Monday, July 24, 2017

Corbyn and Student debt

Today's daily mail headline:

So when he said here that reducing the existing "massive debt" burden of those who have already graduated was a "priority" and added "I will deal with it" Jeremy Corbyn did not realise what the costs involved were. I am reminded of a comment by William Safire:

And someone who says he will deal with an issue when he has no idea how much it will cost, whether he describes it as a "promise", a "pledge" or a "priority" or an "ambition," cannot know whether he will be able to do what he is saying he will do or not. Even if such a man turns out to be right - which Jeremy Corbyn did not - he is not being straight with people.

Quote of the day 24th July 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Quote of the day 23rd July 2017

"It is not inequality that bites deepest, but injustice.

People expect that the CEO of a corporation will be the highest paid person on the payroll. What they don’t accept is that FTSE 100 bosses are paid 174 times the average worker’s wage in this decade – compared to 13 to 44 times in 1980."

(Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davison MSP in an article on "Unherd" called

"Ctrl + Alt + Del Conservatives must reboot capitalism" of which more anon ...)

Sunday Music Spot: the sixteen sing "Salvator Mundi" by Tallis

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Just come back with my wife from watching the film "Dunkirk" in the cinema.

Must confess to being very moved. It was a powerful film about a critically important event in our country's history. I can recommend the film.

Saturday Music spot: The Barron Knights "Oh Miami"

A humorous musical account of a supposed holiday in Florida

Corbyn's empty promises come back to bite Labour

During the general election Labour made two rash and irresponsible promises to past,  present and future students.

They promised to scrap the tuition fees introduced by Tony Blair's Labour government and then increased by Labour after the party had clearly and explicitly promised in their 2001 manifesto not to do so.

Jeremy Corbyn also referred to the existing debt owned by former students who went to university since fees were introduced and clearly implied that he would write off that debt.

A good example of what Labour was saying during the election can be found in an interview he gave in the NME dated 1st June 2017 which can be found on their website under the title

Jeremy Corbyn: "I will deal with those already burdened with student debt."

Let me quote verbatim the relevant part of the interview:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether,” Corbyn told NME. “We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden.”
"The Labour Party leader added that the specific details of his plan had not yet been worked out due to the rush of the snap election, but that the pledge was a priority and they were dedicated to seeing it through."
“I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem,” said Corbyn. “And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”
You can check for yourself here
So although he admitted that he had not finished working through the "specific details" of his plans, they were more than just some vague "ambition" as Labour representatives are now trying to pretend, but a "pledge" which was "a priority"and Corbyn said "I will deal with it."

Labour still pretend that they intend to scrap tuition fees for future students but have now more or less admitted that the idea of writing off the debts of past graduates is just an "ambition" which they are not going to promise because they don't want to promise things they cannot actually do.

But as Henry Hill writes on Conservative Home here, just as Corbyn's comments about how he wanted to write off student debt cut through to many people, not all of whom would normally have considered voting Labour, a lot of those people have noticed that Labour has now rowed back from those election campaign comments.

Ask Nick Clegg or any of the other Lib/Dems who lost their seats as MPs or councillors between his student fees U-turn and this year what happens when your promises run too far above your ability to deliver.

One of my colleagues suggests that every time Corbyn or one of his team makes an unrealistic or undeliverable promise from now on we should all call out "free unicorns."

I suspect there may yet be plenty of opportunities to do so.

Isle of Man trips from Whitehaven cancelled at short notice

For thirty years the ferry MV Balmoral has run an annual series of summer day trips from Whitehaven to the Isle of Man. These have always been extremely popular.

Those trips should have been running today: they were planned for the three day period from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd July 2017

However, at less than two week's notice the  Maritime and Coastguard Agency refused to give permission for the "International trip" to go ahead.

The short voyage is at no time close to being out of sight of land, and the Isle of Man is a UK Crown dependency, but the voyage is technically classed as an international one.

The agency was less than forthcoming about the reasons for the ban but hinted at safety concerns.

They apologised for the short notice but appeared to blame the operator, White Funnel limited, saying "operators are encouraged to apply in good time and before making other commitments."

Since this service had been running for thirty years I must confess to raising an eyebrow - if there really are safety issues, which I do not have the information to judge, why did they not come up before?

And if the MV Balmoral is not safely able to carry passengers on a trip from Whitehaven to the Isle of Man, is it safe to carry passengers anywhere?

The journey may technically be an international one but it's probably less dangerous than a trip from Southampton to the Isle of Wight (because there is less chance of hitting other maritime traffic.)

I hope that whatever the issues were, they can be resolved in good time and the service resumed in 2018.

Quote of the day 22nd July 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

£1 million regeneration scheme for Copeland goes live on Monday

A £1 million scheme has been launched to transform Copeland’s towns: applications to take part open on Monday.

Mike Starkie, Mayor of Copeland, launched the scheme for which it is hoped that £500k of taxpayers' money to regenerate shopfronts in Copeland’s towns and villages will attract match funding of £500k from the private sector.

The Copeland Pride of Place Town Centre Regeneration Scheme encourages local business owners to enhance the external appearance of town centre shops and buildings as well as improving the borough’s built environment and street scene.

Grants are available for up to 50 per cent of the value of the work required, up to a maximum amount of £5,000, to improve the external appearance of commercial property, principally the ground floor trading elevation. This 50 per cent contribution means that local businesses will be required to invest in their premises to match-fund the grant.

The scheme is open to owners, landlords and tenants of units that are located within Copeland’s towns and villages, with priority given to the four main town centres of Whitehaven, Cleator Moor, Egremont and Millom.

£375k of the fund has been allocated to improving the principle town centres. £75k has been allocated to villages in Copeland and £50k for street improvements.

Grants awarded to commercial premises must maximise visual impact focusing on improvements to windows and window frames, doorways, external decoration and signage.

Applications open on Monday, July 24. For more information contact the Council’s Economic Development Department by email at (link sends e-mail) or by calling 01946 598433, or visit the CBC website on

Mr Starkie said: “This project has the potential to be transformational for Copeland. We all have enormous pride in our borough, and this funding will help us and the community continue to create a place where people are proud to live, work and visit. This council is delighted to be at the forefront of helping to make this happen.

“We have a wealth of fantastic and innovative small businesses in the area – some with family histories going back generations - and it is vitally important that we support those who wish to improve the appearance of their premises, their contribution to their communities and to reach their full commercial potential.

“Our towns are steeped in rich architectural heritage and, while costly to maintain, we must ensure that we’re doing all we can to enhance the unique character of the borough’s built environment for everyone to enjoy and to have pride in our place.”

Those who shout loudest are not always right ...

John Stuart Mill was one of the wisest human beings who ever lived, and I believe that even though I do not share all his opinions. Here is one which I very much do share.

I was reminded of that opinion this week when reading an article from Andrew Lillico on the Reactions site,

"Those who shout loudest often aren't in the majority."

The article might be subtitled "(but often think they are, and that this gives them the right to shout down opposing views.)"

I agree with Mill that we don't have the right to shut down opposing views even when we are in the majority, and I would still take that view even on the rare occasions when we have objective proof that we are right.

When people think they are in the majority but actually aren't, the error is often caused precisely because opposing views have been shouted down.

The article mostly gives examples of people who are broadly on the left shouting down what are seen as right-wing views but it can happen in either direction. And should be avoided.

Quote of the day 21st July 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

£65 million for health in Cumbria

More than £65 million has been awarded to support the development of health services in West, North and East Cumbria.

This will include between £30 million and £50 million to be made available for West Cumberland Hospital. (WCH)

The work at WCH will include a new diagnostics suite, housing cardiology, breast screening, a vascular lab, and a new mortuary. It is expected that the work will be completed by Spring 2018.

Trudy Harrison MP has welcomed this "fantastic news" which will mean faster diagnostic turnaround for conditions including cancer, shorter waiting times, and better patient care.

The announcement of £65 million for health services in West, North and East Cumbria was made yesterday morning by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens at the Kings Fund, and includes significant investment in:    
  • Cancer care including a new radiotherapy machine,     
  • £30 to £50 million for the next phase of development at WCH      
  • The establishment of Integrated Care Communities (ICCs) which will mean more co-ordinated health and care services delivered locally.
More details on my health blog here .

Quote of the day 20th July 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Talleyrand and Brexit

My first reaction on seeing that George Tregfarne had published an article on CAPX about  Talleyrand and Brexit was

"What did he mean by that?"

(This was the supposed response of European statesman to the news that the brilliant statesman and arch-survivor who served five consecutive regimes in France from the French Revolution through Napoleon and the Bourbon restoration had finally died.)

But the point of the article is that Talleyrand's doctrine of legitimacy is the best way through to successful Brexit. This is described in the article as “all sides should, for a moment, put aside their demands and start from the position: 'How do we achieve a legitimate outcome, which will be practical and be widely accepted?'”

Talleyrand wrote: “The spirit of the times in which we live demands that in great civilised states supreme power should only be exercised with the consent of bodies drawn from the heart of the society that it governs.”

Tregfarne points out that Brexit is not a single event, but a process which will take years and that whether it is a success or not depends on numerous actions to be taken over decades. Many of those actions will be taken long after Mrs May has left government and nor will they all be taken by those he calls "the gerontocratic revolutionaries who lead the Labour Party."

We need to take a long-term view. The people who called on Theresa May to reach out across the political divide and try to form a consensus on Brexit were right - and it is a pity that when she did so the call was rebuffed by the Labour party and used as an opportunity for point-scoring while it was taken as a sign of weakness by the press.

Quote of the day 19th July 2017

"I lost the Band-Aid while I was making a Thousand Island salad dressing"

(Tim Burton quoted in the Sunday Times this week. They suggested their readers would be relieved he became a film director and not a chef.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Money, Money, Money - from Jane Austen to Smartphones

Today being the 200th anniversary of the death of the great writer Jane Austen, the Bank of England unveiled the design of the new £10 note which bears her image (and for which part of the manufacturing process will take place at Wigton in Cumbria).

I very much welcome both the long-overdue recognition of an important writer and the role Cumbria is playing in modernising the British currency.

However, I think that another piece of news which I saw this week in the New York Times about money may have much more long term significance.

Paul Muzur has written that "In urban China, cash is rapidly becoming obsolete" and so are credit cards.

The article begins as follows

"There is an audacious economic phenomenon happening in China.

It has nothing to do with debt, infrastructure spending or the other major economic topics du jour. It has to do with cash — specifically, how China is systematically and rapidly doing away with paper money and coins.

Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay — the two smartphone payment options — before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility.

Just as startling is how quickly the transition has happened. Only three years ago there would be no question at all, because everyone was still using cash."
Anyone interested in how our economy might develop in the future would be well advised to read the rest of this article which can be found here.

Writing as an economist, the potential economic significance of this goes WAY beyond what we may all find ourselves carrying to pay our bills.

Now I don't go all the way with those who believe that "fiat money" created by banks is a great disaster for our economy.

But they are absolutely right that through the change from a system where most transactions were carried out with notes and coin to one in which most are carried out by changing numbers in bank accounts, vast amounts of spendable money were created. It is also the case that poor regulation of that money can have serious consequences not just for first financial markets and then property markets but also for the whole of the rest of the economy.

There is similarly the potential for the creation of a system where most transactions are carried out using smartphones to create vast amounts of spendable money. If the companies who are doing it, and the financial regulators, are not on the ball about the consequences and the need to make sure that money is properly secured, the results could be 2007 all over again.

This should not be taken as a prophesy of doom. Most innovations have the capacity to bring great good if managed well, but harm if managed badly. The use of phones to pay many of people's bills is certainly an example.

I'm just suggesting we try to ensure that we take advantage of the early warning which has been provided because we have seen this happen first in China to be ready for it, and to have the right regulatory and corporate protection in place to go down a sound track if and when this happens in the West, not a risky one.

Egremont Town Council

Attended Egremont Town Council this evening.

There were a number of issues discussed affecting the county council including the need to progress improvements to the A595 and traffic schemes through parts of the Town Council area such as Bigrigg and Egremont.

There were also a large number of residents present about the planning application currently with Copeland BC for a coach depot at the former County Council depot site in Baybarrow Road Egremont. This site was sold by the County Council prior to my election - there was concern expressed about it at the Egremont Town Council meeting in February - but local residents are particularly concerned at the potential greater impact of the current proposals.

I was asked to investigate a number of potential issues relating to this and will do so.

Tuesday music spot: Cliff Richard "Out In The Country"

This cheerful and enjoyable tune makes me laugh for all the wrong reasons ...

In my early twenties I and some friends in the moderate wing of the late and unlamented FCS used to sing a range of modified songs taking the mickey out of out external opponents in NOLS (the National Organisation of Labour Students) and our internal opponents, e.g. the people who eventually got FCS shut down by Norman Tebbit for being too right wing.

No, that's not a joke.

These songs, most of them written by myself or Paul Goodman, were the student political youtube parodies of the eighties.

One of the best was a version of "In the Country" called "The International Secretary" in which the chorus was changed from "Out in the country" to "Out of the country" and a few more minor changes made the song all about the sort of student politician you can find on both left and right who spends more time supporting looney extremists on the other side of the world than campaigning to do anything useful in their own country.

Now which political party has a leader old enough to claim a pension who still behaves like that kind of student politician?

Quote of the day 18th July 2017

That I am posting the following quote should not be taken to imply approval of everything Stephen Daisley says in this paragraph:

"Among my infinite repertoire of unpopular opinions is admiration for Tony Blair. I am one of those merry partisans — I hesitate to use the plural — who reckon that for all his faults he was a good’un.

But even those who disagree with me (such people tend to be known as ‘the majority’) ought to acknowledge his insights into politics and the European scene. Particular attention is deserved for this aperçu:

If a Right-wing populist punch in the form of Brexit was followed by a Left-wing populist punch in the form of unreconstructed hard-Left economics, Britain would hit the canvas, flat on our back and be out for a long count.’"

This comes from an article "Blair may be a shouty old uncle but he's got a point about Corbyn"

My view of Tony Blair is shared with those Stephen calls "The majority."

Nevertheless you do not have to agree with Blair or his views on Brexit to think he has a point on this one. Even if you argue that Brexit will benefit Britain's economy in the long term there will still be some disruptive effect during the period of transition. If the UK were to adopt hard left policies at the same time as the disruptive part of the Brexit process, the combined effect could have dire results for the economy.

Blair is often disastrously wrong but as Stephen Daisley say, he has a point about Corbyn.

Monday, July 17, 2017

St Bees Parish Council

I attended the meeting of St Bees Parish Council this evening. The meeting was preceded by a "drop-in" consultation on Copeland BC's draft Conservation Area design guide.

Issues discussed included cycleways (with particular relevance to the possibility that improved cycleway may be provided by a forthcoming development), road markings and safety generally in the Outrigg area of St Bees, the forthcoming Mining planning application, the Sellafield travel plan, and issues around hopes for improvements to local roads.

Monday music spot: "It was on a Monday morning ..."

Classic Flanders and Swann, "The gas man Cometh."

New Independent report ranks NHS as best of 11 countries

An Independent report has ranked Britain's NHS as the best health service of those in eleven leading countries.

This is of course down to the hard work and dedication of Britain's doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives and all the other people who work in our NHS.

Quote of the day 17th July 2017

"The only winner in the cabinet briefing war is Jeremy Corbyn."

(Katy Balls, title of a Spectator article which you can read here.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Spoof articles and when people confuse fiction with reality ...

There have been some amusing spoof articles over the last few weeks.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has been accused of ignoring London's White Walker problem according to someone at News Thump who has perhaps been watching a little too much Game of Thrones.

The Evening Harold had an interesting post the day after the election:

Father Christmas returns to Narnia at last.

But the best post I've seen on a spoof website today isn't really a spoof at all, and it was posted eight years ago but is getting thrown up by search engines today because of a certain controversial announcement made within the past couple of hours.

Here is a link to a Daily Mash post in 2009 if you want to read how

"Fans of Doctor Who are reminded that it's a science fiction story for children."


(The same people did one more recently which WAS a spoof,

"New Doctor should be a Dalek, say Daleks,"

in which the Supreme Dalek complains that “It’s not the 1960s anymore. These narratives about heroic Gallifreyans saving humanoids from extermination are outdated and offensive ..."

Shadow Chancellor admit's Labour student fees promises just a "ambition"

Any young voter, parent of a young voter, or anyone else who voted Labour in June because they believed Jeremy Corbyn's promise to scrap tuition fees and write off student debt would be well advised to watch this clip in which Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell admits that these promises were only "a real ambition" but not a promise, adding "we're not going to promise something we can't deliver."

(Hat tip to Guido Fawkes)

As Guido says, "It was fantasy politics, a pack of lies all along…"

Sunday music spot: Orlando Gibbons "O Lord, in thy wrath"

The choir of Clare College Cambridge, under the direction of Timothy Brown, sing "O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not" by Orlando Gibbons.

Quote of the day 16th July 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Health Scrutiny meeting 24th June

I have today received the agenda papers for the forthcoming Cumbria Health Scrutiny meeting on 24th July which are available on the CCC website here.

This meeting will receive the draft minutes of the now notorious meetings on 22nd March for which the actual scrutiny meeting minutes are available here and the record of the "dispute resolution" meeting with the NHS "Success Regime" which took place during the recess is available here.

There is a protocol for attempting to resolve disagreements between the Health Scrutiny Committee and the NHS organisations which the committee is supposed to scrutinise before you get to the stage where the committee "calls in" decisions and refers them to the Secretary of State.

The manner in which that protocol worked on 22nd March was deeply unsatisfactory.

If the minutes are correct the Health Scrutiny spent most of the seven-hour period between 10.30 am and 5.30 pm discussing the concerns raised by thousands of residents, patients and staff about the Success Regime proposals and voted to "call in" three key aspects of those proposals. There were three adjournments, so let's assume there were about six hours of discussion, formal and informal.

There was then a recess, during which a forty-minute "dispute resolution" discussion between lead members of the scrutiny committee and the Success Regime took place. During this time four members of the scrutiny committee went home. The minutes of that meeting state that it finished at 6.10 pm.

The seven remaining members of the Health Scrutiny reconvened, received assurances from the Success regime as detailed in the minutes linked to above, voted again on the three areas they had previously voted to call in, and reversed two of those decisions.

According to the draft minutes this reconvened meeting finished at 6.20 pm which means that if both sets of draft minutes are right it could not have taken longer than ten minutes.

A forty minute discussion with the NHS trust and a ten minute meeting of the seven committee members who had not gone home, to reverse the decisions made earlier that day by eleven members of the committee who had spent about six hours discussing concerns raised by thousands of residents, patients and staff.

Absolutely extraordinary. More about this on my health blog at

Second Saturday Music spot: The Barron Knights "The Sit Song"

In this eighties song the Barron Knights were extracting the Michael from Barbara Woodhouse, who at the time was a celebrity dog trainer ...

Postscript: I set this one to appear on the blog today a few weeks ago when doing some advance planning, and forgot that I had done so, hence two music spots today. A little different from the rather more cerebral piece of music I posted this morning but I hope that in their very different ways both gave pleasure - though this one is amusing rather than beautiful!

Saturday music spot: Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" (Rinaldo);

This exquisite aria, sung here by Kirsten Blaise with Voices of Music playing original period instruments, comes from Handel's opera "Rinaldo"

The words are

Lascia ch'io pianga
mia cruda sorte,
e che sospiri la libertà.
Il duolo infranga queste ritorte
de' miei martiri sol per pietà.

which translates as

Let me weep
over my cruel fate,
and sigh for freedom.
Let my sorrow break the chains
of my suffering, out of pity.

Performed by (left to right, back to front)
Kati Kyme, baroque violin
Gabrielle Wunsch, baroque violin
Elizabeth Blumenstock, baroque violin
Maxine Nemerovski, baroque violin
Lisa Grodin, baroque viola
Farley Pearce, violone
Shirley Edith Hunt, baroque cello
David Tayler, archlute
Hanneke van Proosdij, baroque organ
And of course, Kirsten Blaise, soprano.

Communications issues continued

Can I repeat the apology given earlier to anyone who has been trying to contact me without success. I thought I had solved almost all the issues but this past fortnight some of them have returned with a vengeance.

I managed to trace the messages from all except one of the people who posted on Facebook that they were waiting for me to respond to them. (Most of them were in my SPAM filters. I have marked them as "trust mail from this sender" and am checking my filters on a regular basis.)

The county council set up an email account for me: there were a few dropped balls because some people tried to contact me on it before it was working, but that was sorted out and my county email account did work from late May until 2nd July 2017.

Unfortunately I am not able to access my county council email at the moment. I am trying to get this resolved but may have missed some messages.

If you tried to contact me on my county council email account after 2nd July, or if you have tried to contact me by electronic means and not had a response within ten calendar days, please assume that I did not get the message.

My home address is given on the imprint at the foot of this blog and on the Cumbria County Council website and I am in the telephone directory: the phone numbers on the directory and the CCC website are working.

 I repeat the apology for any convenience.

Quote of the day 15th July 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday music spot: Purcell's "Music for a while"

Trudy Harrison promises to visit all nuclear businesses in Copeland over summer.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison has said that she will visit all 60 nuclear businesses in her constituency during parliament's summer break.

Her comments were made after she spoke in a debate in Parliament this week on the UK's membership of Euratom - the European Atomic Energy Community, responsible for nuclear safety and security in Europe since 1957 – which Britain is set to leave at the same time as the UK leaves the EU.

Brexit Secretary David Davis subsequently confirmed that ministers will press forward with plans to leave Euratom but he also insisted there is a "strong mutual interest" for close co-operation once the UK has left the bloc.

Mrs Harrison said:

“The Government’s position paper released yesterday demonstrates the absolute commitment to maintain a close and effective relationship with the Euratom Community."

“As I made clear during this week’s debate, safeguarding has to continue under international law. It is imperative that new co-operation agreements are in place. Safeguarding is critical for the nuclear industry, and particularly for Sellafield, a community that is home to thousands of nuclear workers and the Centre of Nuclear Excellence (CoNE)."
“During recess I will be visiting the 67 nuclear business in Copeland and following the Secretary of State’s (Business Secretary Greg Clark) previous visit, both the Minister for Energy and Industry, Richard Harrington MP and Jake Berry MP, Northern Power House Minister, will be visiting Sellafield and the Moorside site in the coming months."

Figures published by the Nuclear Industry Association last month showed that the majority of  Cumbrian nuclear employees - 14,707 - are based in Trudy Harrison's constituency.

She added: "I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring a smooth transition to a UK nuclear safeguards regime with no interruption in safeguards arrangements and to provide certainty and clarity to industry."

“As vice chair of the Nuclear All Party Parliamentary Group, I hope to facilitate the creation of a cross party working group which will allow further scrutiny of the Government’s progress throughout the negotiations.”

A595 closed near Bootle due to RTA

There was a serious Road Traffic Accident about a mile north of Bootle this evening. The emergency services are dealing with the incident, but it has been necessary to put diversions in place (not at all an easy thing to organise in that part of the world) and delays were expected.

Quote of the day 14th July 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Employment at record levels

Latest employment figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released yesterday show that the number of people in work in Britain has passed 32 million while the number of people available for work but unable to find it has dropped below 1.5 million.

Employment has grown by 324,000 over the 12 months to March 2017, taking the employment rate for people of working age up to 74.9% which is the highest since records began in 1971 while the number of people seeking work has dropped by 152,000 in 12 months while the unemployment rate dropped from 4.9% to 4.5% over the same period and is now as low on a comparable basis as it has been since the mid 1970's.

Employment has risen in every region and nation of the UK since 2010.

The increase was driven by increases in full-time jobs, not part time ones, and the number of both men and women in work has risen, with the largest increase being of women in full-time jobs.

There has also been an improvement in the employment rate for young people. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds was 12.5%, lower than for a year earlier when it was 13.5%, and well below its highest rate of 22.5% in late 2011.

This is excellent news on jobs but no grounds for complacency: we also need to get productivity up so that employers can afford not just to employ more people but to do so at better salaries.

Giving with one hand and taking away with the other ...

During the recent general election Labour promised to scrap student tuition fees.

This week Labour ministers announced that the tuition fee cap for students attending Universities in Wales will rise next year.

The degree of double standards shown by the Labour party never ceases to amaze me.

Judging the Judges

I found it more than a little ironic that the same political party whose senior representatives complained bitterly that the government was not doing enough to protect the independence of Britain's judiciary when the press criticised senior judges as "Enemies of the people" for making a ruling which they liked and the press didn't like, also contains MPs who are the first to attack the suitability of any judge appointed to head an inquiry.

To be fair this is partly a matter of political parties being coalitions of people with diverse views rather than individuals being inconsistent. Some of the same Labour politicians and left-wing publications who were at the fore in urging the government to defend the judges over article 50 have been desperately trying to distance themselves from those in their party and on the left who have been making personal attacks on judges such as Lord Justice Sir Martin Moore-Bick, head of the Grenfell Towers inquiry. But you could very easily be forgiven for missing that fact because this impression does not come over on the media.

Vastly more prominence has been given in both social and mainstream media to comments attacking the government or judges than to any comments defending either. So much so that, until doing some background research for this post, I had not realised that those who people who defended judges over article 50 had generally not joined the media lynch mob against Sir Martin and several of them had actively defended him.

Of course, the former comments fitted neatly into the political or media narratives that various people wanted to push and the latter didn't ...

Nevertheless the point has to be made that judges are, by definition, highly experienced, well paid and famous people who, even if they have reached their position from a humble start, are easy to caricature as members of the establishment. But if unprincipled politicians are quick to use this to jump onto, or indeed start, bandwagons attacking any judge or highly experienced figure appointed to head an inquiry or investigation into some grave event or disaster as a "member of the establishment out of touch with the people" they will make it difficult if not impossible to run such inquiries.

If there has ever been a bandwagon of which it is clear than any politician who joined it proved themself an irresponsible populist who does not deserve election to public office, it is the attacks on Sir Martin Moore-Bick. The Grenfell Tower tragedy was a horrible catastrophe which cost scores of lives - we still don't know for certain exactly how many - and which has highlighted serious systemic failures far too wide-ranging to be the responsibility of one council, one party or one part of the political spectrum. The survivors and families of the victims deserve honesty and respect and to be treated better than being used for cheap political point-scoring.

The task for the head of that inquiry is not primarily to be nice to everybody, it is to get to the truth about

1) Why did the fire start?

2) Why did it spread so quickly?

3) What could and should have been done differently to prevent these events and, given that the fire did start, get more people out of the building alive?

4) What lessons are there from this terrible tragedy for building safety, safety issues in general and our emergency services which Britain should act on to reduce the chances of such a terrible event ever happening again?

The race, age, gender and social class of the head of the inquiry are utterly irrelevant to his or her ability to establish the truth about these things. It is as wrong to attack Sir Martin for being a white straight male "member of the establishment" as it would have been to try to block the appointment of an "anti-establishment" lesbian and person of colour on the grounds of her gender, colour or orientation or any reason other than whether she was qualified to do the job.

There are things you can judge about a person from their record without having ever met them but whether they "understand human beings" is not really one of them, so I was far from impressed that the Labour MP for Kensington, who admits that she has never met Sir Martin, felt qualified to inform listeners to Radio Four that he doesn't. But this was only the worst of a number of foolish comments by Labour MPs attacking his appointment.

I've never met him either but people who have done so speak highly of his abilities. Let's give the guy a chance to do this important job before rushing to judgement.

Quote of the day 13th July 2017

"Presently, what we hear circulated on the airwaves by Sir Martin's detractors are complaints born not of evidence but of half-truth and prejudice. Nothing that has been said amounts to a sustained, reasoned critique.

Criticism for this should be levelled not at the victims and families but at those whose public duty is to represent, inform, counsel and champion their interests. It is those representatives, exploiting tragedy and encouraging misnomer in service to their own agendas, who should be asking whether they are truly suited to their role."

(New Statesman article accusing those MPs who have scored political points against the head of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry of "dabbling in fearmongering," which you can read in full at

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Midweek music spot - a classic advert from the past

One of the funniest adverts of all time ...

Thanks to the Police, Highways Agency and AA

I had a rather frightening, and indeed potentially dangerous  breakdown last night on the M6. Thanks to the emergency services for their quick and effective response.

My car lost its electrical systems - including the hazard warning lights - late last night on a stretch of the M6 which had neither a hard shoulder nor street lights.

I tried to reach the next hard shoulder or refuge but was unable to do so before the vehicle became unable to move.

I had to use the last shreds of power to move the car as far off the carriageway as I could get - which was nothing like all the way - and then I and my passenger had to get out and stand on the other side of the crash barrier while I called 999.

It was a very dark night - there was a full moon but it either had not yet risen or was obscured by cloud. We had a nervous few minutes watching while hundreds of vehicles shooting past, mostly travelling between 60 and 70 mph, had to avoid my car and each other. Fortunately for all concerned all the passing drivers were alert enough to see my car in good time despite the fact that it's lights went from faint to  the police and highways agency turned up quickly, briefly closed the road while they moved us to a safe place, and resolved the issue. The AA and recovery companies they arranged managed to get us home for breakfast time, tired but safe.

I was impressed by and grateful for the professionalism of our emergency services.


For those who have been teasing me about whether it was the car's battery that went wrong, I await the full investigation when the car goes back to the manufacturer's approved repair people - it is still under warranty - but it does not appear that there was anything wrong with the battery other than not having any impossible features such as infinite capacity or the ability to give more energy than had been put into it.

Of course, if the breakdown had been caused by a faulty battery, you could argue that this proves the importance of things like batteries as argued by "undercover Economist" Tim Harford in an article which I linked to on this blog a few days ago.

Quote of the day 12th July 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Quote of the day 11th July 2017

The graphic does not attribute this quote, but it does of course come from the pen of J.K. Rowling, who puts the words into the mouth of Professor Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter book.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Whitehaven Town Centre closed due to bomb threat at Morrison's

The Morrisons store in Whitehaven was evacuated today following a bomb threat.

A spokesman said: "The store received a bomb threat and was evacuated as a precautionary measure."

Emergency services attended.

The town centre was closed to all traffic for a period.

POSTSCRIPT - The all clear was eventually given.

Seoond phase of WCH development gets under way

Excellent news for residents of West Cumbria as the next phase of improvement at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) in Whitehaven gets going.

The second phase begins with work on an area to house a new Diagnostics Suite (Cardiology, Breast Screening, and Vascular Laboratory) and Mortuary beginning this month (July 2017).

Following the £90m investment by North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust in ‘Phase 1’ which saw the new hospital building open in October 2015, this next phase known as ‘Phase 1b’ represents a further investment of £8.9m. The Phase 1b scheme will prepare for the demolition of parts of the old hospital and for the subsequent ‘Phase 2’ of the hospital redevelopment.
The new Diagnostics Suite will be in a fully refurbished part of the old hospital building, providing patients and staff with the same quality of care environment that patients in the new hospital are already experiencing. The work is set to be complete by Spring 2018 and as part of this work; two of the main lifts in the old hospital will also be fully refurbished.

In addition, as part of the ‘Phase 1B’ programme, a new multi faith/secular area and Bereavement Suite has already opened in a more central location as a space where people can come for peaceful, reflective time.

The Henderson Chemotherapy Suite is also set to move to an interim location within the hospital where there will be a lot more space and a better environment including a therapies room, additional accessible toilet facilities and improved privacy and dignity for patients and their relatives. When the Trust signs off ‘Phase 2’ of the redevelopment, the Henderson Chemotherapy Suite will form part of that phase to create a purpose built chemotherapy facility.

As well as work on clinical services, new support services accommodation and offices are being created in order to start preparing some areas of the old hospital building for demolition in 2018. This will involve the demolition of unused parts of the old hospital and in turn, it will allow the Trust to create a new main entrance during Phase 2, with the new building visible from Homewood Road.

Stephen Eames, chief executive at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said:

“I am delighted to publicly confirm the next phase of the redevelopment. We have had very positive feedback about the new hospital from both staff and patients since it opened in October 2015 and we now want to ensure there is a clear timeline for the remainder of the works to be completed.

“As well as the work taking place this summer which will provide many benefits to staff and patients, we very much look forward to the planned demolition of parts of the old building in order to showcase the fantastic new building.

“The next step is to refresh the outline business case (OBC) for ‘Phase 2’ and finalise ‘Phase 3’ plans of the redevelopment which will allow us to look as a health and care system at ensuring we make the best possible use of the space we have including considering academic functions with our partners at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

More details on the Trust Website at

Quote of the day 10th July 2017

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Lake District awarded World Heritage Status

Great news for Cumbria today as the Lake District was awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO.

The decision means that the Lake District has joined the likes of the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu by being awarded this status.
The national park was one of 33 sites around the world to be discussed by the Unesco committee in Krakow, Poland.

The committee praised the area's beauty, farming and the inspiration it had provided to artists and writers.

The Lake District is the second part of Cumbria to be put on the Unesco World Heritage List, the other being Hadrian's Wall.

The committee suggested the impact of tourism be monitored and requested improvements in conservation efforts.
Lord Clark of Windermere, chairman of the Lake District National Park Partnership which put together the bid, described the decision as "momentous".

Sunday music spot: "The trumpet shall sound" from Handel's Messiah

Quote of the day 9th July 2017

"I suspect the Left overstates the degree to which Corbyn and Corbynism is popular. Labour benefited from low expectations during the election campaign. There was a sense in which a Labour vote was a cheerful protest vote precisely because so few people thought that Labour might actually win the election. Voting Labour was the best way to send a message to a government that foisted an unwanted election on an unhappy people.

It was not necessarily an endorsement of everything in the Labour manifesto even if, individually, many of those policies polled well."
"Consequently the actual contents of the Labour manifesto and the party’s specific policy proposals were of relatively little importance. Labour offered an alternative – in terms of rhetoric as much as anything else – and that was more than enough. The contradictions in Labour’s offer mattered little; nor was it deemed necessary to explain how, precisely, that offer might be paid for. Labour’s weakness – that is to say its evident distance from power – became a paradoxical strength."
"Elections are a two-step process in which voters make two decisions. First, is the government good enough to deserve another term? Secondly, is the opposition good enough to deserve office themselves? In this election, voters answered both questions in the negative."
"The evidence that voters thirst for purity, on either extreme, remains dubious."
"It’s reasonable to think that a more plausible Labour party could actually have defeated May last month. Then again, if she faced a more plausible Labour party she wouldn’t have called an election in the first place."
(Alex Massie, from an article on CAPX which you can read in full here.)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

"Undercover economist" Tim Harford on the technologies which really change things

If you only read one article on the internet this week, make it

"What we get wrong about technology"

on the Financial Times site by Tim Harford, author of "The Undercover economist."

Tim argues that it is not the miraculously impressive new devices and techniques which make you think of Clarke's law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") which really change things but the simple, cheap basic things like paper, batteries, shipping containers and barbed wire.

An extract:
"Paper opened the way for printing. The kind of print run that might justify the expense of a printing press could not be produced on parchment; it would require literally hundreds of thousands of animal skins. It was only when it became possible to mass-produce paper that it made sense to search for a way to mass-produce writing too."

"Not that writing is the only use for paper. In his book 'Stuff Matters' Mark Miodownik points out that we use paper for everything from filtering tea and coffee to decorating our walls. Paper gives us milk cartons, cereal packets and corrugated cardboard boxes. It can be sandpaper, wrapping paper or greaseproof paper. In quilted, perforated form, paper is soft, absorbent and cheap enough to wipe, well, anything you want."

"Toilet paper seems a long way from the printing revolution. And it is easily overlooked — as we occasionally discover in moments of inconvenience. But many world-changing inventions hide in plain sight in much the same way — too cheap to remark on, even as they quietly reorder everything. We might call this the “toilet-paper principle”.

Chris Grayling writes

Transport Minister Chris Grayling announced £6.1 billion this week over the next few years for roads improvement as I mentioned in an earlier post.

He also wrote an open letter to residents of Cumbria this week confirming that the A595 is one of the roads which the government hopes and expects to see improved.

The letter below first appeared in the North West Evening Mail here, because some of it replies to an untrue allegation made by a Labour MP via the Mail that the government was ignoring the A595.

Here is what he had to say:

"WHEN I visited Cumbria during the election I made a promise – I promised action on the A595.

Contrary to a report in The Mail yesterday in which claims were made I had forgotten that promise, I can tell the people of Cumbria that the A595 is top of my roads priority list. Not least because Trudy Harrison is holding me to it.

I understand Cumbrian concerns about the road, having seen it in ‘action’. It’s clearly not viable for the future to have a major route that carries HGVs from a port passing through a farmyard.

And that’s why when I launched my national transport investment strategy yesterday (July 5th) I mentioned the road specifically as one that needed upgrading. The strategy will pave the way for far-reaching improvements for the A595 – and others like it in Cumbria and beyond.

I am building a new Major Road Network that will take money from vehicle excise duty and see up to £1bn a year allocated to building bypasses on main roads.

Vehicle excise duty is more commonly known as road tax – and I’m determined to see it live up to its name. For nearly the last 20 years government money has been targeted primarily on the motorway network, and has left the management of important local roads like the A595 to local authorities.

They can – and do – bid successfully for cash to carry out important local projects.

And, indeed, one of them is just about to happen up the road. I can confirm that proposals for the Whitehaven Relief Road will go out for consultation next year. And, subject to that consultation being successful, that upgrade of the road will be delivered.

So I am delivering on my promise to see action for the A595. Not yet on the thorny issue of Grizebeck, but on another bottleneck that slows journeys through Cumbria.

Anyone who needs to travel into Northumberland might also have seen the work carried out to take traffic away from Morpeth. A new bypass opened in April and should create up to 8,000 jobs.

But while local authorities have been successful in winning road upgrades, the problem with the old system is that local authorities find it difficult to plan when they don’t know if there will be cash available. And it means that some of the schemes earmarked for approval aren’t planned centrally as well as they should be.

The new system I am introducing will see up to £1bn a year available for local authorities to carry out projects exactly like improving the A595. Or indeed the A590, which I know also causes concern to Cumbrian residents.

As transport secretary, my focus is firmly on improving transport for people who use it. For Cumbria, that means working to get rid of bottlenecks on main roads like the A595, or looking at ways we can take away the misery of through-traffic from rural towns and villages on busy routes. And it means better and faster rail services, with quicker journey times and more seats. When HS2 is built, it will mean passengers from Cumbria boarding high speed trains at Carlisle, Penrith or Oxenholme and moving from the West Coast Main Line to high speed rails in the north west and on to Birmingham and London.

But another key focus is about spending transport money where it will have the most impact. The government is committed to spreading wealth away from the south east to all parts of the country. That would be crucial at any time, but will be even more important as we deliver the economic benefits of Brexit.

So making the A595 a functional trunk road is not just beneficial for the motorists who use it. It's also important in driving economic growth in Cumbria by better connecting different parts of the county.

My plan to create a new Major Road Network will seek to identify the crucial links across the country where the annual £1bn investment can best be spent. And when that process is complete, I fully expect a compelling case to be made for a bypass at Grizebeck.

My appeal to the people of Cumbria is this - make your voice heard. When the consultation is launched I want you to tell us which roads need our attention. You are the experts. You use the roads every day and know where the bottlenecks are. You run the businesses and know where they could expand if roads were improved. And you know where there are opportunities for Cumbria to grow and flourish with extra investment.

So I've set out what I want to see. And now I need to hear your voices too."

Chris Grayling
Secretary of State for Transport

Saturday Music spot: The Barron Knights parody Orpheus in the Underworld

The local authority waste disposal department can can ...

Quote of the day 8th July 2017

Friday, July 07, 2017

Friday music spot: The Queen of the Night from the Magic flute

Two extracts from the Kenneth Branagh and Stephen Fry 2006 version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute."

The first clip shows the Queen of the Night, sung by Lyubov Petrova, making her entrance on top of a Mark IV tank.

Be warned that if you have not seen "The Magic Flute" this second clip, possibly the most beautiful piece of music ever written for the female human voice and a shocking paradox in terms of the actual meaning of what is being sung, is about as major as spoilers get.

The last days of DA'ESH

One of the most evil and bloodthirsty regimes in recent history - a strong contender to be considered the worst since the fall of the Hitler's Nazis in 1945 - is about to lose the last of its territory.

On 4th July America's allies in Syria who have been laying siege to Racca, the capital of the self-styled "Islamic State" caliphate known in the region by the Arabic acronym "DA'ESH" breached the walls of the old city.

Meanwhile in Mosul, the second city in Iraq which had been occupied by DA'ESH in June 2014 but has been gradually recaptured over the last few months, all but a few alleys are now back in government hands.

The recapture of DA'ESH territory in Iraq and Syria will shortly make it untenable for the organisation to sustain its claim to be a "caliphate" which all Muslims are supposed to give allegiance to, because one of the conditions for a caliphate laid down in the Islamic sacred writings is to be in control of an area of territory.

Not that most Muslims ever did or would give allegiance to DA'ESH, as the vast majority of Muslims do not agree that this death cult represents their religion at all.

This is why so many people have rightly refused to use terms like "Islamic State" to describe DA'ESH without a "so-called" in front of it, because if you admit that the organisation is both Islamic and a state, let alone recognise their claim to be a caliphate, you are inadvertently supporting their propaganda claim that Muslims have a duty to travel there and fight for them.

But unfortunately although most Muslims, reject this argument, some radicalised Muslims fell into the trap and went to the Middle East to support DA'ESH. Many of those people have died in the fighting, and we can hope that at least some of the survivors may have come to realise what a ghastly perversion of their religion the Jihadist ideology is. Unfortunately the rest of the survivors will be dangerous for a long-time to come. DA'ESH's self-styled caliphate may be coming to an end but Jihadist terrorism is not.

Civilised countries must play the long game in working to defeat the forces of extremism and help the people of Syria and Iraq - and other nations damaged by forces loyal to or allied with DA'ESH such as Boko Haram in Africa - to rebuild.

This drone footage uploaded to YouTube by CNN shows had dreadful the devastation of areas which have suffered first occupation by DA'ESH and then being fought over has been.

There is a powerful and depressing piece in the Economist here about how much needs to be done to repair the damage DA'ESH has wrought in the areas it controlled, and the danger that the world may fail to do enough. For everyone's sake I hope they are wrong about that and that the world can rise to meet that challenge.

Quote of the day 7th July 2017

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Government makes more money available for Britain's roads

I welcome the news announced yesterday that the government is making £6.1 billion more money available to invest in Britain's roads. Yes, it's taxpayers' money but this is one of the things I pay my taxes for.

Trudy Harrison has asked for and been given an assurance that this will include the A595.

More details to follow.

Student Finance

The issue of student financial support was a hot potato in the eighties when I was a student and has never ceased to be.

At that time students not only didn't have to pay tuition fees but actually received maintenance grants, and complained bitterly about how the miserly government of Margaret Thatcher didn't pay them enough money. (The actual language used was often considerably ruder than that but you get the idea.)

There was some debate about the possibility of replacing grants with student loans which, with a very few exceptions, was popular only with the sort of people who got the Federation of Conservative Students closed down by Norman Tebbit for being too right-wing.

(Yes, that sounds like a joke. No, it isn't one.)

If as a Conservative student I had told my contemporaries that when Labour finally got into power they would scrap what remained of the grant, introduce tuition fees instead, double the tuition fees a few years later, and offer a loan to pay for it, and that what was then on offer to students would look impossibly generous a generation later, they would have fallen about laughing at the thought that anyone could expect them to believe such a thing.

Of course, one reason the system of grants was affordable is that back in the 80s only about 6% of the age group went to university and another few percent to other Higher Education institutions such as the organisations which are now called universities but at the time were called polytechnics.  Now the proportion of young people who have the opportunity to study at University is more like 40%.

Ever since the Blair government, in a series of broken promises every bit as egregious as the one for which the Labour party subsequently castigated Nick Clegg, replaced grants with loans and left students with a big debt, I have been deeply unhappy to see the ladder which I had climbed up replaced for later generations of students by a much less generous system. In 2005 (e.g. before the economic crash later that decade) I was happy to fight a general election on a promise to scrap tuition fees and would have voted to do so if elected.

The trouble is, in the post crash era I no longer believe that Britain can afford both to give 40% or more of young people the chance to benefit from Higher Education and not ask them for some form of contribution to the cost out of the higher earnings most of them will gain as a result.

The system we have is not at all perfect but there is a lot of ruhhish talked about it by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn. Far from it being true that, as Corbyn claims,  “fewer working-class young people are applying to university” the reality as Danny Finkelstein explains here in an article in The Times this week, is that more people from working-class backgrounds are going to University than ever before.

As he writes,

"There are record numbers of young people going to university and the share of those students who are from disadvantaged neighbourhoods has risen. It was 9.6 per cent in 2009-10 and 11.3 per cent in 2015-16. In 2006, only 12.2 per cent of 18-year-olds who had been eligible for free school meals applied for university. In 2017 that figure was 22.5 per cent."

The nominal dent owed by students going to University is frightening but it is not what most people have to pay.

They don't have to pay anything back until they reach an income of £21,000 p.a. and when they do reach it they pay 9% of additional income above that level until they have paid the whole lot back or, as more often happens, until they reach the date of 30 years after graduation and the government writes off the rest of the loan.

On average about £18,000 of the debt nominally owed by each student is written off by the government. Only the highest-earning graduates actually have to pay the entire nominal value of the loan. Those graduates whose income never gets much above the national average will have to pay less than half of it back.

If you take the unlikely but illustrative example of a graduate with the average loan of £51,000 who earned the present national average salary for thirty years after graduation, ignoring inflation (which of course would increase all figures in the calculation) he or she would pay back £14,850 or 29% of the nominal debt over those thirty years and then the government would cancel the other 71%. 

Perhaps this system should not really be called a student loan scheme at all - you can make a very cogent argument that it would better be described as a 9% graduate tax, e.g. a tax on the additional earnings of former students above £21,000 until 30 years after leaving college or until they have paid back the cost of their education, whichever comes first.

I don't like this system and I never have but anyone who is considering voting to scrap it should think very carefully about what they would put in its place. As Danny Finkelstein wrote, Corbyn

"followed a fact that was completely incorrect, with a promise that is impossible and a policy that would be destructive."

You can read Danny's full article here.

Quote of the day 6th July 2017

"We collected 55% more last year at the 19% Corporation tax rate than they did at 28% in 2009-10"

(John Redwood MP delivers a "killer fact" on twitter.)

Lower corporation tax means companies have more of their profits available to invest and history shows that they do indeed re-invest much of their after-tax profits. More investment means more productivity, more jobs, more wealth created and eventually, even at the lower tax rate, more tax revenue.

This is why Labour's high tax policies will not deliver better public services.

In my youth a Labour government put tax on investment income up to 98 pence in the pound. It ended with a bankrupt government having to call in the International Monetary Fund to borrow money from them, and the IMF insisted on drastic cuts as a condition of the loan, including the most savage cuts ever imposed on the NHS in it's entire history

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Dan Hannan on the decline of civility

As Dan Hannan points out here, the old convention of civility which used to define British politics in breaking down, and the British abhorrence of using violence as a means of expressing political disagreement is not as universal as it used to be.

He makes a convincing argument that going from "Punch a Nazi" to "Shoot a republican Congressman" is a difference of degree rather than kind - and starts you down the same road which, taken further, can lead to actions morally equivalent to the man who drove a van into a crowd outside Finsbury Park Mosque.

Midweek music spot: Rule Britannia! (Last Night of the Proms 2009)

Rule Britannia performed - musically, at least - as Thomas Arne originally wrote it for the finale of the opera "Alfred."

Don't know if it was ever sung in his lifetime by a mezzo-soprano wearing an Admiral's full dress uniform, though as the 18th century was rather less buttoned-up than the one which followed it, that would not in the least surprise me!

Quote of the day 5th July 2017

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Health Scrutiny appointments

Following the events of the call-in meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee at the tail end of the last County Council term, first the electorate and then the political groups have made some changes to the composition of that committee.

For those who are not aware of this, following the Success regime consultation on their proposals for healthcare in North West and Central Cumbria, the Health Scrutiny committee originally voted unanimously to "call in" three elements of the decision for review by the Secretary of State for Health:

1) Maternity
2) Children's Services
3) Community Hospital Beds.

They then adjourned the meeting - and a number of councillors went home, claiming subsequently that they had been told it was the end of the meeting - but went into a huddle with the Success Regime, following which the meeting reconvened and the councillors who were still present took the vote again. Maternity was still called in, but the decision to call in Children's Services and Community Hospital Beds was overturned.

During the subsequent local and general elections it was made very clear than many voters were incensed by this decision.

I strongly disagreed with both the amended decision - in particular I think it would have made far more sense to call in Maternity and Children's services together as the two are inextricably linked - and the principle of holding votes again and reversing decisions after being lobbied by the group you are supposed to be scrutinising.

So I think it is a good thing that the Health Scrutiny Committee will be making a fresh start later this month.

The Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee consists of one councillor appointed by and from each of the six districts in Cumbria and seven county councillors. The members of the committee for 2017/18 are as follows:

  • Michael Cassells   
  • Phil Dew   
  • Claire Driver  (Chair) 
  • Ray Gill   
  • Rebecca Charlotte Hanson   
  • Carni McCarron-Holmes   
  • Neil Hughes   
  • Vivienne Rees   
  • Jessica Riddle   
  • Virginia Taylor   
  • Chris Whiteside   
  • Sol Wielkopolski   
  • Mark Wilson   

  • There are a number of substitutes for the county council members if unable to attend a meeting: details are given here.

    So obviously I will be joining the committee and look forward to working with councillors of all parties to scrutinise the working of the health trust.

    The next meeting will be at County Hall, Kendal at 10.30am on Monday 24th July.

    The Copeland local committee also made some health related appointments today

    Myself and Mike Hawkins were appointed to the Copeland Health and Wellbeing forum, with myself as Health champion and Mike as Autism champion.

    Public Sector Pay

    Under the British constitution, passing an opposed amendment to the Queen's Speech is an attempt to bring down the government (or prevent one being formed.)

    The debate about Labour's amendment to the Queen's speech about public sector pay has to be seen in that context.

    It's perfectly legitimate to argue that the 1% cap on most public sector pay above a certain level should be reviewed or changed, but just bear in mind that the fact that MPs on the government side voted the Labour amendment down does not tell you that they disagree with it.

    Passing Labour's amendment would not in itself have paid nurses, teachers or other public servants affected any more money, but it would have brought down the government and might have made Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.

    In reality there is a big debate doing on within the Conservative party about whether to change policy on this issue, but it was never going to be done by changing the Queen's Speech. All the vote on that tells you is that Conservative MP's do not want Jezza to be PM - big surprise.

    One Conservative MP, Charles Walker, who actually supports removing the cap wrote this letter to a constituent (name redacted) on why he could not vote for the Labour amendment.

    There has been some pretty foul stuff posted on the websites and Facebook pages of Conservative MPs on this subject and one Labour supporter attempted to put something of the sort on my own Facebook page.

    Let me make clear that if you want to make a constructive and positive argument for changing the policy on public sector pay on my blog or facebook page without resorting to personal abuse, I will allow you to do so although if I disagree I reserve the right to explain why.

    Post abuse or insults on the subject and I will simply delete them. 

    Fire safety evidence

    Latest Fire Safety tests on cladding samples from buildings around the country carried out by the  Building Research Establishment BRE) in Bricket Wood continue to show a 100% failure rate.

    The evidence is even stronger that, as I wrote a few days ago, this is far worse than a failure by one council or landlord or even one part of the political spectrum, this is a widespread and serious systemic failure of fire safety regulation which imposes a duty on those in all political parties and none to work together to improve safety.

    At the time of writing samples of cladding from 190 tower blocks in 51 local authority areas have failed fire safety tests.

    These included both private and council-owned residential properties.

    Samples of cladding from three NHS hospitals have also failed the tests.

    King’s College hospital NHS foundation trust in south London announced on Monday that cladding at one of its buildings was being taken down following tests.

    A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement said: “Patient safety is paramount. There will be no disruptions to patient services or continuity of care.”

    All NHS trusts and foundation trusts have been asked to carry out urgent fire safety checks following the Grenfell Tower fire.

    NHS Improvement said it had identified 38 NHS Trusts requiring extra support to carry out urgent fire safety checks. All 38 of these “priority one” trusts have started putting on 24-hour fire warden patrols, it said.

    NHS Improvement added that 30 of these trusts did not need further action at this stage. A further five were still awaiting combustibility test results. However, three have failed the tests and are removing cladding.

    Copeland Area Local Committee

    The first Copeland Local Committee meeting of this term for Cumbria County Council will take place today (Tuesday 4th July) at Cleator Moor Civic Hall and Masonic centre from 10.15am.

    The Copeland Local Committee consists of all Cumbria  County Councillors representing divisions within Copeland Borough Council. It has a fair amount of influence over the provision of local county council services within the Copeland Borough area, particularly on Highways matters.

    The agenda for today's meeting includes a petition being presented by a local resident in my division, Dugald Sperry-Lamb, calling for a 20mph speed limit through Moor Row.

    The detailed agenda can be found here.