Sometimes dismissing the old while embracing the new does not make for real progress. It is change without improvement.
There are so many examples in everyday experience that you would think that everyone was aware that pursuing the new was not necessarily a route to a better life.
Take the use of plastics. As a London commuter in the 1990s the majority around me were drinking bottled water out of single-use bottles. The branches of W H Smith in the main stations must have sold millions of bottles over the decade. Then the attitude was only the old or deluded were not smart enough to adopt this essential lifestyle improvement. Water shipped in – ideally from some exotic location – was de rigueur.
Similarly no one brought their own bags with them when shopping. Carrying your own bags was even considered as labelling you as a potential shoplifter. Everyone was given nice clean, shiny, disposable plastic ones when checking out. It avoided the hassle of carrying a reuseable one. It was the modern convenient way to go. Again it was only the old fashioned that declined to follow such new ideas.
How different in Grandad’s childhood – milk and pop in re-useable, returnable bottles; groceries in sturdy bags and household junk collected by rag-and-bone men for recycling. A process that has been replaced today by a never-ending stream of single-use plastic bags being pushed through letter boxes all around the country every day of the week. Not very eco-friendly!
Certainly plastic has become an essential material in the 21st century – but we now need to be a bit more old fashioned and wise in what we use it for …
It seems that Grandad was wrong! The UK’s net weekly contributions to the EU are now estimated at far more than than the £121 million we have been using to date. Stories circulating today quote Office of Budget Responsibility’s estimates for 2017 to 2022 at more than twice our previous figures.
So rather than painting a black picture of EU’s consumption of our taxes Grandad has been seriously understating how much the Brussels Eurocrats have been syphoning off from the British economy – and out of our essential services. Apologies to all for making the EU seem less of a financial burden than it actually is …
The project that was too big to stop – the High Speed rail service between London and Birmingham (HS2) – received its final political approval today. Phase one of the £55,700 million scheme is scheduled to start construction within a few months and be open for fare-paying passengers in nine years time.
This will be followed by Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe around a year later and Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds sometime in 2033 – if things go well.
The reasons why this approach to rail network improvement makes good economic sense when compared to the alternatives are hard to find or – more likely – non-existent. Simply following the example set by the motorways and upgrading existing routes to four track instead of two – while also doubling the production of conventional high speed trains – would have benefited so many more people for so much less expense.
However that would not have fitted in with the plans produced by Brussels (yes, them again) for their high-speed Euro rail network – all the way to Turkey (yes, I know that they are not a member but Brussels has big ideas). So it is a touch ironic that Britain will, in theory, have left the EU well before the UK part of the Euro rail plan reaches Birmingham. I wonder if Brussels had promised any funding before our vote to leave?
But still we have not left yet. And in the 245 days that have passed since the historic EU vote no one has been able to send the official resignation letter – so we could be still in limbo when that first train sets out for Birmingham Curzon Street in 2026.
The government expects that smart meter installations will rise sharply in 2016, when all the final common standards come into force, and that 20 million meters being fitted between 2016 and 2018. So goes the prediction on the official promotional website for the planned gas and electricity monitoring network. A project to scrap all conventional meters for an estimated £11,000 million by 2020. One promoted as a free service but where the costs are being actually added to your gas and electricity charges. See our earlier post ..
Now organisations like British Gas have been promoting the switch to smart meters for three years or more – and have had some takers. However the smaller energy suppliers have not been so active. And a quick check around the UK suppliers shows that most have installed very few. Some saying that they are waiting for some new technology promised for later this year. Which seems to tie in with the Government statement about final common standards. So clearly something is pending in the world of smart metering technology – but none of energy suppliers spell out exactly what that will be. So time for Grandad to do some checking.
As any careful electricity user will know, monitors showing current consumption and even costs have been around for years. One is sitting next to this PC. But what more is possible?
Take just one system – the Loop Energy Saver. This is a subscription service made up of an electricity and gas monitoring kit and access to your personal energy data through your own online account. Now this is not the only product on the market but Loop has been awarded a best in class by Which? Magazine and has got some good feedback from Amazon purchasers.
The system consists of two tiny Loop readers that are easily installed – no tools or batteries are required. The Electricity Monitor simply clips around your meter cable and the Gas Monitor sticks on to your meter. [Grandad’s current electricity monitor needs a total of six batteries that have to swapped out for recharging all too frequently].
Once the readers are in place the system makes use of your existing broadband connection. It can then show the energy you use straight to your PC, tablet and smartphone. It can also show you how much your actual electricity and gas consumption costs since it knows your current supplier’s tariffs. It can also send you details of any better deals from your current supplier or competitors; using your usage stats. So how does all of this cost? Well the dual fuel option costs either £50 one-off or a £3 per month direct debit. With a 45 day free trial as part of a current promotion.
So is the Loop offer worth taking up – when the energy suppliers are planning a big smart meter push in 2016? Yes it probably is. Why? Because Government IT projects rarely come in on time (or on budget) and the official smart meters need a new, untested infrastructure before they can work. And even if this grand plan comes together then its aims are very different. The Government’s objectives include enabling the energy companies to monitor and control your energy usage. This means the smart meters need to be much more than clever meter readers. They need to be permanent, tamper-proof units that the supplier can use to both bill you and, if required, turn off your power remotely – for any reason from national emergency to late payment of a bill.
Clearly the Government scheme is going to be much more expensive – since systems like Loop are self-fitted, make use of your existing Internet connection and your tablet, smartphone or PC. Plus they don’t need expensive replacements for your existing meters. However the information provided by the Loop service is just as helpful as a smart meter for saving energy – and money. In fact you could find that its comparison service enables you to switch suppliers when and if there are savings to be made. An option and a source of savings that meters fitted by suppliers are unlikely to offer ..
So be warned – just doing nothing and letting your energy supplier give you a free smart meter might turn out to be a very costly mistake.
This month has seen a renewed media prominence for the UK Government’s smart energy metering plans – for example the BBC giving another news slot for the body charged with its introduction. And so far these plans seem to be taking the normal route of a poor analysis of the costs / benefits followed by a total blanking of anyone that does accept the Ministry’s conclusions.
But where did this mad scheme to scrap millions of working gas and electricity meters for no guaranteed benefit come from? It would be easy to blame Ed Miliband – since it was he that produced the UK plans in 2010 when Energy Secretary.
However it was not entirely his own idea. It actually came from the EU. Under their Third Energy Package (2009) member states (we prefer to call them countries) were required to undertake a cost benefit analysis of smart meter roll-out and submit the results to the EU Commission by 2012.
Countries that have actually done this analysis found insufficient benefits in around one third of the studies covering electricity metering and two-thirds of those covering gas metering. The big undecided was Germany. However they have now given a maybe response with Germany officials stating that the EU proposal would be inadvisable. Because installation costs would be greater than achievable energy savings for those users with low power consumption – in other words the typical Grandad. And this is exactly the same conclusion reached by many in Britain who are already very careful with their energy usage.
No amount of tariff searching and supplier swapping will avoid the fact that the cost of smart meters will be added to everyones’ bills. The careful user – who probably already has an electricity usage monitor and submits regular readings online – will see their efforts to reduce bills reversed by tariff increases they did not want, need or deserve.
There are, of course, plenty of opponents of the scheme – for example Stopsmartmeters.org.uk – but there is a danger that their arguments will drift away from the failures in the cost / benefit analysis onto less certain issues such as the possible health effects of wi-fi radiation.
So does the muddled mind of Frank Spencer live on in our esteemed Government and its civil servants? Yes, Minister.
For a more see the 2013 article at The Register.
Experience shows that the British press don’t always give out the right story. But today’s reports that our Chancellor of the Exchequer has jumped into the Ukrainian turmoil with “’We should be there with a chequebook to help the people of Ukraine rebuild their country” beggars belief – even if the reports were sensationalised.
Now the ideal Chancellor would be someone who combined financial acumen with geopolitical awareness and a tight grip on all forms of public spending. But in this case Mr Osborne seems to have failed on all counts.
The fact that the UK has huge debts, cannot produce enough to stop the debt spiral deepening, already gives away excessive amounts to undeserving nations and spends billions on vanity projects are not indicators of a well managed economy. The Bank of England’s continued all-time low for interest rates shows that the UK is still in a dire financial situation. And the fact that those of us not in Australia for a G20 meeting are facing wrecked homes and farms, broken rail links, pot-hole filled roads plus financial cutbacks causing closures of care homes, sports halls, libraries, etc just makes ill-considered offers of overseas handouts even more grotesque. It certainly hit a nerve on the comments sections with thousands supporting every critical message posted.
The gap between what the Chancellor allows to be spent and what he can actually afford is already too great. And this is despite the fact that even after retirement Grandads continue to pay so much in tax from their modest pensions. Add up the 20% VAT, 50% fuel duty and the multitude of taxes on our gas, electricity, telephone, TV viewing and even holiday flights to see how high everyone’s tax burden – on top of income tax and NI – has become.
But even if the UK was in a healthy financial position then offering an open chequebook to the Ukraine would still be bad economics. The country already has huge debts and a zero credit rating. Any money we send will never be seen again – and not help the country recover. Plus the prospect of a national breakup on ethnic, linguistic or east-west political lines is a real possibility. In an extreme scenario a NATO versus Russia military conflict could result.
So not the best time to be providing fuel for the fire bombs George. In fact there is never going to be a best time while the country whose economy you are charged with managing so badly needs some better management …
ps That country is the UK in case you forgot
In 1998 the new Sheffield City Airport opened to provide fast convenient travel for the four million people within a forty minute drive … opening up a gateway to Europe for businesses in Sheffield … instead of going elsewhere .. they will want to fly from Sheffield. [to quote the airport’s PR from the time]. Things started out well but then passenger numbers declined – after peaking at 75,000 – and the last scheduled flight left in 2002. With Sheffield City Council quoting losses of £400,000 a year it closed completely in 2008.
The lease on this £1 million, 80 acre site allowed for the transfer of ownership at a nominal £1 if the airport was not financially viable after 10 years. So the leaseholder could simply let the airport wither on the vine. The ten years were up in 2008. Now five years on from the closure there are still groups trying to stop the airport being built over – but in reality not enough of those four million people need to travel on short-haul or business flights from Sheffield. Grandad predicts that Sheffield’s planned HS2 railway station awaits a similar fate when (if) the new tracks get built.
But still the nearby Doncaster-Sheffield Airport would seem like a better prospect. Mainly because its huge runway lacks the aircraft restrictions imposed by Sheffield City’s limited space. It opened in 2005 so had little impact on the demise of Sheffield City. And at Doncaster-Sheffield passenger numbers topped 1 million per year by 2007. However the airport can handle around 2.5 million passengers per year and numbers had fallen back to 700,000 by 2012. Next month work is due to start to provide the missing link road from the M18 motorway. But sadly the planned new road stops short of the airport’s own access road by just over a kilometre! So the drive times will not improve by as much as was hoped.
Even with a better road Doncaster-Sheffield will still lack enough (any) scheduled flights to European business centres and have no internal, short-haul flights to London or the major UK cities. If the region really did need high speed travel to London or Birmingham, to boost the local economy and create jobs, then it could have it now by air – rather than in 20 years time by rail.
Today volunteers were busy preparing to reopen a South Yorkshire leisure centre that had been closed by council cutbacks. The same council also plans to demolish the Don Valley Stadium – the venue where athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill trained – as soon as next month unless a rescue bid succeeds. Supporters hope to get the venue listed as an asset of community value and so block the demolition. However the listing outcome will not be known until the same week as the proposed closure. And the decision will be made by … the same Sheffield Council that is making the cuts.
The closing of both facilities was put down to a shortage of money. So it seems like the government are to really blame through cuts to council funding. However things are rarely so simplistic.
Four years ago the South Yorkshire Councils agreed to build a communications network that would be owned and managed within the region and make the county “a UK leader in digital communications”. A press release, on 20 July 2009, stated “South Yorkshire’s journey to be the first truly digital region has begun with the official launch of the Digital Region project by Rosie Winterton, Minister for Yorkshire and The Humber, at an event in Sheffield on 17 July. The network is being built for the region by Digital Region Ltd in partnership with technology company Thales UK.”
The project was backed by a “staggering £90m of funding” [to quote the official web site] – the majority coming from the EU via European Regional Development Funding (ERDF).
This week (on 15-Aug-2013) the project operator, Digital Region, put out a statement – “The closure of Digital Region now offers best deal for public purse. Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils – along with major shareholder, the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – have agreed [to] a managed close down of the network … The estimated cost of continuing with the project would be an estimated £95.8 million. Closure of the network would save the taxpayer an estimated £12.5 million …”
So that makes a loss of £83.3 million look like a “saving” of £12.5 million I guess. But it actually means that over £80 million has been spent for little return – hardly a “best deal” for anyone. Yet it was clear from the outset that the Digital Region team were spending big before signing any firm customer contracts. In short the whole scheme was based upon over-optimistic revenue estimates that had no commercial basis.
So the lack of funds that lead to the council making closures at the leisure centre and sports stadium may well be seen as a self-inflicted problem. After the failure of the earlier South Yorkshire projects – such as the Earth Centre and the National Centre for Popular Music – you would have hoped that lessons had been learned.
But at least it’s not quite as wasteful as some publicly-funded EU projects – the ghost airports in Spain for example …
Councils are complaining about their street lighting electricity bills – with one claiming an increase from around £1m in 2004/05 to an estimated £6m in 2015/16. Meantime the UK government has a mandatory “Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme” [great title!] that forces large-scale energy users to purchase CO2 allowances [who said you can’t tax the air that we breathe?].
For councils this is, of course, a charge by one taxpayer-funded body on another taxpayer-funded body. In this example it means that the council expects to buy around £400,000 of allowances from the Treasury; probably the source of the council money originally. Perhaps politicians can now create an even more complicated scheme to rebate these charges for any needy councils? It all helps keep the paper pushers – and politicians – employed after all.
However some councils seem less concerned about doing anything practical. For example, turning off the daytime street lighting in Grandad’s local area.
Now it could be that the lights are expensive to re-programme – but if the council are happy to consume this electricity 24 hours per day then perhaps they should let our local electrician divert it into some senior’s homes instead.