Saturday, 4 September 2010

All change

Just about the only thing you can be sure of in life is that nothing stays the same forever.  Locally, the area in which we live has been undergoing change quite rapidly, although we've been spared the traumatic wholesale clearances often experienced by those who live in the cities.

On the web, things have been changing across the past couple of years, too, and the Llandudno Local forum's chequered past has finally been resolved through a move which sees the creation of a brand new local forum, the Three Towns forum.  Run by those who have managed the old Llandudno Local forum over the past twelve months, this new forum sees the closure of the old one, which Kindways - the Computer Repair Centre in Trinity Avenue, Llandudno - have generously hosted for over a year, and the opening of the new Three Towns project, which seeks to provide a free-to-use forum for all those on the internet in Llandudno, Colwyn Bay and Conwy.

The new forum will retain the old forum postings as an archive on the same site but will run under a simpler and more effective software system, which is widely regarded as one of the best around.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Going off the rails

It took a year, but the report about the derailment last August of the Trams on  the Orme is finally out.  And it makes worrying reading. From the report:

Immediate cause
71    The immediate cause of the collision was the lower points moving under tram 6 directing its rear into the path of tram 7 (paragraph 34 and Recommendation 1).
Causal factors
A causal factor was the wheel forces overcoming the tumbler’s holding force and changing the position of the points (paragraph 37 and Recommendation 1). This was a result of three factors:
l the effectiveness of the holding force on the points had reduced due to wear and degradation of the points (paragraph 46);
l the points did not have a facing point lock (paragraph 54), and l there were no procedures in place to routinely measure the condition of, or undertake remedial actions upon, the points (paragraph 56).

Perhaps the management of the tramway might care to explain why they seem to place greater emphasis on the drivers' ability to converse in Welsh then they appear to on passenger safety. 

The Great Orme Tramway  is probably the biggest attraction in Llandudno besides the Orme itself;  to ensure it maintains its tourist pulling power, there can't be any shortcuts taken with safety.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Catching the cheats

It's a truism that many blogs take an unmitigated delight in heaping derision upon the last government, and that those easily led souls also glean a lot of their information from that bastion of xenophobic bigotry and right-wing propaganda, the DFM.  But in their haste to condemn the benefit cheats and scroungers, the Tories (in particular) seem to have forgotten something: that the biggest single loss to the UK economy today doesn't emanate from benefit cheats and 'scroungers'.

In fact, there's an estimated £71 billion missing from the UK's exchequer - £71bn that's been taken by criminals from the pockets of every UK Tax payer.   That's seventy-one times the estimated fraud (£1bn) of benefits cheats, about whom the DFM gets so exercised.

So who are these criminals and why haven't they been caught? The answer is fairly simple;  they're tax dodgers.   Read on...

Working for the Public and Commercial services Union and using HM Revenue & Customs data, I estimated tax evasion in the UK to be at least £70bn a year in March 2010. Recent World Bank data on the size of the UK shadow economy suggests a slightly higher figure. In the year to March 2010 HM Revenue & Customs cut more than one in eight of its frontline staff who might tackle this issue.
Beating tax evasion and the £25bn a year UK tax avoidance industry is the best way to rebalance the government’s books. So why is no one in this government willing to embrace this issue and devote the resources to it that would create new jobs, enhance the quality of law and order in this country, uphold democracy and in the long run result in tax cuts for all honest people while maintaining essential public services we all rely on?
Richard Murphy
Director, Tax Research

Interesting stuff.  Perhaps those who roundly condemn the less fortunate in our society might look at who is really fleecing the UK econmy.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Greed and Gormlessness

The Pier pavilion site is causing a lot of consternation in Llandudno at the moment, with significant efforts being made to get something done about what has become an 18-year long eyesore on the front. A lot of myths abound but the reality is actually pretty simple.  The site owner refuses to negotiate on any plans for the site that don't involve him getting a huge amount of money based on its potential for residential planning which - as it's a conservation area - isn't going to happen.  

Over the past few years, numerous attempts have been made to get him to agree to something and - although he has professed interest at the outset - at the last minute he's pulled out and refused to meet with anyone.

Many folk think Llandudno and the WAG should take a compulsory purchase order on the site, but there's a big snag: Llandudno isn't a designated regeneration area.  The entire coast from Rhyl to Colwyn Bay is, and then from Conwy to Bangor but Llandudo's been left out.

So - because of one person's greed and the WAG's refusal to consider Llandudno as a necessary part of their regeneration strategy, the town is stuck with an eyesore that cannot but put visitors off visiting again.  Time to start lobbying the WAG, perhaps...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Be not afraid of greatness

As we slither towards the new school year and the looming A level and GCSE results' days we thought it might be a good idea to compare the most recent inspection reports of the three main English-medium secondary schools that serve the area - Ysgol John Bright, Eirias High and Ysgol Bryn Elian.

Running a comprehensive school is a complex business, but the person responsible - the Head Teacher - is paid extremely well to do the job, so it seems reasonable to expect that they take responsibility for the quality and results the school produces.

Many students will be wondering which schools do best for their sixth formers and, to those who have children, few things will matter as much as the secondary school they will eventually choose. In the past, that choice was non-existent, the Secondary being decided largely on the choice of Primary.  Things have been changing for a long time, however, and now parents can choose the secondary school they want, within reason.  To add to the local natter about what the schools are like, however, the government made it possible to see the inspection reports and it's from the 2008 and 2009 reports that this blog is taken.  

Inspection reports aren't simple things to read, so we've extracted the most pertinent aspects and shown them below.

The first thing to read is the summary. This shows the overall grade, if you like, that the inspectors have awarded the school.

Eirias: Eirias High School is a very good school which has many outstanding features.

John Bright: Ysgol John Bright is a good school with some outstanding features.

Bryn Elian: Ysgol Bryn Elian is a good school with potential

Probably the next thing to check is how they perform against all the the schools in Wales.  Inspections use a standardised scoring method to assess schools:

Grade 1 good with outstanding features
Grade 2  good features and no important shortcomings
Grade 3 good features outweigh shortcomings
Grade 4 some good features, but shortcomings in important areas
Grade 5  many important shortcomings

so that - in effect - the more 1s and 2s, the better.   So how did the three schools score on the critical Key Questions?

But the most important aspect of the inspection - and that which matters most to parents - is the assessment of the quality of teaching and learning.   Here, the inspectors mark the lessons observed against the Welsh averages using percentages. Again, they grade with 1 (Best) to 5 (worst).

Across Wales 19% of lessons get a grade 1, 57% a grade 2 and 21% grade 3.  So how did our three schools do?

From the table above, it can be seen that Eirias had a massive 41% of lessons judged as  good with outstanding features, while John Bright had 12% and Bryn Elian managed 9%.

Finally, it's always worth looking at the statements made by the inspectors about the same sorts of areas in each school.

Perhaps the most telling statement is made about how learners progress.  About Eirias, for example, the inspectors note that

"the attainment of learners shows outstanding progress when compared to their abilities on entry. They fulfil their potential and are well prepared to move on to their next stage of learning. This, too, is an outstanding achievement." 

while about John Bright they state

"The quality of guidance and support is outstanding. Teachers and support staff encourage pupils to give of their best and give very good pastoral support. The provision for pupils with special needs, and for all pupils at KS4 when preparing for external examinations, is extensive. They are well supported at this time and their progress against their targets is closely monitored."  

In Bryn Elian's report they say

"In KS4, the school has managed to address the fall in performance in 2007, producing a significantly improved set of results in 2008. The standards of attainment in GCSE in 2008 are such that they return to an improving trend established over the three years prior to 2007."

Inspection reports only offer a snapshot into the work and quality of any school.  Nonetheless, it can be seen that the main English-medium secondary  provision in Llandudno and Colwyn Bay is far above average.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Bite not the hand

Jason Weyman's current blog entry mentions, among other things, his expenses. Recently, a few posters on Oscar's blog have been making somewhat negative remarks about Jason and expenses and that's something which is fairly easy to do. Jason - after all - is a public figure and expects the flak along with the plaudits, even if most emanate from anon.  But it's worthwhile reading his blog, because Jason is a great deal more open about his intentions and reasons than most.  Most importantly, however, Jason is telling people what's happening - something of which - in a Council obsessed with secrecy and covert actions - many other councillors might do well to take note.

We need more like Jason Weyman.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Sick of what?

Now here's an interesting one.  Apparently, sickness and absenteeism cost  Conwy CC  (and hence all of us) over £1m last year.  Is it that stressful working at Bodlondeb?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Hi Carneades,

  To celebrate 150 years of Britain’s most loved and outrageous couple, we’re working with Visit Llandudno to host the wedding of the century at the smallest church in the UK, St. Trillo’s Chapel in Rhos-On-Sea – Thursday 5th August at 10am.

I found your Llandudno and Colwyn Bay blog and, as someone interested in the area, I wondered if you’d like hear more about it for the blog? We’ll also be producing a short spoof wedding video, which should be really good fun – which we’d be happy to share if you’re interested.

We're waiting with baited breath for more news!

Monday, 26 July 2010

In the land of the setting sun

So just after we'd sent out the warning notices to folk warning them about the low water levels and telling them it had been the driest spring since 1929 (which it has) the good old British summer decides to revert to form.

But there's something about holidays in North Wales and the weather.  It only seems right, really, that showers, wind, hail, fog and the odd volcanic eruption should enter - stage L - to play their part in making the holiday challenging. Which is, after all, the way most UK families view their annual expeditions, anyway.

It's all very well popping off to the costa del sherry and  being done to a turn on the oceanic spit that qualifies as the hotel beach, but where's the challenge, where's the thrill in timing your post-breakfast dash for the car precisely to avoid the thunderous downpour that emerged, from a hitherto unblemished blue yonder, to attempt a rapid submersion of the youngest?  It's staying one jump ahead of the iniquitous grey drizzle that adds that something special to the average UK holiday and provides such a sense of achievement when the family, having weaved their wind-blown, drenched ways around storm showers, mini hurricanes, low clouds and tsunamis, each competing for a place in the Guinness record book under the 'biblical deluges' section, finally make it back to the hotel, having walked the two miles from where they'd had to park the car and crash onto the beds in their warm, dry bedrooms  while they watch the sun finally emerge and bathe their rain-sodden hairlines in lambent glory.

More tea, anyone?

Thursday, 15 July 2010


There's little that does so much to raise the emotional temperature than the suggestion that slaughtering badgers is a 'good idea'.   Badgers, after all, are emotionally embedded in our national psyche, not least because of their portrayal in Wind in the Willows and various Disney animations, and those opposed to the proposed cull clearly feel incredibly strongly about the rightness of their cause.

It's a thorny issue, however, and one which the embattled cattle industry sees as decimating their herds if nothing is done. But is culling the right way forward?

The reality is that they chose a cull because badgers are easily captured and killed. Had the threat emanated from a parasitic or insect-borne contagion, then culling would have been impractical, so other avenues would have been explored, if for no other reason than culling flies is at best an awkward proposition.

This ruling does, however, focus the  minds of the WAG on the alternatives, such as vaccination. And perhaps that isn't such a bad thing.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

It's not that hard

Toy Story 3 is already another massive hit for the Disney-owned Pixar studios, and people are starting to wonder if Pixar can do anything wrong.

Apple have now sold 3m iPads in 80 days and - again - there's little sign of them putting a foot wrong.

But there's a common connection between Apple, Disney and Pixar: Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs founded Apple, founded Pixar and is a senior director on the board with Disney. At the helm of the second largest company in the US, Jobs is widely respected for his innovation and leadership.

But there's not a huge secret in what Apple, Pixar or Disney do. It's one word: Quality.  Those of us who've used Apple computers for 20 years knw they're not just the best, the least likely to fail, the most secure and the most well-equipped, but they're also - to top it all - the easiest to use.

By extending quality, reliability, ease of use, and - above all - customer-friendliness in to the fields of computing and mobile communications it's not hard to see why Apple is on course to become the biggest company in the US and possibly the biggest in the world.   Perhaps local councils and hotels could learn something from them.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Freedom of Information

Making a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act seems a simple enough procedure.  But public bodies can refuse information on several grounds, which include

Section 21 - information accessible to the applicant by other means

Section 22 - information intended for future publication

Section 30 - investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities

Section 31 - law enforcement

Section 32 - court records

Section 33 - audit functions

Section 38 - health and safety

Section 39 - environmental information

Section 40 - personal information

Section 41 - information provided in confidence

Section 42 - legal professional privilege

Section 43 - commercial interests

Section 44 -prohibitions on disclosure

However daunting that list may appear, the fact is that all pubic bodies have to supply information when asked unless they can specifically identify reasons under the above sections why they can't, when they also have to tell you why.

There are, however, no compulsions that they have to help you find out exactly what it is you don't know, so the whole process becomes something of a detective game.

To stay ahead of any potential obfuscation strategies,  FOI requests should follow some simple rules:

  1. Keep it as precise as you can. Use a precise time frame and identify what it is you want to know as precisely as you can.
  2. Use financial years instead of calendar years when dealing with the councils.
  3. Include your full name and address.

As an example, the Maesdu Bridge is the current 'hot-potato', and we all want to know exactly why there was what appears to have been such catastrophic mismanagement of the project. In this case you need to identify which committee dealt with the original proposals, who was the project manager and why it all went belly-up. 

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Let's turn back the tide of secrecy

Chris, a regular poster on this blog, sent me these two extremely pertinent comments yesterday:
Also worth saying that surely it's the five Councillors making the complaint who are much nearer to being guilty of making "vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints" When the ombudsman rejects their claim, I hope Cllr. Jason Weyman then demands an apology - after all, Jason would have had to have made an apology, if the ruling had been against him.
On the wider case of Council's appearing to love secrecy, I agree. The reason is simple enough. No-one wants to be seen as looking daft or greedy, and so the opportunity not to (by making sure that inconvenient information doesn't get in the public domain) is irresistible. There needs to be more scrutiny of how these powers are exercised, but in an era pining for less public sector bureaucracy, this is not going to be generated by 'the system' - any such scrutiny has to come from individuals.
We agree.  We'll help this to happen by publishing a guide to making FOI requests and then reporting councils who appear to be behaving furtively and using excessive secrecy in their dealings. We also appeal for local and county councillors, who agree with this stance, to contact us to show their support.

Friday, 9 July 2010

What don't they want us to know?

When those who have a little power seek to retain that power and widen its remit, then nasty things happen.  Fellow blogger and all-round nice-guy Jason Weyman, is the subject of a complaint after members of Towyn and Kinmel Bay Town Council voted to send a complaint to the Ombudsman for Wales after he posted comments on his blog.

The comments, which came in the wake of the suspension of Kinmel Bay county councillor Geoff Corry for failing to declare personal interests and concerned a proposed town council audit, were removed two days after being posted.

At the meeting, Cllr John Bevan described the information contained in the blog as being “defamatory to the council” which reveals a rather big hole in his comprehension of the English language and the law as defamation only applies to individuals. 

Cllr Peter Worswick proposed the matter be sent to the Ombudsman for Wales, who conducts independent investigations into complaints made about the behaviour of both town and county councillors.

The motion was carried with five of the eight councillors present voting in favour. The chairman and Mayor, Cllr Ken Stone, abstained from the vote, with two voting against, so good on them.

It was also alleged Cllr Weyman had broken a section of the county council Code of Conduct, stating members of the council should “not make vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints about anyone who works for, or on behalf of, your authority”.  Now, this is very important and we need to be clear on what its purpose is. 

This regulation is there to protect council employees and fellow councillors from nutters who say daft things without foundation to cause trouble. That's what the word "vexatious" means, while "frivolous" means lacking in seriousness, and "malicious" means their motive was simply nasty.

Jason has shown none of these qualities in his blogs.  On the contrary, he simply reports what is happening but we know that Conwy doesn't like that at all.

But hang on;  there's another interesting fact.  The last councillor reported in this way was one John Oddy - another blogger. Besides the fact that thy both run blogs, they're also both independents. Curious?

Councils thrive in the dark recesses of secrecy and delight in cloaking their activities in the shroud of 'confidentiality' but we should be asking what exactly is it that they don't want us - their paymasters - to know? What scares them so much that they feel the need to classify most of their committee meetings as 'not open'? 

We should celebrate people like Jason Weyman and  John Oddy, and we shold demand that more of these people start their own blogs and expose the goings-on for us - their paymasters - to see.  If we don't as Burke said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Saturday, 3 July 2010


Conwy CC is obsessed with secrecy.  They're not alone, of course, but what makes them different is that we pay their wages.

Byron Davies was temporarily relieved of his duties on Friday, 26th March, following a complaint to North Wales Police. No details of the alleged crime were revealed at the time, but Mr Davies has been suspended on full pay ever since. He has not been charged, which seems to suggest that either there's insufficient evidence or the CPS has refused to prosecute.   The delay is almost certainly down to lawyers dragging their feet, which should surprise no one.  But a three month delay between suspension and resolution is a travesty and unfair to Mr Davies.  The Police should either charge him or declare the case unsustainable.

CCBC has been silent.

The Maesdu bridge saga continues to astonish those who live in Llandudno, and someone  - almost certainly an officer in the CCBC organisation - has made what can only be described as a catastrophic mess in the budgeting, planning and project management areas, and we need to know exactly what has happened and why such a massive overrun of costs has been incurred.

CCBC has been silent.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

New blog in town

 Blogs get started for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes those reasons are less than altruistic.  But the recent Mostyn ward election has ignited some interest in the form of a new blog by one of the contenders - Jason Edwards.

In his extremely well-written blog, he sets out his stall and, although he failed to get elected, this seems like someone the town would find very valuable.

His blog is here:

and a quick read through  leaves the impression that he values clear communication above all else - a salutary reminder for the rest of the local and Conwy Councillors, many of whom think a computer is a wooden rack fitted with little sliding beads. 

Good luck Jason - and welcome to the world of bloggers.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

There's no business

The sun's being kind to us at the moment (the thermonuclear one, not the rag) and this summer looks fairly positive in term of potential visitors.
Llandudno trades relentlessly on the nostalgia factor; many of those who return - year after year - first visited when they were children, and are now reintroducing the next generation to its delights.  Trouble is, they're a vanishing commodity.  People talk fondly of Happy Valley, the Palladium, the Pier Pavilion and even places like the Old Rectory tea gardens, but these are all gone or in decline, and little new is replacing them.
Happy Valley was, of course, remembered most for the shows, and it wouldn't take a massive investment to create a basic facility that would allow for regular performances. Essentially, a concrete stage, some sort of canopy, electric points and a returning of the stepped,  tiered seating that once housed the deck chairs.  There are so many performing groups in Llandudno now, holding their own shows every week, that it would be simplicity itself to arrange a rota for interested societies to perform once a month throughout the season.

All it needs is someone with vision and enough time to see the idea through.  Any takers?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

School's out

If there's one thing which is absolutely guaranteed to bring out villagers with pitchforks and hay rakes, it's the subject of primary school closures.  With numbers falling throughout the country, however, schools have to be closed, and it's easy for those no longer involved in education to dismiss the concerns of villagers as parochial and short-sighted.

But in a tiny village, the local school is much more than it seems.  It's a social resource for the entire village, for starters.  A place where people meet, gossip, exchange information, views and make arrangements.

In villages where the population is not particularly mobile, it's also more than that. It's a store house of childhood memories and experiences, which is why threatened closures evoke responses which are largely unrelated to reason and economics.

Unfortunately, given our current economic situation, doing nothing isn't an option, and as long as UK legislation demands that children be educated and that they must attend school then schools are going to have to close.

Unless these small communities start to change things. Legislation does not require all children to attend school;  it only requires that they be educated and that councils provide schools in which that can happen.  There is nothing, however, to stop parents from educating their own children at home or from taking over schools themselves and educating the children there.

Let's not pretend this is easy; it isn't, because the communities would have to fund the school themselves, they'd have to meet standards for the education they provided and they'd have to be led by someone who really knew how to deal with council officials and the department for education and learning.  But it's possible and - if communities feel as strongly about preserving their village centres as they seem to, then they should be aware that they won't be the first to go down this path.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

And so it begins

The Labour government came under a lot of fire - some say rightly - for over-legislating and creating too much paperwork in many aspects of everyday life.  Now the first signs are emerging that the new coalition may be reversing the trend, but at some cost to those who most need protection.

A landlords register and new regulation of letting agents were to be introduced by the previous Labour administration but the new government has scrapped the plans.

Interestingly, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) said cutting the plans would aid rogue landlords. Citizen's Advice also criticised the decision.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said the sector was already governed by a well-established framework.

But renting a flat, say, is the only way many hard-working people can afford to put a roof over their heads. These people - the unmarried, childless but fully employed and extremely hard-working  - are the very people we need in the economy and we ought to be protecting their interests, if only to avoid the massive costs to the community incurred of them hitching up with someone, having ten children and then applying for benefits and housing from the local council.

Ian Potter, operations manager at ARLA, said: "A great fear is that a lot of agents who were looking at tidying up their practices will now feel they can run amok and add to the poor reputation we have at the moment."

What is particularly ironic, however, is what the Tory housing minister added. He told the BBC  the government wanted to focus instead on increasing home ownership, a rather odd aim with mortgages beyond the reach of most single workers.  Of course, the Tories will always look after those who stand to make money out of others, and those who slavishly support Tory policies should remember that their history has always been thus.

Friday, 11 June 2010

You couldn't make it up

Love 'em or loathe 'em, caravan sites and the North Wales coast have a long-standing affinity for one another. But last week, our beloved Conwy County Council decided to move against Michael Clark, the director of Golden Sands holiday park in Kinmel Bay, who readily admitted his company unlawfully put up signs on railings and on a trailer board in a pub car park.

After the case, Conwy’s head of regulatory services Phil Rafferty defended the authority.

He said: “There is a persistent problem with the display of unauthorised advertisements. We hope this successful prosecution will send a clear message to those who appear to be ignoring the law.”

Aha.  So they deliberately set out to make an example of Mr Clarke, then?  Quite apart from the dubious ethics involved, it would be interesting to see if anyone in Conwy CC can explain why they appear to have entire departments dedicated to driving away tourists. A few weeks ago, the same council decided to come down heavily on people who erected birthday banners at roundabouts.  If it was the script for a farce, you might be able to believe it, but the officers of the rudderless Conwy CC seem to have the bit between their false teeth and are charging in all directions, waging war on those whose livelihoods depend on attracting tourists.

Let's see it in perspective.  Under age drinking is serious, so presumably they've taken harsh measures against places found serving alcohol to children.  Pot holes in roads are causing thousands of pounds of damage to tax payers' cars, so presumably there's a massive effort to repair them taking place.  And of course they're ensuring that all the main roads into Llandudno leading to the beautifully maintained West Shore are open and running smoothly.

If all the above aren't happening, then how come they have time to waste mounting  expensive prosecutions against those simply trying to advertise their living?

let's see if they decide to abide by the Government's advice for full disclosure of their accounts and expenditure. And then let's see just how many of these overpaid officials we really need in these straightened times.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The council pie

The speech David Cameron gave on Monday should leave no one in any doubt that we're being softened up for the significant cuts that will be coming. The thing everyone's wondering is who is gong to suffer most.

The biggest slices of government expenditure are threefold: education, Health and Social security and - perhaps surprisingly - Local Government.

Last Friday, the government released its detailed spending figures and the fact that the 24,000,000 items of expenditure remain largely impenetrable to the average (or even, so far, the expert) should come as no surprise to anyone, given the ministerial obsession with secrecy.

It'll be interesting to see what gets cut, although Tory administrations traditionally favour jobs.  But given that Local Government represents a very large slice of the pie, perhaps stopping salaried cabinet positions might be a good way forward? Expenses - yes, they're fair enough, but what do we really get from the paid councillors around here?  Little, it seems, other than more and more secrecy.  Perhaps we need to devise some criteria for failure for their roles.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Cumbria and the media

The recent events in Cumbria have evoked the usual slurry of suggestions about banning all guns, 'lessons to be learnt' and the evergreen 'questions to be asked'.  The event itself was bad enough, but the media's craven response to this type of event remains the only constant in an otherwise depressing replay of our previous gun massacres.

The answers for dealing with anyone who is so depressed and unstable as to go around shooting people before killing themselves are fairly straightforward.  There's almost nothing you can do. This sort of thing happens - thankfully, not often, and we as a nation continue to slaughter far more per day on the roads than are ever killed by manics and maniacs.

On the 'lessons to be learnt' cliche, trotted out repeatedly by an unimaginative and time-worn media, there is only one: stay away from madmen with guns.  Otherwise ,Cameron's response was excellent.  We are long overdue a break from knee-jert reaction legislation.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

What's in a million?

Some years ago thee was an article in the Times which suggested few children can grasp the concept of a million. It was, the article argued, such a massive number that the only way to try to make them see its reality was to have a board in the classroom with a million dots on.

Today's children, however, are learning in an era when a million isn't that much anymore.   A lottery winner who only scooped a million would feel hard done by; a country with a population of one million hardly qualifies as a country and how many people d'you know with a 1 Mb disc drive?  The billion has become the unit of choice, making it easy to see just how awful a mess the banks' mismanagement  has left us in, terabyte hard drives are becoming commonplace and our entire approach to thinking about quantity has changed.

All of which made it a little sad when the Torygraph fixed its sights on a leading Liberal coalition partner for a rule infringement that  - in the scheme of things - amounted to almost nothing. Of course, the DT and its owners know all about rule infringing, loopholes and bullying.

The DT is owned by the Barclay brothers, who bought the island of Brecqhou, one of the Channel Islands, located just west of Sark. Their own mock-Gothic castle on Brecqhou, designed by Quinlan Terry, features 3 ft granite walls, battlements, two swimming pools and a helicopter pad. The brothers are tax exiles, and give their address as Le Montaigne, 7 Avenue de Grande Bretagne, 98000 Monaco.
Although they make their money from the UK, they pay not one penny in income tax, which makes it rather odd that they should choose to hound those who do and those who can be seen to be infringing rules. Their respect for the democratic process is well documented.  On 11 December 2008, they were in the news for pulling out their investments (which include hotels) from the island of Sark, causing 100 staff to be made redundant (one sixth of the population) and threatening the economic stability of the island after local voters did not support candidates championed by the Barclay brothers. The brothers had previously warned that if the voters chose to bring back the 'establishment' Sark leaders that are still aligned with the feudal lord then they would pull out of Sark.

Perhaps those who so avidly devour the pages of that august organ should know more about where their money is headed.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Another Whiskey, Humpy?

The New Scientist reports that a landmark case which pushed through laws banning the drug mephedrone - popularly known as 'Miaow Miaow' - has come under strong criticism after a toxicology report of the two teenagers thought to have died from the drug showed neither had actually taken it.

"Legal high kills two teens," cried the Daily Express earlier this year. There followed a steady stream of stories in the UK media of the dangers of the then little known "legal high".

The government subsequently rushed through an emergency ban on the drug and related compounds that became law in early April. Although implicated in 27 deaths, a report by the International Centre for Drug Policy at University College London found it to be a contributing factor in just one.

Today, this knee jerk reaction came under further criticism following the negative toxicology tests. Reacting to this finding, David Nutt, chair of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said: "If these reports are true, the previous government's rush to ban mephedrone never had any serious scientific credibility."

"This shocking news should be a salutary lesson to the tabloid journalists and prejudiced politicians who held a gun to the heads of the ACMD [Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs] and demanded that this drug should be banned, before a single autopsy had been completed," adds Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford. "The only good that might emerge from this fiasco is a long-overdue review of drug control policy."

When are our politicians gong to start thinking from themselves and not merely pandering to the berserk and vested interests of a heavily biased media?

Friday, 28 May 2010

A shot too far

The news that a customer fired a gun at two McDonalds' drive-through staff makes you wonder briefly if customer satisfaction in McDonalds has reached new lows.  The truth, as always, is slightly different.

Andrew Robert Hallows produced a black gun, which turned out to be an imitation bb firearm, and shot twice at the restaurant workers.
In court yesterday it was described by defending solicitor Bethan Jones as "a prank which went horribly wrong".
Hallows said that he would see how they would react when he fired at the hatch. He did not believe it would hurt anyone because it was not a powerful gun.

It's inconceivable that anyone could think that firing a replica weapon at someone in a public place could be regarded as a 'prank', but it seems there's no beginning to some people's talent.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

All Stand

It's a quintessential axiom that committees both aspire to epitomise democratic procedure, whilst simultaneously impeding progress and decision-making. That's why private industry endows an executive with power to take decisions on the spot, and then face their board, where the quality of their decisions will be examined. 

In small groups, vesting power in the Executive also helps things happen quickly.  But the most significant committees for most people in Llandudno and Conwy are the town and county councils, neither of which - it seems - can take meaningful decisions rapidly, and the larger of which is still without a CEO, the newly appointed one still suspended on full pay. That in itself is a bad state of affairs, since he's entitled to either be charged or exonerated with a great deal more alacrity than shown thus far.

Town councils, however, are notorious, and Llandudno is no exception.  It was revealed today on the Llandudno local forum that significant amounts of time were expended in October last year as they deliberated over the momentous matter of when the tea break should be.

It's easy to see this sort of thing as typical small-town lunacy, but the reality is that there's no great competition for council places. Young, committed, intelligent and resourceful individuals don't want anything to do with it, and individuals like John Oddy and Jason Weyman are the exception. We need more like them, but that will only happen if the right people can be persuaded to stand.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Time to say something fast

You will no doubt have heard of the recent cases where pharmacists have refused to dispense drugs because the drugs are contrary to their religious belief. The General Pharmaceutical Council, which is replacing the existing Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, is consulting on its code of ethics.

The proposed code of ethics enshrines such discrimination as the official ethical policy. If this offends your sense of justice, you have until 28th May to object, this coming Friday in other  words.

This is the proposed code of ethics; clause 3.4 is the offending one, although I also draw clause 3.3 to your attention.

Remember that just because a patient is referred to another provider, they may not be able to act on that advice. Not everyone has access to private transport and there may be other considerations. Further, a patient may be so embarrassed or confused that they do not attempt to find another provider. This clause dismisses the welfare of patients and panders to the abstract whims of the pharmacist.

There is an on-line consultation form

Monday, 24 May 2010

Weight there for a moment

OVER half the adult population of North Wales is overweight or obese, according to latest figures.  The Executive Director of Public Health, Andrew Jones, says "Throughout Wales 57% of the adult population is categorised as overweight or obese, with the lowest North Wales percentage  – 53% – being in Conwy and Wrexham.

The report also highlights serious drug problems in north west Wales. In 2008 in Anglesey there were 331 men admitted to hospital due to drugs, with Gwynedd second in the table on 197 and Flintshire lowest on 105.

 Anglesey also has the highest number of alcohol-related admissions to hospital among males, whilst the highest figure for hospital admission and deaths among females is in Conwy.

Now here's a thought; in their bid to reduce costs and the impressively large deficit with which the mismanagement of the banking world has landed us, might the new coalition government start to think about criteria for hospital admissions?  What would be the validity of creating categories of patients which were then ranked in order of treatment priority?

Superficially, this idea has some attractions. Making the drunk who'd fallen down the stairs wait longer than the elderly grandmother who slipped on the ice seems to have some merit.  And should the drug abuser be made to wait for their treatment until the cancer patient had finished?  And what about the habitual violent offenders, who often attack the very people trying to treat them? Should they even be given access to A & E? But there's also the obese, the smoker, the McDonalds' addict...

At a time when the new government is seeking cuts, some of these ideas may seem tempting - but at what cost?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The world's mine oyster

The news that fake bank notes with a face value of £350,000 were found stashed at converted farm buildings near Connah’s Quay makes you wonder if we should be jailing the forgers or putting them up for a Queen's award for industry.

Crime takes many forms, of course, and the temptation for the right to mutter about sentences not being long enough and throwing away keys doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, when you realise that the UK already imprisons a greater percentage of its population than any other EU country (139 per 100,000 of the national population), a statistic which places it above the mid- point in the World List - itself more than a little interesting.  The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, some 686 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by the Cayman Islands (664), Russia (638), Belarus (554), Kazakhstan (522), Turkmenistan (489), Belize (459), Bahamas (447), Suriname (437) and Dominica (420).

But we digress. Forgery - like the audacious theft from the Paris Museum of Modern Art - isn't the easiest way to make money, although the irony isn't lost in the case of forgery. 

But perhaps what really ought to concern us is that these forgers almost certainly worked long and hard, had significant overheads, high risk factors and their only 'crime' (banknotes themselves have no intrinsic worth - they're simply promissory notes) was to dilute the overall money supply slightly.  To have a really significant effect, cause untold misery for millions, wreck entire economies and achieve lasting fame they would have had to been making perfect forgeries on a massive scale.

 Or perhaps they should simply have got themselves into banking.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Get a life

The big news today is that several Americans have managed to create a self-replicating form of life from synthetic DNA. As news goes, this event is perhaps more significant than most, but at the moment the chance of you creating your favourite pet out of a box of supermarket cleaning fluids and cornflakes is still a fair distance away.

Creating life is nothing new, of course; would-be parents do it all the time, but what's interesting about this achievement is that people weren't used and part of the DNA is synthetic. And it joins a list of discoveries and advances in Biology which include cloning, human genome mapping and freeze-dried spam to compete for the best theory of abiogenesis.

Of course, the media will soon start muttering about scientists 'playing God' and those who don't really understand what's happened (that's most of them) will start painting dark pictures of what might happen if this synthetic life escapes the confines of the laboratory. And, as with genetically modified crops and insects, or recombinant DNA experiments, the consequences of getting it wrong don't really bear thinking about. As one worrying example, imagine a virus being created that attacked grass.

But we've always pushed the boundaries of what's possible, and scientists have always tried to comprehend why things happen. And, if creating life synthetically becomes routinely practicable, then perhaps we could introduce some into the next CCBC meeting.