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Nearly every other day now, councillors are being told that they are, ‘key to driving forward the innovations needed to transform local government, so that it can weather the current financial storm being visited upon it by Westminster’.
Along with this often junior government minister uttered blurb, which is actually code for we’re passing the buck – they wouldn’t describe it as a ‘financial storm’, but rather, local government doing its bit – comes advice that the scrutiny process is an integral element in any transformation strategy.
It’s somewhat disingenuous to identify scrutiny as the way forward, given the abysmal record it has even when richly resourced and supported, as in the case of the Parliamentary scrutiny system.
Almost every other week we hear and read statements from various Parliamentary committees, with Keith Vaz and Margaret Hodge having a seemingly insatiable appetite for appearing on our TV screens, with the opening words, “The government needs to….”, yet what difference does it make to what the government actually does?
Translate this to the amateur, volunteer ‘scout master’ world of the local government councillor, where officer support is always at a premium and constantly under threat from the slash and burn economics of deficit reduction, and scrutiny looks more like whistling in the wind, than an insightful process, that can beat a path to innovative service delivery.
By way of a footnote, I would point to the recent revelations regarding the Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust. Lincolnshire County Council has a health scrutiny committee, with South Holland District Council represented by an independent councillor, who takes every opportunity to tell us what the committee is, or more accurately, isn’t doing. I say isn’t doing, because, in theory, if LCC’s scrutiny of our local hospitals was in any way effective, Lincolnshire hospitals wouldn’t have one of the highest abnormal death rates in England would it? Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten themselves completely hung up on the proposed changes to our local ambulance service instead.
Wind farm noise does harm sleep and health, say scientists
Wind farm noise causes “clear and significant” damage to people’s sleep and mental health, according to the first full peer-reviewed scientific study of the problem.
Research has proved there windfarms can have a direct impact on sleep and mental health (GETTY)
By Andrew Gilligan Daily Telegraph
Saturday 3rd November 2012
American and British researchers compared two groups of residents in the US state of Maine. One group lived within a mile of a wind farm and the second group did not.
Both sets of people were demographically and socially similar, but the researchers found major differences in the quality of sleep the two groups enjoyed.
The findings provide the clearest evidence yet to support long-standing complaints from people living near turbines that the sound from their rotating blades disrupts sleep patterns and causes stress-related conditions.
The study will be used by critics of wind power to argue against new turbines being built near homes and for existing ones to be switched off or have their speed reduced, when strong winds cause their noise to increase.
The researchers used two standard scientific scales, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which measures the quality of night-time sleep, and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which measures how sleepy people feel when they are awake.
“Participants living near industrial wind turbines had worse sleep, as evidenced by significantly greater mean PSQI and ESS scores,” the researchers, Michael Nissenbaum, Jeffery Aramini and Chris Hanning, found.
“There were clear and significant dose-response relationships, with the effect diminishing with increasing log-distance from turbines.”
The researchers also tracked respondents’ “mental component scores” and found a “significant” link – probably caused by poor-quality sleep – between wind turbines and poorer mental health.
More than a quarter of participants in the group living near the turbines said they had been medically diagnosed with depression or anxiety since the wind farm started. None of the participants in the group further away reported such problems.
Each person was also asked if they had been prescribed sleeping pills. More than a quarter of those living near the wind farm said they had. Less than a tenth of those living further away had been prescribed sleeping pills.
According to the researchers, the study, in the journal Noise and Health, is the first to show clear relationships between wind farms and “important clinical indicators of health, including sleep quality, daytime sleepiness and mental health”.
Unlike some common forms of sleep-disturbing noise, such as roads, wind turbine noise varies dramatically, depending on the wind direction and speed. Unlike other forms of variable noise, however, such as railways and aircraft, it can continue for very long
periods at a time. The nature of the noise — a rhythmic beating or swooshing of the blades — is also disturbing. UK planning guidance allows a night-time noise level from wind farms of 42 decibels – equivalent to the hum made by a fridge.
This means that turbines cannot be built less than 380-550 yards from human habitation, with the exact distance depending on the terrain and the size of the turbines.
However, as local concern about wind farm noise grows, many councils are now drawing up far wider cordons. Wiltshire, for instance, has recently voted to adopt minimum distances of between 0.6 to 1.8 miles, depending on the size of the turbines.
Dr Lee Moroney, director of planning at the Renewable Energy Foundation, said: “The UK noise limits were drawn up 16 years ago, when wind turbines were less than half the current size. Worse still, the guidelines permit turbines to be built so close to houses that wind turbine noise will not infrequently be clearly audible indoors at night time, so sleep impacts and associated health effects are almost inevitable.
“This situation is obviously unacceptable and creating a lot of angry neighbours, but the industry and government response is slow and very reluctant. Ministers need to light a fire under their civil servants.”
The research will add to the growing pressure on the wind farm industry, which was attacked last week by the junior energy minister, John Hayes, for the way in which turbines have been “peppered around the country without due regard for the interests of the local community or their wishes”. Saying “enough is enough”, Mr Hayes appeared to support a moratorium on new developments beyond those already in the pipeline.
He was slapped down by his Lib Dem boss, Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, but is unlikely to have made his remarks without some kind of nod from the top of Government. George Osborne, the Chancellor, is known to be increasingly sceptical about the effectiveness of wind power, which is heavily subsidised but delivers relatively little reduction in carbon dioxide.
Wind farms generate about a quarter of their theoretical capacity because the wind does not always blow at the required speeds. Earlier this year, more than 100 Tory MPs urged David Cameron to block the further expansion of wind power.
Whatever the Government decides, however, may not matter.
The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that the EU will shortly begin work on a new directive which may impose a binding target for further renewable energy, mostly wind, on the UK. There is already a target, which is also Government policy, that 20 per cent of energy should come from renewables by 2020.
But Brussels is considering imposing an even higher mandatory target to be met over the following decade, according to Gunther Oettinger, the EU energy commissioner. “I want an interesting discussion on binding targets for renewables by 2030,” he said earlier this year.
Two weeks ago, a senior member of his staff, Jasmin Battista, said that Mr Oettinger was “open to” forced targets, though no decision had been made.
The European Parliament has voted for mandatory increases in renewables by 2030 and Mr Davey has also said he favours them. The issue will be considered at a European Council of Ministers meeting next month.
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012
As a recent cancer suffer myself, I’ve been listening to the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley on Radio 4 this week, with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m a hopeless patient and consistently fail to remember most of the details regarding my treatment, so I make no claim to any expertise on the subject of the NHS, apart from the fact that they appear to have helped me to live a bit longer!
The reason for my self confessed poorly informed comment today, is to do with Mr Lansley’s repeated use of the words ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’. This is in relation to the scrapping of the previous government’s target driven performance indicators and the new government’s belief that it should be all about the two words previous mentioned – quality and outcomes.
The problem I have with this approach, as somebody who has more than a passing interest in both, is what happens when they don’t hit these targets? Also, what does it actually mean when the targets are not met? The merit of measuring the numbers of patients seen within a particular time frame, was that the patient was seen by an expert within a certain deadline (unfortunate inclusion of the word dead there!) and could then hopefully start treatment post haste if required. However, now that we are going to measure ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’, it would seem that we are going from one end of the telescope to the other. Whereas before the target was hit by getting you to see the right doctor as quickly as possible, that no longer matters. Now you will have to survive long enough to get to the doctor, before they start to measure the quality and outcome of your treatment.
If you don’t measure things until the end of the process, as opposed to at the beginning, does that mean that if you drop off the perch before you actually get in to the new health care system, it isn’t actually a quality failure? And, from their point of view at least, it might not even be a bad outcome!
If I have a quality failure at work, somebody gets their a**e kicked and the job gets redone. If I have a quality failure in my health care, it may well kill me, or at least cause me to die sooner than I might of. Which then of course will indeed give Mr Lansley a poor outcome to measure.
As I said, I’m no expert in these things, but measuring quality and outcomes in health care, in the same way you inspect widgets in a factory, doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction to me! Trouble is, if I’m right (and I am very occasionally) I probably won’t be around to say I told you so!