your place in the sun at the top of the tree then you are at the top of them all and everyone you meet there is the same as you are.

The other advantage (well advantage if you are at the top) of a mature canopy is that it provides a secure place where the people at the top can reproduce. If you are born up there then you stay there. The realities of the dark floor of the forest are unknown to you. You don't have to climb the trunk, you are born to live in the sunlight amongst the upper branches and all your friends and contemporaries are also from the top of the trees. So you may be from a Labour Tree or A Tory Tree originally but it doesn't really matter.

The other advantage of being at the top of a big tree is that the interlocking branches completely shut out the sunlight from the forest floor. Down there in the gloom and twilight a new tree trying to establish itself cannot survive. This is why it is so hard to establish a new political party in the UK, the established parties make sure they keep the lion's share of the sunlight!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Spade Ready!

On Radio Cleveland BBC Tees this morning there was a report about 400 new jobs coming to Tesside by the construction of a bio-refinery to produce around 150,000 tonnes per year of bioethanol, which is enough to run 1.5 million family cars running on E10 petrol. The finished INEOS plant would employ around 50 and the other 350 jobs would be in the construction phase.

Sounds like good news. The firm got £7.3 Million from One North East to get the project rolling and they have completed all the necessary feasibility studies, obtained planning permission, carried out environmental impact assessments, traffic assessments, great crest newt threat surveys, badger and bat watch and confirmed there are no rare or endanger species of plant or animal on the site. They are now, and this was the phrase he used on the radio, "Spade Ready" which means they can start construction as soon as they have the funding in place.

The BBC Tees reported asked how much more did they need? After all they had already had £7.3 Million pounds. Well the plant INEOS are building in Florida is costing around $130 Million so if the UK government kicks in £100 Million then that should be enough to see the construction started. Sounds like a fantastic deal to me! Hand over £100 Million to a private company in return for 50 jobs. The private company then get the revenue the plant generates for the rest of its operating life. That's even worse value for money than the public sector.

A new hospital in Hartlepool could be built for around £100 Million and would employ considerably more than 50 people! Why not use the £100 Million to build the hospital and let INEOS raise the cash through venture capital or sale of shares? Isn't that how it used to work? Public money built public facilities like schools and hospitals and private equity built shops, offices and factories. That seems to be turned upside down these days, public facilities are built with private money but private firms get public money in the form of "grants" to fund their businesses.

Is this your vehicle?

Hartlepool, in common with many towns around the UK, charges for car parking in the town centre. The residential streets around the town centre are now all "Residents Parking Only" to prevent people using these residential streets to avoid the town centre charges. This of course generates a mass of paperwork to issue these parking permits, which of course only last for 12 months, after which they have to be re-issued. A nice job for someone in the Civic Centre.

So my parking permit expired at the end of May. I telephoned the civic centre "Contact Centre" and after listening to the on-hold music, being told all of their operators were busy, followed by more music and a warning that calls would be recorded for quality and training purposes, I finally got to speak to someone. A protracted discussion took place after which he decided that I had to present myself, in person, with proof of eligibility (gas bill, electricity bill, etc) and I could then be issued with a new permit for the cost of £10.

Arriving at the Hartlepool Civic Centre I was greeted by two very nice ladies at the reception desk, who after they had completed their very important conversation, directed me towards a machine which gave out numbered tickets so that people were seen strictly in order or arrival. There was a choice of buttons at this machine. I pressed to one for Car Parking and received ticket number 834.

The next number called was 82! Through the glass security screens I could see groups of people standing around chatting to each other. How refreshing that Hartlepool Council Staff don't bother with conference rooms with tea and biscuits when they need to exchange information. They hold their meetings standing up in the middle of the office! I was in for a long wait I thought. Number 83 didn't show up and number 84 was called. However I then discovered that each of the three buttons gave out tickets in a different number sequence. Number 843 was the next number served after number 84? Work that out? Why have three separate ticketing systems running? Someone is obviously in love with making things complicated! Possibly that was why the staff had to go into little huddles in the middle of the office, they needed to co-ordinate three separate cuing systems.

After only 30 minutes my number came up! I presented the old permit and asked for a replacement. Did I have proof of entitlement? The electricity bill was presented and accepted. What was the registration number of the vehicle for which the permit was required. I told him. Did I have proof of ownership of the vehicle? That one floored me! Why would I be asking for a permit for some else's car? Sorry he said, I need to see the log book to prove you own the car. Brilliant I thought, another trip to the civic centre and another half a day out of my life that I'd never get back.

However, there was a way out. I was entitled to a permit, as proved by my electricity bill, but as I didn't have the paperwork to prove I actually owned a car I would have to have an open permit valid for ANY Vehicle! I paid my £10 and it was duly issued. Why would anyone want a permit limited to one vehicle when they can present less paperwork and get one they can use for any car, van, truck, motorbike or side-car. The bureaucratic mind never fails to amaze me!

Monday, 13 June 2011

One per cent of entire Slovakian population living in Britain

There were an estimated 8,000 Slovaks living in Britain at the time the country was created in 1999 by the break up of Czechoslovakia. In 2004 Slovakia joined the European Union and they now represent the fastest growing foreign-born group living and working in the UK.

An estimated 52,000 Slovakians are now resident in Britain. It represents a six times fold increase in the Slovakian population in Britain but more alarmingly it is the equivalent to 1% of the total population of the country.

The number of Latvian has grown from about 7,000 to an estimated 39,000 in the same period and the number from Romania, which joined the EU later, has risen from an estimated 14,000 in 2004 to 53,000 today.

Eight more Eastern European countries, and of course Turkey, are in line to join the European Union by 2018. Eastern European Workers are often paid below what a British worker would have been paid, they work long hours and accept difficult working conditions.

The reality is that they have added enormously to the competition that British workers face and are one reason why since 1997 a huge proportion of new jobs created in the UK have gone to foreign born workers.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Eric Pickles' "new favourite word", doppelspitze

When it comes to localism, it seems the government is now only too willing to look overseas for its cues.

Take for instance Eric Pickles' "new favourite word", doppelspitze, which refers to the former system in several German länder, prior to introducing elected mayors in the 1990s, when it became apparent that an elected politician didn't need to share power and prominence with a costly salaried chief executive.

In recent weeks we have seen Leicester's newly-elected mayor and former council leader Sir Peter Soulsby enter office and propose the abolition of the city's chief executive post pretty much on arrival after swapping Parliament for city hall. Perhaps he was taking his cue from the logic of the localism bill applied in London, where Leo Boland, the chief executive of the Greater London Authority, concluded that his own post was superfluous given the existence of a directly elected London mayor.

That's not to say that antipathy to doppelspitze is without precedent even here in the UK. For instance Doncaster's troubled mayoralty concluded early on that a 'managing director' might be more appropriate for an authority where supposedly the buck stopped with the mayor.

So far, so European.

But what of other countries like Japan? Interest in the idea of merged mayoral posts and chief executives also abounds here, where, since the introduction of a uniform system of local autonomy introduced in 1947 under the US sponsored post-war constitution, elected 'chief executives' (as referred to in Japanese) exist in both the municipal (city and town) and prefectural (county, roughly speaking) tiers as mayors and governors respectively.

As elected city chiefs, Japanese mayors act as both political leadership and head of the administration and are required to appoint one or more vice mayors, who can either come from within the local civil service or be seconded from a central government ministry on request of the mayor.

Executive leadership has become more of a pressing issue in recent years following the wave of municipal mergers (from 3,000 a decade ago to just over 1,800 today) and continued efforts towards decentralisation, with mayors now seen as more than just community leaders. Japanese academics refer to this as a 'presidential' style of local governance, though curiously there is some debate in these quarters about introducing "the British system" of local authority 'chief executives', as well as replacing elected mayors with indirectly elected ones in order to encourage more collegiate governance.

With respect to day to day administration, the vice mayor of the city or town acts as both lead official and their voice on earth, communicating policies and directions to the bureaucracy and the local elected assembly.

We might recognise this as a de facto local authority chief executive in all but name, but it is regarded as more akin to the US city manager model and is not considered the 'head of paid service' like in the UK.

It is, however, important to appreciate certain facts of the Japanese system, where the local civil service is hired on career length contracts from graduation and work as generalists on the basis of regular and almost guaranteed promotion, culminating in a top-tier of service heads below the vice mayors working near to retirement.

British mantras about leadership and performance are simply not present within the local bureaucracy. It's also worth noting that lack of female participation, despite some political efforts at national level, remains stubbornly persistent in Japan, withonly 15 female city mayors and six vice mayors (out of 1,800 nationwide).

So while there's no question of Japanese mayors having to share the stage with a marzipan layer of well-remunerated chief execs, there would probably be zero interest from Eland House in introducing the jobs for life local civil servants required for making it work, nor much appetite in provincial town halls for the arrival of a Department of Communities and Local Government civil servant from London to oversee their administration.

Andrew Stevens is UK editor for and also works at the Japan Local Government Centre in London (with thanks to Irmelind Kirchner and Mamika Kambayashi)

key talent quitting the public sector?

In a SHOCK poll result 73% of those surveyed felt that council redundancies will lead to key talent quitting the public sector, leaving councils unable to provide front-line services.

This survey was carried out by, wait for it, the Guardian and those questioned were, yes, you guessed it, members of the local government network.

Well I suppose that confirms it. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

The question I'd like to have answered is where will all these people quitting the public sector actually be going? The jobs that are available in the private sector generally pay less, have worse job security and the final salary pension schemes collapsed years ago. That's probably the answer, the people quitting the public sector are taking their pensions before the money runs out. Who can blame them really!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Japan, China, Rome, Libya, Afganistan, the UK.............

There are increasing numbers of bloggers and web commentators asking when will the people in the UK wake up to what is happening to democracy in our country and say Enough is Enough. We are spending £Millions on bombing Libya and our troops are being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq but at home the political elite are becoming even more removed from the realities of life. A 19% increase in gas prices might not cause big increasers in heating bills in the summer months but the effects will hit hard next winter.

Unfortunately, I doubt it will be in my lifetime that the people in the UK will reach the point of saying enough is enough.

Materially most people are still much, much better off than they were even just 20 years ago. It is everyone's "right" these days to have central heating, colour TV, mobile phone, internet, McDonalds or a takeaway on every street corner, cheap clothes, reality TV and the chance to be famous for a day. Until things get a lot, lot worse then there is little chance they will ever get better. Ultimately the wealth of the world will be concentrated into a few incredibly wealth families, these people will own EVERYTHING. There will be a small professional class who run everything and a vast mass the rest of us who are given bread and circuses to keep us happy. Social mobility will be zero and you will be born to your station in life.

The Japanese had a stable society based on ridged rank for generations, only toppled by western influences. The Chinese had a stable society for 1,000s of years based on everyone knowing their rank. The basic unit was the family but the principle went from the very top where the Emperor’s family were the ultimate and right down to the lowest peasant in the fields. The father had authority over the wife who had authority over the children. Boys had authority over the girls and the elder children had authority over the younger children. Even in youth, however, younger boys had authority over elder girls. If a grandfather was still alive, he was the most important member of the family with a grandmother the most important woman.

Chinese civilization survived largely unchanged for thousands of years while the West suffered through multiple collapses. Confucianism may not match our modern ideas about gender equality and individual liberty, but the longevity of the hierarchy it produced is still followed by hundreds of millions of Chinese today. The threat to Chinese society now comes from outside influences just as it was Commander Perry, gunboats and outside influences that pulled down the Japanese.

Therefore, the lessons from history are clear. When societies get rotten enough they fall to vigorous and more ambitions outsiders who come in and take over. Even the Roman Empire did not collapse from within; it needed the barbarian tribes to pull it down. However, when the same small group owns the whole world then where will outside influences come from to topple the system?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

I'm going out to buy some stout shoes this afternoon.

As I was spending £80 filling the car at the petrol station this morning, just after spending £350 on an MOT and service, I started thinking.

Mobility is one thing that has made the working classes less amenable to control by the ruling elites. If you can jump in your car and go where you like then you are much harder to control than if you are restricted to walking, riding your pedal bike or using public transport. Ideally, I’ll bet the elites would like to see the availability of private motor cars restricted to them. This would not only clear up the congestion caused by “other people’s cars” but would enable the elites to control where people lived, where they went, where they worked, everything.

Now they cannot pass laws saying only people above a certain status can own a car, not in a democratic country like ours. They can however make motoring so expensive that it moves beyond the reach of most of us. People are already changing their behaviour to reduce dependence on cars so maybe we will go back to the good old days were the workers lived within walking distance of their place of employment (assuming they are lucky enough to have employment these days); they shopped at local stores within walking distance of their homes; their children attended local schools and when they went on holiday, they were shipped by coach or train to suitable places for them to enjoy appropriate entertainments. The places off the public transport network were reserved for those people with cars who could afford to travel independently.

As the cost of motoring rises towards levels where ownership of a car becomes the reserve of the well off then mobility of the rest will decrease and so will their life choices and the opportunities of their children. This then affects another area where ordinary people have an opportunity to challenge the elites. Education. Some research has shown that Grammar schools were actually less popular with aspiring middle class families than with the working class families they were supposed to "disadvantage". This is because Grammar Schools selected on ability not family background, how much your father earned, or where you lived. The new system, based on catchment area, meant that families who could afford to move home to a certain area could guarantee their child went to the school of their choice.

In other words, comprehensive education created a market place where you could use your financial muscle to buy your children a place in the school of your choice when ability couldn't get them through the doors! A great triumph for those who despise the elitist nature of Grammar Schools? I wish someone would explain to me how?

Today, many young people faced with the increase in tuition fees are now choosing their university based on location not necessarily the best course for them or their career aspirations. They are studying where they can live at home to save money! If your parents are rich enough then that doesn't matter!

Education leads people to challenge elites. It was increased education that challenged the Christian church. If education had been kept for the few and all church services still conducted in Latin then how would ordinary people ever have challenged the teachings of the church? As ordinary people gained access to better education then they obtained knowledge and qualifications that enable them to challenge the entrenched elites.

This is why the elite so jealously guard access to the Oxbridge Universities; they don’t want the oiks, chavs and spivs going to their university. Should an unsuitable person manage to sneak through the recruitment sieve, in the name of social engineering, then they of course are never permitted access to the inner sanctum of the privileged, private dining and drinking clubs. If this person does manage to use their education to break into the elite then their children are born into it and the second and third generations are absorbed into the ruling group. The Milliband Children for example, Peter Mandelson another. There is less real mobility in the Tories; there it takes more than a couple of generations and a title helps enormously!

So let’s ramp up the costs of motoring until cars once again become the toys of the rich rather than the tools of the rest of us. Return motoring to where it belongs, a privilege of the few. Let's all move back into subsidized housing owned by the factory, the mine, (or the call centre?) where we work. We can shop in the company store, holiday by bus or train in the approved holiday camps and our children can learn their place early in life. It would also have a beneficial effect on crime! If thieves, burglars and muggers were restricted to carrying out crime within walking distance of their homes then think how much nicer it would be if you lived far enough away from them that they couldn’t reach you. Even if they did get out to where you lived, possibly by using the bus provided for your cook, cleaner, gardener, etc, then they would be easy to spot getting the bus back to their own area while carrying your 50-inch plasma TV!

Of course, the trick is to be one of the elite riding past in your car rather than one of the people you swish past who are walking everywhere! I'm going out to buy some stout shoes this afternoon, just in case!

Monday, 6 June 2011

MILF is the vanguard of the Islamic movement

Thanks to GC for bringing to my attention the existence of an armed political organisation that calls itself MILF. As he says, this is a highly unfortunate acronym, but one that has brightened up his (and my) day no end.

The joy continued when I checked out their website, which declares that "The MILF is the vanguard of the Islamic movement in the Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao and the neighbouring islands." This conjures up some pretty special imagery, but whilst I want it to be so, I know that it can never be.

MILF is, in fact, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which operates with a small force of soldiers in some islands I never heard of before.

Friday, 3 June 2011

All you Need to Know about Government Bureaucracy

* Pythagorean theorem: ................................24 words.

* Lord's prayer:.......................................66 words.

* Archimedes' Principle: .............................67 words.

* 10 Commandments: ....................................179 words.

* Gettysburg address: ...............................286 words.

* Declaration of Independence: .....................1,300 words.

* US Constitution with all 27 Amendments: ..........7,818 words.

* EU regulations on the sale of cabbage:.............26,911 words!!!!