Archive for June, 2011
There was a time when bonfires were a regular feature on the allotments but, as inhabitants of a smokeless zone, we have had to forego the convenience of burning the piles of waste and the pleasure of roasting spuds whilst dancing round the flames in the manner of Hopalong Cassidy’s enemies. Well, I made the last bit up but the rest is true. Now we obediently fill our wheelie bins in the vague hope that someone will actually collect them before internal combustion makes that unnecessary.
And it seems that we are not the only people who have given up on bonfires. David Cameron and his motley crew were elected on the promise of a bonfire of all the Quangos created during the Blair years. Of course none of us expect politicians to keep to their word but we did at least expect a reduction. A check on the listings shows that the total has increased. And yesterday Ed Milband listed a whole list of new gossip shops manned by the great and good of the chattering classes.
For young Ed to score a point in his weekly tussle with the balding Dave is a rare event, but in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time he did just that. He pulled off the old trick of asking a question to which he knew the answer but suspected that ‘Dave’ didn’t. How many new Quangos will the NHS reforms require, he asked. Not having a clue – although maybe making a mental note of the possibility of Sam chairing one – Dave blustered. Everyone in the land loves the NHS reforms sums up what he said, and the dreaded Lansley nodded vigorously.
Mr Miliband, of the Ed variety, then provided the answer and even Ken Clarke woke up with a jolt. It seems that the present number of 163 will rise to an astonishing 521. By now the Speaker was getting tetchy, having already warned both contestants about time wasting, and young Ed settled for rattling off as many as he could remember without consulting his briefing papers from the spin doctors. “Pathfinder consortia, health and well-being boards, shadow commissioning groups, a national commissioning board, PCT clusters, FHA clusters, clinical networks, clinical senates” he intoned before the Speaker intervened again. Ye Gods. Will anyone ever have time to practice medicine? But it will provide some nice little earners.
In fact Mr Miliband was unusually well armed. For good measure he announced that the redundancy payments for NHS staff fired by the Lansley brainstorm would add up to £852 million. Could the prime minister guarantee that none of those people would be re-employed by the NHS? For some reason Dave began to rant about strikes and at this point the Speaker announced that “We’re very grateful”, John Bercow speak for “Shut up sunshine”.
However I digress, a shock reaction to young Ed scoring twice. The bit of the broadcast that staggered me was the number of new Quangos that are planned. I am of course assuming that Ed didn’t make it up since even Dave would surely have recognised that. Having once been on a couple of Quangos I confess to having a low opinion of them. The ones I joined seemed to be packed with busybodies with time on their hands, little grasp of the subject and with obsessions with taking notes and enjoying large lunches. And that was only the chairpersons as they insisted on being addressed!
There is of course a brighter side to all this. Those who fear the decimation of the NHS need worry no more. Quangos never make decisions and always blur the edges. My medical pals can rest easy. Nothing will ever really happen, other than the expenditure of taxpayers money, and with the Libyan adventure now heading for the one billion pounds mark that will be small beer.
I am not displeased at all this. Quangos do provide pleasure for thousands of middle-class ladies and gentlemen of a certain age, and once again my conviction that one must expect the opposite of what politicians promise has been vindicated.
And young Ed, looking more than ever like a Panda, undoubtedly headed off to buy a drink for his researchers. Dave has the more pressing matter of working out how he can lay claim to Andy Murray, given the certainty that Alex Salmond will do likewise. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Thaw 2. Florin 3. Smokie 4. Chris Evans 5. 1980 6. Bluto 7. Yes 8. Liverpool 9. Portugese 10. Culkin
Albert’s hearing aid has been found. It was discovered during this morning’s cleaning-out and the clear evidence was that it ‘passed through’ one of the hens. The good news was that it was still emitting a whistling sound, the bad news being that our excitable pal then emersed it in a bucket of hot water. It is now as dead as a Dodo. Albert has asked me to mention it in the blog to enable him to present a copy to the NHS hearing aid clinic. I fear the worst for the cash-strapped service is struggling to cope with the Lansley cuts and is unlikely to be swayed by such a bizaare explanation. The odds are that the God of hearing aids will ignore the fact that one of her colleagues lost hers down the loo, and will cry do as we say, not as we do!
If so she will be in noble company. Over the past few days a series of politicians including Messrs Cameron, Gove, Pimm and Miliband have lined up to condemn the public sector workers planning a mass walk-out in defence of their pensions. Given that many of them are in line for no more thn £6000 per year it is hard not to sympathise, particularly in the light of the responsible and stressful jobs they carry out. But the fact remains that unless something is done the pension pot will run out in the years ahead given the change in demography. Unless Lansley’s plan for the NHS succeeds in reversing the trend to live longer we are heading for a black-hole big enough to swallow the lot of us. And we are all in this together!
Wrong! Perhaps few realise that the one group of public servants immune from pension cuts are our parliamentarians. On Monday’s Newsnight, Conservative Nick Boles affected a reasonable tone ahead of tomorrow’s strikes. He wondered aloud to Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers whether anyone else got as good a deal as teachers, asking “is there anybody out there who gets 13.5% from their employer?”.
Had Ms Bousted been properly briefed she could have answered look in the mirror. In 2009 the government actuaries deemed it required a taxpayer contribution of not 13.5% but 31.6% for the largesse dished out to our politicians. There have been tweeks since but costs are still at 20%. Without digging into the detail – partly because I find it hard to fathom – I can headline it by confirming that just 20 years service at Westminster secures an index-linked retirement income of half final pay. Set lump sums aside and MPs are clocking up rights at twice the rate of teachers!
And that is far from all. If an MP falls ill he or she need not worry about hard-faced men from healthcare company Atos refusing incapacity benefits. He or she must merely satisfy fellow MPs, who serve as trustees, that they are no longer up to lolling on the green benches. He or she will then get full pension at once – topped up on the assumption that the voters would have continued to elect him or her until they reached the age of 65.
Even more generous than the parliamentary scheme is the provision for the premiership, speakership and lord chancellorship. Just one days service in any of these offices affords an immediate whole-life annuity, worth several million to people in middle-age.
There have been various promises of reform but the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority says it can do nothing until the leader of the Commons commences powers legislated for before the election but not yet “switched on”. In any case, it says, it will take much time to collate evidence and consult with MPs. You can bet your life on that!
This really sums up the greatest frustration felt by all those being hit by cuts of various kinds. If we were really all in the same boat it would at least seem fair. But we all know that the rich and corporate are evading tax to the tune of £120 billion. Now we know that the very people who fail to tackle that iniquity are also keeping generous pensions whilst lecturing teachers, nurses etc about the need for change.
The Westminster brigade should be thankful that we Brits are different to the Greeks. Riot? Nah, we are too busy wondering if Murray can really make it this time!
TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Which John married actress Sheila Hancock? 2. Which pre-decimal coin had the value of two shillings? 3. Which group revived a previous hit in the 90s with the help of Roy “Chubby” Brown? 4. Which TV presenter’s shows have had Toothbrush and Breakfast in their titles? 5. Were the Olympic games last held in Russia in 1960, 1980 or 1988? 6. Who is Popeye’s rival ? 7. Was Sir Walter Scott Scottish? 8. Which English soccer side was managed by the late Bob Paisley? 9. What is the main language in Brazil? 10. Which Macaulay starred in the cartoon and live action film “The Pagemaster”?
One of the joys of life on the allotment is the degree of trust. Most of us have worked together for a very long time and there is a great spirit of togetherness and trust. That doesn’t mark us down as generally trusting people for a regular comment on this or that personality is that we wouldn’t trust them as far as we could throw them, and our throwing arms are not what they were!
It was therefore with great interest that we read the latest findings of Ipsos Mori on national trust levels. Who do the great British public trust? Top of the list at 88% come doctors. Next come teachers at 81% followed by the clergy at 68%. Down at the bottom of the pile come bankers on 29% ahead of journalists who manage just 19%. And guess who came rank bottom? That’s right, politicians in whom a mere 14% have faith. It really says it all about the depths in public respect to which those who supposedly run the country have sunk. As our resident Aussie, Harry, puts it, they are seen as lower than a snake’s belly!
There was a time when Army officers topped the list with bank managers close behind but both have fallen from grace, the former perhaps because most of them have been fired for disagreeing with Cameron, the latter because their latter-day successors managed to bankrupt the country. But doctors have always been there or there abouts.
In fact trust between doctor and patient is a very important part of medicine. Long may it continue, the question is will it? I ask this in the light of the bizaare Lansley plan to incentivise GPs to operate at below budget levels. As the new commissioners they will be given a substantial part of any below-budget expenditure. If that becomes reality, for the first time patients will begin to suspect the motives for any refusal to prescribe or to refer on to consultants. It is a recipe for the breakdown of a trust that has existed ever since the NHS was formed.
Fortunately the doctors leaders have realised this. Yesterday Dr Hamish Meldrum, the chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), warned that the plan would lead to allegations that doctors were witholding treatment. The BMA, its chairman said, has great reservations about Lansley’s proposals even after they have been watered down. He said; “If patients even suspected that their GP might be rewarded for how well they do, and particularly how well they do financially in terms of commissioning, it would inevitably lead to suggestions such as ‘You may not be referring me, you may not be investigating me, you may not be prescribing for me because that actually means money in your pocket’. That would seriously damage trust”.
Apparently the relationship between patients and GPs is to be a central theme when the BMA resumes its negotiations with the government. We can only hope that for all our sakes the clinicians dig their heels in. There are encouraging signs, for yesterday’s statement on the eve of the BMA’s annual meeting, in Cardiff, also included a strong view that ; “The public is not prepared to gamble with the future of the NHS, and doctors are not prepared to see this happen or to see trust abused by government policies that could undermine the value of doctor-patient relationships”.
Slowly but surely the reaction to Lansley’s plans is gathering momentum. It is often said that if there were a planned revolution in Britain no one would bother to turn up. But this is a huge issue that will affect every family in the land. Whatever your politics, it is dangerous to go along with the belief that privatisation and the profit motive will in some way improve our health care. What it will actually do is turn patient against doctor. Money can be the root of all evil, in this instance it certainly would be.
I like to imagine that David Cameron is, behind that smug exterior, a man of great self understanding. If so he should look at the Mori poll and ponder. Why has the standing of politicians sunk so low? Could it be the revelations of the expenses scandal? Could it be the realisation that they are not merely egotists but believers in one God, money.
He could take one giant step to improve the dangerously low opinion of the public by hurling Lansley and his madness into the nearest bin!
ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’S RIDDLE.
Matt and Pete were the first to come up with the answer which was ‘NOTHING’. 95% of graduates at Stanford University were unable to solve the riddle so…WELL DONE!
TOMORROW WILL FEATURE A NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ ???????????????????????
Albert has often talked about capitalists exploiting the sweat of his brow but before this morning I remained unconvinced that such a thing existed. Today he was dripping as he chased his hens. He was also crotchety. Our pal was, before he retired a thousand years ago, one of the army of public sector workers now being subjected to all the inuendos and spin that the establishment can throw at it. Albert always retains his old loyalties and always resents the inference that everyone employed by the state is well able to light their cigars with rolled up tenners. It just ain’t so!
With the possibility of strike action looming over pensions the spin-doctors wheeled out every minister and ex-minister they could muster. Micheal Gove suggested that parents should take over the schools, only he could have come up with something quite this ridiculous. Ed Miliband made clear that he is opposed to Union action, presumably a lie aimed at winning support from Daily Mail readers. Tony Blair had the gall to enter the fray by urging the Unions to enter the real world, presumably he believes that lectures at £100,000 per go are available to everyone. Only dear old Uncle Vince urged more negotiations.
It so happens that we allotmenteers do know a few of the supposedly priviledged public sector employees. One friend of a friend is a teacher in a state secondary school in London. She is paid £32,000 per year and is still paying off her student loan. Her pension contributions will rise from 6.4% to 9.6%. Given the costs of living in the capital she already struggles to pay her present contributions of £200 per month and now realises that she will be required to continue teaching until her 68th birthday. She fears that the energy levels she requires to handle large classes of sometimes unruly pupils will have withered long before then.
Another friend is a case worker for the Crown Prosecution Service. He is paid £19,000 per year and will have to find another £60 per month and work six extra years to earn a pension of £6000. Meantime he is under great pressure, the departmental strength having been reduced considerably. Finally there is a 36 year old lady who works for the Revenue and Customs. She is paid £14,000 and will have to find an extra £37 per month. She already buys supermarket brands to keep costs down and is near the end of her tether.
I am sure there are many more examples which show that the Fat Cats label does not fit the mass of public sector employees. Interestingly all of those we spoke to mentioned the ‘tax gap’ of £120 billion. This covers the massive tax avoidance practices of the rich and the large corporations. Not surprisingly Osborne is not prepared to tackle his friends, more surprisingly the opposition shows little inclination to do so either. Clearly the influence of the Blairites lingers on.
We all hope that a fair setllement can be reached but we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. Many public sector people do difficult and stressful jobs, social services being an obvious example. This government has gone to great lengths to discredit them, yet without them many vulnerable people would be in a very sorry state. We need them.
If ministers go down the road of taking further legal steps to ban the only outlet that exists for their pent-up frustration they may be in for a shock. They claim that the public are behind them, I have seen little evidence of that!
A REAL TEASER FOR YOU! A reader tells me that only 5% of Stanford University graduates managed it!!
Can you answer all 7 of these questions with the same 7 letter word?????
A hot and sunny morning on the allotments! We wandered about in a daze for this was a very rare experience, the sort of day when Blackpool beach sounds like a treat rather than the equivalent of Scott’s last journey. It was also the sort of day to trigger thoughts of cricket. Right now those are not positive thoughts, and I am not referring solely to yesterday’s bizaare Twenty20 between England and Sri Lanka. Pieterson and Morgan apart, this England side couldn’t have beaten a Co-op egg! Why players such as Bell are excluded is one of the great mysteries of the age!
But far more worrying is the gradual takeover of the administration of world cricket by India. The International Cricket Council (ICC) is cricket’s equivalent of football’s Fifa. In every sense! The ICC is already heavily influenced by the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), its present chairman is the former head of the BCCI, Sharad Pawar. Under the present rules there is a fixed term for ICC presidents and no one country can hold the office for two consecutive periods. At today’s ICC annual meeting in Hong Kong, India is proposing that once appointed a president can rule for life! Now that is even worse than Blatter at Fifa, he at least stages the occasional election, albeit a corrupt one of course.
Ridiculous, it simply can’t happen. Oh yes it can! As in the case of football many of the countries that vote scarcely play cricket. How can Argentina, Afghanistan etc be allowed to decide Test match schedules? But hovering in the background is Narayanswamy Srinivasan, the power in Indian cricket, the owner of Chennai Super Kings and the chief executive of India’s board. What he wants he gets. Remember the plan to reduce the next world cup to the top ten teams to eliminate all the one-sided and meaningless games that marred the last one? During a recent tea-break at a meeting in Singapore, the man of power talked to the various chief excutives who had just ratified the decision. When the meeting resumed the majority reversed the decision and the next world cup will be just as tedious as the last.
How is this overwhelming influence obtained? Geoffrey Boycott has no doubts. “Many countries that play cricket are frightened to death of India’s financial power. You’ve got TV stations queuing up in India to beam the coverage of their tours in to India and they pay a lot of money for that” says the outspoken Yorkshireman. He is clearly right, India has a vast audience for cricket and filming rights produce a bonanza for authorities often reduced to counting the piggy-bank.
So the odds are that this week will see a new order at the ICC with an Indian president taking the top job on a permanent basis. Two outcomes are obvious. The new umpires’ Decision Review System will be scrapped. It has proved popular with the fans but India has already refused to use it on the forthcoming tour of England. Of greater importance, there will be an eight week period each year when no international cricket will be allowed. This will give free rein to the Indian Premier League. That will be a financial body-blow to England. But even more important than that is the threat to good governance.
We all know from the scandal surrounding last year’s Test series with Pakistan that a cancer of corruption is spreading within the game. This emanates from Indian bookmakers who make fortunes, often in distinctly unethical ways. Millions of pounds change hands daily on such obscure things as the number of ‘no-balls’. The only body that can even attempt to keep this under control is the ICC. Need I say more?
The complex game of cricket is open to corruption like no other. It is already losing its reputation for fair play and a strong incorruptable ICC is the only hope. The idea that any single country should hold sway on a permanent basis is appalling, the idea of that being India, the home of cricket manipulation, even more so.
If this goes through Fifa will look a paragon of virtue by comparison. The English, Australian, New Zealand and South African delegations should walk out if necessary. That may only account for four votes but world cricket without the four would be less of a money spinner to say the least. India may hold all the power but matches played against Afghanistan and Argentina would soon show where the pulling power really rests!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Germany 2. Italy 3. Alan Titchmarsh 4. Gennell 5. Ernie Wise 6. China 7. Westlife 8. Potter 9. Holly 10. Colin Farrell.
HIGHEST SCORE SENT IN SO FAR; 8 BY J ROACH. HOW DID YOU DO?