See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

As hospitals wake up to the change over of 30,000 young doctors today, one hospital in particular will be welcoming back a Raj Mattu after five years.  The significance of this?  Well Mr Mattu has been serving a five year suspension from Walesgrave Hospital in Coventry for being a whistle blower.  He did the outrageous act of exposing the scandal of overcrowding on his heart attack recovery ward - which he believed led to cause of 11 deaths because they could not be reached in an emergency by resuscitation teams.  See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil - the apparent motto of Walesgrave

Measuring targets

The justification given by the Environment Agency for the bonuses taken by their managers is that they had achieved 42 of their 45 performance-related targets. There has been much debate about whether the bonuses were appropriate in the circumstances, but besides the important points of principle, has anyone checked to see what those targets consisted of?

For the benefit of our readers, I have now waded through them. They are listed with comments below, but in summary, it was 42 out of 59 (not 45), most of the 42 were insignificant, bureaucratic or suspect (often some combination of the three), some of the other 17 were more significant than the 42, and most of the 59 were inappropriate tools for measuring their performance regardless of success. Highlights included:

  • Success claimed in influencing planning decisions in relation to development in the floodplain, in offering an appropriate flood warning service to properties in the flood plain, in getting more people to take their advice on flooding, and in delivering their flood risk management programme. If this is success, you've got to wonder what their definition of failure would be.
  • They redefined their failure to achieve their targets for the number of houses protected from flooding and the condition of the flood risk management systems as "partial achievement" (in much the same way that teachers wanted to refer to failure as "deferred success"). This allowed them to leave these factors out of the consideration of their overall success in meeting their targets - their logic seems to be: "it's neither success nor failure, so we just won't count it at all". In the case of the flood risk management systems, this "almost success" consisted of a little over half the systems being in their target condition.
  • One of the targets which they admitted they had not achieved was for emissions of priority pollutants to be going down. Just a minor part of the EA's role, but obviously not as important as their successes in increasing the proportion of ethnic-minority employees in their workforce to a full 2.7%, getting positive media coverage, putting "workforce plans" in place, and not having too many accidents.
  • They have, apparently, made themselves more efficient, dealt with permit- and planning-applications on a timely basis, reduced the administrative burden that they place on business, and generally delivered such a great "service" that most of their "customers" are happy with them. Honestly. Why are you laughing....

Poll Result - And the new poll: The Environment Agency Bonuses

It seems Picking Losers has an overwhelming readership that are either staunch believers in the right for the individual to choose or you are a bunch of hippies. 61% of you voted to legalise cannabis regardless of the harm both physically and physiologically it can do you. A quarter of you want it reclassified as a class B drug and only 12% were happy with the Blair government’s policy.

D-Day at the NHS

Following up another long running story that will go "live" tomorrow is the big doctor change over.  Thanks to some brilliant planning at the DoH, 30,000 junior doctors will all change jobs at once tomorrow.  It will mean that many patients who have been waiting months for routine surgery - such as a hip replacement or hernia repairs - will have to rejoin waiting lists all over again.  There have also been fears, going back many months now, that patient health will be put as risk in the chaos.  Remedy UK, which represents junior doctors - a role which many feel the British Medical

In vino veritas

Changes to EU rules may put many British winemakers out of business, The Observer reported yesterday. Britain being an inhospitable country in which to ripen grapes to their full sugary concentration, British winemakers often add sucrose or grape must to their fermenting grape-juice, to ensure a sufficient alcohol content. The EU intends to ban the use of sucrose, and stop subsidies on grape must. The EU will also continue its ban on planting more vines, thus preventing the recently British wine production from being expanded. Should we feel sorry for the British producers?

How green is your house?

An eco-house in Pembrokeshre with a minimal carbon footprint is to be demolished because planners judged that it "failed to make a positive environmental impact", The Times reports. Of course, carbon footprints are a lousy way of measuring environmental impact, but any fool can see that not just the house but the way the occupiers live their life has minimal impact on the local or global environment.

Policy Announcements, Monday 30 July


  • US President George W Bush and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown have pledged to forge a strategic relationship based on values shared between both nations. They met at Camp David, near Washington, their first meeting since Mr Brown succeeded Tony Blair as UK PM. Talks focused on issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and world trade. Mr Brown denounced terrorism as a crime, not a cause, while Mr Bush said the UK fully understood the importance of striving for success in Iraq.  


The cost of war

The going rate for a serving soldier who comes home from war suffering from "permanent severely impaired grip in both hands" is a £16,500 one-off compensation payment.  Probably just as well for the tax payer given the thirst for war Britain has had over the past five years or so.  To me that does seem a little low, however, seeing as the soldier will not be able to get employment in anything involving his hands again (just about everything, then).  There is the old argument that this is what they sign up to and they should expect the worse - but I'm still not sure that means

The return of HIPs

You didn't think I'd forgotten had you?  In two days it will be the belated launch of the Home Information Packs.  The watered down, meaningless, poorly thought out, incompetently implemented scheme will going live on 1st August for all properties with four or more bedrooms.  No doubt there will be plenty of horror stories over the coming months associated with the HIPs scheme.  The latest fear is that the Valuation Office Agency, the body responsible for deciding a property's council tax band, is said to have applied for access to the information, which it could then use to ass

London flooded or Miami wrecked? More bad weather on the way

Piers Corbyn, the man who has successfully forecast, weeks or even months ahead, much of this summer's extreme weather events, has issued a warning of further heavy rainfall on 5th-9th and 18th-23rd August. He also warns that there is a serious risk of flooding in London, as the floodwater from this rainfall hits the spring tides of 12th and 28th August.

London under waterI have no idea about the conditions required to cause flooding in London. We are often told (for instance by Ken Livingstone only this week in questions on the Olympics) that London is protected from flooding for at least the next fifty years by the Thames barrage. But given Piers's record (he was bang on with the rains of 12th-14th June and those of 24th-26th June, which caused the Sheffield and Hull flooding, but was out by two days in forecasting the recent heavy rain for 22nd-26th July, when it actually fell mostly during the period 20th-23rd July), and the less impressive record of the Government and the Met. Office, I would be inclined to take at least the weather forecast part seriously, and to ask questions of the Environment Agency about whether the conditions he forecast could really result in serious flooding in London.

The economic consequences, if Piers is correct, could be significant. He has written to Gordon Brown to warn him. We'll see whether the Government will take the threat more seriously this time, and take more decisive action to put preventative and rescue measures in place.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, we are well into Hurricane Season, which officially begins on 1st June. So far, it seems to have been a pretty quiet one, though one wouldn't expect the big storms yet - they tend to be concentrated between August and October. The Season Outlook issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the end of May warns that it is very likely (75% probability) to be an above-normal hurricane season. This is not, as will doubtless be claimed if the Outlook turns out to be right, because of global warming, but because of "1) the continuation of conditions that have been conducive to above-normal Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995, and 2) the strong likelihood of either ENSO-neutral or La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean." As La Niña conditions have been fingered for our bad weather, it looks like that part of the forecast has been fulfilled, which was expected to lead to more extreme events than if there had been ENSO-neutral conditions.

All-in-all, it looks like this year could be a humdinger of a hurricane season, if the US government agency's models are right. It's always possible that the weather confounds the models, or that the models are wrong. Even if not, the agency is keen to point out that the scale of damage is not necessarily proportional to the activity of the season, as the precise paths of the hurricanes are an important factor in the scale of damage, and these paths cannot be predicted accurately. But it's yet one more risk of a high-cost weather event.

It must already be a pretty bad summer for insurers, given that southern Europe is experiencing its own extreme weather, Eastern India is under water, Japan has been hit by the strongest typhoon on record for a July, while in China, they seem to be managing to have floods and droughts almost simultaneously. If either or both of these threats - flooding in London, or a hurricane-strike on another major American city - occur, it could cause significant difficulties for the insurance industry. And any circumstance where high payouts are a risk can only mean one thing - higher premiums. It's just one more thing to add to the ongoing squeeze on the budgets of most households and businesses nowadays.

Blowhards at The Economist

Time was that the first questions that The Economist, confronted by a proposal, would pose were: "is it a good idea?" and "is it economic?" No longer, under the regime that has ruled there for the past eighteen months or so. They really ought to change the name of the magazine.

This week's edition reports on ideas for distributing and storing renewable electricity. The articles are placed in the Science and technology section, presumably on the basis that it takes science to do it, though the ideas on which the articles are based are over a century old. On this basis, their reports on the automotive industry ought to go in the Science and technology section too. It takes science to make the internal combustion engine work.

The ideas considered are that (a) we can smooth out the intermittency of certain types of renewable electricity if we have a big enough grid, and (b) we can store some of that intermittent energy, to use it when we want it rather than when it is available, by compressing air. Well yes, of course we can do it, but is it a good idea? All sorts of things are feasible that aren't worth doing.

A great day to bury bad news!

While we're on the subject of MP finances, the Tories have taken a very cynical view of the government and its attempts to bury bad news - such as MP wages and expenses rising by 5.5% or the 8% rise in the cost of private cars by government ministers last year.  The tax payer can also expect to give our hard working MPs a salary rise for next year.  In fact, just as parliament went in to recess yesterday for their long, long summer break (the sort the rest of us - except teachers - can only dream of) the government spurted out 76 announcements to the Commons.  All in the space of 48 hou