Friday, 21 April 2017

Picking up the rubbish

Great news:
"Police and Environment Agency officials carried out dawn raids this morning in North Staffordshire as part of an operation to disrupt 'major' illegal waste dumping racket. The raids – which were carried out in the city and Cheadle – came as part of an investigation into 25,000 tonnes of waste being dumped across more than a dozen sites."

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

General Election: 8th June 2017

Ah well, here we go again. A General Election on 8th June 2017. At least this time poor ol' Stoke won't have to put up with a noxious cloud of London journalists descending on and libelling our city, since they'll be busy elsewhere. One suspects that the extreme-left Labour students who flooded Stoke during the recent by-election may also feel slightly less inclined to board their transit vans to Stoke.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Litter Strategy: open for consultation

The new national litter strategy has been unveiled for consultation and it's looking good, so far as it goes. It includes:

* No Council tip charges on dumping of household DIY stuff like offcuts and paint-tins... "Ministers will stop councils charging householders for disposing of DIY household waste at the tip, as it legally should be free to dispose of such waste at municipal waste sites and they warn the charges can contribute to fly-tipping." (Good).

* "Owners of vehicles could be fined if rubbish is thrown from their car by any driver or passenger". (But it has to be "proved", presumably by CCTV or similar)

* "Fixed penalty fines of up to £150 for dropping litter". (Good. But it should be about far more than just security guards lurking in grotty 1970s shopping centres and pouncing on unsuspecting cigarette butt-flickers, in order to rack up income for the Council).

* "Offenders put on community service, including fly-tippers, to help clean up the streets". (Good, as long as it's not just the fairweather 'stroll in the park' I've often seen. Let's see them working up a sweat in the rain).

* "New guidance for councils will be issued to update 'binfrastructure' with new designs, and better distribution of public litter bins". (Likely to be useful).

* Target the 25 worst litter hotspots on the sides of the road network. (Nice for a few car drivers, but it'll probably only scratch the surface. 'Automatic litter-fining cameras' on motorways might be good, though, if such things could be reliably developed).

* Educate children to "lead the fight against litter". ("Lead the fight" sounds to me like like they intend a rather nanny-ish crusade — which may be the wrong approach, leading to a counter-reaction in some kids as they turn 13-14).

* "Boost participation in national clean-up days". (Good. Perhaps have an after-Bonfire Night clean, in those still crisp early November weeks when the wind is low, as well as the existing Spring cleanup?).

Chugg off!

Excellent, chuggers restricted from Newcastle-under-Lyme, from 27th March 2017 onwards...

"Only two town centre sites can now be used by fundraisers: Ironmarket (between Yates’s and Greenwoods) and High Street (between Boots and McDonalds), on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, between 9am and 7pm."

"Only one charity/not-for-profit organisation is allowed to operate across the two sites at any one time, with a maximum of three authorised individuals. Further conditions require the fundraisers to make sure there is an adequate ‘comfort zone’ for pedestrians who do not wish to engage with them. They also have to remain a minimum of one metre from shop frontages and keep a ‘reasonable distance’ (approximately three metres) from each other and any other legitimate street activities, such as buskers, street traders, Big Issue sellers and market researchers."

They should have been banned totally, but at least they're now more avoidable.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Green taxes on your electric bills - the view from Stoke

The Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change has this week calculated how much domestic energy bill-payers are paying for green subsidies, in terms of the green 'stealth taxes' being added by energy companies to our quarterly bills...

"In 2016, on average, nine per cent of bills for ‘dual fuel’ households – or £105 – was down to green policies."

But all-electric flats are where the poorest urban working-age people tend to be. The Committee's report admits that such all-electric households are being hit the hardest. For...

"Electrically-heated homes ... low-carbon policies make up a higher proportion of their bills: 18% rather than 9%. This is set to increase to 2030".

It's true that this 18% increase has been offset by energy-efficiency savings, from things like better insulated homes and more efficient washing machines / fridges / TVs. But the recent British government paper Energy Consumption in the UK (2014): Domestic energy consumption in the UK between 1970 and 2013 puts that offset at only at about 9%...

"At a per household level, [average] energy consumption has fallen by 9 per cent since 2000."

So, broadly... all-electric households could have seen a roughly 9% cut in bills, mostly due to better insulation and smarter appliances. But we didn't see that, because the energy companies swiped the savings to pay for green energy subsidies, via our bills — and thought that we wouldn't notice.

Around 16% of households in the city of Stoke-on-Trent are in 'fuel poverty', according to the most recent Energy Consumption in the UK government report on the topic. Outside of the council's 'council estate and bungalows' sector, many households will be electric-only. 25% of all UK flats are electric-only, for instance. The majority of new-build flats are electric-only — such as the many student flats now being built in Stoke town.

Now a Parliamentary Committee has found that in an all-electric home you're still currently around 9% worse off per year (calculation: 18% green stealth-tax, minus 9% home efficiency savings = 9% extra on the bill). That comes on top of the huge 120%+ energy price rises electric households suffered in the 2000s. The Committee admit that the problem is set to get worse for those households by 2030, if the green stealth-taxes on our bills are allowed to continue.

Perhaps, when the new "smart meters" go into homes, we need a new bright-green display slot which will reveal: "Your bill has been increased by £XXX, to pay a subsidy to farmers for useless wind-farms and bio-fuel schemes."

What about local industry, such as Stoke's ceramic companies? Well, the same Committee on Climate Change states that the energy-intensive industrial sectors (such as ceramics making) are overall set to see a "5.9%" rise in energy bills due to the green 'direct-to-the-bill' stealth-taxes, by 2030. That's a bit more hopeful, since such a rise may well be balanced out by efficiency savings and new workflows. But it seems to me that a ceramic factory could have instead enjoyed a big cut in energy costs, if the green energy subsidies were scrapped and their factory's efficiency and modernisation savings went ahead anyway.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Blank pots

There was an interesting sort-of-interview in the Sunday papers, with successful local pottery maker Emma Bridgewater: "UK skills crisis being fuelled by university courses geared towards overseas students". Emma was talking about her children's experience in the London art schools, and I must say that it's the first I've heard of such a linkage.

But more interestingly and most-likely locally, she also commented that in universities she personally finds an...

"absolute blankness and a sense that what I'm doing is so irrelevant."

I imagine that part of that will be a snobbishness arising from the commercial design of her ranges, which won't sit well with the 'oh, we're contemporary fine arts really' stance commonly encountered in contemporary crafts in higher education. Anyone who has pondered what looks like lumps of industrial slag at Stoke's BCB festival will know what I mean. But perhaps part of such a response may even be political 'snark' from leftist lecturers — Guardian-readers of the sort who instinctively bristle with horror at the sight of a British flag and a bit of cheery optimism.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

"We'll keep the red paint flying here..."

Oh dear, the Labour left (usually bitter and sore losers) are now in such a tizzy that they can't even refrain from being bitter winners:

"Ukip leader Paul Nuttall's office was plastered with red paint just hours after the Ukip leader lost the Westminster seat to Mr Snell."

Friday, 24 February 2017

It's sunshine and showers for Stoke

Ah well, so it's Friday morning and the political storm is all over. It's back to the usual Labour domination in Stoke. As regular readers here will know, I had expected the Stoke Central by-election to be a closer vote, with the Conservative candidate doing well. In the end the actual result was:

Lab. 7,854 (37.1%) | Ukip 5,233 (24.7%) | Cons 5,154 (24.3%) | Libs (9.8%) — on a 38% turnout.

Which means the small-c conservative vote was split right down the middle yet again, as I suggested would be the case at the start of the campaign.

But the Conservative vote held up well and even increased. That's especially positive when you consider that that there was only a small-but-plucky mostly-local team battling against the combined weight of the huge well-funded Labour + Ukip campaigning teams, which drew in thousands of students from across the UK. Plus there was that strong Lib Dem leafleting operation.

But at least Ukip's Nuttall was kept out and presumably he went slinking back to Liverpool in the night. Like Storm Doris the election's dismal media coverage has left the city with a whole lot of short-term damage to repair, but 'Nuttall defeated' is a very good result for the city's reputation.

The Lib Dems did very slightly better than my predicted 9%.

There was a surprisingly high turnout, considering that Storm Doris could have pushed it to the low 20s — where I really thought it would be. Turnout was at 38 per cent, which not bad for a by-election on a soaking wet stormy February day in Stoke. My guess is that level of turnout, plus a few wads of postal votes, is probably what swung it for Labour. It'll be interesting to see what the electoral bone-pickers can pull out of the detailed statistics, when we get them.

On the upside:

* The anti-Brexit lobby can't say that this was "an anti-Brexit vote", since the majority of the voters voted for pro-Brexit parties. So hopefully our Brexit hasn't been damaged.

* The Conservatives now go into the 2020 General Election facing a weak Corbyn extreme-left dominated Labour Party. The Conservatives winning Copeland seems unlikely to unseat him, since he has the 'nuclear power policy' excuse there.

* The vote-splitting Ukip has been badly weakened, though possibly not enough to cause the party to vanish. Especially if they can now find a decent leader. It won't be Farage, who is clearly off to support President Trump. If Nuttall clings on by his fingernails, then Ukip's major funder may well decide not to sink any more cash into them.

What can Labour's Snell now do for the city?

* Take some intensive training in how to restrain himself from blabbing his mouth off in the media and on Twitter and in Parliament.

* He should try to stay out of Labour's bitter civil war if that's possible, bend the knee to Commissar Corbyn and just try to be a good solid local MP for the next three years.

* He needs to make good on his sudden change of heart on Brexit, and get behind it wholeheartedly. Brexit is happening and we need to make sure Stoke's interests get strongly factored into the national planning for Brexit. That means across all sectors of business and industry, not just manufacturing.