12 December 2010

University funding - BBC coverage

What really bugs me about the last few weeks' coverage of the student fees issue on the BBC has been its concentration on the Liberal Democrats' agonies: which way to vote, whether Dr Cable would vote for the policy he himself was introducing, would the Parliamentary party split two, three or four ways?  Questions over Nick Clegg's personal credibility and ability to hold the party together are all very well, but compromises are the stuff of coalition.  Does it make any sense to roast the LibDems for a pre-election promise that clearly didn't convince enough of the electorate to put them into overall control?  No.

The much bigger issue that's been obscured by the soap opera focus on the LibDems is the change in university funding.  Though there's been no White Paper, precious little news coverage and not much debate or comment in the press, a huge shift is taking place in the central Government funding of higher education, reducing the annual budget from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion in 2014-15.  With the ring-fencing of funding for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, other subjects will have little or no public funding.

Very quickly, we could end up with 'universities' that are nothing of the sort, with very little teaching of non-technical subjects.  Change of this scale should be debated properly before being enacted.  The BBC could and should make a better contribution to the understanding of this issue.

28 November 2010

Bloody hell

Why is it so difficult, even in the age of Google, to find the answer to a simple question such as when I can get blood taken for an NHS blood test ordered by my GP?  Last time, he told me to go to Frimley Park Hospital, on my way to work, so as not to lose half a day's productivity.  Frimley Park reluctantly took the sample, saying I should really have been directed to the new Aldershot Centre for Health.

Now it's time to go again.  The Aldershot Centre for Health looks excellent, judging by the pictures on the web.  It's apparently the largest primary health centre in the UK, according to its nice little brochure that also identifies what floor has what service.  But nowhere can I find the opening hours for the phlebotomy/pathology (blood test) service.  The NHS Hampshire web site has a search facility but searches like 'blood test', 'blood test hours', 'blood test opening', 'pathology', and so on either take you to a list of policy documents, screening information, or the 'What's on site at Aldershot Centre for Health' page - which doesn't give any hours (and also lacks a map).  This really could and should be improved.

12 October 2010

Bland's Law and the Big Society

"Good intentions are not enough to make a difference", wrote Sathnam Sanghera in the Business Life column of The Times on 26th July.   The author makes a good case for scepticism about the Prime Minister's 'Big Society' initiative.  

The article argues that voluntary bodies are inefficient, mismanaged, unrepresentative and crippled by backbiting. Sir Christopher Bland, the former chairman of BT, was quoted in support of the latter issue, as saying that in his experience “the amount of backbiting, infighting and general skulduggery in an organisation is in direct proportion to the nobility of its goals”. 

This deserves wider coverage - maybe it should be dubbed "Bland's Law" - and many people will be able to give examples of situations that wouldn't be allowed to occur in a professional or profit-led organisation.    

I'll concede the point on the unrepresentative nature of voluntary organisations.  Inevitably, the decision to participate involves self-selection and, vitally, having time to do it.  Don't forget though, that such work can be a great way to improve the CV and employability for people in all sorts of different parts of society.  

But aside from this, and Bland's Law, many voluntary organisations do a fantastic job, and have good processes and management practices.  I think the article is too pessimistic, but very thought-provoking.

24 August 2010

Fed up with the Harlequins Bloodgate saga

In a very British form of torture, the General Medical Council is hearing the case of Dr Wendy Chapman, who was suspended after she was involved in the "Bloodgate" scandal resulting from the Heineken Cup quarter final between Harlequins and Leinster in April 2009.  She's been suspended from her job, without pay, since then.

This is disproportionate and unfair treatment, and the reason that it's so unfair is that it's taken so long.  Justice delayed is justice denied.  Everyone else involved is back in business apart from Dean Richards, who according to The Guardian on 16 August 2010, is acting as a consultant for Premiership teams and still doesn't know the exact terms of his suspension..

I'm not a Harlequins supporter, and have no connection with anyone involved.  It's not as if Harlequins cheating was sensible - the player brought on to kick was crocked - and it didn't pervert the result of the match.  I think enough is enough.  GMC: please let Dr Chapman get on with looking after patients.  

07 July 2010

iTunes 9 - too much to manage

iTunes has encountered a problem and needs to close.  We are sorry for the inconvenience.
Too bloody right.

I upgraded my iPhone 3GS to the iOS4 operating system in the week of 23rd June, shortly after the update became available through iTunes.  The download and sync failed, and I ended up with a phone that couldn't make calls, load software, or anything else.  I tried uninstalling and reinstalling iTunes - no use, then uninstalling and reinstalling all of the Apple components on my PC - again no use, and finally, under the guidance of the help line, creating a new user account and uninstalling and reinstalling everything.  At last, I was able to make the update (even though that failed a couple of times).  Every uninstall/reinstall is a long process, including restarting the PC and a couple of hours a time is not too far of the mark.

Unfortunately, to get my phone back to my own user account and user name, I had to reset it to factory settings and so I will have lost some content - photos.  Very annoying, but at least the phone was back in action.

The real irritation now is that iTunes falls over while syncing music and/or podcasts.  I'm losing content because it stops downloading podcasts that I haven't listened to for a while - the reason I haven't listened is because I can't get them onto the iPhone.

The process suggested on the web site to fix this is too time consuming to be bearable, but it was failing tonight on file 4 of 220 that it meant to sync.  The file was downloaded at about 22:30 this evening. I have a few thousand files that may or may not be the cause of the issue.  Or not at all.

iTunes is now such a complicated set of software that if anything goes wrong, there's no way to fix it.  Now I daren't buy that lovely iPad because I may not be able to sync it.  Shame.

01 July 2010

BBC - The History of British Music pt 1

I missed this four part series on its previous showings, but it's started magnificently, with the first truly great British composer, Henry Purcell. It's the BBC at its phenomenal best. Conductor Charles Hazlewood takes us through the music, palaces, and even pubs, with some brilliant performances.  The programme started with familiar works, but then Sir John Tomlinson sang a piece I'd never heard "They that go down to the sea in ships" and later "Cold Genius" from King Arthur.  He was superb, as was Elin Manahan Thomas, who performed Dido's Lament, and later "Fairest Isle", also from King Arthur.  And thank you to the Band of the Grenadier Guards, for their dramatic performance of the Funeral Music for Queen Mary (and for Purcell himself).

This wonderful programme was first shown on BBC4 on Saturday 9th May 2009, most recently on 26th June at 03:00 and now is only available on BBC iPlayer until 20:59 pm Friday 2nd July 2010. Link here. Catch it if you can!

11 June 2010

Give football referees the 10 metre rule and the power to sin-bin

Uruguay v France, the second match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was a dire 0-0 draw, largely because the referee, who had a good game and made lots of good decisions, was hampered by players who stood their ground arguing the toss after free kicks were awarded.  This shouldn't be allowed.  It's just a professional foul, stopping any quick attacks, running the clock down, or giving enough time for defensive walls to set up.  

If players had to move immediately to 10 metres distance from the point where the kick is awarded, much of this nonsense would go away. If trouble makers could be removed for an immediate sin bin, discipline would get even better.  And how about a red card for diving?

Not a hope.  

13 May 2010

Reasons to be cheerful

Now that we've left behind the mess of last weekend, I'm feeling optimistic.  It looked as if there was a real possibility (as seen from outside) that a Lib-Lab pact could be formed, keeping Brown in power for months or years.  The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats seemed to be struggling to reach an agreement, and various die-hards in both parties were telling us all about red lines.

In important ways, the components of the new Government fit my views perfectly.  I'm an economic conservative, strongly so; I believe in markets, opportunity, rewards for enterprise and penalties for failure, and having been a borrower, I hate uncontrolled debt and spending money that can't be paid back.  Socially, many of my views are liberal; some views expressed by readers of some of the more right-wing papers make me sick, and I think that we should fight hard to maintain the tolerance for which this country is renowned. This Government can steer a middle path, leaving extremists behind - the best of all worlds.

I think that both party leaders have played a blinder.  Clegg has achieved more for the Lib-Dems than could have been thought possible last weekend, and Cameron has gone further too.  Maybe Brown's death-bed conversion to the faith of electoral reform was the catalyst, but never mind.

The combined parties have offered Cameron a much larger pool of talent from which to fill the roles in the new Government.  His appointment of more Lib-Dems than demanded by the coalition agreement is a master stroke, money in the bank when decision-making gets tough in the fight against Labour's legacy of debt.

All in all, it's been a great start.  I'm concerned about electoral reform; I don't want to see BNP MPs at Westminster. The horse trading that we saw in the last week could have allowed a cynical Lib-Lab pact to deny the people the change of Government that we so badly needed; 'first past the post' elections usually allow the electorate to choose.  I'm nervous about the consequences of fixed term Parliaments that stop the country from voting when a vote might be the best solution.  But these questions can at least be addressed with careful consideration rather than as the sort of stitch-up deal that could have happened.  Reasons to be cheerful...

09 May 2010

The West Lothian question writ large

The new UK Parliament will meet in Westminster with no party able to command an absolute majority.  Although there was a decisive rejection of Labour, there is still the possibility that the defeated Government will be able to cobble together an agreement to stay in power, needing an unholy alliance of nationalists to reach the magic figure of 326 votes.
What's really striking is the way that England is overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs but others can control events. English MPs can be - and frequently have been - overruled on questions of education, local government, economic and social policies by the MPs of the other three countries of the Union. In contrast, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own assemblies, where English MPs have no influence.
This issue was exposed by the great parliamentarian, Tam Dalyell, who asked
For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate ... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Due to boundary reform, that figure of 119 is now 116, but the West Lothian question (as Enoch Powell dubbed it), is vitally important as the UK electoral system faces a significant shake-up, whichever party reaches an agreement with the Lib Dems.   Should MPs from the other countries be allowed to change the electoral system in England?
Here are the statistics.  I couldn't find such a table online, so this analysis is based on the Daily Telegraph results page and used the BBC results as an additional authoritative source. I've gone through the table relying on my own geographical notions to split by country, and if I've slipped up, no doubt someone will be kind enough to let me know.

Eng Other
Plaid Cymru
Sinn Fein
NI Other





N Ireland


The current Speaker is counted as a Conservative and the Thirsk and Malton constituency didn't vote due to the death of one of the candidates.

01 May 2010

Please can we restore the meaning of 'investment'?

One happy outcome of next Thursday's election is that we'll probably have a new government that can tell the difference between spending and investment. For the last thirteen years, our finances have been run by a man who deliberately perverted these terms to hide his extravagance. During this time, a large amount of real investment was unfunded by the taxpayer.  Many hospitals, schools and other facilities were built using Public Finance Initiative (PFI) funding, where instead of paying capital, the contracts allowed the developers to own the facilities and receive operating income at very attractive rates for decades to come.  Result: many projects that should have been capital investments (in the true sense of the word) have been turned into massive and inflated future spending (revenue) commitments.

The Tories flirted with Public-Private Partnership (PPP), an early version of PFI in the mid 1990s. They rapidly worked out that it was too dangerous. Brown grabbed it with both hands to run up another £500 billion of future debt while turning much of the normal capital investment into bribes for voters or jobs for the boys (and girls), especially in marginal and safe Labour seats. We will be paying for this man's lies, recklessness and dishonesty for the next thirty years.

12 April 2010

Labour's "Cadbury law" - another stinker from the Brown bunker

According to the BBC, Labour is to propose a "Cadbury's law" in its manifesto, restricting takeovers of British firms on "public interest grounds".

The report says that the manifesto is to contain proposals to ensure that if a company is designated "strategic", or if the national interest is concerned (i.e. the Government of the day thinks that intervention will be popular), two-thirds of its shareholders will have to vote yes to a takeover.

This is another piece of economic illiteracy by Labour and its chums in the Lib-Dems. If political interference is allowed to dictate whether acquisitions can go ahead, owners of companies will be prevented from achieving a fair value for their shares. A big proportion of the owners of companies are the pension funds. These have already been devastated by the removal of the dividend tax credit, weakened by raids from the Pension Protection Fund, and softened further by the recession fuelled by Labour's boom-to-bust policies.

This proposal is another stinker from the bunker of Brown's zombie administration. Let's hope it doesn't happen.

30 March 2010

Absolute joy - a week's holiday

I thoroughly enjoyed my week's holiday, though it was busy from finishing work on Friday night until going back ten days later. Two trips (one overnight) to my late father's house to continue with the preparations to put it on the market and to meet an estate agent, three full length Rugby matches refereed, together with about two dozen 7s matches over four days at the National Schools Sevens, nine items sold on Ebay, a curry evening with Ruth's colleagues from the maths department, a pretty exciting Grand Prix and a trip to Broadcasting House to watch the recording of The Now Show for BBC Radio 4.

Almost all of these were an absolute joy. Even the house clearing effort progressed well, and apart from poor weather and lots of mud on the Thursday, the Sevens were great; talent, speed, skills and some really close,exciting games, and the chance to referee some fantastic teams.

The event in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House was fascinating too, not least for the contrasts with a TV recording. Last autumn, we saw BBC2's Mock The Week at Television Centre. The studio was completely rammed with lights and cameras - over 100 gantries above our heads, and I may have counted ten cameras used during the show, each with its own cameraman. We were in our seats for a full three hours to produce a sub 30 minute programme, plus a few segments for the Christmas show. This was in the end exhausting and I'm sure that the cast struggled to raise many laughs after the two hour mark.

The Now Show seemed much lighter on its feet, though maybe more of it was scripted. Just a microphone each (one set lower for John Holmes), and we were out within 90 minutes - less than an hour's recording, and could easily have taken more.

The Radio Theatre is worth a closer look. Art deco, with bas relief sculptures round the sides at floor level - the floor has clearly been raised by some six feet. Wikipedia says that the sculptures are by Gilbert Bayes, though much else around the building is by Eric Gill. Sadly there is no mention, let alone photographs, of this work in the National Archives article, which however does show his work at Lords Cricket Ground, amongst others.

15 March 2010

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14 March 2010

Hampshire Rugby Clubs

Just updated my Google Map of Hampshire Rugby Clubs with the changes that I'm aware of for the season 2009-10.

The map includes
  • Member Clubs of Hampshire RFU including the Channel Island clubs

  • Associate Clubs of Hampshire RFU

  • Associate Schools

  • non-Hants clubs that play in Hampshire leagues or merit tables.

Please let me know if you spot any errors or omissions.