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Showing posts from August, 2005

Sack the APE not Ken

This story shows the absurdity of having a system of rules that means that politicans can be "unelected" for being rude. The decision as to whether a politician remains elected should be primarily that of the electorate. It is true that efforts should go into preventing conflicts of interest. However, the current system does not actually work to prevent the mild levels of corruption that are developing in various parts of the public sector.

I will provide the evidence at a later stage for aspects of this.

What the Code of Conduct and associated bureaucracy does do is to protect the bureaucracy against whistleblowing and challenges to bureaucratic decision whilst penalising politicians for being human.

Government refuse funds for Birmingham Library

I link through to the press release from DCMS which made it clear that the government will not give Birmingham funds under PFI for a new Library. If I remember rightly the bid put forward did not specify where the Library would be or whether or not it would have the archives united in a National Centre for Family History (or split apart as they are at the moment).

For all of Labour's crocodile tears over a Library they never put in a bid for the finance.

The Birmingham Navy Strikes Back

I feel a bit aggrieved as a qualified sailor (not that I can remember which qualification I have) that inexperienced seafarers are called the "Birmingham Navy".

I must admit that I did spend some summers with my family and various coastal locations with a boat.

I feel there is a case for experienced seafarers living in Birmingham to challenge the singling out of Birmingham as a city which puts additional demands upon the RNLI.

Birmingham is a long way from the sea, but we do have our own sea cadets.

Health Funding Crisis - BMA

The link is to the BMA Consultants' Committee's press release about health funding.

The issues here are that 15% of funding is going outwith the NHS, the costs have been increased by the Constultants Contract, PbR (Payment by Results) is causing constraints on PCT budgets, the PCTs are being merged.

I had a case reported to me where someones blindness could not be treated because of a reported funding constraint. Clearly when I check this out it may not be the case. However, it does appear that the government have messed up NHS finances rather badly.

Woah, I'm going to Barbados

Lib Dem watch have been complaining that I have not written them a poem. I have not really got the time for that at the moment, but I heard these lyrics somewhere recently and wondered if they might suffice for the moment.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Captain Tobias Wilcock welcoming you aboard
Coconut Airways flight 372 to Bridgetown Barbados
We will be flying at an 'ight of 32000 feet and at an airspeed of approximately 600 miles per hour
Refreshments will be served after take-off, kindly fasten your safety belts
And refrain from smoking until the aircraft is airborne

Woah, I'm going to Barbados
Woah, out to the palm trees
Woah, I'm going away from Whitehall
Woah, to the sunny Carribean sea

I don't wanna be PM all my life
I want to join a high paid consultancy
Fly away on Coconut Airways
Leave everyone else stuck on BA

I've ordered my pills for Avine Flu
Everyone else knows what they can do.
Fly away on Coconut Airways
Leave old Blighty to Big Ears

Woah, I'm …

Iraqi Constitution

The sad thing about coverage of issues such as the Iraqi Constitution is that it is difficult to really find out what the issues are.

I would assume that there are elements within Iraq that would reject any constitution written during the occupation.

The irony, of course, is that the US has repeated the history of the 1920s. The key political issue then was foreign (RAF) bases. What I found really odd was the argument in the House of Commons against setting a date for withdrawal.

The argument was that the insurgents would not give up if they were given a date for withdrawal. Given that the insurgents' main aim appears to be to get rid of the occupiers (much that I need to source this) one would presume that an early date for the end of the occupation would actually give them a reason to hold back.

Still, it appears that with members of the armed forces in the USA turning against the occupation the chances are that the USA timescale will be shortened and some specious argument gen…

Hall of Fame

John Hemming, Lib Dem MP for Birmingham (Yardley) is planning a regional hall of fame. "Birmingham was supposed to have a Hall of Fame on the current site of the ICC many years ago. This did not happpen. As part of promoting Birmingham within the region I beleive we need a hall or wall of fame. This will recognise the many successes of people in the region. Clearly this is something that will require the involvement of specialist committees to review each area such as sport, music, comedy, theatry, industry etc. I think it is also important that the public should be involved in deciding who are the top people in each category."

"I have been discussing this with members of the local media and also have a potential site identified although an agreement has to be created. The Evening Mail is backing the idea and will be asking their readers to take part in suggesting names. "

"Clearly the decision as to who is the top local comic, top local musician/band…

Manual Payments for Tax Credits

Question 1

Could you please tell me how many tax credit manual payments were made during the month of May 2005.

Answer

Around 43,000 direct manual payments were made in May 2005.

Question 2

Could you also tell me what proportion of payments were made manually each month since April 2004 and what the cost of the manual payment process is.

Answer
The proportion of direct payments (%), excluding payments via employers, made manually since April 2004 is shown in the table below

Apr-040.27%May-040.16Jun-040.15%Jul-040.19Aug-040.20%Sep-040.22Oct-040.32%Nov-040.33Dec-040.24%Jan-050.30Feb-050.30%Mar-050.28Apr-050.36%May-050.30Jun-050.27%Jul-050.28

Parliamentary Email Disappears

I have just found that there is a spam filter on the @parliament.uk domain. This squirrels away emails it thinks are spam. Of course not all of them are spam.

Furthermore it doesn't tell the sender that it has trapped spam. What this means is that the @parliament.uk account is actually quite a dangerous one to use. There is absolutely no certainty that email gets to people.

Sadly, therefore, I cannot encourage people to use @parliament.uk. I don't have the time to check the spam filter all the time (particularly as I have my own one which works in a proper manner.)

Its the oil

The debate over the Iraqi constitution is, of course, dominated by thoughts about oil. If the Kurds keep the old vilayet of Mosul and the Shi'a have Basrah. That means almost all the oil is in those areas. This leaves Baghdad (which is Sunni and Shi'a - the city Shi'a and around Sunni) without much dosh.

One thing that amazed me about the debates about withdrawing the troops was the argument against setting a date for withdrawal (both from the Conservatives and Labour).

Their argument goes that "if we give a date for withdrawal the insurgents won't give up", the main objective of the insurgents has been to get rid of the occupation. If you give them a date upon which it ends then there is no reason for them to continue to fight (as long as that date is quite near in the future).

On the other hand if you don't give a date then they need to continue to fight.

Why anyone thinks a dispute about the constitution is going to stop the insurgency I really don'…

Government Office and the BSP

My communications with Government Office and the Treasury Solicitors (who are the people who act on behalf of the government) continue.

Government Office have responded to a couple of my requests for information, but generally not responded and I have been chasing up.

The Treasury Solicitors are now claiming that what was said to me by Lin Homer and Graham Garbutt was not said to me. This still leaves a massive hole in the issue of what is a "Robust Improvement Plan" so I am continuing to work on that issue.

Civil Servants have got into the habit of not reponding properly to requests for information and giving others the runaround. Now I have gone through the inconvenience of having to start using legal processes I want to ensure that the whole issue is resolved before relaxing. (This means clarity on the next two year's NRF.)

Insolvency and the Enterprise Act

It will take some time to pin this issue down. However, what I have found so far is that the Insolvency Service is selling people's debts.

It writes a letter to them saying we are selling your "debt for £xxxxx (we do not know how much it is". This, of course, causes rather a lot of confusion.

I could understand the concept that they are sub-contracting in part the process of working out how much the debt is. However, to tell someone that they owe some money, but they are not sure how much it is, and it has been sold to someone else and then that they may have to sell their house, is a bit cruel.

This must affect a few thousand people nationally. Tax Credits appear to still be mired in chaos.

Crying Wolf (is gas the issue)?

It is interesting to listen to people's reasons for not wishing to consider hydrocarbon depletion.

One is that people have "cried wolf" before. The point about that story is that in the end there was a wolf.

Another is the Vince Cable (who used to be an economist for Shell) position who argues that as the price goes up there will be more oil extractable. There is some truth in this position, but it still does not deal with the fact that there will be a year of peak production and after that production will come down.

This is faced by the fact that the deposits of oil and gas people are going after are now smaller. Ramco's saga where they went for a gas field and found it didn't work as expected will happen more and more frequently. There will be a resource cost issue and a risk management issue for this.

The interesting question rests with some of Chris Vernon's analysis of potential gas shortages. It sounds nice and easy to import gas. There was a goo…

Statement by the Birmingham Strategic Partnership Post 7/7 Group.

Birmingham, in common with all great cities, faces more challenges as a
consequence of the atrocities of 7/7 and attempted atrocities of 21/7.
These are challenges we need to face together so that we develop a society
based upon principles such as security and justice rather than sliding into
intolerance and conflict. In the coming years, Birmingham will continue to become a more ethnically diverse city, a fact which we should promote and be pround of. Integration, trust and respect between the various ethnic and religious communities within the city is not only desirable, but essential for Birmingham's economy to prosper. Indeed, the long term success of the city is dependent on it. We must work against polarisation and towards a tolerant, diverse society built on cooperation, trust, security and understanding.

In Birmingham we can all contribute towards the objective of a peaceful, prosperous,
secure and just society which everyone feels equally part of and whose
members views are li…

NHS reorganisation No 3,493,233

Followers of my blog will have seen the NHS question about how many reorganisations have we had. We've yet another. The number of PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) nationally is to halve. This means merging East and North. (and then probably HoB and south).

It would be nice if people would stick with one structure.

There is a quotation
(Which sadly does not appear to be a true quotation)
We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
But has to have been originated by someone. The web link shown goes through the derivation which appears to be more linked to an anonymous British Soldier WW2 than any Roman or Greek General called by a name perming 2 out of (Gaius, Galus, Petronius and Arbiter).

From the NHS:

End of Silent Calls?

The story so far: When calling companies use predictive dialers (whether it is for TPS unregistered cold calling or any other calling system) they at times (and it can be quite a few times) end up when someone answers the phone and they don't have an "agent" available.

These "no agent available" (NAA) calls are what are known as "silent calls". Statutory Intrument 2003/2426 "The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003" makes it clear that recorded messages for marketing purposes are unacceptable. However, an Informational Message which explains why the call is silent is lawful.

Yesterday I had a meeting (conference call) with Ofcom in which these issues were discussed. Ofcom clearly cannot supplant the role of the courts. However, noone present thought the Informational Message approach was unlawful. In fact it is one of the issues Ofcom are thinking about in terms of getting rid of silent calls.

There is a f…

Government by press release

Hazel Blears' idea of a rebranding of ethnic categories shows the dangers of government by press release.

Anyone who has any knowledge of the history of Ireland and the battles to stop the Irish being British would know that gestures such as describing all Irish people in Great Britain as Irish British would cause untold stress.

Luckily the government have given up on that.

Ethnic categories and identity are things that really people need to be able to decide upon themselves. The rows about categories relate also to self-determination. They are important, but deserve consideration. I tend towards self-determination as an option. This may result in "Jedi" being counted, but I don't see that as a problem.

High oil prices "here to stay"

High Oil Prices are "here to stay" according to a Lib Dem MP. John Hemming, Member of Parliament for Birmingham (Yardley) is calling together a summit of geologists and campaigners to review when oil production globally will peak.

"The issue", he said, "is not 'when we run out of oil', but when the global production of oil peaks. After that point oil will no longer be priced as something cheaper than mineral water, but as an essential resource that has taken millions of years to produce, but only decades to burn. As soon as the production peaks then there will be tight constraints on what can be consumed that will get tighter every year."

"Oil is a key part of our economic structure and energy supplies. It is essential not just as an energy supply, but also as a raw material for the production of plastics and other chemicals."

Wrking with the campaign group Powerwatch and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, he will be calling a…

BSP dispute appears in Birmingham Post

This will be quite an interesting dispute. There has been a growing tendency in the civil service to move away from using systems of rules and formal decisionmaking towards being subjective and following the ad hominem fallacy for determining the validity of statements.

ODPM are not commenting on the issue because of the legal nature of the dispute. I am told that a pre-emptive order for costs was obtained on the BNNR dispute. That seems a sensible way forwards here.

It is important to get the civil service to move more towards a rule based system of decisionmaking as the current trends have been worrying in their consequences.

Fōgarty not Fŏgarty

The reason for visiting Tipperary was to find out whether I could trace my ancestor Ellen Fogarty (which I find is pronounced Fōgarty not Fŏgarty [long o rather than short o]) who was born in Tipperary County in 1846 (which was the second year of the potato famine).

The famine and its consequential diseases killed around a million of the then 8 million population of Ireland.

The older records for the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly (which is almost co-terminous with Tipperary County) are all stored on computer and available for searches at a centre in Tipperary Town (the Excel Centre). There is a reasonably steep fee charged compared to the free searches of the Mormons (Church of the latter day saints).

The LDS people have spent special efforts on researching family history for many years because new converts also convert their ancestors. One of my own gtgtgrandparents' brothers moved to the USA and converted to Mormonism. This meant that I could find his research and make use of …

"I don't believe it".

Clearly I have one foot in the grave. I was aware that my son (12) liked to have jeans which were torn so much that one of the first things he did was to tear them. However, what I was not aware of was that the free market had operated to provide pre-torn jeans with small strategically placed rips.

When I was a lad ... we did have pre-faded jeans. However, it strikes me as odd that people would actually buy clothes that are ripped. Still c'est la vie.

In the mean time my daughter has got at my computer and replaced Internet Explorer with Firefox. I am not sure yet whether I wish to revert or not.

The trials and tribulations of parenthood.

Its a long way

Although it is not actually that far to Tipperary, a four hour delay for the plane from Birmingham (which had to go from Edinburgh to Birmingham to Jersey and back before taking us to Shannon) followed by finding that my elder daughter's bag has stayed in Birmingham made it take a lot longer than expected.

Still, unusually, there is an ethernet port into the internet in the hotel room something still quite rare.

Saturday action on Anti Social Behaviour

Before the advice bureau I visited one of the places which has a particular anti-social behaviour problem. One of my objectives is to improve this area (which I won't identify for the moment.)

One of the most cost effective mechanisms for improving areas is action on anti-social behaviour. I achieved my personal record for an eviction of 12 working hours recently in that area.

Other changes are needed, however, many of which are superficial - improving fencing, painting things.

I found it nice how many people were willing to talk to me on the street. The recent action on drug dealing has gone down very well.

The later advice bureau suffered from the fact that our office was flooded out during the week so I had to do the advice bureau from car seats.

The advice bureau is still surprisingly busy. Homelessness remains the most intractable issue - mainly because of the shortage of properties. I did find three flats that have not been occupied in the three years since they were built t…

Birmingham's Archives

Labour have been whittering on about the archives being close to the reference Library. The archives are currently so close to the reference Library that many of them are in Gloucester and Wolverhampton. Viz

Archives at Gloucester Record Office
CO-OP Records Large run (to be returned to Central Library 8th August 2005)
Town Clerks Deeds Large run of 19th-20th century title deeds of council owned properties no longer in existence
MS 3 Beale & Co, Solicitor's collection 19th - 20th c
MS 227 Smallwood, Wine Merchants, business records 18th-20th c
MS 318 Suckling, Silversmiths, large business collection 19th-20th c
MS 1096 Bocking Mining Engineers 19th-20th c
MS 1579 Cadbury Trust. Large collection 20th c
MS 1586 Assay Office Gold and Silver Books etc 19th-20th c. Large run of large books.
MS 1589 Painters & Decorators business records 19th-20th c
MS 1707 Newey Brothers, Business records, Pins, Zips etc, 19th-20th c
MS 1717 Scholefield, Goodman & Sons, Merchants/Shipping busi…

Reprimands Final Warnings and Ipods

The big question about the current system is whether the policy of assuming a warning for juvenile crime actually encourages, discourages or has no effect on the level of crime.

The government don't have information to hand about how many young people who have been given cautions continue until they are prosecuted. Anecdotal evidence is that the policy of cautioning actually encourages crime.

One needs to keep an open mind until the information is available, however.

The stolen IPod

Number of juveniles given a reprimand or final warning by offence type and age cohort, England and Wales 1999–2003(48)(49)/sup>1999
2000Offence type10 to 11 years12 to 14 years15 to 17 years10 to 11 years12 to 14 years15 to 17 years
Violence against the person3653,2234,8763453,1404,767Sexual offences1325632030229225Burglary8032,8742,4396302,6432,105Robbery5824520069277198Theft and handling stolen goods3,03717,79818,7562,93616,98216,997Fraud and forgery394141,216263621,066Criminal damage286930726294945834Drug offences341,0028,535319476,941Other indictable offences2940993331394892Summary offences (excluding motoring)2,14212,03319,9872,15312,57018,482Total6,80639,18457,9886,54538,48952,5072001
2002
200310 to 11 years12 to 14 years15 to 17 years10 to 11 years12 to 14 years15 to 17 years10 to 11 years12 to 14 years15 to 17 yearsViolence against the person4143,3324,9344513,5505,3445304,3726,109Sexual offences282402502320321715235225Burglary6142,6182,0655032,1901,8594232,0751,862Robbery442431…

Judicial Review process started on BSP Chair issue

I have, today, started the judicial review process relating to me chairing the Birmingham Strategic Partnership. Afficianados will know that the first step is to use the "pre-action protocol" in accordance with the rules and practise directions of the Supreme Court. This involves doing a "Letter before Claim", in this instance to the Treasury Solicitors.

Telemarketing goes up the agenda

Radio 4's "You and Yours" programme looked at cold calling today. I am pleased that there is recognition from the industry that aggressive cold calling (and particularly silent calls) is not welcomed.

One of the problems with TPS is that it does not prevent the particularly nasty international cold and automated calls. It also creates a situation in which larger organisations can "own" a marketing database of people who they can cold call.

This, like many things, can end up strengthening the more powerful organisations which is not necessarily good for individuals.

Normal service gradually resuming

After quite a bit of a struggle with unreliable technology we finally got most things to work this morning. We even have the casework system running on the computers supplied by the Parliamentary Communications Department. We thought we would take an additional step to try using different types of paper in different trays. Lo and behold we find the printers have been configured to be controlled in Spanish. Is there some kind of hidden message here I wonder. It is a sign of the development of the European Union?

BT Privacy causing pressures on TPS

BT's marketing of their Privacy service is causing a substantial increase in TPS registrations. The effect of this is to constrain UK and EU companies from doing any cold calling. It does not affect people phoning from abroad about companies not based in the UK.

It could have the effect of basically opening up the market entirely to people from abroad and preventing people from the UK from operating. The costs of international calls have come down substantially and it is only really time differences that will have an effect.

New collaborative research system goes live

I have been working recently to develop a collaborative research system to allow a number of people to work on collating information on various subject matters.

Today the system went live, but is only currently available to people to whom I provide access. I hope to give read only access to anyone who is interested at a later stage.

This will add to the information on the blog and allow more detailed and structured analysis of the various live issues my team are working on.

Tornados in Birminghams

Those "in the know" will know that there are more than 20 Birminghams in the world including a New Birmingham in Ireland. Birmingham, Alabama (USA) is the best known other Birmingham.

The link is the link to the US National Weather Services Tornado Scale. Our Tornado which was an F2 "significant tornado" (113-157mph) is much weaker than an F5 "Incredible Tornado". (Their scale is Gale, Moderate, Significant, Severe, Devastating and Incredible)

This link gives records of Tornados that hit Birmingham, Alabama on 8/4/98. Part of that was indeed an F5 "incredible" that unsurprisingly killed 32 people. (261-318 mph)

"Incredible damage. Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried
considerable distance to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through
the air in excess of 100 meters(109 yds); trees debarked; incredible phenomena will
occur."


In the mean time we have reviewed the issue as top priority in the leadership meeting. …