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‘Transport’

Osborne: robbing the poor to pay foreign businesses

George Osborne is looking increasing like one of the most profligate Chancellors of the Exchequer we have ever had, robbing the poor to pay foreign businesses.

  • Hinkley Point C nuclear power station £24.5bn
  • HS2 (high speed rail link from London to the North £46.2bn
  • Trident replacement £23.4bn

All those figures are almost certainly under estimates but still total close on £10obn, nearly enough to run the entire national health service for a year.

Hinkley Point is only possible by bribing the French state-owned EDF electricity company with the promise of  £92 Per megawatt-hour (to rise with inflation) which is twice the current wholesale electricity price. And then he promises the Chinese communist government to guarantee a loan. The private sector and bankers have looked at the scheme and won’t touch it.

If Hinkley Point goes ahead Sizewell C in Suffolk is almost certain to follow with a similar price and guarantees. Both these power stations are on low-lying coastal land subject to storms and total surges. Fukushima was safe until the tsunami.

HS2. The need for this project is hotly disputed with campaigners suggesting better ways of improving the rail infrastructure. Osborne has invited Chinese business to tender for work on the project.

Trident. Even the military is questioning whether this would be money well spent. One study of military opinion found “significant concerns about the costs and role of Trident. The funding crisis facing the Ministry of Defence means that spending on nuclear weapons is increasingly seen as unjustifiable when conventional equipment is needed and many in the armed forces have lost their jobs.” It looks like applying a cold war solution to the UK’s defence in a very different world. A US design for the submarines’ power plants is part of the plan.

Why Osborne thinks any of these projects is value for money or the British economy remains a mystery. In his budget this year Osborne cut £12 from the welfare budget.

I have bought a new car (petrol) and want to know how the engine is programed

I bought a new VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) car a couple of weeks ago. At my wife’s insistence our new Skoda has a petrol engine. She will not go near a diesel engined car if she can possibly avoid it.

Diesel fumes make her feel ill and her ability to detect them seems almost extrasensory. Sometimes when we are following a couple of hundred metres behind another car she will reach out and turn the ventilation control to recycle.

Invariably when I get close enough to see the back of the car clearly it turns out to be a diesel.

We wanted our new car to be as green as possible and be in the zero tax band. That is difficult with a petrol card. One which looked suitable turned out not to be available with the automatic transmission wanted.

The other zero tax car we looked at was a hybrid but a test drive ruled it out.

In the end our choice was between a VW Polo and the Skoda Fabia which share the same engine and automatic transmission and are in the lowest band where tax is payable. The Polo had one feature we wanted but after a talk with our broker who told us it would cost £75 a year less to insure the Fabia the decision was made. The reason seems to be the Fabia’s collision avoidance system.

We went into our search for a new car with open minds and looked at a lot of cars, One thing was very clear, the officially claimed petrol consumption figures are nonsense: everyone has known this for years. They are only useful to show a comparison between cars which all have to go through the some rolling road test which has little in common with the way humans drive.

The official combined mpg for our new car is 61.4. In reality we are getting about 10 mpg less.

At the heart of the Volkswagen diesel scandal is the computer program which runs the car. Clearly the settings are designed to get the best under rolling road test conditions.

It is apparently quite straightforward to get the settings changed for either economy or performance: just put “car chipping” into Google to see the huge number of businesses offering this service. But the car makers say this invalidates their guarantees: a restrictive practice?

Our Fabia, in fact, has two program settings: “normal” and “sport” which changes the speeds at which gear changes take place and reduces fuel economy.

I can see good reasons for not tinkering with the program. But we need to know how petrol cars as well as diesels are programed.

 

How Barclays insurance deals with a scratched car

 

Delivering a hire car in rural Suffolk

Even Conservatives are admitting that private is not always better than public when it comes to running things. As William Waldergrave, who was one of Thatcher’s ministers told the Times, people who believe “private companies are always more efficient than the public service have never worked in real private enterprise”.

Yesterday I saw an example for myself. This huge truck (seen from my bedroom window) was parked for more than two hours and I went out to find the reason.

Reason is perhaps not the right word. What was happening was completely unreasonable, and that is not because it was parked on a double yellow line.

This is the story I heard: A driver misjudged parking a car and made a small scratch on the car of a local businessman. As the car was fairly new he decided he should treat it as an insurance claim.

The insurance company said it would deliver a hire car, collect the damaged vehicle, return it when repaired and then collect the hire car.

The truck was there simply to deliver the hire car, a badly scratched Astra. The businessman was fretting that the driver who clipped his car would face a huge bill, not what he intended.

The insurance business that set all this in train was Barclays, who like to sell expensive add-ons to their banking services.

At last Network Rail bosses put lives before bonuses

It sounds like an admission that boardroom bonuses cost lives. Network Rail announced today that directors would forego this year’s bonus pool of £20 million and allocated the money to safety improvements at level crossings (Telegraph).

Everyone living in East Anglia, where there is a seemingly constant stream of accidents at crossings, knows that the campaign for safety improvements has been going on for years.

I trust none of the bonus money will be used to pay the fines of up to £1m expected after network rail admitted breaches of the Health and Safety Act for an incident in which two teenage girls died.

Basildon magistrates heard last week (Daily Mirror) that deficiencies in the way Network Rail had gone about risk assessment resulted in the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton (14) and Charlotte Thompson (13) at Elsingham in 2005. A risk assessment from four years before the deaths had been lost, the court heard.

A few days before the case was heard another teenage girl, Katie Littlewood (15) died at a level crossing at Bishop’s Stortford (BBC), less than six miles from Elsingham.

If the directors of Network Rail had put safety before bonuses earlier, Katie might still be alive.

Maybe, company directors are coming to realise the public revulsion at bonuses for simply doing their jobs.

More than 30 bus routes axed in Suffolk

More than 30 Suffolk bus services are to be axed in April as part of the planned halving of the £4.3million public transport subsides. More than 50 routes will have unspecified timetable/route changes and about 15 services will not longer run on evenings and/or Sundays.

The announcement appears as a list published on Friday on the Suffolk on Board website. There is no press release on the subject on the county council website, but on that evidence no press releases have been issued this month.

It is difficult to assess the effect of the cuts without a lot of local knowledge and more information on the timetable/route changes. About 120 routes, mostly run without subsidy, are not affected.

The council seems to have been drip-feeding information in what looks very much like a media management exercise.

On January 3, the East Anglian Daily Times reported “Fears as bus routes face axe“. It said:

Some fairly large market towns like Eye could be left with no buses at all and Halesworth faces being left with just one service.

Then on February 2, the EADT quoted, Guy McGregor, the councillor for transport saying:

This has been a very difficult process and we have tried to be as transparent as possible, but I can say core services will remain and rural areas will be served.

And on February 15, under the headline “Bus services saved in countywide deal” the paper said the service to from Diss to Ipswich, via Eye and Debenham, had been save. It reported:

Bus services to communities across Suffolk are looking more secure after operators were persuaded to run them on a commercial basis.

The list at Suffolk on Board says that, in fact, the service through Eye and Debenham will continue to be subsidised but there will be changes.

Transport boss is running late

Woodbridge, a town of 7,500 people, is to loose all its evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday buses, according to Caroline Page. You can read about that on her blog which led me to explore the website of Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council’s “minister” — I am fed-up with the term “portfolio holder” which makes people sound like art students —  for transport.

His “Suffolk reports” sounded interesting but it was last updated in June last year.  At least, the bus services are much more reliable — until they are cut.