Friday, March 30, 2007

Warrior Soul - The Wasteland

Saw Kory Clarke at Camden Underworld last week. He's still got it, and he still hates Republicans.

Check out his new band, too: Dirty Rig

808 State vs MC Tunes - The Only Rhyme That Bites '99

As I'm on a YouTube kick tonight, here's a bit more. MC Tunes went on to form the Dust Junkys, who as far as I can tell only put one album out, but it was a winner.

Unfortunately, I can't find any DJ videos, so you'll have to put up with 808 State.

Meanwhile, check out MC Tunes' site: Nicky Lockett

Love/Hate-Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?

Saw Jizzy Pearl the other day (again, at the Camden Underworld). Oh yes...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ruminations while delivering

I was out delivering newsletters today, on a long walk around the West side of Southgate. A few things made me thing as I was plodding about...

  1. Number 13. Some places have them, others don't. I know some people fear the number, but the practice is inconsistent. For example, the new houses behind Newlands Road and around West Street were all built at the same time. They have themed names (Winter Gardens, Autumn Close, Summer House, Spring Close), and yet while Winter Gardens hasn't got a 13, Autumn Close has. However, in a stroke of genius, it's in the wrong place. The numbers run in sequence, but 13 is after 8 and before 9. So it took a while to find it.

  2. Flats. Getting into them. This is pretty much a universal problem for deliverers of leaflets, flyers etc. Some places have a 'Tradesman' button which works between certain hours (usually early morning). Others have post boxes outside. Otherwise you have to hope someone left the door ajar, or try pressing buttons and hope that they let you in, or give up.

    Now that Royal Mail doesn't always deliver in the mornings, how do they ensure that they get letters into these places?
  3. Odd people. Well, only one today. She watched me walk up the drive and, unusually, opened the door. So instead of letting me post the thing, she initiated contact:

    "What's this?"
    "It's a newsletter, from the local Labour Party", I said.
    "Oh. We don't usually...." she said, pointing to the police sign saying that 'we don't answer the door to traders etc'
    (Clearly that's a lie, I thought) "Well, I was only intending to deliver it. Is that all right?"
    "Umm, well, no actually, you can have it back," she said handing it back.
    "Don't you want to know what is going on in the area?"
    "Not if it's from the Labour Party," she said, closing the door.

    Now later I had a moment of esprit d'escalier when thought that I could have come back with "So, if you don't read it, how will you know what to oppose?".

    Ho hum. As sometimes we end up short, it can sometimes be a good thing when they hand you back your leaflet - they weren't going to read it anyway (so clearly aren't actually interested in what we say, only what other people say we say).
  4. Mormons. Clearly the knocking on doors thing isn't working. I spotted a couple of young guys (clearly under 25) with badges saying 'Elder', approaching people on the street. Must be hard times for the evangelism industry.

A Scottish SF writer who makes you think, but isn't Iain M Banks

Although he is, apparently, a friend. Ken MacLeod knows his stuff when it comes to left-wing groupuscles. I read The Star Fraction a few months ago, and immediately bought The Stone Canal to devour in a few sittings.

He seems to enjoy discussing the variants of socialist and liberal/libertarian thought. The other day I looked him up on Wikpedia and found his blog - The Early Days of a Better Nation Currently it isn't being used much, but check out the post on Saturday, January 27, 2007 - it starts off discussing Mao, and winds all over the place but in a fascinating and coherent way.

I'd give my arms to be able to writet like that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Forum for Crawley interwebbers

A while ago, someone tried to set up a bulletin board covering Crawley. Unfortuantely, hardly anyone knew about it, and only a few weeks after I signed up it folded (presumably because the owners hadn't kept up the payments).

However, yesterday a brand new Crawley-wide BB was set up -

It's only in its infancy, and it seems that the format has been directly lifted from the long-established maidenbower forum, but hopefully it will develop over time.

I wonder if it was set up in response to some odd behaviour on Maidenbower. Last week, there was confusion as a moderator changed the blanket word-change facility (usually used to replace rude words with symbols), annoying a few people. It's also clear that some people have multiple identities (inlcuding moderators), and this sort of thing undermines trust.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Not a waste

Apparently the £19bn extra funding into the NHS is mainly 'wasted', with only £5.9bn going directly to improved care.


Don Paskini begs to differ, and I can see what he means.

1) +6.6bn on pay. Nurses were underpaid in 1997. Now they get a reasonable wage. Someone had to pay it, and hopefully the improvements in pay will have had a positive effetc on morale. Which might help make the NHS a nicer place to be. Now, I also think that GP and Consultants contracts have been badly set up, but there are thousands of people in the NHS who fully deserve a better wage.

2) +2.2bn on drugs. This includes not only price increases (which the NHS can't do much about) but also the new treatments sanctioned by NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) to improve care

3) +1.6bn to employ more doctors to comply with EU working time directives. Do you remember when Junior Doctors were working 60+ hours a week? Falling asleep on shift? No more. I reckon that there must be some benefits, if only in that junior doctors don't burn out before they fully qualify.

4) +1.1bn on new buildings. Some of the old buildings would clearly have been detrimental to health services. New buildings may well have had indirect beneficial effects

5) +1bn on medical equipment. Now, this is silly. Surely more spent on new equipment is going to help improve care. Or perhaps we should just use the old stuff until it breaks.

6) +0.6bn on medical negligence lawsuits. Ok. But in the scheme of things it's not much compared to the other 18.6bn. On one positive side, it may well mean that mistakes are not repeated, having been brought out into the open.

This still leaves the 5.9bn going 'directly' into improvements, such as reduced waiting lists (what used to take 18 months now takes 18 weeks, a 75% cut in waiting times), more doctors and nurses, better provision of day surgery, less time in hospital for elderly patient...

The line that the extra cash is wasted is pernicious. It suggests, and supports the idea that the NHS is not worth funding. But it is. For example, healthcare in the USA costs twice as much, and is no more effective in terms of comparable outcomes.

The NHS was crap in 1997, it's better now, but not perfect. We (the taxpayers) spent more money on it. Had that money not been spent, the current problems would be chickenfeed.

[edited 22/3]

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Henry responds

This is a long one....

Back at the start of February, I challenged Cllr Henry Smith on his Campaign 4 Pease Pottage Hospital proposals. The basic gist of it is here.

After a bit of banter on (I came in around page 12) I boiled it down to seven questions. Henry finally (about a month later) has answered them.

The questions are shown in bold. Henry's answers in italics. My response is in green.

  1. What are the credentials of the professionals who produced the report? (as a supplementary, can I ask whether any of them are affiliated to the Conservative Party or if they have interests in the Private Health sector?)

    The working group set up to consider the project included clinicians, a former senior DOH official, a retired local authority chief executive and private sector executives. The paper was drafted by Adrian Brown, a former managing Director of Tarmac plc's Management Division, which has been responsible for building, financing and running many large public sector projects including several large acute hospitals. Preliminary discussions were also held with other companies including Healthcare Projects, a healthcare company with experience of managing some of the largest new hospital projects in the NHS including Barts & The London NHS Trust, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire and South Derbyshire Acute Hospitals Trust Derby. They found our proposals innovative and they assisted by modelling the travelling times for a new hospital at Pease Pottage. Discussions continue with other interested parties.

    Mr Brown, who also served as Chairman of the Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, has no affiliations with any political party, and has no interests in the Private Health sector.

    That addresses who Mr Brown is (I couldn't work it out from a google search). It also seems that private companies are being consulted, although I suppose we can't know too much about their involvement if it is 'commercially sensitive'.

    It would have been nice for C4PPH to have been up front about who authored their proposals, a list of three names at the bottom is almost meaningless.

  2. Why has training and the issue of Royal Colleges guidelines not been addressed, particuarly as it affects the assumption on a viable catchment area?

    Patient numbers and throughputs need to be accurately modelled and an suitable model of care developed working closely with clinicians, other stakeholders and the Royal Colleges. This is planned as part of the second phase of the project. There is no uniform model of care suitable for every region. Of particular relevance is the BECAD model developed by the DOH and also models of care used in other European countries, especially those with lower population densities.

    Except, of course, that the UK has a fairly high population density, and this part of the South East is hardly desolate. It may well be appropriate to apply BECAD to areas like North Yorkshire or the Peak District, but we are not there.

    Of course, the short answer is 'No, but we hope that when we do, they don't completely change things, or worse still rule out our assumptions'

  3. How exactly were the estimated figures arrived at - particularly the running costs one?

    Capital costs were based on the actual completion costs of two 500 bed acute hospitals in the Midlands with an adjustment applied to bring the cost base up to current costs. Frimley Park NHS Trust was used as a basis for operating costs as its scope of services is similar to those proposed, it is well run (Foundation Trust), operates from a single site and is in the south east close to a Motorway in an area of high employment and relative affluence. As a comparator, Rotherham Foundation Trust was also looked at. It is a similar hospital but located in the north east where employment levels and relative affluence can be expected to be somewhat lower. There was virtually no difference in the cost base. Both hospitals have c 700 beds so costs were adjusted accordingly.

    I'm pretty sure that is not the 'exactly' I asked for. It adds little more than the document provides itself, that they adjusted the figures. I wanted to know how the adjustment worked.

  4. Are there local factors that differ between here and Camberley that might effect running costs and the viability of this plan - such as staff turnover/availability, employment base, etc?

    See answer to Q3.

    That doesn't cover the question. This area has historically poor history regarding NHS finances. There must be some root cause, and it goes back further than 1997. Before that, Crawley was threatened with closure, Horsham was downgraded. Given that the NHS will be paying the revenue bills, how can we be sure that whatever it is that is wrong won't just be continued?

  5. Why propose private management for a major hospital including A&E? Where is a similar model already successfully employed?

    Why not? The private sector has been encouraged to run many aspects of public services both in the NHS and in other sectors. Diagnostic & Treatments Centres (DTCs) e.g. Redwood at East Surrey Hospital which is run and managed by BUPA delivers excellent care and value. ITCs (Independent Treatment Centres) are owned and run by the private sector to treat NHS patients. It is only suggested that this option be considered. Also suggested is that the option of a not-for-profit trust be considered to own the hospital if the conventional NHS PFI route is not followed. This will allow the substantial profits made bythe PFI providers to be used to improve patient care.

    There are currently no hospitals in this country where the A&E function is under private management. ITCs have so far been small, with no more than a simple 'cuts and bruises' clinic rather than a real casualty department. They also rely on elective private surgery to work profitably, and around here I suspect that there is a bit of competition for that (Gatwick Park? Redwood?). Combined with the idea that this will be pretty much a District General hospital, which will mean much of the throughput will be NHS rather than private, I wonder if this will actually be 'substantially profitable'. Of course, if the PFI / private health management company make a loss, what happens? Does the NHS (ie: John Q Taxpayer) pick up the tab? Or do services suffer?

  6. Other than spelling mistakes, what errors in the report have been missed?

    The basis of the report is clearly set out.

    So does that mean there are no errors in it? Or tha he can't find any?

  7. Why can't the Bagnall proposals not form the basis for a campaign?

    The Bagnall report provided a valuable insight into healthcare options several years ago. Healthcare has moved on since then and there is more scope for innovative thinking. We have shown how a modern hospital can be provided (albeit somewhat differently than the standard NHS model) to treat local patients. The model proposed provides state-of-the-art healthcare, a strong element of local control and management, no additional financial burden on the NHS and employment opportunities not only for the hospital itself, but for the other healthcare related facilities which it is anticipated will be attracted to the site.

    However, Bagnall basically concluded that the area (North Sussex & East Surrey) could only sustain one major General hospital. That's why Crispin Blunt hates it, because the top recommendation was to move that one hospital from near Redhill to near Crawley.

    The trends in healthcare have not altered substantially in the last 5 years, although perhaps the financing has. We knew in 2001/2 that there would be less need for people to spend a long period on a ward before and after surgery. We knew then that emergency care was more dependent upon the speed with which a paramedic could arrive on scene and what they were capable of.

I have to say, I don't find these answers very convincing. There is something to these proposals, but the one area that really concerns me is that they appear to have been knocked up in order to back up the campaign, rather than the other way around. As a result, the plans have not been thought through, and the proposers are still waiting for the 'next phase' before they find out whether it's actually viable from the point of view of training accreditation for medical staff.

Cameron gets a policy - 'screw the workers'

Our mate Dave, the smooth-talking old Etonian who hopes to be the next next PM has a reputation for being all fluffy and lacking in substance. Of course, the whole problem with the Tories is that everybody likes him, but not traditional Tory politics. So he has to suggest that he is different. New.

So, while it's been kept a little quiet, it's eye-opening when the Tories do adopt some kind of stance on a policy. Alan Duncan and David Cameron both support this: 'Campaign for Enterprise' and Mr Duncan helped launch their 'Manifesto for Small Business Freedom'(click the Discussion Document link at the bottom for a 121KB pdf).

The policies include:

Policy Recommendation 9 - Repeal Stautory Dismissal and Grievance Procedures in their entirety.They say the Unions don't like them. What they don't mention is that unions think that they are nowhere near strong enough.

Policy Recommendation 10 - Increase the qualifying period for Unfair Dismissal from one year to two years.So employers can sack people for no good reason, you see. If you have a good reason, they can't do you for 'Unfair Dismissal'.

Policy Recommendation 11 - Reduce the maximum compensatory award from £55,000 to £25,000
At least they don't want to go back to the pre-1997 level of £12,000. Let's look at this. If you have an average salary, about £20,000, and it takes more than a year to get your case through (which is quite possible), you can't get full compensation for lost income.

Policy Recommendation 12 - End compulsory Trade Union recognition (for companies with 20-99 employees, smaller companies are already exempt).

Policy Recommendation 13 - Repeal the Human Rights ActEh? I'm not sure if these people or the Tories get this, but the HRA only imports the European Convention on Human Rights into our Law. So repeal would mean that we go back to the pre 1998 situation of cases going to the European Court. Now, we could withdraw from the ECHR I suppose (which is not aligned with EU membership, by the way), but I suspect that Mr Churchill would be spinning in his grave. The EHCR is not even as strong as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which we signed up to over 50 years ago.

Basically, if you think Cameron is just a slightly greener version of the 1995 Blair, or that the Tories are better, nicer people than they were in government, think again.

(hat tip Action Without Theory)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Logo confusion

The Crawley News had a nice little report about the possibility of changing the Borough Council's logo. A local historian has suggested the shield from the original Crest given to Crawley New Town back in 1957.

In the article, the News claims:
But the sheild, decorated acorns and crows, was abandoned in 1974 and has not been used since

This was on page 21.

On Page 22 is a picture of the Mayor, Sally Blake, presenting a mouse mat to a young child who had some good ideas on litter. The mouse mat is emblazoned with Crawley's full coat of arms...

In case the News hadn't noticed, the full coat of arms is also present in very large form hanging on the back wall of the Council Chamber. All mayoral letters are headed with it.

Oops, these local papers certainly know their subject, don't they?

[edit - Seems that they do. They wrote to let me know that the original version of this article had the Mayor's name as 'Sally Green'. Cheers!]

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Harry Barnes on Iraq & Nick Cohen

I added Harry Barnes' Three Score Years and Ten to my blogroll a while ago, and his latest posts demonstrate the calibre of the man:

Firstly, he critiques Nick Cohen's What's Left in quite a bit of detail. He's been extremely thorough in showing where he agrees with Cohen, where he doesn't, and most importantly, with good arguments.

Secondly, he demonstrates how Cohen has ignored people like him who opposed the Iraq War, are critical of the US and UK occupation and yet offer support for Iraqis, particularly socialists and trades unionists.

I have, following Harry's posts, gone here: to do a small bit.

I notice that Nick Cohen has been too busy promoting his book to publicise the efforts of Trade Unionists to support their Iraqi counterparts in the matter. It's easy to be 'leftier than thou' isn't it!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

You are not allowed to publish this picture

On account of how it's of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and his chums in the Bullingdon Club:
For those not aware of the Bullingdon Club, it's a exclusive group for Oxford students. The uniform costs a packet. They are notorious for their drunken antics, which go up to vandalism on a grand scale. When caught they (or their daddies) offer to pay their way out of trouble. Boris has disclosed a 'night in the cells' for one outing, which means, apparently he can sympathise with the suspected terrorist held for 28 days without charge.

New job

Last night was the Crawley Labour Party AGM. A pretty dry affair, except for when the old personal feuds get dragged into things.

However, the upshot is that I have been elected to the post of 'Press Officer'. As a result, I have added the disclaimer to the bottom of this website - what I put here is from me, and is not part of that role unless explicitly stated (in which case it will probably be part of a press release anyway).

The weird thing for me is that until recently, the post didn't exist. In fact, it was only created because when I was the Chairman back in 2004/5, I urged the party to look at how it dealt with publicity.

I should have known that I'd end up with the job some time.

[edit - for clarification, this job is not a paid position, and it is not for Laura Moffat, but for the local Party]

Technical Woe

What a fortnight I've had!

Two weeks ago, I dropped my laptop and broke it. Luckily the main parts worked - processor, hard drive, networking - but the screen and monitor output were dead. Crawley Computer Centre and my home insurance both told me it was 'beyond economic repair'. So I had to wait for that to be confirmed and a replacement to be sent out.

In the meantime, I had to use my old desktops. I have two, because neither can handle being connected to the internet for long before throwing a wobbly, and one can handle some sites while the other refuses to see them (and vice versa). This meant it took ages just to read emails, and the only reliable way to post here was the Blogger email interface.

Then, the phone line went on the blink, my MP3 player decided to take a dislike to a large number of tracks (which I can't refresh, because I used the old, dead laptop to burn them), the internet stopped working completely and my car battery went flat.

Now, the new laptop has arrived, all of the other bits are fixed (except the MP3 thing), and everything is lovely.