Train services fall under local control

Voters could get a say in how their local train services are run under government proposals. Ministers are ready to scrap the system which gives the Department for Transport powers to dictate all train services and choose operators. Instead they are ready to hand over power to councils and locally run transport bodies.
Daily Telegraph, 29 Dec 11, p2

Based on my recent experiences with Network Rail, this proposal should also be extended to the way the local infrastructure is managed. It’s not that Network Rai don’t keep the trains on the tracks, or even the stations in one piece – just, but their communication and customer service skills are non-existent and currently, there doesn’t seem to be any way of giving them the kick up the a**e they so richly deserve!

If local control is introduced, won’t this will be another example of something going full circle? Railways started off as private companies, run locally and needing to keep their local customer base happy in order to stay in business and now we seem to be heading back to where we started.

Time to use our money for our benefit

The government continues to spout empty words of anguish about the increasing levels of fuel poverty. They should therefore stop picking OUR pockets, through our energy bills, to fund the wind turbine industry and instead use that money to improve the energy efficiency of homes. Not only would it reduce many household energy bills, it would also reduce the overall level of energy consumption for the country – something that wind turbines are clearly not doing.

Not so funny when it’s true

A joke Christmas present I received this year was a bit closer to the truth than I would have liked it to be.

When I first joined the RAF in 1*67 (you can work out the missing number!) there was definitely room for the character, the odd ball and even the down right nutcase. However, as long as they were good at their job, they were, for the most part, accepted and tolerated and sometimes even protected from the wrath of the powers that be – normally the Station Warrant Officer!

Of course the long-haired, scruffy, occasionally late for work and sometimes hung-over erk, was still given a hard time by the squadron SNCOs, but generally speaking these ‘herberts’ were seen as part of what made a squadron a squadron and very something very different from civvy street. Nothing lasts forever and this level of tolerance to the non-conformist is no exception and this is where the joke gift, a book, struck a chord with me and really sums up the change I saw in the later part of my service career.

I hasten to add that the change was not in the troops, they were, and still are, I hope, always looking for any opportunity to have a laugh or wind a mate up. It’s the RAF as an entity that has, as this book (jokingly?) suggests, lost its sense of humour.

The blank inside pages (sadly) are not a printing error!

We’ll have to forgive them mixing an AWACs with a Nimrod on the front cover – I think the book was produced by some Fisheads and they only recognise things that float!

Wake up, some red tape is essential

In a clear demonstration of central government’s failure to comprehend what joined up government is about, the Department for Business is resisting attempts to up date the law in respect of scrap metal dealers. Despite the epidemic of metal threats we are currently suffering, these bureaucrats are quoting the government’s drive to reduce red tape as their reason for resisting this desperately needed change to an outdated act.

No doubt there has been some form of lobbying from those in the trade, underpinning this stance by the department. However, unless these civil servants have been living on the other side of the moon for the last 12 months, it’s difficult to understand how they can ignore the criminal activity that has seen war memorial desecrated, trains stopped in their tracks and hospital operation cancelled. Reports of damage to churches and other public building, as well as private houses appear in the press almost daily, demonstrating a need for urgent action.

I wonder if it isn’t time for the taxman to take a hand in this and remind ministers that there’s an nice little earner to be had from finding out exactly how much money changes hands in the mainly cash in hand world of scrap metal dealing? I doubt whether too many scrap metal dealers would be able to wine and dine the HMRC officials in the same way as the likes of Vodaphone and Goldman Sachs have been doing, so we should actually see the full amount of tax being paid, once the legislation takes effect.

Network Rail yet to build bridges with public

it looks like the saga of the lighting, or rather the lack of it, on Steppingstone Bridge in Spalding might be coming to an end in the new year.  However, whilst Network Rail appear to have agreed  to fund the work required, following discussions with the county council, they deserve little real credit.

Having communicated with a number of national organisations I can safely say, without reservation, that Network Rail is by far the most arrogant and un-cooperative I have ever dealt with.  Almost since the first day the new (secondhand) bridge was opened, people have been complaining about the lack of lighting and the standing water on the top deck.

I alone must have registered at least four complaints, with the inappropriately named, customer service dept in York, about these problems.  Each and every time I was promised a call from their local representative and each and every time it never happened.

Of course Network Rail makes a point of not ignoring everybody, especially when it’s the local MP.  Only a week or so ago, I was told that the county council was still awaiting written confirmation, from Network Rail, that they are willing to finance the work to move the currently non-working light.  Then, by pure chance, I was emailed a copy of a letter sent to John Hayes by Network Rail, stating that they are just waiting for the completion of legal agreements before carrying out the work!  It would seem that Network Rail doesn’t even have the good manners to communicate with the other party to this work, the county council, so what chance does a minor politican like myself have?

I would like to think the passing in to law of the Localism Bill would eventually lead to the building of bridges (pardon the pun) between faceless organisations such as Network Rail and the public.  Unfortunately, based on my personal experience to date, there’s more chance of HS2 being built this century!

Teachers cheating on the exams now!

How incredibly disappointing yet unsurprising it is to hear that the school examination bodies have been colluding with teachers to increase pass rates.

The reason I find these revelations unsurprising, is because of the nature of the examination bodies – private companies seeking and needing, above all, to make profits.  Given that there are several examination bodies chasing a clearly defined and relatively limited market, it’s hardly surprising to hear that they needed to use such tactics to increase their market share – indeed, how else would you do so, in such a limited and supposedly highly regulated market?

Whilst those who have perpetrated this abuse of the trust placed in them by parents are indeed guilty of some sort of crime, the real villains of the piece are the politicians who decided to privatise the school exam system.  How could it of turned out any differently?  Over provision + a limited market = a need for customer incentives.  Once you’ve decided to use incentives as a way of gaining market share and where there are so few options beyond outright bribery, this sort of abuse was almost inevitable.

Worse still though, is the fact that so many teachers were willing to participate in the abuse and just when their profession was begin to regain some of the respect and status it deserves.  After all, what else is more important than ensuring that our children are well educated?  Shame on these teachers and the damage they have done to our education system.

Another ridiculous moment in life

Sometimes you come across a really ridiculous situation that is obviously an unintended consequence of either good intentions, or what some might call, the jobs worth syndrome.

This one, I spotted on my way back from Peterborough today, might also fall under that infamous term, ‘elf and safety’. Driving through Deeping St Nicholas, my wife and I were delayed by a set of temporary traffic lights. These lights were protecting yet another ‘ol in the road’, or more accurately, a hole in the footpath. This hole, bereft of a single workman, as is often the case, prevented any pedestrian from passing along the footpath, requiring them to take to roadway itself.

The road through DSN is always very busy, despite the recently opened new A16 to Peterborough. It would therefore be extremely dangerous for pedestrians to walk in the road, so the traffic lights and their associated road barriers are in place to give pedestrians safe passage on the roadway – and here comes the ridiculous bit.

As you approach the site there are warning signs, informing drivers of the partial road blockage and the traffic lights. In order to keep them out of the traffic flow, these signs are on the footpath and are so large, there is no room for anybody to get past them, without walking in the road! So, we have a set of lights and barriers placed in the road to allow pedestrians to walk in the road safely, because there’s a hole in the footpath. Meanwhile, some 5 and 10 metres to either side, we have a set of roadworks signs, placed on the same footpath, that force pedestrians to walk in the road to get past them! Like I said, ridiculous!