Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

E-Petition: Review the Smoking Ban

I have just signed the e-petition calling for a review of the smoking ban and the question my friends will obviously be asking is why I, as a lifelong non-smoker, should support this petition.

 The reasons are numerous, but mainly linked to my belief of "Live and Let Live". I don't believe all the claims about second hand smoke and am quite happy being in a room with considerate smokers. Certainly I never felt offended by smokers in any of the pubs I visited and I tend to take the view that if a pub is too thick with smoke for my liking, I'd be quite happy to go elsewhere.

My main reasons are
1. The hypocrisy of the politicians. If smoking is as bad as they claim they should ban it entirely and prohibit the manufacture and sale of cigarettes. They won't because they would loose the next election and because it would decimate their tax revenues.
2. "Smokers are a drain on the NHS". I doubt it, most of us spend some time in hospital or receiving lengthy treatment before we die. Smokers, it is claimed, receive considerable hospital treatment before they die, at huge expense to the nation. But, we are also told they die a lot sooner! Non-smokers live longer, also eventually require hospital treatment, albeit for something different, but in the meanwhile need constant "care and maintenance" from our doctors. Personally I suspect that the "prior to death" cost to the NHS of a smoker is far less than that of a non-smoker. Non-smokers who insist on living to a ripe old age also incur extra costs to the government in terms of pensions, bus-passes, day-centres, home care, etc. In practice, the longer one lives past pensionable age, the bigger drain one becomes on public funds.
3. The ban is likely to cause my favourite pub to close (which is a good enough reason in itself). Since the ban, drink prices have been increased to the maximum that the market will stand locally in order to compensate for the loss of business, yet still the publican is hardly making a living.
4. There is some evidence that the ban has increased drug taking amongst the younger generation. Whilst you can't smoke in a pub or night-club, no one will notice if you "pop a pill". Although he has not seen this, my publican friend feels that there is reason to believe that the behaviour of some of the youngsters cannot be attributed to the amount of alcohol that they have drunk.
5. Smokers assure me that cigarettes help relieve stress; I just wonder how many ex-smokers are taking NHS pills instead! Cigarettes also seem to keep you slim which I would have thought should be encouraged in these days of increasing obesity.
6. Once the zealots get their way and smoking becomes effectively illegal, they will no doubt turn their attention to the demon alcohol; indeed they already have started ranting about the cost to the police and councils of drunks and the cost to the NHS, not only in A&E, but in terms of alcohol related illnesses. Now that is likely to make me very angry

I believe that these are very good reasons for signing the petition.
It can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.

To me, it is very reasonable in its request 
"We petition the Government to review the impact of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs and consider an amendment that would give licensees the option of separate well-ventilated smoking rooms."

Its not a request to abandon the overall no smoking policy, just a simple request that licensees might have separate smoking rooms if they so wish. As a non-smoker, I can see no logical objection whatsoever to what is proposed, and it would certainly save my local as it has two bars, one of which, in the old days, was tacitly accepted by all the locals as the smokers' bar.

Thanks to Dick Puddlecote for drawing my attention to this petition.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Green Thing

I came across this on Jo Nova's blog; The Green Thing: the old and wise fight back
If you are of my generation, it is well worth reading.

In particular, all greens should read the conclusion

"Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in  conservation from a smartass young person. Remember: Don’t make old people mad.

We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss  us off."

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Police Leaks and the Guardian

The Daily Telegraph reports today that

"The phone hacking scandal took yet another twist yesterday when a Scotland Yard detective was arrested on suspicion of leaking confidential information about the inquiry to The Guardian.
It is thought that the arrest follows a series of online articles in The Guardian which disclosed the identities of people who were about to be or had just been arrested. The identity of the 51-year old detective constable has not been disclosed. He was arrested on Thursday by the anti-corruption unit of Scotland Yard and bailed to return next month."

The Guardian is, of course, the paper which has taken the high moral ground over phone hacking, but it seems that its integrity does not extend to the receipt of confidential information from the police, which could, by its very nature, impede the police investigations.

Presumably, the Guardian will be added the on-going investigation into the alleged bribery of police by News International, as only an idiot will believe the policeman did it for altruistic reasons.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A Police Reserve

The MP for Bury St Edmunds,  David Ruffley, puts forward strong arguments in the Daily Telegraph for a Police Reserve, a concept that I would fully support. He points out that it could mirror the retained firefighters or the Territorial army, whereby volunteers would be paid a retainer, expected to attend for training at regular intervals and be paid a sensible rate when called to duty.
He suggests that "they could mirror the  retained firefighters, most of whom receive up to £2,821 a year, and an additional call-out fee of up to £12.88 per hour. Last year, the country employed 29,735 full-time firefighters and 11,899 auxiliaries – yet the auxiliaries cost only £130 million, out of a total cost of £1.64 billion"  .Good value indeed!

We are clearly going to need a Police reserve. So called "Flash Mobs" demonstrated the possibility of getting large numbers of people to a venue without any warning, and in some respects the ability of the looters to chose a new, unexpected, location is merely an extension of this. Like fires, such looting can now break out anywhere at any time. As with the fire brigades, extra assistance is needed when there are major incidents, or if more than one incident occurs at the same time, and local reservists are a practical solution.If it works for the fire brigades, why shouldn't it work for the police?

Incidentally, David Ruffley is the first MP that I am aware of who has put forward a sensible, cost-effective, proposal for future policing. That means, of course, that it will be totally ignored!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Police Budget Cuts and Benefits

I think that the Government should do a U-turn.
It should announce that it will not cut the police budget by 20%, but will instead cut the benefits budget by a similar amount.

At present, everybody appears to have the same benefit entitlement whether they have contributed to society or not, which is clearly wrong. There is a big difference in the position of someone who has worked for many years, paid taxes and National Insurance and then finds himself unemployed compared with that of someone who has never worked and in many cases has no intention of working. Under my scheme, the first person would continue to get benefits at the present level, the second would get half that amount.

We also need to further cut the benefits of those who go straight from school onto benefits, particularly where they are leaving school without any qualifications. All these "deprived" youngsters have had the opportunity of an education which they have failed to take and, by causing trouble in the schools, have often prevented the education of others. All those leaving school without a certain minimum standard of education (basic GCSEs) should have any benefit cut still further.

There is absolutely no reason why this country should provide other than a minimum subsistence level of living for the deliberately uneducated who have no desire to work.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Police Numbers

I get very annoyed when people complain that the Metropolitan Police have some 30,000 or so Police Officers, but only about 6000 can be mustered for duty at one time.
Now I worked as an engineer in the aviation industry for many years and for ten or so I was a shift engineer working shifts in order to provide 24/7 cover 365 days a year. We worked a five shift system of eight hour shifts with about half an hour overlap. For those who haven't done the maths, 24/7 equates to 168 hours a week whilst 5 shifts provide 200 hours on the basis of a 40 hour week. The difference doesn't provide much leeway for overlaps, management activities, training etc. Of course, many paper pushers also do a nominal 40 hour week, (9 to 5 or equivalent) but they take an hour for lunch as well as morning and afternoon tea breaks and thus really work less than 35 hours at their desks.  Like the police, my staff had to be available to take action any time during their shift and were lucky if they ever got a proper meal break.
Of course the usual personnel administrative types were for ever wanting to know why it took five staff to cover one post and seemed unable to accept simple maths, and it seems that large parts of the media  have the same problem.
The fact is that Police Officers, like most other employees, expect to work a 40 hour week and to have holidays. And quite reasonably, if they are obliged to work longer hours because of a crisis, they expect to be paid accordingly.
Looking at the figures, if the Met has a strength of about 30,000, it is doing quite well to get 6000 on active duty at one time, as my calculations above make no allowances for leave, training or sickness.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Local Police Commissioners

There are many who argue that policing should be under local control, with elected police commissioners or sheriffs as in America. I am one of those who support this concept, but those against argue that this would lead to the politicisation of the Police, with various dire consequences.
Perhaps one of those who oppose the idea would explain to me why it is that those very same people who have been opposing political interference in our police forces by local police commissioners, are demanding that our senior politicians must return home from their holidays immediately in order to take charge of actions against the current wave of rioters and looters. Surely this is the very thing that last week was totally wrong, politicians taking charge of operational policing!
I'm glad they've come around to my way of thinking!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Snouts in the Trough

MP's rightly got a lot of flack for abusing their expenses, but regrettably they aren't alone in this, the practice seems to be quite common these days throughout the higher levels of our public services. Now it is not as if people at these levels are not well paid, salaries in the higher echelons of public services have risen far faster, percentage-wise, that at any any other level over the past ten years. So what is going wrong?
One thing seems to be that many of those concerned don't seem to appreciate that they are doing wrong. Sir Paul Stephenson, for example, apparently considered it perfectly in order to accept free hospitality at a convalescent home, and even when resigning firmly insisted that he'd done nothing wrong.
Andrea Hill, the Chief Executive of the Suffolk County Council saw nothing wrong with accepting hospitality from various companies in spite of receiving a salary of £216,000 pa. Does she get fired for abuse of her office - no, she "resigns" and gets another year's salary.
Inspector Gadget points out that two of Wales’ police forces spent more than £1.1m on top-of -the-range cars in the past four years for the personal use of senior officers and their partners. Chief Officers at Dyfed-Powys Police and South Wales Police were given cars worth up to £45,000 each on top of their annual salaries.
And of course, the latest is that Cleveland Police’s chief constable and his deputy have been arrested in an investigation into allegations of fraud and corruption.

The problem with any form of indiscreet behaviour at the top is that it becomes endemic throughout the organisation  If the Police Chief can accept a fortnight's hospitality, why shouldn't the copper on the beat accept a bottle from the local publican? Both might be perfectly innocent events without strings attached, but that is not how the public sees it. Was the provision of cars for personal use part of the salary package for the post or an extra sneaked in afterwards, as they can hardly be regarded as essential to the job where no doubt they would use a police vehicle and driver. (I wonder if the Tax Man is aware of the situation?) If its OK for a Council Chief executive to "discuss business" in exotic locations at someone else's expense, well why shouldn't a planning officer discuss the details of  a proposed extension at  our local bribing dining place.

Fortunately we have not yet reached the situation that a friend found in Brussels, where he had to pay a pourboire in addition to the fee in order to get his residential parking permit stamped at the Marie. But I just wonder how long it will be before this sort of thing becomes the norm and we accept it without question.

Of course I haven't mentioned the NHS which seems to provide a never-ending benefit package for incompetent administrators who take a pay-off from one NHS trust, only to move on to another one near-by. That would provide a whole blog in itself were I were able to find time for the necessary research!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Government Recruitment out of Control

Today, the Daily Mail reports that thousands of new staff have been recruited by quangos since this government came to power, in spite of a promise to "have a bonfire of quangos".
What is it about governments that makes them unable to reduce the size of the Civil Service and Quangos? Companies manage to do so, Only yesterday Barclays announced a large number of job cuts, following in the footsteps of a number of other public companies over the last few weeks.

Last year the company for which my daughter works merged with another company and the board immediately instituted a virtual ban on all new recruitment. All requests for new staff had to be referred to the board and had to include a job description of the post, and an explanation of why the job was required and why it couldn't be shared amongst existing staff, etc. These papers had to be agreed and countersigned by the appropriate managers. The board made it clear that they would investigate the veracity of the various statements, and anyone found to have provided misleading information could quite easily find themselves on the redundancy list.

It seems that very few of the management staff were prepared to put forward any applications and my daughter noticed, perhaps not surprisingly, that a number of tasks were suddenly deemed no longer essential by managers. Staff reductions have been achieved by natural wastage and everybody seems happy from the board down to the lowest members of staff who feel that there jobs are now more secure.

Now why can't the Government do something like this. Every department should be told that they are absolutely banned from taking on staff unless each individual post has been approved by the Departmental Select Committee, and that staff of all levels could be called before them to explain and justify the post. This sort of approach works in the Private Sector, why should it not work in the Civil Service and Quangos?