Gold plating – what we do best!

Yet another story about EU legislation having a negative impact on the UK economy. This time it’s agency staff receiving the same employment rights as permanent employees. The legislation was apparently enthusiastically grasped to their bosom by the LibDems soon after they were invited into Government – thanks for dropping us in it yet again Mr Vince Cable.

Following the standard script, ministers claimed, ‘we had no choice because…….this time the excuse being, ‘the unions put pressure on us’. Since when has any government done anything they didn’t want to do because of a union (unless it was Labour of course)?

Read on and you get to the real reason why the UK has yet again been stitched up by it’s own government. According to the Institute of Directors, the Government has once again ‘gold-plated’ a piece of EU legislation and made it’s impact far worse than it needed to be. Either these people just love writing new regulations, or they see it as another opportunity to create more jobs for the boys, with new bunch of Whitehall bureaucrats required to police the new rules.

Charities need to be careful not to bite the hand

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which must cut spending by £35.6 million, faces a high court battle with disability campaigners who claims cuts to charities have been ‘discriminatory’ and ‘rushed through’. I wonder how much of the taxpayer’s money this council will have to waste defending this case?

Charities and the voluntary sector in general need to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them when it comes to challenging councils on how they spend their discretionary budgets. Unless they can prove that the proposed withdrawal of funding is just a case of rearranging the furniture and that the council will have to pick up the tab in another way, they should accept that this is just one of a number of incredibly difficult decisions councils are having to make.

The logical fallout from this type of action, is that all councils will build in to their future charity contributions something akin to a prenuptial agreement. The agreement would say that, should the council decide to cease funding the organisation for any reason, there can be no legal challenge. If the charity or voluntary organisation is unwilling to sign up to any such agreement, then they can go whistle!

Care to eat your words Mr Clark?

An excellent article in today’s Daily Telegraph from Clive Aslet, described as Editor at Large of ‘Country Life’. Editor at Large? Does that mean he works from home and drives around a lot?

None of the venom and spite we’ve seen from our illustrious leaders, Clark and Neill (Shapps seems to sensible enough to keep his head down for now). It’s a reasoned argument in favour of listening to the genuine concerns of those who care about our countryside. He also calls for the public consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework, to be treated as a genuine exercise and not the current sham suggested by the hysterical utterances Clark and Neill have spouted upon hearing that the National Trust and CPRE have concerns about the potential negative impact of the NPPF.
The best bit of the article for me, is a quote from a then Tory MP in opposition, Greg Clark. Upon hearing that the Labour Government wanted to see 6,000 houses built in Tunbridge Wells, Clark’s constituency, he said: “One of the delights of our area is that there is scarcely a neighbourhood that is not within a short walk of the green fields that surround us”. This is the self same minister now laying in to those who dare to challenge his new passion for covering those green fields in houses and factories.
No wonder politicians are often seen as cynical opportunists, ready to jump on the nearest passing bandwagon. I sincerely hope the members of the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Party are seeking answers from their local MP.

Health and safety is NOT the problem

Today’s newspaper contains a story that Chris Grayling, the Employment Minister, is berating the health and safety culture that some bosses use to hide unpopular decisions behind. He is of course right to challenge this cynical use of H&S legislation, but this story smacks more of ministerial headline grabbing, than any serious attempt to address the issue.

Attacking health and safety in this wholesale fashion and demanding that everybody apply common sense when making decisions, is the lazy approach and ignores completely the reason why H&S has become both a blight and a joke to many – the no win, no fee lawyer.

Chris Grayling is calling for common sense from bosses, but without acknowledging that common sense immediately goes out of the window as soon as the lawyers become involved. How many companies pay up immediately they get that solicitor’s letter, instead of going to court and fighting their case, because it is nearly always the cheapest option.

The whole no win no fee system is obviously a lucrative business for the numerous companies now chasing every passing ambulance, as witnessed by the frequent adverts on television. If there was no H&S legislation, then there would be no law for these lawyers to sue under. However, lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s the no win no fee lawyers that need culling, not the H&S legislation that undoubtedly saves lives everyday of the week.

Unless these constantly circling sharks are dealt with, Mr Grayling is whistling in the wind and those who are vulnerable to being sued by a careless employee, or a customer or member of the public out to make a fast buck, will continue to play it safe – wouldn’t you?

More on roadworks idea

Just to prove my point,here are two more stories related to my last roadworks post. The first, is the previous government’s attempt. The second is just to prove what I said about the minister’s initial response.

1. 26 November, 2001 – A new approach to reducing the delays and disruptions caused by utility company road works was put forward in a consultation paper launched today.

Sarah Boyack, minister for transport and planning, launched ‘Reducing Disruption from Utilities’ Road Works – A Consultation Paper’ and invited comments on the proposals from local authorities, the utility companies and other interested parties.26 November, 2001.

2. Ministers reject call to give councils powers over utility companies

27 July, 2011 – Ministers have rejected proposals to give councils more powers to recoup the cost of repairs to roads damaged by work done on behalf of utility companies.
The Local Government Association had called for the government to make utility companies pay a bond or deposit in advance of roadworks to make it easier for councils to recoup the cost of damage – estimated at £70m in England and Wales last year – caused by inferior road repairs.
The LGA also called for councils to be given stronger powers to ensure roadworks are timed to cause the minimum disruption to motorists, and to guarantee roads are repaired properly once work has finished
But transport minister Norman Baker rejected the proposals. In a letter to the LGA he said that he “sympathised” with local authorities concerns about street works causing long-term damage, but said the proposal to take a bond from utility companies in order to recoup the cost of remediation was “inconsistent with the coalition government’s commitment to reduce regulatory costs on business.”
He said “a more pragmatic approach would be to reduce the extent of long-term damage costs through a greater focus on high-quality reinstatements.”
He added that giving councils more statutory powers would not be a “proportionate or workable solution that creates the right incentives for utility companies”.
“I consider that where a utility company’s highway reinstatement is substandard, local authorities currently do have adequate powers to require them to put things right,” he said.

Roadworks disruption – heard it all before?

As soon as any government dept announces a new bright idea, it’s always worth looking back through the archives to check to see if it’s all been said before. In this case a story from almost 10 years ago suggests that, as always, there’s nothing new in the world of politics.

November 2002 – A government initiative to reduce the number of holes-in-the-road has instead led to an increase in their number as utilities seek to get round regulations, according to a report commissioned by the Department of Transport, reported The Sunday Telegraph (p11).

The study – details of which have been leaked to the newspaper – showed that, in attempting to get around legislation meant to reduce ‘unnecessary disruption’, utility companies were digging several small holes rather than one large one. In some cases this was causing twice as much disruption as previously.

What makes this latest story even more ironic, is that it was only about 6 weeks ago that I read in the local government press, that the minister didn’t see a need for any more legislation, stating that councils already had sufficient powers to deal with this issue. I what what’s changed? Perhaps he was feeling neglected and needed to see his name in the national press again.

Household refuse collection- no longer a right?

Most councils are struggling to balance their books at the moment and are seeking to cut back expenditure in those areas they hope the taxpayers will find acceptable. Many councils have chosen to cut weekly refuse cllections and collect fortnightly instead.

Our own council has always seen weekly refuse collections as something local taxpayers value highly and is therefore one of our top priorities. It was therefore incredible to see Rossendale council in Lancashire, proposing to actually stop collecting refuse all together from hundreds of the rural properties in their district.

If you ask most people, what does your local council do? Their answer would almost always be, empty the bins. It was particularly disappointing to hear a local councillor (albeit Labour) trotting out a bureaucratic justification, ‘we are obliged to collect the refuse, but not necessarily from the dwelling’. It’s extremely poor politics to directly associate yourself with such an unpopular decision by the use of ‘we’, it clearly demonstrates a lack of empathy, let alone sympathy, with the effected residents. Unless of course you are indeed in full and enthusiastic agreement with the decision!

On that basis, if all residents are to be required to manage their own refuse collections in some way or another, as in the case of Rossendale, one has to ask how much longer the council itself would last?

Once a council drops off of the radar of local people, by failing to maintain such a basic as refuse collection, then it surely won’t be long before a local referendum appears demanding that their local council be scrapped altogether.

X Factor part of the problem?

The X Factor could be seen as one of the causes of our celebrity obsessed, must have it now culture. Just look at the tens of thousands of people who turn up for the auditions, not because they have any sort of talent, but because they just want to be ‘famous’.

Tonight’s show was a perfect example of what is bad about the programme and how it encourages even the most talentless to think they might have a chance. One 18 year old from Brighton, who for some reason the panel thought had talent, was particularly nauseating. When asked why he was there he replied, to get more girls. He even went on to display his backside, expressing great pride in the fact that he had the names of half a dozen girls tattooed on his cheeks. Apparently these were there as a record of his sexual conquests during a season spent in a Spanish holiday resort.

What made this display even more disgusting (to this particular grumpy old man) was the fact that his mother and father were in the wings, applauding his behaviour and comments to the judges. I suppose the father’s reaction should come as no great surprise, boys will be boys and all that. However, the mother, celebrating her darling boys grubby sexist bravado, what does that tell us about the upbringing this male slapper has had? Even the female judges thought he was wonderful!

Another boy came on the show, apparently to clear his name after a disastrous audition with a group on a 2009 show. Despite being two years older now and claiming to be more mature and more ‘together’, when told he was still rubbish and still talentless, he reverted to his previous foul-mouthed and aggressive behaviour. This was no doubt considered to be great TV by the producers, in the post rioting and looting world we now live in. You can be pretty sure the viewing figures for next week’s show will also confirm this cynical view of what makes good TV these days.

All that said, the performance of one 16 year old girl from Ireland was mesmerising. If she can keep that quality of performance up, then she could clearly be a winner. That’s what actually makes the programme even more annoying. As well as encouraging the hopelessly untalented, it does occasionally produce people, like Susan Bolye, who would probably never have been discovered. The question is, does the chance of discovering a few talented people, justify having a prime time TV programme that encourages our young people to see celebrity as the only thing worth aiming for?

A small victory for the pedestrians

Almost 12 months ago now, I wrote to Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital management, raising my concerns regarding pedestrian safety.  As often happens with these large faceless organisations, I received no response.  Never deterred by stonewalling I wrote again, just in case the first letter didn’t get there, however this time I hand delivered it.  Yet again, no response, so then I wrote to the hospital trust HQ in Lincoln.  This time, albeit after a period of some 8 months, I received a letter stating that, having consider my points, they would indeed be taking steps to improve the situation.

Although it may sound like it, I’m not actually out to blow my own trumpet, but simply to point out that it sometimes takes more than one go to get an answer, let alone to get something fixed.  If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

What was I complaining about?  Next time you go to the Pilgrim Hospital and park in the main car park, take note of the bit where you have to cross the road to get to the main entrance.  Assuming the new signage hasn’t been installed, take note of the care, or more accurately, lack of it, taken by some drivers as you attempt to walk across the raised road section between the car park and the approach to the hospital’s main entrance.

About 2 years ago it was necessary for us to visit the hospital every week for nearly 6 months, so we became very familiar with the selfish attitude of some drivers when using this piece of road.  The raised road surface and some signs, were supposed to alert drivers to pedestrians crossing and that they (the drivers) should therefore give them priority – this was often not the case.  Having witnessed at least two near misses, one involving my wife, I decided enough was enough, hence my letters to the hospital management.

Although I didn’t get the type of signs I wanted, ‘STOP – Give way to pedestrians at all times’, I did convince them to change the existing signs for something more prominent.  A red square with white lettering.  I just hope it doesn’t take them another 12 months to put them in place!

Making policy by letter

I’m beginning to notice a growing trend in the method being used by this government to make our planning system fit it’s non-planning agenda.

The most recent demonstration of this, is a new consultation on whether or not the installation of security shutters should be permitted development. That would mean that, unlike now, any shop owner that wished to install steel shutters to their shop front, could do so without applying for planning permission. Whilst I have no wish to see planning rules imposed for the sake of it, allowing people to do things without considering the wider impact, is guaranteed to create undesired effects. In the vast majority of cases, a high street turned into a steel walled alley every night, is a very undesirable effect.

Window shopping is a free and enjoyable past time for many people, especially in the summer months and helps to keep a town centre alive and interesting, even when the shops are closed. Endless steel shutters would effectively make a high street a no-go area, telling any visitors that it is a potential trouble spot, where the occupants have had to put up the barricades.

The consultation document refers to the character of an area being protected, as in the case of conservation areas. However, the numerous bear traps that are present in the recently published (for yet another consultation) National Planning Policy Framework, are likely to frustrate councils wishing to control such things as steel shutters on the high street.

The government has recently thrown all of the existing detailed planning policy guidance on to one it’s red tape bonfires. It would now seem that DCLG, through it’s planning mouth piece, the Chief Planner, will ensure that things are done it’s way, by the issuing of letters such as the one referring to security shutters. Even though they’ve called it a consultation letter, it would probably be far more accurate to call it a, ‘this is what we’re going to do eventually letter’. Standby for a lot more of the same.