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Date published: 2009/10/08

Cambridge congestion charge propaganda (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

If it happens, it will not be before 2017 - but Cambridge's proposed congestion charge is still a major bone of contention.
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As the News has reported, Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet has backed a bid for £500 million from the Government's Transport Innovation Fund, to pay for better public transport services. As a first stage, the council plans to ask for early confirmation of £25 million in Government funding for Chesterton railway station, which would begin to be built in 2012 - three years earlier than planned.

At the end of 2010, a full bid for the remainder of the £500 million package is planned.

This will include a 'trigger point' for a congestion charge to be introduced - a move that will need to be agreed by the public, businesses, partner authorities and the Government itself.

The earliest a congestion charge would be introduced is 2017, the county council insists, adding "and only as a last resort if the recordbreaking TIF investment into transport does not help and the agreed trigger is reached".

It's hard to take any of this seriously. So the Chesterton railway station, even if it ever does go ahead, will do very little for Cambridge. What it will do is mean that London commuters start to live on the north side of Cambridge instead of just the south side, so pushing house prices up on the north side and pushing more Cambridge workers further out into the villages. What a great idea for Cambridge.

And there is no way that the so-called congestion charge (which is not a congestion charge but an access charge) will ever be "agreed by the public, businesses, partner authorities and the Government itself" if the "and" in that sentence is taken at face value. So in particular, the public will never agree to this charge, unless the bureaucrats insist (as is usually the case) on not asking the public but instead only asking the usual academic middle class suspects (in particular cyclists, who of course hate drivers and love the idea of a new tax on motoring).

It is even funnier to read of the council talking about this tax as being a matter of "last resort". The Cambridge transport bureaucrats have been salivating for years about this so-called congestion charge. Give them any excuse, or don't even give them an excuse, and they will rush to introduce it. It will certainly give them (and a lot of so-called transport consultants) a job for life.

Unfortunately the article then degenerates into a press release for Centre for Cities, one of the zillions of useless consultancies that plague the nation. This "think tank" would personally financially benefit from congestion charging schemes being introduced into the UK, so surprise, surprise, they are all for it. Well, to be fair, they are also academic middle class, so reflexively hate cars and want to tax them to death.

The press release starts:

Lena Tochtermann, one of the organisation's analysts, said: "Cambridge is one of the fastest-growing and most successful cities in the UK. But a side effect of this success is congestion. Last year, transport consultants Steer Davis Gleave estimated congestion costs Cambridge approximately £70 million - and this could rise to £170 million by 2021. Congestion will get even worse as Cambridge continues to grow in the recovery.

One of the reasons congestion has gotten worse the last ten years is because the transport bureaucrats have purposefully made it worse (just take a look at the disaster they have made of the Newmarket Road and Coldhams Lane area). But it is rather amusing to see the far off recovery being used to allegedly support the case for the congestion tax, because all the justification for the tax in the past was based on rosy, and long since discredited, economic growth forecasts which were made long before the recession took hold or was even forseen. But like all good consultants, you ignore the facts and just claim that they somehow support your case. And Tochtermann does not even mention that there is a huge cost to introducing and running the scheme, and it is not even close to obvious that under any reasonable reckoning there is even a net benefit to Cambridge.

The press release continues with some standard boilerplate propaganda and then:

For a Cambridge scheme to succeed, the county council must make sure the scheme covers the right area and that charges are set at the right level.

What a genius. This is why we need expensive consultants, so that we can fully appreciate the subtlety and complexity of the situation.

The press release continues:

If charging gets the goahead, Cambridgeshire stands to gain a once-in-a generation boost to local transport. A yes to congestion charging could unlock £500 million, which would substantially improve public transport in and around Cambridge, including a new station at Chesterton, an extension of the guided busway to Addenbrooke's and Trumpington, and 180 kilometres of cycling route upgrades. All of these would be in place before a charge would be introduced. £500 million represents a large sum for Cambridgeshire, about 70 times the size of the county's current Local Transport Plan funding.

So let's see. For some reason Cambridge believes the central government will multiply transport funding for the city by a factor of 70, so to a level more appropriate for London. Well that makes sense.

The press release continues:

Whether or not charging is right for Cambridge, with Government debt at 56.6 per cent of GDP, the next government, whatever its political colour, will need to cut back on public spending.

This could realistically mean transport budgets are slashed up to 50 per cent. The funding on offer is a now-or-never opportunity for crucial transport upgrades in the area.

So let's see. Somehow this 500 million is going to appear independent of the fact that the government is in hock to the entire universe and government spending is about to be slashed (especially when the Tories take over). Well that makes sense.

About the only point that Tochtermann makes that is reasonable is:

Even before the current recession, congestion charging has proved extremely unpopular.

What a surprise. The public are not very keen on hundreds of millions of pounds being thrown down a black hole. And the public are not very keen that the ruling elite want to make personal mobility a preserve of the rich.

Cameron thinks he is already running the country (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Conservative leader David Cameron has said he is "ready to be tested" if his party wins power, in his last conference speech ahead of an election.

He said times would be "tough" but his party would "rebuild responsibility" to "put Britain back on her feet".

In a personal reference, he said the death of his son Ivan had made him ask "do I really want to do this?".
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He said a Conservative government would roll back "big government" in favour of a "stronger society".
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He wanted a country where "the poorest children go to the best schools not the worst, where birth is never a barrier".

Cameron is not yet in power and he is already showing obnoxious tendencies, which is worrying. So he insists on perpetually dragging his son Ivan into these kinds of speeches, which becomes tiresome. And the idea that he asked himself for more than one nanosecond "do I really want to do this?" after the death of his son is fanciful. Cameron, if nothing else, is power obsessed.

And the BBC article does even come close to mentioning what Cameron said about "big government". So Cameron pretty much blamed all the evils of the world (well, of the UK) on "big government". Either he believes this nonsense, in which case he is a fool, or he does not, in which case he is just out and out cynical. In either case, he cannot be trusted to run government. Needless to say, you can look at just about any of the alleged ills of the UK, and trace a lot of the origin back to the Thatcher era, where the whole concept of society was demeaned in favour of making a quick buck. And one of the big problems with conservatives in the UK (and even more so in the US) is that they constantly trash talk government, and then they want to take over power so they can prove how bad government really is, and that is one of the few things they succeed in doing.

And if there is one thing you can guarantee will not happen at the end of the next Tory regime, whether it is in five years or eighteen years, it is the idea that "the poorest children [will] go to the best schools not the worst, where birth is never a barrier". Cameron is a perfect example of how important it is to be born rich (or at least very upper middle class) even in today's Britain. And most of the rest of the people that matter in the Tory party are similar to Cameron.

Osborne wants to screw Whitehall and men in their fifties (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A public sector pay freeze and a rise in the state pension age are among the measures needed to sort out the UK's finances, George Osborne has said.

The shadow chancellor also outlined plans to target Whitehall costs and axe child trust funds for the better off.

He told the Tory conference "we're all in this together" and said that the measures would save £7bn a year.

The BBC's Nick Robinson called it a "calculated gamble" that they would be rewarded for honesty about pain ahead.

But, said Robinson, they know that when the then shadow chancellor John Smith tried the same tactic in 1992 he was applauded for his honesty - but ultimately blamed for his party's election defeat.
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He also vowed to cut the cost of Whitehall - proposing to slash departmental budgets by a third during the lifetime of Parliament, a move he said would save £3bn.
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Mr Osborne also confirmed plans revealed on Monday to bring forward a rise in the age at which men can claim a state pension to 66 from 2016, up to ten years earlier than planned.

Osborne only touched the surface, and only time will tell how extensive the Tory slash and burn approach will go. It will be interesting to see how they will allegedly cut the "cost of Whitehall" by a third, so whether that just involves moving more costs into quangos and the like. The last Tory government didn't exactly do a good job reducing the size of government.

And the pension announcement was a bit of a public relations disaster. First of all, when discussing this on Radio 4 the day after, Cameron did not even seem to know that women and men currently have different pension ages. And after much huffing and puffing, the Tories seemed to settle on the wonderfully sexist position that men (in their fifties) will be the main losers under their proposals.

Date published: 2009/10/01

City bureaucrats want to throw money at Hills Road (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

A £25 million scheme to improve pedestrian and cycle links between Cambridge railway station and the city centre has been unveiled.

Project Cambridge could see a major revamp on the one-mile stretch along Station Road, Hills Road and Regent Street, including a redesign of all major road junctions.

The scheme will aim to create a pleasant walking experience from the station, featuring trees planted on new pedestrian islands in Regent Street and Hills Road, wider pavements and improved crossings.

It's hard to believe they want to spend so much money on such a small stretch of road (and it's also hard to believe they will make it any better having spent so much money). Needless to say the city always complains it is short of money, but when some grandiose scheme to keep the bureaucrats occupied is involved, they are happy to throw money at it like there is no tomorrow.

Doctors let woman die who wanted to die (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Doctors were forced to allow a suicidal woman who had swallowed anti-freeze to die, because she refused medical help.

Kerrie Wooltorton, 26, of Norwich, had also made a "living will" requesting no intervention if she tried to take her own life, a Norwich inquest heard.

Doctors would have risked breaking the law by treating her, the coroner said.

The Norwich and Norwich University Hospital said Miss Wooltorton was conscious and doctors were convinced of her mental competence.

She died four days after being admitted to the hospital.

The hospital said the living will did not play a part in the decision.

Miss Wooltorton had accepted lifesaving dialysis at the hospital after drinking anti-freeze several times in the year before her death, an earlier hearing was told.

"Any treatment... in the absence of her consent would have been unlawful," said coroner William Armstrong.

The inquest was told Miss Wooltorton had mental capacity and had the right to refuse medical intervention.

"Even when she was losing consciousness she was absolutely clear in refusing treatment," said Mr Armstrong.
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Local MP and Lib Dem spokesman on health Norman Lamb said: "Doctors need to be given clear guidance on whether they are right to respect the wishes of the individual."

The British Medical Association's head of ethics and science, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: "It is always very tragic if an individual, like Kerrie Wooltorton, decides they do not want to live any longer.

"However, patients who are mentally competent must retain the legal right to refuse medical intervention."

Shock, horror, for once the BMA (or at least one person in the BMA) has it right. And Norman Lamb should just out and out state that doctors should "respect the wishes of the individual". (It's hard to tell from the quote whether he thinks doctors should intervene or whether he just wants to make sure doctors are not held liable if they do not intervene, and the Lib Dems are so illiberal these days there's no point assuming that the second interpretation must be the correct one.)

Older women allegedly sleep slightly more than older men (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Research suggests older women believe they sleep worse than men - but the reverse is actually true.

A team found older women consistently estimate their sleep to be of shorter and poorer quality than their male peers - but in fact they sleep better.

The Dutch researchers suggest women may require more sleep than men - meaning the same amount of sleep may be satisfactory for men, but not women.
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The study involved 956 participants aged 59-79, of which slightly more than half were women.

Women reported an average of 13.2 minutes less total sleep time, and estimated that it took them 10.1 minutes longer to get to sleep in the first place. They also rated their quality of sleep 4.2% lower than men.

Why is this research being funded? Does it matter at all whether anyone does or does not think they sleep more (or less) than they do and does it matter at all whether women sleep more or less than men? The differences (minutes) are also trivial.

Eating sweets allegedly leads to violence (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Children who eat sweets and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent as adults, according to UK researchers.

The Cardiff University study involving 17,500 people is the first into effects of childhood diet on adult violence.

It found 10-year-olds who ate sweets daily were significantly more likely to have a violence conviction by age 34.

Researchers suggested they had not learnt to delay gratification, but other experts said already "difficult" children might be given more sweets.

The researchers looked at data on around 17,500 people and found that 69% of the participants who were violent at the age of 34 had eaten sweets and chocolate nearly every day during childhood, compared to 42% who were non-violent.

This link between confectionery consumption and later aggression remained even after controlling for other factors such as parenting behaviour, the area where the child lived, not having educational qualifications after the age of 16 and whether they had access to a car when they were 34.

A typical "health" study. The researchers of course have a pre-conceived notion that sweets are evil, and so when they find a link they immediately jump to the conclusion that it allegedly "proves" the causative effect. Here (as often happens) they claim to have controlled for some obvious factors (well, except what does a car have to do with anything). But it's not clear they have controlled for the million and one other factors you could quite easily think of. The BBC here (for once) at least quotes "other experts" as providing one other obvious factor (so difficult children might be given more sweets to shut them up).

Libraries are allegedly supposed to lend equipment to businesses (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A north London council has apologised after a woman was refused the loan of a pair of scissors in a library because she "might stab a member of staff".

Lorna Watts, 26, a self-employed dressmaker, was turned down at Holborn Library in central London.

She said: "It's ridiculous - public libraries are supposed to be supportive of small businesses."

No, it is not up to public libraries to "be supportive of small businesses" by lending them equipment that they ought to buy themselves. It is Watts who is being ridiculous.

Another pointless report from another pointless consultancy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The recession has had little impact on humanity's over-consumption of resources, says a report.

The New Economics Foundation (Nef) calculates the day each year when the world goes into "ecological debt."

This is the date by which humanity has used the quantity of natural resources that ought to last an entire year if used at a sustainable rate.

This year, "ecological debt day" falls on 25 September - just one day later than in 2008.

According to Nef, this means that the biggest recession for nearly a century has made very little difference to global consumption.
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Andrew Simms, Nef policy director and co-author of the report, said: "Debt-fuelled over-consumption not only brought the financial system to the edge of collapse, it is pushing many of our natural life support systems toward a precipice.

"Politicians tell us to get back to business as usual; but if we bankrupt critical ecosystems, no amount of government spending will bring them back.

"We need a radically different approach to rich world consumption."

Calling for an end to the consumption explosion, he said that while billions in poorer countries subsist, "we (in the rich West) consume vastly more, and yet with little or nothing to show for it in terms of greater life satisfaction."

Nef (one of the zillions of useless consultancies that plague the nation) indeed "calculates the day each year when the world goes into 'ecological debt'". And every year the BBC duly publishes what amounts to a press release on behalf of Nef, without any critical analysis at all. So is their calculation in any way believable, and even if it was, is it in any way significant (given that we have a few billion years of ecosystem in the bank, so to speak).

If Simms thinks there is a "consumption explosion" then he has to look no further than the consultants, like himself, who work for Nef and no doubt get paid far, far more than the median wage in Britain, never mind the world, since pen pushers always get paid more than people who actually do something for a living. But of course it's not his own consumption he wants to cut, it's the consumption of the peasants that he wants to cut.

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