John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Saturday, December 31, 2005
  Numerical Models of Weather Forecasting
As part of studing energy issues (for more info see my gas blog I have been looking at the weather forecasts.

It is quite interesting how much reasonably reliable information is available on the web. Sites such as Net Weather provide this information as well as referencing other sites such as Wetter Zentrale which is in German.

Forecasters generally start with numerical models of the weather. The charts generated by those models are then available on various net sites. One of the systems most frequently reviewed is the US Global Forecast System. (GFS)

This system takes in standard data for four runs. The four runs are indicated by the GMT time that they take the data from. They are then available about 5 hours later.

One aspect that varies for GFS is that different sets of data are input for each run.
The variations are:
00z - Weather buoy, satellite data, shipping data, country data, NOAA data
06Z - Weather buoy, satellite data, shipping data
12Z - Shipping data, Satellite data ONLY
18Z - Weather buoy, satellite data, shipping data, country data, NOAA data

The models divide up the atmosphere into subunits and then perform numerical calculations based upon atmospheric physics. This suffers from the "butterfly wing" effect whereby a small change in one place can have a major impact.

The models are generally reported on every 6 hours. Because errors in input to start out with and other factors give unreliability over time the models are frequently run with the data given small adjustments for each run. This gives sets of "ensembles" whereby there is a control run and a number of ensembles and an average for all members of an ensemble.

The interesting thing semantically is that experience indicates that the result which comes from the average for all members of an ensemble is more reliable than the control when forecasting more than 3.5 days in the future.

Different forecasters then use a combination of the numerical models and their own experience to judge how to forecast the weather. It has been interesting that it is now possible to see things such as a cold snap developing via the models reasonably reliably about 7 days in advance.

The more general issues such as climate, however, arise in a different way. A good source for more information about this is the fora on Net Weather (see above).
Thursday, December 29, 2005
  Labour Government Phasing out NHS Dentistry
There is a new NHS Dental Contract. It appears that 1/3 of Birmingham's dentists (120) are likely to refuse to sign it.

The big difficulty is charging (and paying) the same fee regardless of the number of fillings. This seems to be orientated by NICE towards discouraging patients from turning up until they need quite a bit of work.

There are some sensible proposals such as how to handle out of hours work and paying monthly, but underlying it seems to be a desire to phase out NHS Dentistry.

There is also this concept that patients don't have a personal dentist (or GP), but shop around for anyone willing to deal with them on the day.

This seems to be driven my some ideological approach in Whitehall rather than considering the realities in Birmingham.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
  Blair - government by spin
I think there is a start in a trend of newspapers actually checking out what the government actually achieves.

If we start with Make Poverty History the Independent has done some work entitled "have we made poverty history" this shows that some progress has been made, but nothing like as much as was intended.

Then there is the Banning of Hunting which has resulted in more hunting with dogs.

The legislative agenda was clearly driven by spin. There was a problem with infection in hospitals, so a Bill was announced. Why legislation is needed to do a better job cleaning in hospitals is unclear? Disinfectant would be more useful.

We have "The Respect Agenda". I was summonsed to 22 Whitehall to discuss this. There was the plan to have a "respect action plan", which encountered widespread ridicule.

We are now having Expert Seminars on Respect. At least some people will end up getting some benefit out of it - the consultants running the seminars.

The legislation on terrorism was clearly not properly thought through. Many of the problems really related to the way in which PACE operates. A simplistic solution was adopted and then there was an attempt to drive it through - which luckily failed. It still appears that children asking for a penny for the guy are risking prosecution for glorifying terrorsm.

The Religious and Racial Hatred bill appears to actually be otiose. I am still hoping to find the judgement I think from 1983 that drives much of the context of actually the 86 Public Order Act. I did read an article that indicated the bill was otiose.

In the mean time we have reorganisations and silly cuts such as proposed cuts to supplies of ostomy bags.

In essence it appears that the government are too busy spinning to actually spend time thinking.
Monday, December 26, 2005
  More December Photos
This appears as an action photo, but is a photo of opening the improved swimming pool at Brays School. Brays do a very good job in improving the quality of life for kids who have particularly special needs. I think the Warnock report is being seen for being simplistic even by Baroness Warnock. Hopefully no-one will ever suggest closing Brays School now.
This is a photo of launching the "hit squad" and switching on the lights at the Yew Tree. It is nice to have some progress being made in the suburbs of Yardley much that I am spending a lot of time dealing with the development at The Swan.
Being a bit soft I allowed the Labour MPs who had turned up at a "photo opportunity" without cameras to use my digital camera and have emailed the photos to them. If only the Labour government showed any willingness to cooperate on Climate Change then we would be making progress. (Aviation white paper anyone)
This is a nice photo of opening the Stockfield CA's new community resource centre on Alexander Road (2a). The volunteers on the CA board make a real difference. Stockfield is where my mother lived when she was a child and I lived for a while with my grandparents so it holds a special emotional attachment for me.
  Police and Health Reorganisations
There are two centralisations going on at the moment. The most worrying is that relating to the police. Gradually it will become less possible to influence the priorities of the police force locally and it will be essentially up to the Home Secretary. Wonder why he likes it?

The Health one is just one of the normal chuck everything up in the air and see where it lands type of reorganisations. Not an efficient way to run anything, but it tends to happen every three years or so and gets back to where it was about 14 years ago.

In theory these things are driven by a need for efficiency. It may be that having a reorganisation makes redundancy easier, but there is no doubt that reorganisations cost money.

Still twas ever thus.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
  Using a barometer to measure height
Normal Physics exam questions involve measuring the pressure at the two heights to work out how tall a building is.

Alternatively if you want to compare heights of two children you can place a barometer on their heads thus:

This answers the question as to whether my 12 year old son is now taller than my 15 year old daughter (who is 5'10").
Saturday, December 24, 2005
  Labour Government Kills off Final Salary Pensions
With the tax on pensions introduced early on by the government pension funds were struggling. There always have been tensions between final salary pension schemes and defined contribution schemes. Industry and Commerce find it difficult to cope with the uncertainty of the defined contribution schemes. When inflation was higher it was easy for them to cope as the effect of inflation whittled away the benefits (and costs) of the pension schemes.

Then Labour introduce a new levy on final salary schemes. It seems a clever wheeze at the time to underwrite some final salary schemes through other ones. The end result, however, is to put more pressure on companies to close them down.

It is a bit like Labour's tax on fuel. Inevitably this has some effect in putting up costs of fuel. Gordon Brown's removal of ACT at the time seemed to have no immediate effect. The effects was entirely down the line.

The story is in the press today that soon in the private sector the number of people with defined contribution schemes will exceed those of defined benefits.
  Kitty Computer Crisis
What I find amazing is that when one of our cats walks over my wife's laptop they always find a new way of crashing it.
Friday, December 23, 2005
  Birmingham Casino Debate
There has been quite a bit of debate recently about whether or not Birmingham should apply to be a Licensing Authority for a Destination Casino.

The local debate is about whether there should be such a Casino at the NEC or whether it should be linked to the redevelopment of the Blues ground.

The complexity is that if the City Council becomes a Licensing authority then it would only license casinos in Birmingham. The NEC is in Solihull. Furthermore it would have to consider any other applications from within the City - not only one for the Blues Stadium.

My own personal view is that I support proposals to produce a new City of Birmingham Stadium. This could be done in a number of ways - one of which is funded by an in-city Casino.

I am, however, concerned about driving more GDP down the route of gambling as there are problems when people get addicted. People don't always have a good judgement as to probabilities - which is one reason why casinos make money. We do already have a number of casinos in Birmingham. Remember the House Odds for the stock market are negative (in that people get more money out including dividends than they put in).

The vibes in the Corridors of Power about Casinos are that if the legislation remains as it is and there is only one then it will be in Blackpool. That does not prevent Birmingham applying, but we should do so with our eyes open.
Monday, December 19, 2005
  Labour MPs refer me to Standards Commissioner for asking questions about the weather
I have just been phoned by someone from the national media telling me that one or more Labour MPs have referred me to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for asking questions about the weather.

Apparently they think I have a financial interest in it.

As all regular readers of this blog will know the weather is important for determining gas usage. I am told they have also approached my Whip about the issue. I have phoned my whip and he says that noone has spoken to him.

I have emailed the Labour MP who is supposed to have complained to find out what he is on about.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
  Out with the old - in with the new
As with the last post, this post does not actually refer to Charles Kennedy. At my house we have obtained a skip and placed various items around it. Some of the items include some quite nice old furniture that we took into the house when my wife's mother died.

The desired result is being achieved in that people are taking items away to make use of them.

Skips act as localised recycling centres, but do not satisfy government targets.

At the moment there is a really nice wardrobe looking for a home. Interestingly we have actually taken in one item that was brought to the "installation".

As a society we have become very wasteful. Over time with tighter energy availability resources will not be as freely available. This will require the sustainability three Rs to be remembered - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
  A Seven and Sixteen Day Weather Forecast from US NCEP Global Forecast System

With a bit of luck the above image will give the next 7 days weather for London - at the point at which you look at this blog entry. At the moment it appears to be turning coldish. Obviously the image will change with the GFS forecasts from which it is developed.

The good news for the government is that it seems that although December will be slightly colder than average it won't be a really cold month.

The following gives various 16 day predictions for the weather at a pressure height of 850 hectoPascals.

Remember that the further in the future you go the less reliable the predictions are.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
  Charles Kennedy
As someone from the "any publicity is good publicity" stable of politicians I should not be critical about the amount of publicity the party is currently getting. I must admit, however, that it is quite difficult to fathom out what, if anything, is going on.

I have actually been at some of the meetings reported in the media. I wonder if perhaps I was asleep during part of the meetings as the reports of the meetings do not accord with what I heard and saw during the meetings.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Questions: 14th December 2005
UK Air Passengers
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what average number of flights was taken by UK passengers (a) in 1997 and (b) in the latest year for which figures are available, broken down by social class.(John Hemming)

A:The results by socio-economic classification for 2003 are given as follows. Respondents in managerial/professional occupations had a higher mean number of air trips than those in lower occupational categories.(follow the link for the data)
(Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

Silent Calls (HMT)
Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 30 November 2005, Official Report, column 525W, on silent calls, what estimate the Inland Revenue made in 2004–05 of the number of silent calls made from its offices and those of its contractors using predictive dialler technology. (John Hemming)

A:Full information is not available on the number of calls where contact was made but operators were not available and it is therefore not possible to make meaningful estimates.

HMRC recognises that silent calls can cause people concern which is why, when using an outbound dialler, a caller line identity is always displayed so anyone missing a call would have the option of calling the number back. Additionally HMRC configures its predictive diallers to ensure the minimum of silent calls in line with Ofcom guidelines. (Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, HM Treasury)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Questions: 13th December 2005
Predictive Diallers (ODPM)
Q: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many calls were made from call centres in his Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres.(John Hemming)

A:The central Office of the Deputy Prime Minister HQ does not have a call centre, and its switchboard does not use predictive diallers when making calls to members of the public.(Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

Aircraft Emissions/Noise
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what modelling the Government has undertaken of the impact of the trend in aviation's proportion of total UK emissions of greenhouse gases on the costs and reduction requirements of other UK emissions sectors with, particular reference to (a) business, (b) public services and (c) residential use. (John Hemming)

A:International aviation is outside the scope of our domestic targets. Domestic aviation was responsible for 0.38 per cent. of UK emissions in 2003. We have not undertaken any modelling of the impact that trends in these emissions would have on the costs and reduction requirements in other sectors. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

Aircraft Emissions/Noise
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport by what amount emissions trading is expected to reduce the Government's forecast of increased climate change emissions from aviation at 2030, expressed as a percentage and in absolute terms.(John Hemming)

A:At present, it is too early to provide a reliable estimate of the impact emissions trading will have on forecasts of emissions from aviation. This will depend on a number of factors including the overall number of allowances and the detailed design for the inclusion of aviation into the ED ETS. These factors have yet to be specified and will be subject to discussion with other member states' Governments.(Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

Aircraft Emissions/Noise
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the change in quantities of emissions produced by UK air travel in (a) 2030 and (b) 2050 compared with 2005; and what assumptions underlie those forecasts.(John Hemming)

A:Our forecasts for aviation and climate change, and the assumptions underlying them, are set out in Aviation and Global Warming, published by the Department for Transport in January 2004. The figures shown relate to estimates of emissions for all flights departing UK airports for 2030 and 2050, with an interpolated figure for 2005.

Carbon emitted (Mt)
(2005) (9.8)
2030 17.7
2050 17.4
(Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

Aircraft Emissions/Noise
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action his Department is taking to reduce emissions from aviation as a contribution to the shared Public Service Agreement climate change target to move towards a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels by 2010.(John Hemming)

A:International aviation is outside the scope of our domestic targets, but we are taking action to tackle the climate change impact of aviation as set out in the Aviation White paper. This includes pressing for the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme. The Government is also pressing for the adoption by industry of working practices that minimise their impact on climate change, research into new technologies and voluntary action by industry to control greenhouse gas emissions. We recognise that these measures may not provide a total solution. In view of this, the Government will continue to explore and discuss options for the use of other economic instruments. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

Air Passenger Duty
Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of (a) the increase in air passenger duty which would be required to maintain air fares at a constant level in real terms up to 2010 and (b) what increase in price this would contribute to average air fares.
John Hemming)

A:No estimate has been made of what APD would be necessary to maintain air fares constant in real terms until 2010. Likewise no estimate has been made into what proportion this would contribute to average air fares.

Information on the rates of air passenger duty is available at the UK Trade Info website at:
(John Healey, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury)

Air Passenger Duty
Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the value of air passenger duty has been in each year since 1997 (a) in real terms, allowing for inflation and compared to the increase in gross domestic product, and (b) expressed as average amount per UK passenger. (John Hemming)

A:Reliable estimates of the value of each of the four APD rates for each scenario requested from 1997 are not available due to the restructuring of APD in 2001. However, estimates since 2001 are shown in the following table.

Real terms APD (£)/EEA—Reduced rate/EEA—Standard rate/Non-EEA—Reduced rate/Non-EEA—Standard rate/Average per passenger
2001 5.00 10.00 20.00 40.00 10.12
2002 4.92 9.84 19.68 39.36 9.70
2003 4.78 9.55 19.11 38.22 8.38
2004 4.64 9.28 18.56 37.11 8.24
APD (£) if raised with money GDP

EEA—Reduced Rate/EEA—Standard rate/Non-EEA—Reduced rate/Non-EEA—Standard rate/Average per passenger
2001 5.00 10.00 20.00 40.00 10.12
2002 4.82 9.64 19.28 38.56 9.50
2003 4.56 9.12 18.24 36.47 8.00
2004 4.28 8.56 17.13 34.26 7.61

Information on the rates of air passenger duty is available at the UK Trade Info website at:

(John Healey, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury)
Monday, December 12, 2005
  Summonsed to 22 Whitehall
The top spending 14 LSPs were summonsed to Whitehall to be told about the "Respect Agenda".

There are reasonable ideas behind the "respect agenda", but merely writing a "Respect Action Plan" is not one of them. We were told (having made the point that the government have demands for a large number of plans - Community Strategy, Local Area Agreement, Robust Improvement Plans - all covering the same area) that we would not be told to produce a "Respect Action Plan".

The point was emphatically made that the government is driving much of the agendas of the LSPs, but in a counterproductive manner.

Interestingly the government have started to argue that everyone should do what Birmingham has been doing. This is, of course, the same goverment as that which has argued that we should stop doing what we have been doing and centralise everything.

I wonder sometimes if the Government have compelely lost it.
Friday, December 09, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Questions: 9th December 2005.
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will bring forward proposals to amend section 34 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to permit the courts to draw adverse inferences from the failure to mention facts in post-charge interviews for terror-related offences. (John Hemming)

A:A detainee may not be interviewed about an offence after they have been charged with it or informed that they will be prosecuted for it unless the interview is necessary for the reasons set out in paragraph 16.5 of PACE Code C (Detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers).

We are considering whether such provision best suits the needs of achieving a successful outcome to an investigation and intend to publish a consultation paper on this issue in spring 2006. That paper will also consider the existing caution provided for in Code C, paragraph 16.5 and the potential for extending that to the caution given to a suspect during the pre-charge of the investigation. (Hazel Blears, Minister of State (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Home Office)

UK Air Passengers
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the annual reduction in air fares has been in the UK since 2000 for the (a) business, (b) leisure and (c) no-frills carrier sectors; and what assessment he has made of these figures in relation to the forecast assumptions contained in the Air Transport White Paper. (John Hemming)

A:The average fare paid on international no frills flights has dropped by 16 per cent. over the 2000–04 period. Other international leisure fares (excluding those included as part of a holiday package) have only fallen by 2 per cent. Average fares paid by international business passengers have fallen by 20 per cent. between 2000 and 2004, but this in part reflects the relative weakness of the long haul sector after 2000, and reduced use of premium cabins by business passengers on short haul flights. The headline reduction in fares in the national forecasts supporting the White Paper was on average a 1 per cent. fall per annum in real terms over the period 1998–2020. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

UK Air Passengers
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the change in United Kingdom passenger numbers in (a) 2010, (b) 2020 and (c) 2030 if air fares were to remain constant in real terms compared with 2005. (John Hemming)

A:The only estimate that has been made was an illustrative sensitivity test included in Air Traffic Forecasts for the United Kingdom produced by DfT in 2000. This considered the impact of fares remaining constant in real terms throughout the 1998–2020 period in place of the central assumption of a 1 per cent. annual decline. This sensitivity test showed that passenger traffic at UK airports in 2020 would fall from the central forecast of 401 million to 301 million. However, this was based on the very simple assumption that a 10 per cent. rise in fares would lead to a 10 per cent. fall in demand. In practice, rising real incomes at home and overseas are likely to have a substantial positive impact on the demand for air travel. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)

UK Air Passengers
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the increase in UK passengers using no-frills carriers has been since 1998. (John Hemming)

A:Airlines commonly referred to as no-frills carriers include Ryanair, easyJet, bmibaby, Jet2, MyTravelLite, Thomsonfly and flyGlobespan.

In 1998 the total number of passengers using the no-frills carriers listed above (together with Debonair, which ceased operations in 1999) at UK airports was 7.7 million. This had risen to 53.4 million by the end of 2004. The number of UK based passengers travelling on these carriers rose from 4.4 million in 1998 to 37.9 million in 2004. (Karen Buck, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport)
Thursday, December 08, 2005
  Habitual Residence Test
I have asked a few questions about this. They relate to someone who moved from Acocks Green to Thailand on retirement. He had worked as a bus driver for about 35-40 years and retired to Thailand.

He would like to return, but his pension is not enough to live on. He cannot however, get any support from the government regardless of the fact that he has paid uk tax for decades.
  Written Parliamentary Question: 8th December 2005
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government are planning to take to respond to the tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and what action it plans to take to support the United Nations Security Council resolution imposing economic sanctions on the two nations if they do not return to the conditions of the peace plan signed in 2000. (John Hemming)

A:We remain concerned at the continuing tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea over their disputed border. We continue to underline to both parties that there must be no return to war; that the decision of the Boundary Commission is final and binding, and must be implemented; and that they should engage in dialogue on all the issues that divide them.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1640 (2005) allows Ethiopia and Eritrea 30 days to respond to the demands made of them in the resolution to withdraw troops from the border area, and for Eritrea to lift the ban on UN helicopter flights. After that period, the Security Council will consider imposing sanctions in the form of an arms embargo. We will continue to assess how an arms embargo would affect the situation, including the wider impact of an embargo, as the situation develops. We are working closely with UN and Security Council partners to find a way forward for this problem. The use of economic sanctions has not been specifically raised by Security Council members and we believe this action is unlikely to be proposed. (Ian Pearson, Minister of State (Trade), Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
  Cameron's first outing
Today was David Cameron's first outing at leader of the Tory Party. He has placed his agenda fairly and squarely in the middle of the privatise everything camp.

There is a political debate to be had as to what the best way of managing things is. We are having an experiment within the Health service of pushing it in the direction of a market economy. At the same time many in the private sector feel that there is too little regulation in the sphere of energy and that there should be more government involvement to maintain energy security.

If, and it is a big if, we have a Gas Crisis this will be a Gas Crisis for which the inactivity of government is responsible. We already have a tight situation in the NHS which can be lain at the feet of Adam Smith idealogues.

Myself I do not think driving the political agenda further in the direction set out by Cameron today is helpful either in practise or in terms of winning elections.
  Written Parliamentary Question: 7th December 2005
Habitual Residence Test
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 30 November 2005, Official Report, column 613W on the habitual residence test, whether someone who has paid sufficient national insurance contributions to qualify for contributory benefits is subject to the habitual residence test for non-contributory benefits. (John Hemming)

A:Yes; all claims for income-related benefits are subject to the habitual residence test. (James Plaskitt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions)
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
  The Pre-Budget Report
If Gordon Brown were to permit the assumptions behind his predictions to be made public perhaps they wouldn't go this far wrong.

When I get some time I need to try to work out what is happening separately to private and public sector GDP. The impression is that the private sector is in a recession, but the public sector not.

Similarly superficially it appears that Labour have gone for reducing the public sector as a proportion of the GDP, but it will take reading the detailed papers - which I might be able to do tomorrow, to work out what is really going on.

It is also unclear whether raising the tax take from the North Sea will act to further undermine the UK's Energy Security. It might and it might not. Working this out takes some time.

As with the pensions £5bn tax raid a few years ago raising the tax take from part of the economy undermines other aspects. The pensions raid gave a short term gain and a long term damage to pensions. That is even though the stock market did not really give it any detailed attention.
  Written Parliamentary Question: 6th December 2005
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the estimated gas production from the UK's own resources is for each quarter from Q1 2006 to Q4 2008.(John Hemming)

A:The Department does not make projections of gas production on a quarterly basis. It does publish projections of annual production from the UK continental shelf, in the form of ranges, at For 2006 to 2008 the latest projections of production available for sale (i.e. net of producers' own use) are 85–95 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2006, 80–90 bcm in 2007 and 75–85 bcm in 2008. By comparison, net production in 2004 was 94.5 bcm and is likely to be around 89 bcm in 2005. (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State (Energy), Department of Trade and Industry)

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when his Department first provided information to (a) Ofgem and (b) the national grid about gas production problems in the North Sea to enable gas supply forecasting.
John Hemming)

A:The Department provides information to Ofgem on unplanned, offshore and gas terminal outages that may have a significant impact on the volumes of gas produced into the National Transmission System. This information has been provided routinely since summer 2004.

The offshore industry provides national grid with information about significant gas production problems under the terms of an agreement that came into effect in autumn 2003.(Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State (Energy), Department of Trade and Industry)
Monday, December 05, 2005
  pre-Budget Report - NHS in financial crisis
The problem faced by the NHS in trying to stick within budget 2/3 of the way through the year is it is quite difficult in a staff intensive service to find easy savings.

That is why hospitals have been told to use targets as maxima rather than minima.

In Birmingham it is the Sandwell and City Hospital Trust that faces a substantial end of year forecast deficit of £5,100,000. Finding this in 4 months means savings or cuts of an annual equivalent of £15,300,000. That is quite difficult.

The problems arise from changes enforced centrally.
  Written parliamentary Questions: 5th December 2005
Habitual Residence Test
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will revise the habitual residence test to take into account the length of time claimants paid tax in the UK before moving abroad. (John Hemming)

A:The habitual residence test is working well preventing access to income-related benefits, such as income-based jobseeker's allowance and income support, ensuring that they are only paid to people with reasonable ties to the United Kingdom and who intend to settle here. Someone, with a right to reside in the UK, will be more likely to pass the habitual residence test if they have previously lived and worked in the UK and have returned to resume their residence here.

Someone who has paid sufficient national insurance contributions to satisfy the qualifying conditions for contributory benefits will not be subject to the habitual residence test. (James Plaskitt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions)

Data Protection
Q: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what guidance she has given the courts on the size of awards for compensation for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.(John Hemming)

A:The size of any award for compensation payable for damage arising from any failure to comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 is a matter for assessment by the courts, taking into account all the relevant circumstances in individual cases. (Harriet Harman, Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs)
Sunday, December 04, 2005
  UK Gas Shortage
I have received some criticism from Labour about being concerned about the UK Gas Shortage.

It is quite clear that there is a shortage of supply. The impact of this shortage is mainly resultant from the ambient temperature. The colder it is the worse the impact.

More importantly the government can act to minimise both the possibilities of a Gas Emergency and also the impact of a gas emergency. I have put proposals to the government for action. Every day they delay makes things worse.

Whilst it is warm, as now, they should be maximising imports and ensuring that they go into storage. When it is cold they should still be maximising imports. Decisions were taken by Ofgem (that the government has to accept responsibility for) that have impact on supply security (such as UNC044).

Furthermore, the government could act to reduce demand at peak times. There are many places that are kept at far too high a temperature. Commercial operations are considered to be the same as the residences of elderly people. The fact is that if the temperatures in hotels and officers were lower then we would use less gas.

The formula the IESP use for calculating gas usage is that developed by IneosChlor which at low temperatures relates each degree centigrade to about 28.8 mcm/d of demand.

The different levels of real problems that result from the gas shortage are the following in order of severity.
  1. Economic Issues With the price of gas going high firms are put out of business as they cannot compete with the continent. With a lack of concern from government for the impact on business they decide that the UK is not a place to do business. This is already happening. This affects the tax take of the government as well as undermining our employment situation.
  2. Gas Emergency 1 At this level when the safety monitors are breached emergency action has to be taken to shut down demand. The easiest target for this is the Electricity Generation (42.5% from gas). A reduction in voltage occurs - a brownout.
  3. Gas Emergency 2 More CCGT is taken offline and we see rolling blackouts.
  4. Gas Emergency 3 We still don't have enough gas and we see supplies being cut off to local delivery networks. At points 2 and 3 there will be human casualties as a consequence.

There is a greater danger if pressure goes down in the gas pipes. That is why people are cut off rather than have the pressure go low.

It may be that there is no gas emergency. This still looks unlikely. Most of my earlier predictions were based upon the weather a week ago which would have led to a gas emergency in late Jan early Feb. If it stays as warm as it is now then there will be no problem. However, we can only last 3 days at an average daytime temperature of 1-2 C.

A responsible government would be doing more to deal with the issue. They would be discussing it sensibly with people and considering options to reduce demand from commercial premises. (much of which is heating). They would also be acting to deal with the perverse behaviour of the market which is undermining our economic and national security at the moment.

The market reacted to the early removals from gas. All of the information about the market is publicly available if you understand it. The IESP has a mailing list to which we send the daily gas analysis.

At some stage I will start adding up the missed opportunities in millions of cubic metres of gas. For more details about gas please read my Gas issues blog.
Friday, December 02, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Question: 2nd December 2005
Predictive Diallers (HMT)
Q: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many calls were made by (a) his Department and (b) Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment he has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers by his Department.(John Hemming)

A: In respect of the Treasury, I refer the hon. Member to the Financial Secretary's reply of 15 November 2005, Official Report, column 1209W. The Treasury does not use predictive diallers.

HM Revenue and Customs was created as a legal entity on 7 April 2005. Of the two former Departments, HM Customs and Excise did not make use of predictive diallers during the period.

It is estimated that the Inland Revenue—and contractors acting on its behalf—made around 7.5 million calls using predictive diallers during 2004–05. Full information is not available on the number of calls where contact was made but operators were not available.

HMRC is considering Ofcom's latest policy and guidance on silent calls alongside the associated Ofcom Consultation Document which was published on 31 October. (Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, Her Majesty's Treasury)
  Best to ignore ministers
The head of the school that ranked top of today's primary school league tables attributed her success to "ignoring" most of the Government's flagship literacy and numeracy strategies.

The problem with Tony Blair's central planning system is that it gets things wrong. There is no sense swapping things around all the time in accordance with the central fads.

For example the real problem with examinations is that they are continually changing the way they work. This undermines their credibility as an objective, absolute system.

Similarly they are at it again reorganising the health service into either 3 or 1 PCT for the whole of Birmingham. My own view is to leave things alone with potential the option for areas to locally decide to evolve structures. Birmingham Social Services had a major reorganisation to fit with the PCT boundaries. Now the PCT boundaries are changing.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
  Written Parliamentary Question: 1st December 2005
Predictive Diallers (DEFRA)
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many calls were made from call centres in her Department in 2004–05 using predictive diallers; how many such calls resulted in contact being made with the recipient without a Government agent available to talk to them; and what assessment she has made of the likely impact of Ofcom's policy on silent calls on the use of predictive diallers in departmental call centres. (John Hemming)

A: Defra does not use predictive diallers. (Jim Knight,Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
  Taxman makes 300,000 nuisance calls a year
A written parliamentary question by Silent Calls Campaigning MP John Hemming has revealed the shock fact that the government is making at least 300,000 nuisance calls a year.

"After trying to pretend they didn't use predictive dialling, they finally admitted on Tuesday that the taxman made 7.5 million calls in 2004/5 using a predictive dialler. The DMA (Direct Marketing Association) code called for a limit of 5% of these to be silent, nuisance calls. It is clear that the taxman made at least 300,000 (4%) nuisance calls in 2004/5. The government claim that 'Full information is not available on the number of calls where contact was made but operators were not available' that is because they do not want to admit that they contribute to the many millions of times that people are disrupted and caused anxiety by 'silent calls'." said John Hemming

"Ofcom produced new guidelines on 31st October, but the tax man is still "considering" Ofcom's guidelines. It is quite clear that the taxman is responsible for "persistent nuisance" and could be liable to fines of £50,000. A fine of £50,000 (the new rate) for each of the 300,000 calls would be fifteen billion pounds. I am surprised that the taxman believes that following the law is optional. "

"The point about the Inland Revenue, however, is that registering under the telephone preference service does not prevent the revenue phoning you and making silent calls."

John Hemming has also written to a charity that is still making silent calls. "I had a charity referred to me that was making silent calls recently. It would be unfair to mention which charity, but I have written to them to ask them to stop doing so. It is quite clear that a message can be played to remove the major anxiety that is caused by silent calls. I am not sure what Ofcom are doing to enforce their code, but my team of campaigners are monitoring the situation and will continue campaigning until Silent calls stop."


Note for editors
The question should appear on the online version of hansard soon.

The figure of 300,000 is estimated at 4% of the number of calls made. The government are avoiding answering the question as to precisely how many silent calls were made claiming that they don't have "full information".

The Direct Marketing Association's code used to say that a limit of 5% of silent calls should be made. Ofcom on 31 Oct reduced this to 3% dropped calls and banned silent calls. The fine of £50,000 did not apply for financial year 2004/5 it was at that time £5,000. In any event it would be unlikely that a fiine would be issued for each call although it is arguable that it could. In any event as soon as a fine of £50,000 was issued for a couple of calls they would stop making silent calls. It is, however, an arguable case if a mite exaggerated.

The first question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer elicited the response "The treasury does not use predictive diallers", so the question was asked again.

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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