School Holidays split at Easter

Easter has been early this year and schools have taken different holiday dates because some say the term was too short.  If you look after children and work it’s unfortunate that one child might be holiday for 2 weeks over Easter and the other child is holiday 2 weeks later.  What do you do, take 4 weeks off work and what if you want to go away.  At least one family has been fined because she took her children on holiday and one of them was at a school which wasn’t holiday.

Many people may not be over concerned about Academies taking over from local authorities but this has shown a disadvantage to parents as it’s mainly academies that have taken later holidays.  It is possible that it’s been detrimental to the national economy as no doubt some people have been unable to take holidays away or have had to take longer off work due to split holidays.  Surely schools in an area should all have the same holiday dates.

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EU: In or Out

The EU referendum is an important milestone.  Here are a few points from both sides, each one has counter points it seems.


No questions asked about being an unrestricted part of the biggest market in the World.

UK a place to invest for access to the biggest market.

Able to use the weight of the EU in international trade agreements with other big world powers.

Able to participate in setting standards for trading, business and regulation in the EU.

The EU is our biggest market for trade and will get bigger as it recovers.

The UK plays a big part in the EU and leaving it will make western Europe weaker against other parts of Europe, and all Europe weaker in the world.

UK able to veto EU measures and influence them towards our requirements.


More self governed, within international laws.

Will be able to trade with non-EU countries subject to new agreements or using World Trade Agreements.

Will be able to import food from cheaper countries.

Will be able to have own Human Rights Laws, maybe.

Will not have to pay to the EU £18bn a year of which we get £10bn back making £8bn.  Although we’ll need to pay for a free trade agreement with the EU and other unknowns.

Will be able to control our own borders, although the EU often insists on access as part of a trade agreement and being outside won’t change non-EU immigration.  There are millions of Britons in the EU and their future will be less certain.

According to Out campaigners the EU will be desperate to trade with us.  Although if 50% of your income came from one place against 10% for another do you not think the 50% would be the biggest pressure.

Will need to accept EU rules without having a say for most of our trade.

Potential risks to our Services industries an area that tends to be outside both the US and EU trade agreements.  Also the EU could take a stronger line on trading in the Euro by a country outside the EU.

Likely to create a hostile atmosphere make dealing with the EU more difficult, especially as the EU needs 27 countries to agree.

Leaving will create difficulties in the UK in that Scotland could agitate for another referendum, although how successful that will be isn’t known with the dependence on oil coming to the fore with the low price.

As yet the Out case appears a big risk and to create the so called Project Fear is a true reflection of the risks of leaving.

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Trident Nuclear deterrent?

A decision is due on replacing the existing submarines for the Trident nuclear weapon system.  These submarines are built in the North West of England.

Those who support it believe it is a deterrent and weapon of last resort that has made a major war unimaginable, making smaller conflicts the only option.  They also believe that Europe should play its part in defence of the west and not rely wholly on the USA.   The UK and France have this capability in Europe.  Several other countries in the world have the capability and others are developing it.  Another element is in maintaining  the thousands of skilled jobs involved with it.

Those against it point to the moral aspect of weapons of mass destruction and war in general. They believe that current wars are more related to insurgency than major attacks and that defence should be sized for that.  They also point to the cost and how the money could be better spent. Some are developing a case to say the technology is outdated.  Others think it makes them a more likely target.

No doubt most people would like to reduce defence costs although some say an alternative would be more expensive.  On the moral side the only country to have given up nuclear weapons is Ukraine and the UK was a signatory to the agreement to defend its borders. A rather thin guarantee in the end.

In reality the jobs aspect should have no bearing on the decision as it is a matter of defence need and it is likely that other submarines and more ships will be needed to carry alternative weapons as well as extra squadrons of aircraft.

Although using nuclear weapons appears unimaginable, as a weapon of last resort they definitely appear to have a deterrent effect.  As there are smaller wars happening in Europe and the Middle East and China is building new bases far out to sea it seems a risky option not to maintain the capability and hope that they are never needed.

The leader and some Labour MPs are aligned with the SNP and Green Party in wanting to remove nuclear weapons.  Although a large number of Labour MPs support the renewal.  The Conservatives support renewing the system and it is expected a vote in Parliament will approve it this year.


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EU referendum question

North West England has a lot of experience of working with other European countries in the aerospace and the automotive industry, also the travel industry and many others.

A point made by several politicians is that the EU will be desperate to negotiate a trade deal with the UK if it leaves and this gives us some advantage.

This seems to defy the common expectation that in most deals bigger does better.  The EU, US and China are big.   The UK is relatively small.  In fact the UK has a lot of people who would like to be one up on it.  So why will a separate UK will get a good deal off any of these or anyone else?  It would be good to know, answers please!

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Flood Repeat over Christmas

On the days up to Christmas the army were sent into Cumbria to build flood defences for the anticipated heavy rain on Christmas and Boxing Day.  As it happened the storm hit Lancashire and Yorkshire.  Repeat flooding in St Michael’s, Croston, Ribchester with Hebden Bridge and many places downstream including Leeds, Selby, York flooded.  Also north east Scotland.

York appeared to have the worst effects being at the confluence of 2 rivers and with a flood barrier to stop water from the Ouse going into the Foss and pumping from the Foss.  As the flood barrier mechanism got flooded a decision was made to open the gate sacrificing an area to save a bigger one, it was said.

Obviously questions are being asked about flood defences.  It appears defences built only recently weren’t enough.  There are many theories about dredging, opening flood plains, pumping, allowing woodland, different farming, building houses with different materials and styles, even houses on stilts.  The floods have been in all corners of the UK so where to invest, what to do is subject to a Parliamentary Committee said to report in April.  Watch that space, maybe.

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Flooding and Power Cuts December 2015

The north west of England and southern Scotland have suffered deep and widespread flooding from ‘Storm Desmond’ during the first week of December.  A band of heavy rain coupled with high winds caused rivers to burst their banks.  Carlisle was the worst effected, with Hawick, Keswick, Cockermouth, Glenridding, Appleby and further south St Michaels in Lancashire flooded.   Pooley Bridge a 200 year of bridges was washed away. Lancaster and Morecambe had long power cuts after electricity sub-stations were flooded.  Rail and road services were stopped and some places in the Lake District were completely cut off.  The road between Keswick and Grasmere was washed away and could take months to repair causing a huge diversion for residents who travel between there.

Both Carlisle and Cockermouth had suffered flooding in the not too distant past and had their defences improved.  However the floods broke over the top.  In Cockermouth some residents were better prepared with waterproof plaster, solid floors, tiled walls and electrics raised near the ceiling, some businesses were open within a couple of days.

The area that seemed worst hit was round the football ground in Carlisle.  The players came to help the residents.  The emergency services including volunteers did a great job. The RNLI, Mountain Rescue, Fire Brigades, Police, Ambulance, Army all working day and night.  The utility companies were working hard to get electricity, phones and services restarted.

In Glenridding in the Lake District a second flood occurred later in the weed and the river blocked with rubble wasn’t able to take it. Local contractors and volunteers came in to dredge the river through the night.

In Lancaster and Morecambe there was no power for days. Living in darkness. It was said candles and batteries and battery powered radios were selling well.  Bay Radio was on the BBC Today programme with a great report of their 24 hour live coverage using a generator and taking calls requesting assistance.

In St Michaels between Preston and Lancaster the Rivers Wyre and Brock combined and burst the flood defences, covering miles of fields with water as well as several houses and the village hall.

Later in the week a second smaller band of rain repeated the flooding in some places and by the end of the week it was snowing.

There are so many people who are willing to give their time and help.  Overall in these situations the best comes out of the vast majority it’s an inspiration really.

RNLI video of their rescue work in Carlisle.  A series of videos from various sources are on YouTube.

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High Speed Rail 6 years earlier

Today the government announced the high speed line to Crewe will be completed in 2027, or six years earlier than planned.  This could reduce the London to Crewe journey time by 45 minutes although we need to know if the trains can travel on standard track the rest of the way to Manchester.  Also trains to Glasgow travelling via Warrington, Wigan and Preston will have their journey times reduced.  The Pendolinos will surely be out of service by then but even those were originally planned for a 140mph service but the track wasn’t able to cope.

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Why does the MP for Aberdeen want to vote on English only laws

English Votes for English Laws seems a logical position but is strongly disputed by some.

There are those who say it creates 2 tiers of MP and that Westminster MPs are elected to a UK institution not an English one.  Yet in theory an MP represents a constituency not a party.  If legislation in Aberdeen is covered by the Scottish Parliament why does the MP for Aberdeen want to vote on the subject when it only applies to another country.

It is understandable that Labour and the Liberal Democrats will be against it as many of their MPs are, or were, in Scotland and Wales and so it decreases their power in England.

Another area of possible contention is that the speaker is to decide what is English only. England being by far the biggest country at what point is it said that only England is affected, is it 100% or 98% or less and can we trust the decision will be correct.

Like it or not though, it seems logical that if Scotland and Wales have full control over what happens on some subjects then there should not be the opportunity for them to have power in another country on the same subject, unless it obviously effects them.  Listening to the points raised against EVEL is listening to politics at its worst.


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Visit of Xi Jinping to the UK, investment and steel price

This week the big news is the visit of the President of China, Xi Jinping, to the UK.   Chinese investment in UK nuclear power is one of the main topics and a contract will be signed for Hinckley Point Nuclear Power Station.  There is also investment in the North West to be sought.  In the list is HS2 the high speed rail link to Manchester. Also investment in Manchester Airport City and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.   55,000 houses are proposed to be built in Manchester up to 2027, that’s around 5,000 a year.  A project called ‘The Atlantic Gateway’ seeks investment for the area between Manchester and Liverpool.

On a more negative side the guaranteed price for Hinckley Point electricity is £92 a MegaWatt according to the BBC website. This compares with £27 for standard electricity, although £125 for offshore wind.  Solar and on-shore wind being around £80.  There is a lot of money being put into expensive ‘green’ power and that’s another subject.

That leads to the other negative point which is the closure of the Redcar Steel Plant and redundancies at other steel plants.  One of the factors being that China now produces half of the world’s steel and a market slowdown has caused a glut reducing the price of steel to a half.  Some are accusing China of dumping cheap steel.  Although others say that is the price and the UK isn’t alone.  Other factors in the UK are energy prices which are said to be double those of other EU countries, because of green levies.  Also it is said that UK companies pay Business Rates on their property including the equipment on site.  Whereas equipment is excluded in most EU countries.  The government is being asked to intervene and there seems to be a good case.  If this is a short term market fluctuation then surely it is folly to lose your capability and then be dependent on overseas steel. Others may say that Redcar has been struggling for some time.   However Sajid Javid the Business Secretary seems to avoid the market fluctuation point and uses the EU as an excuse to take no action to save the plant. Instead the government seem to want to offer help to turn it into something else.  It appears that for some 15 years energy intensive industries have been put on the block by successive governments chasing plaudits for ‘green’ credentials.  So the Chinese over-production factor seems to be only an element in a complicated story involving our own governments over the years.

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The Beauty of the North West

The North West of England is a great place to live.  The northern half is all hills and lakes with attractive towns like Ambleside and Keswick.  Even the roads are great, the M6 winds through the hills at Tebay and climbs over Shap, there aren’t many better Motorway routes.

Rydal Water near Ambleside

Rydal Water near Ambleside

The central area is mellow hills and farmland with small cities like Lancaster and Preston, resorts like Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe on a flat coastal area of rich soil.  As well as interesting small places such as Arnside with its long viaduct and tidal bore coming in from Morecambe Bay.  Inland is the Forest of Bowland which is an area of hills, without trees, and pleasant market towns and villages.  Clitheroe and Whalley are two interesting towns, known for up-market wine merchants and up-market clothes stores respectively as well as a castle and an abbey, both ruined.  Blackburn, Burnley and Wigan are also in this area and both have interesting features including the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Cotton Mill museums.

To the south is Manchester and Liverpool and the county of Cheshire. Two great cities and a county full of interesting country houses and National Trust houses plus Jodrell Bank radio telescope.  There is also the area around Ramsbottom which has the interesting East Lancs Railway.  Liverpool has greatly upped its tourist attractiveness in the last few years.

The North West of England, which is about 120 miles long, 30 miles wide holds around 7 million people, mainly in the southern half and a wide range of things to see from city, hill, lake and sea.

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Pension Freedom Almost Here

Not long until April when those aged 55 can withdraw cash  from their pension pot and spend it.  This is a huge decision and not something to be taken without thinking and taking a lot of advice from as many knowledgeable and sensible people as you can.  You might end up giving a lot of it to the taxman or someone who might take a big cut.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

If it was me I wouldn’t be thinking it’s some kind of revenge on banks.  Unless cutting off your own nose is something you think worthwhile.

If it was me I wouldn’t be thinking I might die tomorrow, as my plan, as a retired person, is to live at least another 15 years and possibly 25 or even more.  Misfortune might happen but a Will is a good way to make sure it goes where you want in that case and a Will doesn’t cost that much to set up by a good Solicitor.

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Tuition Fee reduction promise

Labour are offering a cut in tuition fees to £6000 if they win the election.  Certainly this is to be supported.  £6000 was the original level the Coalition proposed and £9000 was to be only for the top universities.  However the Universities trumped the Chancellor and all said they wanted the higher fees to improve their facilities.

Now some say only those earning higher salaries are effected by the higher fees anyway so Labour’s policy actually helps the wealthy more than the poor.  Most people don’t get that, the shadow of a large debt is something no-one wants to have even if they don’t have to pay it off.

The universities are very wary too. Some think the Labour plan to tax pensioners might not yield as much as thought and that universities will need to cut back on their plans and some say they will need to take in more foreign students to make up funds.

The tuition fees policy has never satisfied all questioners.  Surely if many students don’t earn enough to pay it back the government will have to make up the difference.  Also the debt might encourage you to emigrate.  The whole thing is trying to make the best of a bad job.

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Defence Spending Cuts

There is debate about whether UK defence spending should be 2% of GDP.   Some say Russia spends 4% and is increasing it, the USA spends 4% and is decreasing.  Some such as wealthy Germany only spend 1.3%.  Considering relative GDP the USA is outspending all the rest put together.

We need to be sure no-one wants to take a chance threatening the UK and keep broad based, well equipped and highly trained armed forces able to deter, repel and to offer equivalent damage.  Much like a small bird can deter a large one due to the need for damage limitation.   2% shouldn’t be a fixation. The fixation should be is it fit for purpose in current and possible future scenarios.  Our democracy, freedom of speech and way of life are things we like to treasure but they can be changed in a matter of weeks if the wrong choices are made.


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Greek Elections

There is a lesson in the Greek election result.  Politicians can push a population so far but then it decides enough is enough and will go where no-one dared to go.  With 25% unemployed, an economy shrunk by 20% it’s surprising it hadn’t happened before.

The new Greek government doesn’t want to leave the Euro, it wants its debts written off.   That could be possible but no doubt there are assurances that will be needed and there is the possibility of a queue of countries wanting a write off of debt.   Will the leaders of the Euro blink.  They’ll perhaps write down the debt with a sham agreement.  Interesting to see.

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Wealthiest 1% in the world and overseas aid

This week there is surprise that Oxfam claim the wealthiest 1% own more than the other 99% in the world.

Another surprise is that a not too large £550,000 puts you into that 1%.

With £55,000 you are in the top 10% in the world.  That must include the majority in  the UK.

Should equality begin at home, in the UK, should it spread around the world in overseas aid.  Charity begins at home they say.  Although perhaps those coming across the Mediterranean would stay at home if extreme poverty could be relieved in their home country.  Some of both seems reasonable.

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Trident replacement?

The North West has an interest in the Trident replacement.  The submarines are built in Barrow and an alternative solution may involve aircraft from Lancashire.

Nuclear weapons are a horror there can be little doubt.   They are unanswerable in conflict except by other nuclear missiles or an expensive missile shield.  Perhaps they’re a symbol of globalisation and huge populations.  What is going to stop a country of a billion people or even a small country with nuclear weapons if they decided on conflict.

The deterrent provides an unacceptable loss to an aggressor as a last resort in response to an attack.  Or surrender.   Our country contains a lot of cultural wealth and natural resources and has a long history of being a major player on the world stage.  It’s also a good position to block Atlantic traffic.  Could it be ignored?

The USA wants Europe to do more for itself rather than leaning on Uncle Sam.  France and the UK will be expected to show they’re serious about defence.

We fudged the nuclear power decision in the early 2000s so now we’re playing catch up and estimated costs are astronomical.  We’re now not making a decision on Trident replacement when certain alternatives have a long lead time.

The LibDems asked for a report on alternatives as a condition of Coalition.  The options in the report are ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and bombs.  A change from ballistic to cruise is said to take 20 years meaning an interim will be needed.   The report roughly costed the options and showed that the alternatives are a bit cheaper than ballistic missiles but the interim solution makes them more expensive.  The UK could step back but it would be a major change and many things where we have influence would become more difficult. Over to the politicians.

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2015 General Election Forecasts, Lancashire

There will be a lot of General Election forecasts between now and May.  We found a seat by seat forecast written by Ian Dale who has Conservative leanings but has nothing to gain by being wrong.  So below is a summary of what he’s saying in Lancashire.

The Conservatives will lose 2 seats, the LibDems will lose 1 seat and Labour will gain 3 seats.  These are:

Lancaster & Fleetwood,  Morecambe & Lonsdale to be lost by the Conservatives.

Burnley to be lost by the LibDems.

Otherwise no change.

There are more close seats than the ones above and we don’t know what effect any move to new ‘protest’ parties and the shift away from the LibDems as a ‘protest’ party will have.

After the 2010 election it was said that the measures needed to balance the nations budget would be suicide for who-ever is elected.  Yet that isn’t necessarily the way it will turn out. There are so many other factors at play and the UK certainly hasn’t been as badly hit as many countries.

If you want to read more about the election forecasts used above click on the link below.

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English MPs to vote on English matters?

Today William Hague announced proposals for democratic decision making in parliament after giving more power to Scotland.  Basically it means English MPs voting on English only matters, Scottish MPs not voting on English only matters.  Sounds simple, sounds sensible but not everyone agrees.

The Liberal Democrats have an ‘alternative’ solution related to proportional representation.  The Labour Party see it as excluding them from ever having power on English matters as they depend on Scottish Labour MPs.  Naturally they have other ideas and want to take a lot of time to think about it.

UKIP and the SNP have a simple view on the subject and probably it’s the only time they’ll ever agree.  They both say Scottish MPs shouldn’t vote on English only matters.

There are those in the north of England, perhaps Labour supporters, who say they want more representation and freedom from Westminster.  Although you might think that would be another subject to be considered later and hopefully not a new layer of parliament.

Labour stood strongly against equalising the number of voters in each constituency as it reduced their seats.  The Liberal Democrats stood against equalising voters because the Conservatives didn’t vote for proportional representation and adjusting the House of Lords.  Neither seemed to be mainly concerned about accountability or democracy.  There are no doubt some long term effects that we need to consider if we go down the route of English MPs voting on English only matters, but you’d hardly think they will take years to ponder and thousands of hours of debate.

After Scotland gets its extra powers the first vote of significance in Parliament where Scottish MPs stand up on an English subject might have an interesting reaction.  It would be a shock if it was a Scottish Conservative MP that tipped the balance, particularly with their scarcity, but who knows what the effect minor parties will have.

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Inflation 1%, petrol 115p a litre

December has brought cheaper petrol and inflation dropped to 1%.  This seems like great news.  Will those businesses whose main costs are fuel reduce their prices?  Airlines with their fuel surcharges, buses.  Gas prices usually reflect the price of oil so will gas and electricity come down.

Inflation only 1% means a small pay rise should still leave you ahead.  Although anyone depending on inflation proof bonds will see a smaller income.  Many pensioners are being hit by low interest rates, although younger people are able to have a cheaper mortgage.

Where next, some say the low oil price could upset a few apple carts.  The Russians are being hit and it’s never easy to work out where they’ll be going.  US shale oil will be less profitable and the US turn round, which benefits us, has largely been based on shale oil replacing imported oil and stabilising the price.

Inflation only 1%. Will it become deflation?  The worriers are saying deflation becomes a spiral that is hard to get out of, using Japan as an example. It seems people put off buying things expecting prices to be lower next week.  The record of leaders all over Europe isn’t one to be over excited about if we’re expecting any answers.  It could be said in the UK we haven’t experienced a calamitous crash like they have in Greece, Spain and Ireland so we hope not being in the Euro will enable our economy to adapt better.

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Who will land on Mars first

The USA stepped up its space programme yesterday with the test launch and recovery of the Orion capsule designed for a manned journey to Mars and back.   The flight was the first time an inhabitable capsule has gone beyond low earth orbit for over 40 years.   Reaching 3600 miles and returning to earth.

A journey to Mars and back will take going on for 2 years.  The Martian year is almost double the Earth year so the flight can only be done when the alignments are right which only happens a few times a year.  This is a long term programme and unless serious rivalry builds it will be 20 years before the flight to Mars.

It’s fitting that the USA leads the space race as most of its population are born of those who took the step beyond the comfort zone to reach out for a place they knew little of.  Or knew nothing at all in the earliest visits where the risk of falling off the flat earth was a huge danger.

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