Thursday, February 28, 2013

The price of years of Labour incompetence

As a result of the economies which the coaliltion government has had to make to correct the dire financial postision inherited from Labour in 2010, compounded by years of Labour mismangement on Copeland Borough Council, the following cuts will be made in Copeland from 1st April

  • Whitehaven tourist information centre will close
  • Public toilets will close, including James Street (Whitehaven), Cleator Moor Square, Chapel Street (Egremont) and St Bees foreshore
  • grass cutting on open spaces reduced to one or two cuts a year (down from 14)
  • the concessionary travel scheme will be withdrawn
  • plastic and cardboard recycling will not be collected from doorsteps
  • car park charges to go up by 22p for one hour, and 70p for four hours
  • a 15 per cent increase on cemetery prices, and a 12 per cent increase for the crematorium. Increases will also be made to some taxi licence charges.
  • flower tubs and public displays will be removed, and street furniture not replaced when it reaches the end of its life

100,000 visits

As predicted, this blog had it's 100,000th unique pageview since traffic measurement was installed yesterday afternoon.

Hope all those who have read the blog found it interesting.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A truly disastrous proposal

I have heard some terrible ideas suggested during my years following and then involved in politics, and read about some truly disastrous policies adopted in various centuries including this one in my academic and professional career as an economist.

However, the horrendous idea of negative nominal interest rates which, according to several newspapers today, has been floated by the Deputy Governor of the Bank of  England, has to be up their with Gordon Brown's £5 billion a year raid on pension funds as one of the worst proposals ever contemplated.

The proposal only applies directly to money loaned by the banks to the Bank of England rather than to the savings of ordinary citizens, but if implemented it would have knock - on effects on ordinary savers which are unlikely to be positive.

It has been known for real interest rates - that is, the value of interest payments after deducting the impact of inflation - to go negative, indeed most real interest rates are negative at the moment. This has very unfortuate consequences, and is not sustainable in the long run, but the economy can survive it temporarily.

Nominal interest rates being negative - in other words you charge people who save with you instead of paying them - are an entirely different kettle of fish.

If ordinary savers were charged rather than paid for saving with the banks, it would become rational for them to put their savings into any forms other than bank deposits, including a stash of banknotes hidden under the floorboards. The impact on a modern economy of anything like this would be catastrophic.

What are banks going to do if the Bank of England charges them for deposits? If they have an atom of sense, put as little money in such deposits as possible.

But the impact is bound to be either that the banks put their money somewhere with higher risk, or lower interest rates, or most likely a combination which balances a net impact which is worse overall on both counts. Which in turn will almost certainly mean a lower return or higher risks for the people who save with the banks. Which means less incentive to save.

Even as an "extraordinary measure" I am horrified that such a proposal should have been so much as suggested.

Tax avoidance and evasion

Jim asked me to start a thread on the subject of tax avoidance to permit a debate and I am happy to oblige.

A judge once ruled that nobody should be under an obligation to so arrange his financial affairs (the defendant in the case was a man) so as to allow the Inland Revenue to take the maximum possible amount of money from him. I entirely agree with this.

Equally, when a person or company is trying to minimise their tax liability using ever more intricate devices, there comes a point where their accounts bears so little relationship to reality as to amount to a fraud on other taxpayers.

If a company is employing thousands of people in country A, earning billions of pounds in revenue in country A, shipping goods from warehouses in country A to customers in country A, and yet manages to declare the vast majority of the profits for this activity in country B for tax purposes, then something has gone badly wrong.

Of course, situations like this are almost always at least partly the responsibility of the tax authorities for allowing it - either because the tax code is ridiculously complicated or because they have been asleep at the wheel in not checking whether the returns they have been given are remotely plausible.

Evading tax by lying to the authorities is illegal: minimising your tax liability through legal means which making a full disclosure of the facts is always going to happen. It is the responsibility of HMRC to ensure we have a tax code in which the scope for legal avoidance of tax stops well short of the point where your accounts bear as much resemblance to the real world as Alice in Wonderland.

Guilty until proven innocent?

I have been following the scandal involving a very senior member of the Lib/Dems with a significant amount of concern.

I am not a great friend of the Lib/Dems, and that hasn't miraculously changed  with the coalition - it was and is necessary for the good of the country that the Conservatives and Lib/Dems work together but this has not magically removed the differences between the two parties.

However my first reaction to the story is to hope that the media have checked this story a great deal more carefully than the BBC recently checked an even more serious allegation about a Conservative peer which turned out to be complete rubbish.

If the story is true then the individual concerned should have been driven out of public life, or at least out of any position where he could prey on young women, a long time ago. If it is not true, he is the victim of a serious injustice.

It ought not to be beyond the wit of man to find a middle way when serious allegations are made against important figures in public life, between sweeping them under the carpet until the accused is dead, as happened with Jimmy Saville and with Cyril Smith, and wrecking the reputations of the accused without taking adequate precautions to ensure this doesn't happen to someone innocent, as the BBC did to Lord McAlpine.

The media show trial of the former Lib/Dem Chief Executive which has been going on for the past few days does not inspire me with confidence that this middle way has been found.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hitting the 100,000 barrier

This blog has been around since February 2005, which means it passed the age of eight this month - a huge age for a political blog. I was encouraged to start it by the godfather of political blogging in the UK, Iain Dale, when we were both parliamentary candidates together preparing for the 2005 election.

Barring a catastrophic drop-off in traffic this blog it should also see, in the last few days of this month, the number of pageviews since traffic counts were added to the blog in 2008 reach the 100,000 mark.

Thank you to all the people who have taken time to read this blog over the past eight years.

Another modest proposal

For the second day in a row I have just left a huge pile of recycling material out to be collected by Copeland Council tomorrow morning.

It is astonishing how much recyclable material - newspapers, glass bottles, plastic bottles, cardboard, etc - can build up in a household of four people over a fortnight.

It is important for the enviroment to encourage households to recycle, but it can be quite a bit of work and I think we need some imagination to try to get dwelling designers to take into account the needs of the 21st century - including places to put material for recycling - when planning and building new homes.
I think it might usefully be encouraged as a statement of good practice for inclusion in council Local Development Frameworks (LDFs) that those submitting planning applications for new housing should be encouraged to include a suitable outside store in which materials to be recycled can be placed between collections.

Joke of the day ...

... are the Labour group on the London Assembly

Hat tip to Political Betting for drawing my attention to the story that the opposition on the London Assembly voted to forgo any discussion on Mayor Boris Johnson's budget because a Conservative member of the assembly was a few minutes late, and they thought that if they could take the vote before that individual arrived they would have the necessary two-thirds majority to block the budget.

Unfortunately for them the individual did arrive between the vote to move to the vote on the budget and the vote on the budget itself. Consequently Boris's budget was passed with no scrutiny at all.

One of the few things which makes it easier to be a Conservative at a time when the coalition government is having to take all sort of unpopular decisions to deal with the mess left behind by New Labour, possibly the most incompetent government in history and certainly the one that left the worst mess for their successors to clear up. Labour were not just an utterly incompetent government, they are also an utterly incompetent opposition.

Which is probably not good for the country in the long term but at least sometimes the Labour party's elevation of incompetence into an art form gives everyone else a laugh.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

UKIP MEP defects to Conservatives

UK Independence Party MEP Marta Andreasen has announced that she is joining the Conservatives

Less than a week before the Eastleigh by-election,  the MEP for the South East region hailed the Prime Minister's speech pledging an in-out referendum on EU membership as a "game changer" and   dismissed UKIP's chances of achieving real power.

"Ukip has good people in it at grass roots that care about the future of the United Kingdom and our place in a re-negotiated relationship with Europe," she wrote. "Unfortunately, their party leader treats any views other than his own with contempt. Ukip is his plaything to mould and shape in any way he sees fit, regardless of the views of others."

Ms Andreasen said Mr Cameron's keynote address on Britain's relationship with the EU last month had convinced her the Conservatives were the "true referendum party".

"The Prime Minister's speech was a game changer; he promised to turn around the European freight train, which is currently heading towards a deeper federal Europe with no options for Britain," she continued. "I was also reassured by the financial deal that David Cameron got for Britain on the EU Budget. This is a matter very close to my heart and for which I have fought hard, and it is an important step for Britain in this battle."

Friday, February 22, 2013

DC writes: action on Energy Bills

David Cameron writes:

"As Prime Minister - and as a Conservative - I'm determined to do everything I can to help people with the cost of living. We've already helped freeze council tax, stopped Labour's fuel duty rise, capped the increase in rail fares and taken two million people out of paying income tax altogether.
Last year, I said we would do something else: take action on the sky-high energy bills that families across the country struggle with. At the moment, people often face a mind-boggling number of tariffs and pay a lot more than they should do.
That's why I made a personal commitment. I said it was time for energy companies to be straight with their customers and offer them the lowest available tariff. No more tricks, loopholes or small print; time for transparency.
So I'm delighted that yesterday OFGEM - the energy regulator - said it would deliver on my plan to get bills down. Starting this summer, energy companies will need to:
bulletPresent clear bills with the cheapest available tariff
bulletOffer no more than 4 tariffs for each type of fuel
bulletAbide by a rigorous code of conduct or face heavy fines
And the Government is going to use its Energy Bill to push things further still. Once this becomes law, suppliers will have to put people on the cheapest variable rate unless they choose otherwise.
These changes will at last help to switch the balance of power in the energy market. People will be in the driving seat and companies will be competing hard for their custom.
We said we'd do everything possible to help the hard-working families of this country - and we are keeping our word."
David Cameron signature
David Cameron

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Out of Context

It is surprising and sometimes shocking how different the meaning of a phrase or sentence can be if ripped from the proper context. Words which in context are clearly ironic can appear as if meant to be taken at face value, opinions which are meant to be a description of views presented by others can appear to be the speaker's own views, remarks which are actually intended as a call to action can appear as an excuse for doing nothing, or vice versa.

Doubtless this was part of what was meant by the author of the French expression

"Qu'on me donne six lignes Ă©crites de la main du plus honnĂȘte homme, j'y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre."

which can be translated into English as

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

(This saying is usually attributed to Cardinal Richelieu, though it may actually be the words of one of his agents.)

The most egregious instance of such an out-of-context quote in the twentieth century were the words of Mrs Thatcher, endlessly repeated on their own, that "there is no such thing as society."

In context what Mrs T was actually saying was that if you want something done, a problem resolved, or someone cared for, you cannot depend on an abstract concept like "Society" to do it: she went on to say that "There are individual men and women, and there are families" and they must take action if anything tangible was to be done.

Which is pretty close to the exact opposite of what those seven words sound like when quoted on their own, as they usually are.

This week we seem to have had something similar with the words of prize winning novelist Hilary Mantel, who made a speech a fortnight ago at the British Museum, at an event organised by the London Review of Books. Most of her 30-paragraph speech was about the role and perception of the monarchy, focussing on historical monarchs and consorts from the time of her best-selling novels e.g. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. But she included four paragraphs about the way the press has presented the Duchess of Cambridge.

For six days there was little or no reaction. Then suddenly some journalist found the speech on the LRB website and it didn't take long before extracts from those four paragraphs were all over the media, presented as the novelist's own views and leading to headlines about   "vicious, venomous" and "withering" "rants" and "attacks" on the Duchess all over Tuesday's papers including more than one front page.

Ironically the very media storm which blew up a few days after the lecture appears to have been a classic example of exactly the kind of media response to the Duchess and other royal family members (especially female ones) that Hilary Mantel was talking about.

The Prime minister was on the other side if the world when the row blew up, trying to help jobs and incomes in Britain by boosting trade with and exports to India. Needless to say some journalist asked the PM on live TV what he thought of the reported comments on the Duchess. Absolutely anything which David Cameron had said in response to this question could and inevitably would have been used to give more legs to the story, and then been attacked in turn by some commentators as wrong.

Perhaps we ought to have an inquiry into the way the press operates. Oh wait, we've just had Leveson.

It's like certain types of takeaway food: you have one press inquiry and not long after you want another one!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unemployment continues to fall

UK unemployment fell in the three months to December, while the number of people in work jumped to a new record.

The jobless total fell by 14,000 between October and December to 2.5 million according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The number in work rose by 154,000 to 29.7 million. More than 580,000 more people are employed than a year ago.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in January fell by 12,500 to 1.54 million.

Overall, the ONS said there were 29.73 million people in the UK in employment, of which 73% were working full-time and 27% were working part-time.

In the three months to December, the unemployment rate fell to 7.8% - down from 7.9% in the previous quarter. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC "No-one is saying this is easy, but if you were in France or Spain or Greece... you would look at these figures and say I wish we were in that position." The number of long-term unemployed also fell to 879,000, with 15,000 fewer people that had been unemployed for more than one year.

The good news for the Labour market as a whole did not apply in the cast of Youth unemployment, for which there was a disappointing rise. The divergence between unemployment figures and growth is surprising and the Office for National Statistics has been checking the figures to see if they could be wrong. This is sometimes referred to as the productivity puzzle.

The ONS has published its latest analysis to try to resolve this productivity puzzle, which does not appear to support the conclusion that it is simply a matter of wrong figures.

The paradox of low growth combined with better employment figures than you would expect given the output position applies to other European countries as well as Britain. The ONS research concludes that there is no single factor that provides an explanation, but identifies several that may have contributed.

The financial crisis itself is probably the cause of at least some of the drop in productivity. Productivity in financial services and insurance was rising before the crisis at an annual 4.1%. Since 2009 it has fallen.

More information on the productivity puzzle is given on the BBC website here.

In the short term the fact that employment is rising may have averted a triple-dip to the recession and contribute to a faster recovery than might otherwise have been the case. But the combination of low growth and rising employment represents a drop in productivity, and in the longer term we need to get productivity rising again if Britain is to have a healthy economy.

UK tops competitiveness survey

For the first time ever, the UK has topped KPMG’s league of best countries to do business, ahead of Switzerland, the USA and France.
When asked which country had the best tax regime for doing business, senior tax professionals from Britain’s largest companies picked the UK above any other country.

The same report showed that more than three quarters of top executives said a country’s tax competitiveness influenced their decision of where to locate.

The Government is committed to making the UK an attractive place for the world to do business by creating the most competitive tax system in the G20. That’s why in the Autumn Statement 2012, the Government reduced corporation tax to 21 per cent, the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said,

‘We made a commitment to create for Britain the most competitive corporate tax system in the G20, and within just two and half years this report shows that is what the world’s leading companies now think we have.

‘These companies can choose to invest and create jobs anywhere, but are increasingly choosing Britain and showing that Britain can compete in the global race. It is a remarkable turnaround, and a tribute to the steps we have taken in Budgets this Parliament.’

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More first time buyers

Only the most complacent person could argue that we are out of the woods on the economy, but there are some encouraging straws in the wind, one of them being that the number of first-time buyers has reached the highest level in five years according to figures recently released by the Council for Mortgage Lenders.

A total of 216,200 first-time buyers became homeowners in 2012. This is the first time that the number has exceeded 200,000 since 2007 and is an increase of 12% compared to 2011, when 193,000 first-time buyers took out mortgages.

The Council for Mortgage Lenders stated that first-time buyers 'have benefitted from the effects of better funding conditions and the Funding for Lending scheme'. The Funding for Lending Scheme was launched by the Bank of England and the Treasury in July 2012 to encourage lending to households and businesses.

The Government's economic policy to try to balance the books has won the confidence of markets and secured record low interest rates for the UK. The Funding for Lending scheme works by allowing banks and building societies to take advantage of this and borrow from the Bank of England at rates which are below current market rates, thereby encouraging them to make loans like mortgages more freely available.

Banks and building societies which loan more can borrow more from the Bank of England, and at lower rates, encouraging them to lend more to borrowers like first-time homebuyers.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Roses and Violets

Between half term, a reorganisation at work, the need to acquire a new car, and a few family accidents and injuries, I have had a busy week, hence going for a few days without blogging.

This valentines season there seem to have been an extraordingary number of topical variants of the old poem about roses and voilets floating around

One relating to the food contents scandal:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
My burger went "Neigh"
When it should have gone "Moo!"

On a current crime case in South Africa

Roses are red
Thieves make us furious
Don't look like a burglar
To Oscar Pistorius

On the release of the latest installment in an all action film series in Valentine's week

Violets are blue
Roses are red
Flowers are boring
Watch "Die Hard" instead

On whether there should be a referendum to decide the future or otherwise of Britain's EU membership

Violets are blue
Roses are red
If you want a referendum
Don't vote for Red Ed

On the end of a former cabinet minister's career

Roses are red
It's daft to drive faster
If your wife took your points
Divorce could be disaster

On the royal body which was recently found under a car park

Yorkshire roses are white
Lanc's roses are red
Richard called for a horse
Got a car park instead

And finally on the terrible problems with the NHS in mid Staffordshire

Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you live in Mid Staffs
Try not to get flu

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cumbria Day

Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders, asked at Prime Minister's Question Time today whether David Cameron would join us "in celebrating Cumbria Day with us today."

The Prime Minister replied that he was very much looking forward to joining Rory Stewart "at the celebration of Cumbria Day" and referred to a visit they had made to the Butchers' Arms in Cumbria,
"An outstanding pub in a very beautiful part of the world"

Monday, February 11, 2013

The march of technology

During the weekend just gone I watched three items of TV or film made at intervals of twelve years, the first having first been broadcast fifty years ago this year.

The first item I watched was the second ever Doctor Who adventure which first introduced the eponymous villains, "The Daleks" which was first screened in 1963. I then watched "Genesis of the Daleks" made twelve years later and first broadcast in 1975, and finally a 1987 medium-budget film.

Seeing these three items over a weekend and comparing them with each other and what is available to watch in 2013 brought something home to me: we do not always fully appreciate the pace of technological change, or indeed social changes (such as changes to attitudes and accents) because they are taking place around us gradually all the time.

It's only when you look at the changes over a decade or more that it hits you how much things have changed over the lifetime of people who are only middle aged.

Picture quality: sound quality: capabilities of the special effects used: the progress in twelve years between each programme or film, and the further jump to what we experience now, was very striking.

The most valulable thing we can teach our children is to be able to cope with change. So many of the everyday things of the second decade of the 21st century would have astonished me as a small child.

And the most confident prediction we can make about the 2050's, when my children will be the same age that I am now, is that we cannot imagine how different things will be.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

No elderly person will have to sell their home to pay for care.

The coalition government has agreed a new settlement which caps the cost of long-term care for the elderly, and has promised that

"From April this year, no one will have to sell their home to fund care.
Those unable to afford fees will get the right to defer paying."

That's the Coalition's promise to the elderly as made in today's Sun and in other Sunday newspapers. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt will formally announce tomorrow that, from 2017, the elderly will have to pay a maximum of £75,000 towards their care costs before the taxpayer starts to help them.

The aim is that the £75,000 cap - double the amount recommended by Andrew Dilnot's Commission - will strike the right balance between supporting those who've saved, without imposing heavy new taxes on working families.

One of the ways in which the Coalition will fund a reform which is expected to cost £1 billion reform is a further three year freeze in inheritance tax thresholds. This second three year freeze - following one already introduced by Alistair Darling - will raise about another £200 million per year for Treasury coffers.

The reform is likely to be popular with voters. A YouGov survey for The Sunday Times (PDF) finds that 73% of people support a cap on the amount that people contribute towards the cost of care. Only 13% oppose the idea.
There are some concerns and issues with this to which the coalition parties will need to pay attention, such as those highlighted by the Centre fo Social Justice. But I am convinced that this is the right thing to do. A senior government source told The Sun newspaper “We came into power to help those who work hard and want to get on. “This does that, as it means those who have worked and saved all their life and bought a property won’t have it taken away just because they did the right thing. That’s only fair.”

John Bannister to retire as Rector of Whitehaven

John Banniser, the campaigning Rector of Whitehaven, announced at the 10 am Eucharist at St James' church today that he is to retire in March.

His formal retirement date will be the 31st of March but in practice his last service at St James' will be on the afternoon of Saturday 9th March. He will be moving with his family to South Cumbria.

John Bannister has taken up a great many causes in Whitehaven over the past thirteen years. He will be greatly missed. I wish John and his wife a very happy retirement.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Progress in Europe

The proposal by the European council of ministers to propose a new EU budget under which the EU's total spending limit would be reduced for the first time in the organisation's history is a significant achievement for David Cameron.

As the Daily Telegraph put it, under the headline

"Victory for David Cameron as EU budget faces cuts for first time in history.

"Europe's leaders are poised this morning to cut the European Union's budget for the first time in its 56 year history following a major victory for David Cameron."

David Cameron worked with Angela Merkel and the leaders of a number of Northern EU member countries to get the budget under control, in the face of fierce opposition from the French president and leaders of a number of other governments such as those of Italy, Spain, and Poland.

The proposal which eventually emerged from the Council of Ministers represented a significant victory for Cameron and Merkel as the proposed budget ceiling was trimmed by £30 billion from the equivalent of £830 billion to the equivalent of £800 million (the actual limit proposed is 904 billion Euros).

There are a couple of caveats. The first is that this deal still has to be approved by the European Parliament. Some members of the socialist group in the European Parliament (which includes Britain's Labour party) are threatening to veto the deal. It will be interesting to see whether Britain's Labour MEPs will vote the same way Labour MPs did when this vote comes up.

Since Labour MPs were whipped to vote for a British negotiating position of cutting the EU budget - which against all odds, is what a British Conservative Prime Minister managed to get the EU council of ministers to propose - it would be absolutely ridiculous if British Labour MEPs then voted to veto the cut which their Westminster colleagues had called for. Let's see how the Labour delegation, and indeed all Britain's Euro MPs, vote on this issue.

The second caveat is that, although it is proposed to cut the spending limit, and actual spending will almost certainly be lower than it would have been if this had not been done, the actual sum spent by the EU will not necessarily fall in proportion.

The reduced payments figure is a ceiling or cap, and historically so far, the real spending and national contributions have been  5% to 10% below it.

With the limit being reduced, it is possible that actual spending may be much closer to the actual limit than this 5% to 10% margin. It is even conceivable that spending and national contributions might rise slightly.

This absolutely does not mean that fighting for a lower cap and to keep the EU budget under control was a waste of time. Had this not been done the budget, actual expenditure, and Britain's conribution could have gone up a lot more than is now likely to be the case.

So this is progress. But there is a long way to go.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Jeremy Hunt on the NHS and Mid Staffs

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, writes:

"No one can doubt the Conservative Party's commitment to the NHS. In the toughest financial climate we've faced in years our party was the only party to commit to increasing the NHS budget. More money to the frontline and less spent on management and bureaucracy. A commitment we are delivering in Government, which remains unwavering today.
However, we'd be doing the NHS a disservice if we failed to speak out when things go wrong. The publication of the inquiry report into what happened at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust under Labour has shown that things did go wrong - badly wrong. And it's now up to the Conservatives to ensure that this can never happen again.
The report is clear that the appalling standards of care at Mid Staffs were not just a failing of that particular hospital but were also a failing of the wider NHS system. The system Labour created focused on targets, ticking boxes and processes, while the core values of the NHS, those of care, compassion and respect were lost.
We are already doing things to put this right. Since we came to power we have ended Labour's culture of meeting targets at any cost, developed a new vision for compassionate nursing and introduced a tough new programme for tracking and eliminating falls, pressure sores and hospital infections.
But we are going to do more. We will put patient care back at the heart of the NHS. Staff and managers throughout the system need to know if you're failing on care then you're failing full stop. That's why:
bulletWe will make sure nurses are hired and promoted for showing
compassion - not just on their academic qualifications. And we
will encourage a style of leadership from senior nurses which
means poor practice is not tolerated and is driven off the wards.
bulletWe will ensure those values go right to the top of an organisation
by creating a regime where the suspension of a hospital's board
can be triggered by failures in care, not just by failures in finance.
bulletWe will set up the new post of a Chief Inspector of Hospitals, who
will make a judgement on care standards in an organisation. And
to help them make that judgement we will give every patient, carer
and staff member the opportunity to feed into that process by saying
whether they'd recommend their hospital to their friends and family.
We made our commitment to the NHS because we want it to have the resources it needs to evolve and improve in the years to come. I hope the legacy of our response to the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry will be to refocus on the values it needs to achieve this."
Theresa May signature
Jeremy Hunt
Secretary of State for Health

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Mid Staffs Hospital scandal

Between 2005 and 2009, a large number of patients at the Mid Staffordshire hospital suffered appallingly from a lack of the most basic care, and in many cases, they died needlessly.
The present coalition government ordered a full public inquiry into the scandal when it came into office in June 2010, and this inquiry reported yesterday.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“What happened at The Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was not just wrong - it was truly dreadful. Hundreds of people suffered from the most appalling neglect and mistreatment.

“On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am truly sorry.

“This government has put compassion ahead of bureaucratic process-driven targets and put quality of care on a par with quality of treatment.

“But it is clear we need to do more. We will study every one of the 290 recommendations in today’s report and respond in detail next month.”

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Joke of the week

The Huffington Post has an item today called "Nick Clegg's Backbone found buried in car park ... "

What is the key issue?

It is remarkable how different the key issue can be to different people at any time.

For many people at the moment the most important issue is the state of the economy, and particularly prospects for jobs and growth. Many individuals are particularly worried about the cost of living and struggling to make sure their income keeps pace with it.

Here in West Cumbria there is a particular aspect of this: with more than10,000 people employed at Sellafield and a local economy dependent on the nuclear industry, there is a major focus on what the future of the industry will be following last week's vote by Cumbria County council not to proceeed with the MRWS process to look for a longer term solution for nuclear waste.

Of course, we will still have to agree on how to deal with nuclear waste even if there are no new nuclear power stations. That was illustrated this week when Sellafield got a kicking in the media and from the House of Commons public accounts committee (particularly chairman Margaret Hodge) over cost over-runs at the site.

I personally believe that there is a lot of truth in the defence given by the NDA - that many of these over-runs and problems are due to mistakes made forty or fifty years ago in failing to keep adequate records or think through the long term consequences of decisions. But we need to make sure that those lessons are learned and continue to be applied today, which is why even as a strong supporter of the nuclear industry I recognise that we need to maintain a high level of public scrutiny of the industry.

For some others the key issue is always Europe. Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe has caused problems down the centuries and no sensible person should deny that it is an important one. Equally, though this is an important issue, it important for political parties to avoid getting so absorbed in it that we take our eye off the main ball - which is the need to get the economy growing.

At the moment the "Westminster village" appears to be paying a lot of attention to the same sex marriage issue. Again, this is very important to some people.

I think Tim Montgomerie, a former director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, called this one accurately when he argued on Conservative Home that the battle to fight on this issue is not same-sex marriage, which is inevitable, but to preserve religious freedom.

When most people in this country under the age of about fifty see churches or those of strong religious beliefs pursuing an agenda which looks to them like bashing gay people - however unfair that may sometimes be - it makes religion appear to them like a weird hangover from long past centuries. 

We need to encourage more tolerance of diversity, not less. And that includes respect for a diversity of views about religion, and a diversity of faiths.

Respect for freedom of speech and freedom of religion are no longer secure in this country. The churches and outspoken atheists have come together in the recent past to fight against oppressive legislation such as section four, in the "Feel free to insult me" campaign.

That kind of bridge-building needs to be done again if this is to remain a free country. And keeping Britain a free country is perhaps the most important challenge of all.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Another gang of metal thieves jailed

In a further sign that courts are now taking the crime of metal theft with the seriousness it deserves, a gang of cable thieves have been given prison sentences totalling twelve years and ten months at Blackfriars Crown court.

The thieves pleaded guilty to a string of 47 attacks in London and five counties between May and August 2011 in which they stole more then ten kilometers of copper cable, are estimated to have caused about £715,000 worth of damage, and inflicted major disruption to broadband, phone and train services.

Christopher Cruz, 33, Kris Kreuder, 36, Shaun Nembhard, 44, John Newton, 36, Bill Lee, 60, and Simon Scott, 45, all pleaded guilty at Blackfriars Crown Court in London to conspiracy to steal cable.

The court heard how the organised gang stole cable from the railway network and from BT in Hertfordshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Rutland, Buckinghamshire and London. All but one of the ten attacks they mounted on the BT network involved live cables causing significant damage and cutting off services to many customers. Large quantities of stolen copper cable were recovered a site in Essex where three of the criminals were arrested.

Five of the defendants have so far been sentenced to prison terms – Cruz to three years and nine months; Scott to three years and six months; Nembhard to two years and three months; Lee to two years in addition to a two-and-a-half-year sentence he is already serving, and Kreuder to one year and four months. Sentencing for the sixth offender was deferred until March, to take place following the conclusion of other unrelated charges currently under investigation.

Simon Davies, BT general manager for cable and payphone crime, said:

“This gang had complete disregard for the disruption caused to other peoples’ lives by their criminal activities, and it’s pleasing to see the court dealing with them in this way.

“Whilst we have many effective security measures, cable theft is still an ongoing serious and nation-wide problem that affects our network on a regular basis.

“It impacts upon communities right across the UK, is hugely disruptive to the public and businesses and can prevent access to emergency services, endangering the welfare of vulnerable people.

"We will therefore continue to work closely with the police and our communications provider customers to identify and tackle this crime.”

Naheed Hussain, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) London Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor, said that this case had been the largest investigation of its kind. He added:

"These criminals made tens of thousands of pounds from these thefts that cost a great deal more to fix and caused disruption across the rail and telephone networks. CPS London is committed to tackling cable thieves who cause disruption and damage to the country's travel and communication infrastructure."

I'm pleased that this gang will not be putting lives and jobs at risk for a few years. I do think that the sentencing guidelines need to be reviewed further. There is a strong case that the recommended punishment for members of organised gangs who put public safety at risk with repeated thefts from essential infrastructure should involve nominal prison terms in excess of ten years so that more than five years will actually be spent behind bars.

Quote of the Day

SeanT  had this to say in a post on the "Political Betting" site on the day that a body found under a carpark was confirmed to be very probably that of Richard III while Chris Huhne resigned as an MP after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice by persuading his then wife to take penalty points for speeding.

 "Chris Huhne buried. Richard III exhumed."

I hope and expect that the courts will treat Huhne the same way they would treat anyone who wasn't an MP and who committed the same crime. I would have said the same whichever party he stood for.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A beautiful day

Saturday was a very clear day and in Cumbria probably the most beautiful day of 2013 so far.

On Saturday morning I was out "walking the patch" with my colleagues Graham Roberts and Stephen Haraldsen in Bransty ward in Whitehaven. It was so clear that you could not just see  the Isle of Man, as Stephen said you could practically see people moving on the Isle of Man.

In the afternoon my wife and myself had to drive over to Newbiggin near Penrith.

Absolutely gorgeous views of the Downs and the Cumbrian Mountains.

After a rotten week it cheered me up.