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Showing posts from December, 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 da

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.

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 leg

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 commun

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.

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").

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 peo

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 sec

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.

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 suspe

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

Ethiopia/Eritrea 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 hel

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)

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 d

Written Parliamentary Question: 6th December 2005

Gas 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) Gas 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

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

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 residenc

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 200

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.

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'