Friday, August 22, 2008

Latest government data cock-up

Now the Home Office has contrived to lose data covering the entire prison population of 84000, plus another 30000 people who are on the Police National Computer, on an unencrypted memory stick. My profession is IT, and one of things that I do is run records management for a FTSE 100 so I do know what I am talking about when I say that there is no excuse at all for this. Firstly sensitive data should never be consigned to portable storage, unless is as part of a courier transit from one secure location to another. If such transit is routine then it should be electronic, but in any case the data should be encrypted. Putting this sort of data on a memory stick, unencrypted is unforgivable, and the government's efforts to blame a contractor would have more credibility if the Home Office didn't already have form for doing exactly the same thing. The thing is that working with data in this way is usually not necessary. If you need to test software then data for that purpose can be desensitised, that is you change it to factitious details but in the correct format. So names become 'Joe Bloggs' or 'Jane Doe' and so on. On the rare occasions that you really need to work with real data, then you are very, very careful, or not, if you are this government.

My view is that this whole area needs some legislative focus. The most recent Criminal Justice bill adds large financial penalties for negligent data handling, but the process of implementation will take until the middle of next year. Right now there are no meaningful penalties beyond bad publicity for an organisation that is incompetent as opposed to criminal in the way it handles personal data. This has to change if we want to stamp these sorts of blunders out.

This latest screwup also begs a question; would you trust this government to run a National Identity database?

Thought not.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Basildon won't follow Labour's car park advice

Labour's latest wheeze to hammer the motorist is that Councils should use car park charges in an effort to 'shape' the behaviour of their people. The idea appears to be that charges are put up, funny it is always about taxing people more, in order to deter people from using their cars and thus encouraging local shops and fitness. So, Local Government minister John Healey said,
Only one in five councils are using charging to the full potential. Not just to cover costs but to shape their area.
because it would help in
reducing congestion, improving levels of health and exercise, encouraging the use of local shops...
This is idiotic on a number of levels. Firstly, 90% of the built environment that will exist in the next 50 years is already here. Development takes many years. Today's cities, towns and villages are not laid out with a range of local shops within easy walking distance of everyone and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative. Secondly, even if there were local shops it is inconceivable that every village or similar area could have the entire range of retail outlets that people need and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative. Thirdly, people with limited mobility need their cars or else they do not go anywhere and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative. Fourthly, even if you are able-bodied sometimes you just have too much to carry, like the weekly shop for a large family, and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative.

Basically, people would have to pay up and, of course, flat charges that do not take income into account hit the poorest the hardest.

What Labour also fails to take into account is the fact that many car parks are not Council-owned, most supermarkets and many large shopping centres have free parking for example. So, what are they suggesting, that Council's kill the trade in the town centres where they typically do have car parks and leave the out-of-town shopping centres to benefit?

This is a silly and ill-thought out suggestion and we won't be doing anything like it in Basildon. What is it about the Labour Party that they are so addicted to taxing people so much?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Elite Sport in Basildon

Everyone is revelling in the success of our Olympic team after a magnificent weekend's competition. One can only extend congratulations and acknowledge the hard work of the athletes, coaches, organisers and support staff who have pushed Great Britain to number three in the medal table and given us all so many unforgettable images and memories. But looking at those proud, happy faces standing on the podiums to see their flag being raised I just think how good it would be if one of the gold medal winners was from Basildon, or Billericay, or Wickford, or Pitsea, or Laindon or one of our other communities here in Basildon District. Unfortunately, we have had a historic problem with that. You see our local Labour party had this thing about competitive sport: they didn't like it. Winners and losers offended their sense of equality, espcially winners who achieved at the highest level. So, our sporting infrastructure was designed specifically not to support competition, with small sports centres that are unsuitable for organised events, and a swimming pool deliberately designed to be just too short to meet competition standard. By the way when I tell that to people they usually assume I am making that up, but sadly it is true. If you don't believe me get down to Gloucester Park pool with a tape measure and you will find it is just short of the 25m length that would support competition.

Well, the Conservatives have a different approach. We want sport for all, and that means elite sport just as much as casual lesiure usage. So, we are progressively renewing our sporting infrastructure, will relaid all-weather pitches. New competition standard netball courts, an Athletic track brought up to AAA standard, and, of course, a brand new sporting village with a 50m, Olympic-size, pool. To be fair to the Labour Party today, they have shed their virulent hatred of excellence, though they still display occasional grumpiness with the whole sporting agenda. It's a pity that we lost a generation of potential elite sportsmen and women before they got with the program.

Maybe it could have been a Basildon boy or girl standing there with gold around their neck...?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Spin Exposed

It is Tuesday, Radio 4, World at One and James Plaskitt, Junior Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions is being interviewed by BBC journalist Shaun Ley:

Ley: Are you worried that this collection of economic statistics we've seen today, including obviously the rising unemployment figures, will further destabilise the prime minister's leadership ?

Plaskitt: I'm not commenting on that issue as I made clear at the outset. It's not about that.

Ley: But you're -

Press officer: We're only talking about today's employment figures.

Ley: Sure, but you're a minister, you're a member of his government.

Plaskitt: Well, the answer's no.

Ley: You don't think it will?

Plaskitt: No.

Absolutely incredible that a government press officer would cut into an interview this way. All credit to the BBC for broadcasting it, and that is interesting in itself. Shaun Ley offers up an explanation of what went on in his blog, but does anyone think that the Labour-supporting BBC of old would have hesitated in cutting out the press officer's intervention? It wasn't live so they could have done so easily. These are the people who didn't broadcast Neil Kinnock making a fool of himself before the 1992 election for no reason that has ever been adequately explained and the people who ran biased media against the Conservatives for decades. Could it be that the realisation that Labour may not be in power for much longer has emboldened them? Could it be that emerging debate on the future of the BBC has made them realise that systematic political bias is not a long-term survival strategy? In that at least I think that the damage has already been done.

Petition the Prime Minister to Create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK

We are engaged in a series of wars where we as a nation have not supported our military with either the equipment to fight, or the facilities to care for our servicemen and women. There is now a petition on the N0.10 site to Create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK:
With the growing numbers of wounded personnel repatriated to the UK and with continued growth in medically discharged personnel since the Falklands war to current conflicts and operations, our service men & women and veterans of previous operational service are owed the best medical care possible. The existing facilities are falling short and the NHS are not meeting the needs of veterans who still need treatment for their service related conditions. A dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital will greatly help resolve this National scandal since the complete closure of our military hospitals that has proved to be total folly.

We used to have many such dedicated hospitals, but in acts of short-sighted folly they were all closed. Right now our wounded get one ward of one NHS hospital. It is pitiful and it is not enough.

Sign the petition here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liberal Democrats write off the North

The Policy Exchange has written a report that essentially says that regeneration of some northern communities is futile and the best thing for many of the people there is to move south. There is some other reasonably good stuff about devolving regeneration monies to Local Authorities, but the central idea that whole towns and cities should essentially be written off is as David Cameron said 'insane'. So, who wrote this claptrap? Well, according to the Telegraph two of the culprits at least are Liberal Democrats. So, why is David Cameron being pressed for comment. Where is Nick Clegg when you need him?

Gordon Brown has nothing to say

The South Ossetia crisis put me in mind of the early 90s when with the Cold War ended a lot of morons thought that was the end of war altogether. I well remember smug interviewers putting the probing question ‘who are our enemies now?’ to hapless politicos as if the lack of an immediate threat meant that we could disband our armed forces, all join hands and sing kumbaya. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking permeated into the body politic, and we cut our military so much that when the new wave of threats appeared they struggled to cope. People have come home in body bags because of those oh so clever people and now South Ossetia shows starkly how a major foreign policy crisis with a military dimension can boil up out of nothing.

What on earth did the Georgians think would happen? The Russians claim most of the people of South Ossetia as citizens and there were around 1000 Russian ‘peacekeepers’ already on the ground. The Georgian action may have been strictly legal in terms of International Law, this is Georgian territory after all, but moving military forces in on that scale was remarkably ill-advised. There was bound to be a Russian response, but the scale and speed of it bears some examination. From media reports it appears that the Russians brought air power to bear almost immediately, and followed that up with what appears to be an entire Motor Rifle Division, reported as the 42nd Guards. For those who aren’t familiar with the Russian Order of Battle, a MR Division is a combined arms force with over 150 tanks and over 250 other armoured fighting vehicles with well over 10000 men. The 42nd may also have some attached special forces. Mobilising something on that scale from barracks would take days, but it seems they were on the ground and advancing in about one day. That means that they were already at a high state of readiness and within striking distance of the Georgian border, which makes the Georgian action even more puzzling. How could they not notice a formation of that size so close and so ready for action?

Meanwhile, David Cameron has been saying exactly what the government should have been saying if they hadn’t outsourced our foreign policy to the EU. The Georgians may have made a terrible misjudgement, but the Russian reaction has gone well beyond being reasonable, with widespread air attack and ground action that is less designed to protect their people in South Ossetia and more designed to cripple Georgia as a nation. This is the point when Labour’s dithering and incompetence stops being funny. Our foreign policy should not be paralysed by a Prime Minister who can’t make a decision and a Foreign Secretary whose sole focus is getting the Prime Minister’s job.

Can we really afford another two years of this?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Government by leak

Here is how it goes: you are in government and want a few favourable column inches, so you leak a policy idea into the media and soak up the coverage without having to do a thing. Maybe the broad reaction is favourable, so you actually do what you said in the leak and get the benefit all over again. Then you announce the thing multiple times just to be on the safe side, each time conveniently forgetting that you've said it all before. It's the gift that keeps giving, squeezing the last bit of favourable spin out of any policy measure, fantastic! Except of course sometimes, such as when the measure might affect market decisions and skew them in some unwelcome direction. So it goes with Stamp Duty, where the normal government spinning process has kicked the housing market when it is down because, not unreasonably, people think that if they wait a bit the government might suspend the tax and save them a fortune.

The blunders of this government keep coming. This is not a Labour/Tory thing; this is increasingly an idiot/competent thing. You couldn't imagine this happening with Tony Blair, and I never thought I would ever write something like that.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Baron MP: FOI figures show NHS co-payments used to be allowed

MP says allowing patients to top-up would not mean the end of the NHS as we know it

Figures obtained by John Baron MP through Freedom of Information requests show that co-payments (or ‘top-ups’) were available in the NHS as recently as last year – before being stopped by guidance issued by the Department of Health. John has been campaigning against the ban on co-payments following the sad case of a constituent (Mrs Linda O’Boyle) who was refused funding for a cancer drug and then sought to pay privately. Under current arrangements, patients who go private for a drug not available on the NHS risk losing their entitlements to basic NHS care. Opponents of co-payments argue that topping-up would create a two-tier health service and undermine founding principles of the NHS. However, these new figures prove that co-payments were available in the past without any difficulties. A trust in Cornwall allowed 20 patients to co-pay for drugs which the NHS refused to fund before the ban was introduced.

Commenting, John said:

“The new figures show that co-payments were available in the NHS until last year without undermining its founding principles. Therefore, opponents of co-payments are wrong to argue they would mean the end of the NHS as we know it.”

“We always knew the present ban on top-ups is inhumane as it can result in NHS care being withdrawn from patients wishing to pay for drugs not available on the NHS. But these FOI figures also confirm the ban is illogical because it has been ignored in the past.”

“The latest NICE decision regarding the Bowel Cancer drugs shows just how far behind we are other European countries when it comes to patients accessing the latest treatments. This issue is not going away.”

From personal experience I know that the current situation regarding cancer drugs is perverse. NICE initially rejected the drug that saved my life, Velcade, and that decision almost certainly meant a number of people died in pain. The system couples that with making it impossible for people to pay for lifesaving drugs themselves, which means more early deaths and the attendant family tragedy. What kind of monsters are running our country? Don't they realise that these are real people, or maybe they just don't care.

Even worse than Heffer?

Simon Heffer is away, but a replacement has been drafted who spookily fills exactly the same niche as the great man himself. Her piece in the Telegraph leads on the case of the Conservative ex-candidate for Watford who engaged in a 3-year campaign of vandalism and harassment against is Liberal Democrat opponent, and her take on it is that David Cameron should 'speak up'. Now this man engaged in evil, criminal behaviour for which I fervently hope he will be justly punished. As soon as he was found out he immediately resigned from the Conservative Party, and if he hadn’t he would have been chucked out. What he was doing was not only against the Law, it was against the basic principles of the Conservative Party today, or at any time in the past for that matter. However, the reality is that every party attracts a certain number of bad people and the important thing is to note if their doings are broadly condoned or tolerated or if they are stamped on hard as soon as they are discovered. This man was in no doubt about the reaction of the Conservative Party so he walked before he got the boot.

What else is there to say? Does this woman seriously entertain the idea that this was in any way the way Conservatives are expected or encouraged to operate? If she does then she should lay out her case, and let's face it if she has something then it would be a huge news story. She won't do that of course because she has nothing. I'm an ex-parliamentary candidate, Constituency Chairman and current senior Councillor so I know of what I write. Conservative are expected to meet the highest standards in public life or else they cease to be Conservatives. There is nothing to this but one scumbag in Watford and the dripping pen of a columnist who has clearly been instructed to keep bashing David Cameron while Simon gets sunburnt. Oh, and the Liberal Democrats have jumped on this idea as well.

There's a surprise.