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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20mph Speed Limits – any logic

The 20mph speed limits in residential areas seem to have a case, especially as I get older – can’t have all those people dashing about.  But is it the case of the sledgehammer and the nut.

Looking at the UK Accident Map of our area, made before the limits were introduced, the vast majority of accidents are on main roads.  In our local area not a single accident was in a side road.  Restrictions outside schools, parks or playgrounds are understandable, but when every avenue, some only 50 yards long,  has a pair of signs and some schools on main roads have no signs, there seems to be little logic.

Walk under a mile into the centre of the small Lancashire town where I live and there are 24 signs saying 20mph, including my own avenue.  One avenue has only a few houses and is about 50yds long.  The big school near our house is on wide road with a bend and a slope and has a 30mph limit.  Spend any time in an avenue and you won’t notice any reduction in most vehicles speeds.

So was the £9million spent by Lancashire County Council good value. Someone will say their Willie was saved, but maybe the car would have been 30 yards further up the road and wouldn’t have hit Willie.  Although they do let us know that hitting a pedestrian at 20mph has a much reduced effect.

The council tell us they’re saving the environment although cars aren’t designed to travel at a constant 20mph, so we use more fuel, give off more gas, it costs us more money and makes more noise.  Takes longer for vehicles to pass and delays buses and pedestrians.

I wonder, how many fewer accidents there has been with this policy and if a 20mph sign outside the new Local Supermarket on the main road with cars parking all over the place would be more sense.

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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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The Working Class can …….

It was a decent, if a bit juvenile, joke long ago to change the words of the Red Flag to ‘the working class can kiss my ass, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last’.  Now many commentators are saying it’s coming to being, but it’s Labour who’ve left behind the working class.

Labour are now seen as representing a portion of the middle class, mainly public servants, while UKIP represent what working class voters are worried most about.

There have been changes to society in the last 30 years.  It is said the middle class is now bigger than the working class so perhaps the shift is inevitable.   During the 13 years of Labour government there was a widening wealth gap with some using the term underclass to represent a new strata of society.  Perhaps due to this UKIP look like an answer.

UKIP offer a blokish leader and a couple of headline policies but beyond that it’s not easy to understand their appeal.  Their policies tend towards marketeering, far from traditional Labour.  So maybe society has become too mollycoddling and too much thought has been banned by the politically correct.   Perhaps some think a harder edge, calling a spade a spade, is also what UKIP are offering.

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That’s Living Alright – Pensions below poverty.

Low pay £7.69/hr or 2/3 of median wage.    £307 a week.

Poverty £5.78 or 1/2 median wage.  £231 a week.

Minimum wage £6.50/hr.  £260 a week.

Living wage £7.89.  £315 a week.

State Pension £2.85!  £113 a week.

Based on 40hr week, excluding other benefits.

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Vote for better Trains in the North

Politicians are rushing to make friendly noises towards the north using promises of better trains.    We have High Speed 2 which David Cameron says he supports. High Speed 3 which George Osborne is supporting.  Replacement of old trains which Nick Clegg is proposing.  Although serious spending on all these is a long way away.

There is train called the Pacer which is really a bus on rails and we have plenty of these on the Northern Rail franchise.  They’re often used to lengthen trains, putting a couple on the back.  They’re abysmal.  The biggest insult is that it’s said they would never be accepted in the south.   Nick Clegg must have picked up this subject from an article by rail expert Christian Woolmar in a newspaper a couple of weeks ago.

High Speed 3 isn’t a high speed track like the French one.  It’s just faster than present.  In reality faster trains aren’t that difficult to arrange.  You just make them stop at less stations.   Liverpool is badly served in this way.  Many trains from the north seem to stop at endless stations, it takes 30 minutes longer on most trains to reach Liverpool from north of Preston than it does to reach Manchester.

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Ed Miliband’s Senate

Ed Miliband declared that a Senate will replace the House of Lords.  This is meant to make the upper chamber more representative of the whole of the UK.  It will also be elected.  It seems a logical proposal as the current set up appears to enable chums to be appointed in large numbers mainly from the South East.

There are many ways this change could be done.  One option is to have elected, appointed and hereditary peers with elected ones always being in the majority.

There also needs to be minimum qualification to stand for a Senate post.  We don’t want second rate councillors and other party hacks such as stood for Police Commissioners. People who stand for the Senate should have spent a lot of time at a high level in a major organisation.  Although it seems unlikely that many of those would want to go through an election campaign.  Also, a shot in the foot, it’s unlikely that many such high standing people exist outside the South East.

Changing the current system is sure to be a minefield with politics likely to be as important than how the nation is governed.  Also the Lords will have to vote on it.  Do we think it will happen?  Seems unlikely.

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