Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cancer in the NHS

Patients in England suspected of suffering from cancer are to have the right to see a specialist within two weeks; and quite rightly so.

However, primary care trusts will be required to pay for private consultations if the timescale cannot be met.

There could also be financial penalties for failing to keep to the two-week limit, described at the moment as 'only a target'.

So, the underfunded, ailing NHS is given another target it has to meet. Failure will result in financial penalties, not just once but twice. Effectively the NHS will have to pay for its own demise, backdoor privatisation, and be fined to do so!

I believe the funding issue for the NHS has two root causes.

First, a significant proportion of the NHS budget pays managers and book-keepers whose focus is (financial) efficiency and cost cutting. This is not compatible with a non profit, state owned institution and is morally indefensible where healthcare is concerned.

Second, direct taxation, particularly for the wealthy has fallen significantly over the last 30 years resulting in less money to spend on the public services most of us, and in particular the poorest of us rely on. Hence the introduction of managers and book-keepers trying to cut costs but actually contributing to them through bloated salaries with no advantage to treatment.

These issues did not exist pre 1980 when hospitals were run by doctors and nurses and funding was adequate.

What the government should do is sack the managers and book-keepers and let the doctors and nurses run the hospitals on clinical grounds and direct employment of cleaners and other ancillary staff who will be directly accountable to the NHS.

This will mean more funding going to treatment rather than non-clinical staff and any shortfall should be paid for by those most able to pay, the wealthy through direct taxation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pontcysyllte aqueduct

At last, some good news to comment on. The Pontcysyllte aqueduct has been given World Heritage status.

This is a magnificent piece of engineering, carrying the Llangollen canal over the valley of the River Dee. Built of cast iron and caulked with flannel dipped in boiling sugar and then sealed with lead!

The amazing thing is, as far as I am aware, this original and inventive caulking is still what holds the water in to this day, 204 years later.

Built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop it is over 1,000 feet long and stands on 120 foot tall masonry piers. Again, amazingly it is a mere 11 feet wide!

Some of today's engineers and architects would do well to take a leaf from their book and stop building concrete and glass horrors that might last 50 years.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Power for the Bank of England?

George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor and MP for Tatton suggests that a Tory administration would give more powers to the Bank of England to oversee financial institutions. Mr. Osborne says "The tripartite system between the chancellor, the Bank of England and the FSA has simply failed."

That may be so, but giving more control to the Bank of England will in my view create more problems. The Bank of England is a financial institute and quite rightly is wholly or at least mainly concerned with financial affairs. (Quite advantageous to rich Tories, I suggest.)

Better the Bank of England should be given control over financial considerations, but where these financial considerations have an impact on the social structure and the poorer members of society who have no means of controlling the decisions that impact on them, a body of politicians (multi party), charitable institutions, sociologists and independent thinkers should be a party to those decisions with a power of veto if the majority disagree with the Bank of England.

Each member of this committee should show they have no personal interests in the policy and decisions of the Bank of England over and above those of the ordinary citizen. To declare an interest should not be enough.

I consider that this committee should consist of volunteers who will not benefit from being a committee member. No wages, no expenses, merely a commitment to fair play and policies to benefit the people, not the rich people.

To prevent the super rich commandeering the committee, being the only ones who can afford to do it for free a reasonable allowance could be allowable for those that can show genuine hardship.

And how about a sub-committee of us plebeians, elected to the job by local people to whom the committee report and take a remit?

This is my suggestion for a fair system of financial and economic decision making. The mechanics of how it might work must be decided by those more able than I in such matters.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

£16m Rover Report

An independent report into the collapse of MG-Rover has been handed to the government. It cost £16m and took four years.

In 2005 Andrew Johnson and Steve Bloomfield for The Independent asked MG Rover Closure: 'What happened to all that money?'

The cost of support packages had £171m allocated and a projected likely spend was £146m. (Figures are from the National Audit Office. (Download Links in PDF format.)

It seems while the workforce were working overtime, seven days a week to try to make the plant and the company profitable and save their jobs, the 'Phoenix Four' were busy lining their pockets as quickly as possible in advance of the collapse.

When you look at the amount of money spent on closing the plant with the loss of 6,000 jobs, at least £187m (not counting the extra costs to the NHS treating depression and related problems, neither the lost revenue from 6,000 taxpayers or the impact on local communities, both financial and social.) it really doesn't seem to make economic, political or social sense. Even if they all got a job at Tesco's (suggested by Margaret Hodge, work and pensions minister at the time) the difference in wages, and therefore the tax they would pay would be considerable.

It seems to be just another case of the workforce making all the effort, the bosses taking all the credit and profit and the workforce paying the price. Oh yes, while the government stand back, with their gold-plated unassailable wages, expenses and pensions doing nothing but spout rhetoric and commission expensive 'independent' reports that give their pals a 'raison d'ĂȘtre'.

And I ask, what good will the report be? Will it highlight how things might have been done better, perhaps saving jobs? Probably not, but too late if it does. Will it highlight the failings of the Phoenix Four? Maybe, but will anything be done? Doubtful. Will it change government attitudes or produce a different strategy to save jobs in future? Well, ignoring the fact that this was the last big employer, certainly in the car industry, definitely in the West Midlands and so a similar situation is unlikely it won't change government attitudes until there is a change in political, social and economic thinking. The recent closure of LDV with a refusal to help from New Labour proves this. The banks got billions, changed little though this was a requirement of the funding and are now shedding staff. Yet the relative pittance LDV asked for as a bridging loan while takeover negotiations continued was refused.

This country was once great because of the industrial revolution; because of its strong manufacturing base and because of engineering skills this manufacturing base produced. This country is now collapsing socially, economically and politically because we are allowing these strengths to fail Lack of investment has led a decline (often blamed on unions and the workforce). In the 1970's I was milling cylinder heads on pre-war milling machines, drilling sumps on pre-war radial drills. We need to reverse this trend by injecting money into engineering and manufacturing alongside new technologies. It will be expensive and painful. But we might once again lead the world and make a better future for our children and our children's children.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson R.I.P. (Please!)

I am fed up of it. Every time I turn the TV on or go on the internet it's all Michael Jackson. Somebody has just likened his death to that of Elvis or Diana.

Now I didn't like the bloke. I didn't like Elvis or Diana. I accept there are those who do and they feel a loss at their passing. Grieve, but don't force it down my throat. But it isn't really news. It certainly isn't news now. We've all heard, now move on and do some real reporting and give us the news!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Smoking Ban

Birmingham MP John Hemming is calling for the smoking ban to be relaxed. It seems to be because of the number of pubs closing which has been associated with the ban.

I agree. The law as it stands is draconian. Much better, as was suggested would be smoking only rooms with staffed by employees who smoke themselves. One could also make it an option with the final say going to the landlord/lady.

If the government wants to ban something, ban chewing gum. It is everywhere, sticks to everything that comes into contact with it and probably harbours a plethora of bacteria and viruses.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Business Managers for Schools

Schools minister Vernon Coaker says a business manager could help schools ride out the recession, claiming they could save schools thousands of pounds per year.

The claim is that they can save head teachers up to 20% of their time to devote to teaching.

Well, I think it is just another bureaucrat creating bureaucracy to give jobs to the boys.

Margaret Thatcher did this in the 1980's. While she destroyed manufacturing, she created thousands of non-jobs paying intellectuals huge salaries to sort out finances and to manage in the National Health Service. Most weren't worried about people. The onus was on cutting costs. We've all seen the result of that.

Not only is this an issue, but also the move to privatise public service industries by the back door by introducing such jobs. Once the principle of 'business management' is accepted, we are on our way to privatising education. And isn't it odd that this idea has been thought up at a time when the government is meeting strong opposition to their attempt to introduce private academies?

Here are a few figures I have put together. Not scientific or statistically accurate. But accurate enough, I believe to give some idea of what we are heading towards. I got my figures by a Google search any one of you could try.



Average Salary

Minimum Salary

20% of Salary

Head Teacher

£ 100,000.00

£ 70,000.00

£ 20,000.00

£ 14,000.00

Business Manager

£ 50,000.00

£ 25,000.00




So you can see that even paying a business manager the minimum salary of £25,000, while saving 20% of the average salary of £100,000 of a head teacher (£20,000), the difference is £5,000 which presumably the business manager will have to save (cut) from the budget just to break even.

Pupils are already buying their own books. Where will it come from? Education is non-profit making and one of the most important public services we have. Do we want to see it brought to its knees like the health service?

So is this just another 'jobs for the boys' and/or a 'make it look like we're doing something' exercise?

Either way, we have seen what managers did to the health service. Do we want it to happen to our schools?


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BNP... Banned or Marginalised?

There is talk of the Government banning teachers from being members of the BNP. Police officers are already not allowed to be members of the BNP. But I think this is a very dangerous road. While I do not agree with much of the opinion of this group, or their methods we are a democracy and like it or not they are a legitimate political party within that democracy.

If we are to ban certain groups from party membership then it must be across the board. Teachers and policemen should be banned from being members of any political party.

It is that or remove legitimacy and legal status from the party in question. Effectively, ban the BNP.

The problem is there are no legal grounds to do so. And so, in my opinion, there should be no grounds to ban certain groups from membership unless the ban extends to all political parties.

This leaves us in a paradox. Allow the BNP to use the democracy they despise to gain ever greater electoral gains, or destroy that democracy by banning a group because we don't like what they say.

However, I have a third way. The British people are rarely extreme in their views. So if the other political parties listen to us, curb immigration and remove undesirables I honestly believe the BNP will fade back into the obscurity they came from.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iraq War Inquiry

It has been decided the Iraq War Inquiry will held in private and suddenly senior politicians are saying they would be happy to have a public inquiry. I ask why they didn't make their feelings public earlier. Why, now the decision is taken they are willing to speak publicly?

I suspect this is another attempt to undermine Gordon Brown. While not enamoured to the man or his politics, neither do I like underhand tactics from those that might wish to take his job.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

MP Beaten by thugs

Tobias Ellwood, Tory MP for Bournemouth East has been beaten by thugs. Will we see a change in policy and an end to kid gloves when dealing with yobs?

Or more likely a new law to protect public servants.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

EU agrees Irish treaty compromise

Political wheeling and dealing knows no bounds. Not moral bounds or physical boundaries. Not even political boundaries. Both left and right of the EU conniving to get a second referendum in Ireland for the Lisbon treaty they have already rejected. Concessions, called 'protocols' by the EU that guarantee Ireland freedom from EU interference in military neutrality, tax and abortion policy. This will only apply to Ireland but it is thought it will likely be attached to Croatia's EU accession treaty.

This must stand as one of the most manoeuvred and manipulated pieces of legislation in the history of politics. The EU were determined this would go through. The promise of a referendum for the British people was removed by renaming the Maastricht Treaty. They knew the vote would be against so they renamed it and denied us a vote, claiming it is a different treaty.

When the Irish valiantly insisted on a referendum and the referendum went against the treaty (remember, all member states must ratify the treaty) they asked the Irish to have another referendum. They refused so we see the latest manipulation to try to get the Irish on side.

This also highlights the lack of democracy in the EU.

My hope is that the Irish people reject the treaty in their second referendum in October.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Failing of Democracy through the Expenses Scandal

The elections are over and we see New Labour thoroughly thrashed in the European and local elections. And once again we see the gullibility of the electorate and the big flaw in democracy,

Starting at the beginning, we saw the Telegraph exposing the expenses scandal. What few people noticed was the Goebbels style propaganda coup- where the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth was told. But that truth was represented in such a way that the reporters and the newspaper editor knew would manipulate public opinion.

In the first week of the exposé we heard about the New Labour politicians (I use the term loosely!) inventive claims. Now as you will probably know from previous posts I am no lover of New Labour, or for that matter any of the three 'front runners' of the political spectrum. But why the emphasis on New Labour? Anybody with a modicum of intelligence would immediately realise politicians from all parties would have their snouts in the trough. In fact, I suspect there is almost a club culture where experienced politicians educate their newly elected brethren in creative claiming. The second week we began to see politicians from other parties exposed. Yet still most of the anger was directed at the Labour Party.

Most people might reasonably suppose that this is because they are the Government and as such carry the onus of responsibility. Yet this or some similar situation has probably existed since our modern parliament was conceived.

Let me explain by example. Hopefully, it will show how the truth can be manipulated and the next time a scandal is exposed or a headline misleads, you might be able to better understand the machinations of the media and how they manipulate us using psychological techniques- propaganda. In the early 1970's Ted Heaths' Tory government was brought down by two miner's strikes, one of which included the mass picketing of the Saltley coking plant.

I know it well. I was born almost next door in Cranby Street. At the time I still lived in Birmingham. We had the Evening Mail delivered every evening and one of the front-page headlines read "Policeman Hurt on Picket Line". This had the immediate effect of inflaming emotions and angering the average man in the street- even those who while not wholeheartedly supporting the miners might have felt some sympathy for their plight. It turned borderline opinion against the miners. How dare they picket and attack our policemen?

My father, on reading the headline but before reading the article immediately began a diatribe condemning all miners and trade unionists and suggesting they should be shot. I suspect this was the reaction of most people not educated in the expertise of manipulative journalism.

Reading on, the piece described how a policeman, not even on the picket line had been walking towards the coking plant and as he crossed the road, slipped on the kerb and twisted his ankle. This made no difference to most people. The emotions had been aroused by the headline and opinion had been formulated that all pickets were violent and that they had attacked the clumsy policeman.

One might argue that without the pickets there would be no need for him to have been there and he wouldn't have been hurt. Fair enough, that is an opinion. But why didn't the Mail report it so? Because it would not have been inflammatory. No, the Mail knew what it was doing and knew that regardless of the following story opinion would be formed by the headline and some would believe what they wanted to believe and ignore what was contrary to that belief.

And the same is true of the Telegraphs series of revelations. People read that Labour politicians were on the take. It was fed to them for a week and irrespective of subsequent revelations, the mould was set and New Labour was the cause and propagator of every conceivable ill.

Then came the elections. And what do the electorate do? Either didn't vote or chose a protest vote for an independent or minority party, the main result of which let the Tories in all over the country.

This is one of the big flaws in democracy. People using their vote as a form of protest. A free, secret vote is a very precious thing, hard won by the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people. It should be used according to ones conscience and beliefs, not to stick it to a party that has offended – particularly when that party is not guilty in isolation, but part of a much wider conspiracy. And if you think that voting for an independent that is free of corruption is the answer, they are no purer in thought or deed than the politicians we have ousted. Granted, they are unlikely to stick their noses in the expenses trough, but how many politicians who have been caught with their fingers in the till do you think would risk continuing to deceive? And then there are those who remembered the New Labour corruption and voted Tory, forgetting they too were guilty as charged thanks to manipulative reporting.

So the protest vote has done little for British politics apart from confer power by default. It has done nothing for democracy besides expose one of its weaknesses.

It probably means that by the middle of 2010 we will have a Tory government who will win by a massive majority. They will believe, as in the 1980's that they have the mandate of the people and will convince enough of us that their economic strategies are essential for the good of the country and eventually we will all benefit. In fact the wealthy will get wealthier and the poor will get poorer and we will be repeatedly told by the White Queen 'The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day.'
(Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871))