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?"

Monday, 31 December 2012

The End of 2012

Normally at this time on New Year's Eve, I would be meeting with the local bell ringers to start our New Year celebrations. We start early as we still carry on the tradition of ringing the bells around midnight at the Parish Church. We usually gather at one of the ringers' homes for a small party, following which we go to the tower at about twenty minutes before midnight. Following tradition, we ring the half-muffled bells for about a quarter of an hour to mark the passing of the old year, and then, a few minutes before midnight, a couple of the more agile ringers rush up to the bells and remove the muffles, getting down in time for the twelve strokes to be struck on the tenor bell at midnight. We then immediately ring the open bells for five or ten minutes to welcome in the new year. This is a tradition that has been carried out almost every year at our church since the installation of the bells in the late 1800's.
As I said, I would normally be there, but this year I have been suffering from a bad cold since Christmas Day and so I have decided to stay at home rather than inflict my cold on the other ringers in a rather small ringing room.
As a result, I have been pondering on the past year and asking myself what, if anything, will go down in history to be taught at schools in, say, a hundred year's time.  My conclusion is that apart from the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympic Games, there seems very little change in the situation at the end of the year as compared with that at the start.
We are still fighting a pointless war in Afghanistan resulting in a steady stream of deaths and  serious injuries to our Service personnel. This conflict has gone on for longer that either of the world wars and the majority of the public fail to understand why we are there.  Certainly, no-one believes the arguments about security put forward by the politicians, indeed it could be argued that it is encouraging "home-grown" terrorists, the exact opposite of the original intention.
We still remain in the EU in spite of polls showing that a majority of us would like to withdraw, the best that might happen seems to be that we might be offered a vote on whether the government should attempt to re-negotiate our terms of reference. They could do that at any time, without a vote, and so the suggestion has all the hallmarks of being a simple delaying action. All the pundits predicted that sometime during the year either the Euro would collapse or Greece (and perhaps some other countries) would be forced out of it, but once again the experts were all wrong.
At home, the financial crisis is unchanged, indeed it seems to be worsening. The deficit is increasing in spite of the so-called cuts. (A cut in the Civil Service is not getting the budget increase that you demanded, rather than a cut in the current budget, as would be understood by ordinary people). The government seems to still manage to find millions for this or that, and still we continue to waste money on foreign aid.
The NHS is deteriorating, not because of the "cuts" but largely because of poor management. I would be interested to know what percentage of the NHS budget is spent on administration, not just at hospitals, but also in all the various organisations and committees which have been set up to run and oversee various aspect of our health care (and have demonstrably failed to do their jobs in many cases). We have now reached the appalling state where hospitals are being paid to meet targets for the number of patients put on the "Liverpool Care Pathway", a scheme for removing treatment from patients whom doctors decide are going to die soon and are thus a waste of resources.
Emigration continues unabated, and the face of the country is slowly changing, but no-one in power seems to care for fear of being accused of being a "racist", now possibly the most serious crime that one can commit.
The only other matter worthy of note is the Levinson enquiry into the press. If fully implemented, this could go down in history as the beginning of the end of a free press as we know it.

So apart from the Jubilee and the Olympics, will this year go down in history?
Not as far as I am concerned; nothing real has been achieved and the whole country seems to be on a downward slope to nowhere.

So here's to 2013 and the hope that things might change for the better, although, regrettably, I can see little hope of that under our present leaders, or indeed under any of our existing politicians of any party.

Happy New Year

Friday, 28 December 2012

European Justice

The Telegraph reports (here) that
Europe’s most senior justice official has warned that David Cameron's “crazy” plan to repatriate powers from Brussels will allow paedophiles and criminals to run free if Britain opted out from 135 EU crime and policing laws.

It seems that according to Viviane Reding, the vice-president of the European Commission, if we opt out of these EU laws we will have criminals and paedophiles running around freely on the streets. 
She is the second most senior person in the EU, and in spite of her position, it doesn't appear that she can see the total illogicality of what she says. She fails to explain why this should happen which is probably as well as there is no reason why it should.

If you follow her argument through to its logical conclusion, there must be huge numbers of criminals from, say, the United States running around Europe and similar numbers of European criminals running about the US, which is blatantly untrue. One assumes the Federal police in the US and their equivalent in the EU exchange details of criminals as a matter of routine, and all this without the US being a member of the EU. In case she hasn't heard, it is possible for countries to have bi-lateral agreements on matters of mutual interest. Perhaps she doesn't know, but Interpol existed long before the EU and was quite effective if you took into account the various countries' differing legal systems.
Or is she implying that if Britain withdrew from these 135 EU crime laws (seemingly it is all or nothing), that in retaliation, the EU would not be prepared to negotiate on a replacement bi-lateral agreement covering areas of mutual interest?

In practice the existing arrangements seem to have been of little advantage to the UK, we still seem to have huge numbers of criminals coming into the country, mainly, but not exclusively from the Eastern European countries, and the laws seem to have done nothing to help us to keep them out.

Once again, it seems to me that those at the top of the EU are scaremongering; the specific mention of "criminals and paedophiles" as if later were something special in addition to the criminals, strikes me as an attempt to grab headlines rather than to logically debate the issue. 

The sooner that we ore out of the EU the better.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


I am still trying to make sense of the whole affair - was it a little spat which got out of hand or was it, as has now been alleged, an attempt to "fit up" Andrew Mitchell?

Neither option seems particularly credible to  me. Mitchell admits to swearing at the police, but not using the word "pleb". I'm quite sure that this would not have been the first time that someone had swore at the police officers concerned and I fail to see their objection to the word "pleb" - I'm quite sure that far worse words would have been used against them when they were beat officers on routine duties. Personally, I would have been more offended by the use of swear words, particularly from a a Minister of the Crown, but seemingly these was considered unimportant which I find disappointing.

The suggestion that someone is trying to "fit-up" Andrew Mitchell seems equally unlikely. As far as the public is concerned, Mitchell was a nobody; the public aren't concerned about who is Chief Whip, it doesn't affect them in any way. So why on earth would anyone want to fit him up? Logically, only someone affected by his work would have an interest in doing so, which would be one or more of the hundred or so Tories who have rebelled against the government at some point and thus had their prospective careers curtailed. But collusion with the police - this seems totally improbable even to the most ardent conspiracy theorist.

Other commentators suggest that the Police Federation is behind the whole affair, but why? Surely their target would be Theresa May, the Home Secretary, whom they clearly dislike if one is to  judge by their treatment of her at this year's annual meeting of the Federation. But would police officers lie for their Federation? For a mate maybe, but for a federation, no, I wouldn't think so.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

BBC Management Failings

Today saw the publication of the Nick Pollard (ex-Sky) report on BBC news management which has been in the spotlight since the Jimmy Savile revelations. It really didn't tell us much we didn't know, or suspect, already. It is a valuable report, however, in that it came from an outsider, and not just any outsider, but from someone who had worked in a similar line of business in a a public company. Now from my experience, most public companies generally won't tolerate excessive or incompetent management as they prefer to spend their money on their core business. They also prefer clear lines of responsibility so that an individual can clearly be held to account if necessary. The BBC, as is clear from the report, has an excessive number of managers with overlapping responsibilities, many of whom have risen from the ranks to a level of total incompetence.

Specifically, the report says that “leadership was in short supply” and that management was “completely incapable” of.dealing with the developing situation. A damming indictment, one would have thought, and one which in most businesses would have resulted in the departure of all of those concerned. Not so in the BBC, all that is happening is that the deputy head of news has decided to retire whilst three other senior managers are being moved to different posts. Just like a game of musical chairs, one falls out whilst the rest end up on different seats! No mention whatsoever of cutting back on management, and presumably, all the overlapping responsibilities with their lack of any coherent chain of command, will remain.
The report appears to be competent and thorough. The BBC's response is anything but!

The BBC trustees don't seem to have been mentioned, when clearly they are, at least in part, responsible for the debacle. They have appointed successive DGs and one would have thought they would have taken some notice of the management structure and the effectiveness of the organisation. They have allowed the top (highly paid) structure to grow without apparently even sounding any word of warning. One might ask exactly what they do, as their failures seem to have cost the licence payers a lot of money which could have been better spent on programmes. Certainly, in my view, Chris Patten's position is totally untenable and he should resign forthwith. But he won't, it's simply not a done thing these days (at least not without an accompanying bag of gold).

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Just Imagine !

Headlines in the Telegraph read:

"Syrian fighter jets bomb Palestinian refugee camp
"Syrian fighter jets bombed a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus as it tried to stop rebels winning more territory in the government heartland."

I just wondered what the media,  and particularly the BBC, would be saying if the word "Israeli" had been substituted for "Syrian". As it is this is just a short report in the Telegraph and there was no mention of it in the last BBC news I heard, I assume it is considered to be either of no importance or of no news value.

See here

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Misuse of Powers - Addendum

Following my piece earlier today, it seems that the implied threats against the Daily Telegraph for investigating Maria Miller's expenses has been elevated to a higher level, to none other than Craig Oliver, David Cameron's director of communications. Apparently, he phoned the editor to express his concern  that Mrs Miller was “very distressed” about her family being questioned over her expense claims. He reminded the editor that Mrs Miller is currently overseeing negotiations about a new system of press regulation, and said that she was considering making a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. (see here)

As far as I am aware, the Telegraph is one of the few papers which hasn't been tainted by the scandals surrounding phone hacking and  bribery of public servants, and for the time being holds the moral high ground. They state that before publication of the news items about Mrs Miller, they made sure that they had double checked all the facts. They claim that their reporter had a friendly discussion with her father who is a Telegraph reader, and it would seem to me that Mrs Miller's "distress" at her family being questioned more likely stems from the knowledge that they now know what their daughter has been doing, something that a person of my generation might find rather upsetting.

A number of those involved in the talks now suggest that Mrs Miller should withdraw from all negotiations on the Leveson report. The Prime Minister, through his press secretary has now become personally involved in the matter, which strikes me as yet another example of his  extremely bad  judgement. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to reading about the basis of her complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, as it seems to me that the Telegraph has done nothing more than carry out a piece of  perfectly legal investigative journalism. I think that this matter will run for some time yet!

But whatever happens, this further action by Craig Oliver illustrates very clearly that there is no way that politicians should have any control over our media. It may not be the best, but at least, subject to the laws of libel, it is free and can say what it pleases.

Leveson - Misuse of Powers

The Culture Secretary Maria Miller is responsible for the implementation of the Levenson report and is currently having a round of discussions with editors of our national press and other interested parties.
She has also been accused of fiddling her parliamentary expenses by claiming mortgage costs on her parents' home with the result that she has been reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by the Labour MP John Mann.

What is of considerable concern is the apparent threats that were made by one of her aides against the Daily Telegraph and its reporter who was seeking to find out  more about her parliamentary expenses, which is reported under the heading (See here).
"The minister and a warning to The Telegraph before expenses story".
Among other things, her special adviser, Joanna Hindley said “Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about,” Now, if this all goes pear shaped, I'm sure tha Maria Miller will claim that her special adviser was not authorised to make, and shouldn't have made, these comments, but if you believe that, you'll believe anything.

In this series of actions, Maria Miller has demonstrated in no uncertain terms why there should not be statutory control over the media. If she can issue, via her adviser, pseudo-threats prior to introducing legislation, what on earth would she be doing if she had statutory rights to interfere?

The Telegraph  reported about her expenses (see here) under the heading
"MPs' expenses: Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s £90,000 claims for parents’ home"

Incidentally, Maria Miller is the MP for Basingstoke. My daughter lives in a village outside Basingstoke, and works in Holborn which is somewhat further from Waterloo Station than Westminster.  She often has to start work at 6am, and on occasions often leaves in the late evening. She can manage to travel on a daily basis, and when she is on a late turn often has to take a taxi from Basingstoke as she has missed the last connecting train to her village. She can't claim expenses, and her salary is considerably less than Maria Miller's. If she can manage, why can't Maria Miller?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Another Gravy Train

I supported the concept of local Police Commissioners, but as has happened with nearly every piece of recent legislation, that to allow for the election of Police & Crime Commissioners was hastily cobbled together without much thought and has produced yet another gravy train for our politicians and their cronies.

Today's Mail just tells part of the story, and that is bad enough. Many of those appointed are already Councillors, several of who are doing virtually full time council jobs which they are keeping for the time being. But what we were never told was that they would be able to appoint deputies at salaries of up to £68,000 pa. Nor were we told that such appointments would be personal appointments without the normally accepted advertising and selection procedures. Just like the old Wild West where the Sheriff and his mates ran the town but getting highly paid as well. How long will it be before one of them appoints his wife partner as his deputy? But that is not the end of the matter, some of the deputies being appointed also have existing jobs in the public sector which they intend to keep.

But perhaps more worrying is the fact that these Commissioners can "Hire and fire Chief Constables". I just wonder whether any procedures have been laid down for this? Will they appoint them in the same way as the appoint their deputies, conceivably cronies without any police experience? One Chief Constable has already resigned after being told to re-apply for his job by the new Commissioner with whom he had previously clashed.

Yes, a very good idea, but it has gone horribly wrong due to being rushed through without any real consideration and with total lack of thought about the unexpected consequences. In my view it was a grave mistake to allow anyone who had previously stood as a party member for any elected council or parliamentary office. Certainly the legislation should have required that all appointments should be advertised and normal selection procedures should apply.

Meanwhile, the Gravy Train rolls on.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

NHS Summary Care Records

Today I received a letter from the NHS "Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Cluster" advising me that unless I object, a "Summary Care Record" will be created on my behalf. The letter suggests that this will be a good thing as information will then be readily available for my care in an emergency.
"The record will contain information about any medicines you are taking, allergies you suffer from and any bad reactions to medicines you have had, to ensure those caring for you have enough information to treat you safely"

Now, on the surface, this seems a good idea, until one looks at the detail and in particular the security detail.
"Healthcare staff will ask your permission before they look at your record, except in certain circumstances for example if you are unconscious."
To me, this means there is no security, anyone with access to the system can look up the details of any patient whose records are on the system. Logically, if they can look up my record if I am unconscious, they can also look up my record when I'm miles away.
"By law, anyone working for us or on our behalf must respect your confidentiality and keep all information about you secure".
I don't doubt that is the legal situation, but laws are frequently broken, as in the case of the phone hacking saga and the number of public officials who subsequently have been arrested for selling information to the media.
To access the data, Healthcare staff will "need to have an NHS smartcard with a chip and passcode" and "will have their details recorded". But then similar rules apply to the Police National Computer and this has been subject to quite a bit of misuse by both police officers and administrative staff in order to obtain personal details. Whilst this occasionally comes to light in the course of some other investigation, it would seem that the majority of misuse goes unnoticed. Why would the NHS be any different?
The concluding paragraph is rather disingenuous
"No matter how careful we are, there are always risks when information is held on computers as there is when they are held on paper"
No, the risks are far higher when they are held on computer. It takes a matter of just a few seconds for someone, anywhere in the country, to access records on a computer and copy them to a memory stick. With paper records, only someone at the hospital where you are being treated or at your GP's surgery could access the records, and copying requires time either at a photocopier or to make notes longhand, either of which I would suggest is a far more risky business.
Finally, regarding children it seems that parents may opt out, but "In some circumstances your GP may feel it is in your child's best interests to have a Summary Care Record". Big Brother now knows what is best for your child.

I strongly oppose these nationwide computer systems and have a strong dislike of the "Unless we hear to the contrary, we will ... " attitude. The only way you can keep your data secure is to keep it yourself, and I would have been quite happy to put a small memory stick with the information onto my key ring which is always in my pocket. My wife, who is on warfarin blood thinner, always carries her record booklet in her handbag along with a list of the other drugs she takes, and if one believes what one is told, this is all that will be on the Summary Care Record, so this information will presumably meet any emergency care needs.

Another point of interest is who outside the NHS will be given access to the information, and for what purposes?  In this contest it is worth noting that DVLA has banned more than 150 councils from accessing their database after they had breached motorists' privacy (Daily Mail). How long will it be before the NHS allows access, say, "for research" and the priviledge is similarly abused?

I have 12 weeks to make a decision but I will probably decide to opt out.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Our NHS (again)

There has been quite a lot in the news lately about the lack of compassion in the NHS, and from my limited experience these complaints are fully justified. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary has effectively acknowledged this in a recent speech when he said that he wanted "to be the health secretary who helped transform the culture of the system".
Yesterday, chief nursing officer for England, Jane Cummings, said action must be taken to ensure the values nurses stand for are not betrayed. As a result, she has begun a campaign today to "restore compassion" to nursing care.
Unlike her predecessor who believed in degree level education, she has defined what she believes to be the five "C's" of nursing, care, compassion, courage, commitment and communication. Whilst I am sure that the majority of nurses do in fact have these attributes, there is a sizeable minority who certainly don't and whom appear to have entered nursing merely by accident or mistake and have no real interest in the job. I don't blame all the problems on the nurses, far from it, the administrators would probably be first in my firing line for having put their own needs before those of the patients.

Certainly this was the view of a close friend who had to go into the hospital in Suffolk where she had previously worked as a nurse for some 30 years. Not one of the nurses who looked after her would have met the standards that she would have set when she was in charge, the cleaning of the ward, the toilets and washing facilities was abysmal and there was a general "don't care" attitude displayed by most staff. The computers at the nurses' station appeared more important than the patients!  But as one of her erstwhile colleagues said to her "if you can manage to wander round the administrative corridor, it's a sight worth seeing with its new carpets, plenty of space, latest furniture and proper cleaning".
And this is the problem, the administrators are in a world of their own; gone are the days when a hospital was run almost single handedly by the Hospital Secretary aided by the matron and a few clerical staff. Now administration is the priority, patients come last.

As the new Chief Nursing Officer has acknowledged, part of the problem is "degree level nursing" and indeed this is similar to the problem being experienced in many other fields, particularly teaching, although my own field of engineering is not exempt from such problems. Personally I believe that all those wanting to enter an occupation requiring practical skills should spend a year or so as a trainee before starting their academic studies. In nursing they would work under the supervision of an experienced nurse learning about the various day to day tasks and gaining some skills, but primarily discovering whether they actually want to be part of the profession and are prepared to clear up after an incontinent patient or help a patient with dementia to feed herself. Too many of those who obtain a degree in what is essentially a practical job don't really want to get their hands dirty but to work in an office like their friends who have degrees in other subjects.

Again, I think there are strong arguments for part time study. I had a job in my chosen branch of electrical engineering and studied one day and a couple of evenings per week. I learnt the practical aspects of the job at work, and learnt the theory behind what I was doing at technical college. In due course I obtained qualifications which were considered to be equivalent to a degree and was accepted as a member of the appropriate professional Institution.  This suited both myself and my employer, and more to the point, if I'd decided the work wasn't for me, I could have dropped out without incurring major debts. I suspect too many nurses (and teachers) are in the wrong job, but simply can't change because of the years that they spent at university getting a qualification which is of no use elsewhere, and for which they are still in debt.

I've just noticed in the Mail that Ann Clwyd MP said in parliament that her husband had died ‘like a battery hen’ in the University Hospital of Wales after her repeated pleas for NHS nurses to help him. As usual, the standard words were trotted out by the hospital’s executive director of nursing, who said ‘We will not tolerate poor care which is why it is so important that each incident is fully investigated so that we can drive up standards and provide patients and their families with the quality of care they need and deserve.’
Haven't I heard or read this somewhere else recently?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Today's News

I only tend to write anything here when there is something in the news in which I have a particular  interest, and as far as I'm concerned, even the Duchess of Cambridge's baby-to-be doesn't really fall in that category. I would merely comment that having watched my daughter's problems in the early stages of her pregnancy, the Duchess is lucky to be able to go into private care rather than suffer at the hands of the NHS. I wish the Duchess well, and hope that she has a boy, if only to upset all those feminists who wanted the rules on succession changed to permit a girl, if first born, to be the next in line to the throne.

Coming back to the news, the only other item that attracted my attention concerned the NHS where the Chief Nursing Officer has described poor patient care and lack of compassion as being a "betrayal" of the service.
Again, looking at my daughter's treatment I would fully agree. She had had a number of miscarriages, and on the third or forth occasion had to go into our local hospital to have the dead foetus removed. She was put in a ward with nine other women who had had abortions, all of whom were pleased to get rid of  what they believed to be an encumbrance, whilst she was in tears having lost yet another baby. Reaction from one of the nurses was to the effect that "I don't see what you're making such a fuss about, children are such a bloody nuisance that I can't see why anyone in their right mind would want one". Now that's real compassion for you!
Fortunately I do now have a lovely grandson, thanks to treatment given abroad whilst my daughter was on holiday in Sardinia.