The details explained.
CAN A CIVILISED SOCIETY ABANDON ITS ELDERLY?
We are constantly being told that we cannot afford things – even though we live in a rich country with the fifth largest economy in the world.
... This is because the whole economy – businesses, individuals and government – is up to its eyes in debt.
It is in debt because debt is created every time the private banks create new money
As long as this mad economic model persists we can never be proud of how we treat our citizens.
UK pensioners face spiralling costs for health care.
Member Brian Wainwright
Sadly, this is not a civilised society. The Tories are quite content to leave helpless old people lying in their own excrement for hours (and make no mistake that *is* what this means) as long as they can save money by doing so. The whole p...aradigm of neo-liberal economics is mistaken, and demonstrably it has failed to deliver benefits to the people. We need to find a completely new way of doing things. In the meantime there is still scope for a reordering of priorities
High Speed Two. Serving the Regions or Serving London?
Comment by Member Richard Middleton on Newsletter No 89
Most people agree that Britain needs a high-speed rail network. The problems stem from the particular route and type of rolling stock, which have been chosen. In the form recently approved by the Government, HS2 totally ignores most major centres of population between London and the North and will be connected to the existing rail network only at its northern and southern ends. There is also a danger that, because it will cost so much, there will be no money left for extension to the North and Scotland - the parts of the country which would benefit far more from high-speed rail than the West Midlands.
If we have two or three extra trains, each hour, to Central Birmingham and cut the journey time by half an hour, that is to be welcomed but are such modest advances really worth £32bn? HS2 won\'t serve the needs of the majority of potential inter-city passengers (i.e. those, who are NOT travelling from London to Birmingham or vice versa). The travelling public will have to go on using inter-city trains, which run at about 100 mph. They will still be clogging up existing rail routes and the whole point of building HS2 is - supposedly - that it will take passengers off the \"classic\" network! HS2 will primarily attract business people and bureaucrats, who are based in Birmingham and need to travel to London (and possibly vice versa).
There are no intermediate stops (and, contrary to all sensible passenger-transport planning practice for the last 150 years, the line passes through the most sparsely populated area between London and the Midlands, well, that is unless someone in the DfT wants to take a really roundabout route through East Anglia). \"Firms\" [probably public bodies with middle/senior managers addicted to travel] will pick up the (hefty) tab.
That\'s the theory, anyway. It\'s unlikely that the majority of rail users (many of whom are students, pensioners and so on) will pay the fares on HS2, which could be twice the off-peak fares on the West Coast Main Line. If employers won\'t pay inflated fares (in the depths of a recession, for instance), we\'ll end up with a situation, similar to the one, which has existed on the West Coast Main Line in recent years. Virgin, thinking that businessmen would be their main market, stupidly ordered Pendolino sets with silly amounts of First-Class accommodation. Those coaches are virtually empty, most of the time, while Standard-Class coaches (outnumbered by First-Class ones by about two to one) are often full. [Things have improved, more recently, because patronage has increased and the DfT has bought additional coaches.
That waste of money (and the increased cost of operating longer and heavier trains) could have been avoided, if Virgin had ordered the right mix of \"First\" and \"Standard\", in the first place.] That was bad enough but imagine spending £32 bn on a 250 mph railway line, which is dedicated to exactly the same traffic. We could have another huge white elephant on our hands. Simon Jenkins, writing in The Guardian, only a day after the Government announced its intention to proceed with HS2, described the scheme as \"Concorde for slow learners\"; a pointless prestige project. He bemoaned the way, in which the suppliers of services to public bodies have hijacked the very organs of government; are \"embedded\" within them. We have a corporate [and some would say \"fascist\"] state.
The big PLCs, which provide services to government departments, local authorities etc are the robber barons of our age. The West Coast Main Line is the biggest problem of all, on the existing rail network: despite having had around £12bn lavished on it since 1999, it will soon be unable to accommodate any more trains. [It is more accurate to speak of \"robber quantity surveyors\", under instruction from \"contractor-barons\", in this case. The scheme was about £6bn over budget, according to a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report.] Even if HS2 were to follow a more sensible route and cost much less, it would still fail to achieve the original objective of relieving pressure on the West Coast Main Line [the reason why HS2 was \"essential\", according to the Government], simply because of the length of the legislative and construction periods. In the short term, why can\'t Virgin be forced to convert some of the First-Class coaches to Standard-Class ones (thereby greatly increasing capacity on Pendolinos and reducing overcrowding)?
An even simpler solution would be to reduce the cost of First-Class travel, to ensure that trains are full! Such measures would buy a little time. We might also ask, as the campaign group Railfuture (formerly \"The Railway Development Society\") did, why HS2\'s trains have to travel at 250 mph (and, by so doing, consume vast amounts of energy, compared even to trains, which run at the TGV\'s normal 200 mph). France has plenty of modern nuclear power stations to feed its electrified railway lines. Even if we wanted to build nuclear power stations [and most people, quite rightly, don\'t (for several dozen reasons, which need not concern us here], their cost, construction time and inefficiency (an inevitable consequence of placing them 40 or 50 miles from major settlements, in case of meltdown) would make them hard to justify.
Britain could face a real energy crisis, in a few years, and it would not be helped by imposing the burden of high-speed railway lines of any kind, let alone lines carrying trains at 250 mph. Railfuture proposed that
- a complete network of high-speed routes should be planned for the whole country, even if only one is built initially; [It\'s called foresight. Can someone explain the concept to politicians and civil servants and remind them that the money they play with isn\'t really theirs? Peter Kellow made a very good point about leaving capacity for expansion. Penny-pinching Whitehall mandarins prevented civil engineers doing this, when parts of the British motorway network were being built, in the mid-1960s, and, so, several motorways had to be almost completely rebuilt, in the 1970s, at enormous cost.]
- connections should be made with the existing rail network, to allow journeys to various destinations (and thus to serve a much greater number of passengers); and
- HS2 should be built along the side of the M1 Motorway, in order to (i) minimise environmental damage (and long-term nuisance), (ii) serve several towns and cities along the way, and (iii) place the (temporary) end of the line somewhere around Rugby. Extensions could then be built to Manchester/Liverpool/Glasgow, in one direction, and Nottingham/Sheffield/Leeds/Newcastle/Edinburgh, in the other.
The BBC (and some elements of the press) dutifully presented those opposing HS2 as a bunch of Tory toffs in the shires (and usually, to make them seem even more parochial, as a group of eccentrics, in one particular village, led by an actor famous for playing eccentrics) but the standing and range of the organisations, which now oppose HS2 cannot be dismissed as easily in forums, other than \"The Six O\'Clock News\". £32 bn is a ridiculous price tag. Cost estimates for alternative HS2 schemes have been produced figures 50% lower.
The \"bargain-basement\" option is to upgrade the West Coast Main Line [Yes, again.] for between £5bn and £9bn. [I take the higher estimates with a pinch of salt: if Whitehall doesn\'t want to do something, it will inflate the projected cost as much as possible.] It does seem bizarre that when, a few years ago, the \"Central Railway\" venture proposed building a dedicated freight route, all the way from the Channel Tunnel to Liverpool [using much of the now-closed Great Central route, including the section from Sheffield to Manchester through the (1950s) Woodhead tunnel], the Department of Transport dismissed the idea, even though all the funding for the scheme had been obtained from the private sector, and the rail industry and road hauliers were enthusiastic. \"Central Railway\" would have relieved pressure on the West Coast Main Line; would not have cost the taxpayer a penny; and, as it offered \"piggyback\" services [i.e. road trailers (and even tractor units) on well wagons, a la Canadian Pacific] would have taken thousands of lorries off the motorway and trunk-road networks.
[Some may remember that, when the 44-tonne weight limit for LGVs was first proposed, only lorries, which had travelled most of the way \"piggyback\" (i.e. by rail) were going to be eligible. A bit of lobbying in Brussels by road hauliers soon put paid to that restriction. Now, it looks as if even larger lorries will be allowed on to our roads. That makes a nonsense of the DfT\'s claims to be pro-rail. It has made carrying goods by rail more and more difficult, in economic terms, by making the carriage of goods by road easier and easier.]
Apparently, Treasury officials [the semi-divine beings, who decided, on a whim, about thirty years ago, that no economic activity in the UK, apart from the financial sector, was worthy of development or protection] were worried that, if the \"Central Railway\" proved unsuccessful, pressure would be put on the government to take it over and subsidise it. [As the Government spends about six times on the Byzantine \"private\" railway system what it spent on British Rail, that can\'t have been a genuine, principled objection.
The two crucial omissions from the \"Central Railway\" plan were the provision of huge backhanders to the major political parties, and directorships to senior civil servants.] \"Central Railway\" [Taxpayers\' loot required: £0] was, in the eyes of mandarins, poor value for money, yet, the cost-to-benefit ratio of HS2 [Price: a damned sight more than £32 billion, we can safely bet] has been halved, in the last two years, and no one in the Treasury has opened his cheaper. Funny that. The number and length of tunnels, on the HS2 route that has been approved, seems to grow by the day.
I found it particularly sickening that taxpayers had to find an extra £500 million for an additional tunnel, just to stop a cabinet minister (through whose constituency the projected route runs) resigning. Is a politician really worth that much? I doubt that you could find a single person in Great Britain, who believed a politician was worth £500 let alone £500,000,000! Sadly, in the \"United\" Kingdom, party always comes before country (even though it\'s the country\'s money and not the party\'s, which is treated like confetti).
Another idiotic idea is that the London terminus of HS2 should be at Euston. How can it make sense to spend roughly 5% of the UK\'s annual budget on a piece of infrastructure, on which trains \"must\" run at 250 mph but which will deposit passengers over a mile from the Eurostar terminal??!!! [Try walking from the platforms at Euston to the platforms at St P or look up the distance on Google Maps.]
We have been told, repeatedly, that HS2 is needed because upgrading the WCML again would be too disruptive. That being the case, why does the current HS2 plan involve, er, demolishing and rebuilding the terminus of the WCML and moving existing services all over the place? Unfortunately, some fool seems to have built a library (which is far too small for its intended purpose and, like every other large public building in the UK, cost about £500 million, far exceeded the original estimates and took decades to build) on the best site for the HS2 station. The demolition of what one famous (non-republican) architectural critic said resembled \"an academy for the secret police\" would be no great loss to the townscape (although the interior is quite nice).
Hey, I know! We could move the British Library to the West Midlands and then people would actually have a reason to travel on HS2! Remember that HS2 is going ahead at a time, when the UK is dealing with very high levels of public debt; about to enter another period of recession, thanks to Osborne\'s moronic policies and the Euro crisis (the previous recession having finished less than two years ago); cutting many public services; and facing a credit-rating downgrade from one or more agencies.
HS2 sends out the wrong message to the IMF, ratings agencies, banks and other countries about the control of public spending in the UK. Pardon me for asking, Guv, but weren\'t the austerity measures introduced by the Lib-Con Coalition [Considering their concern for ordinary people, I think \"Axis\" would be a more appropriate label.] Government designed to reassure the rest of the World that Britain had seen the error of its spendthrift ways?
Don\'t tell me it was another lib-con trick! \"Let\'s save £40,000 a year by closing a village library and blow hundreds of billions on things we don\'t need but which will keep huge engineering and defence firms happy because they fund our parties or their directors are former colleagues.\" Kleptocracy rules OK! As others have said, we no longer have the manufacturing base or skilled labour, which would allow us to build HS2 ourselves, so most of the money will end up in the pockets of French and German engineering firms, and Polish and Italian workers. I\'ve nothing against our fellow Europeans: they are willing and able to do jobs that many people in Britain can\'t or won\'t.
The point is that Cameron is misleading the British people by suggesting that HS2 will provide a boost to the economy and reduce unemployment. In reality, it will make very little difference (and may even, as several people have suggested, suck more investment towards the giant financial plughole, called \"The City of London\").
However, £32bn (or even a fraction of £32bn) could make a tremendous difference to the existing rail network. It\'s very run down, in places, and fit to burst, in others. Britain\'s railways carried more people in 2009-10 than at any time since the Wall Street Crash (and, if the economy recovers after the 2012 recession, which we\'re about to enter, demand for travel will increase). It is time that the Government acknowledged that the railways, long seen as a Victorian relic in Whitehall, are making a comeback; and directed spending to where its needed.
[The Liverpool Lime Street-Manchester Victoria, Manchester Victoria-Leeds and Paddington-Swansea electrification schemes, and the re-opening of the western part of the old \"Varsity\" line, now dubbed the \"East-West\" route, are a start but only a start. If BR had had a third of the public dosh that the so-called \"privatised\" railway has thrown at it every year, these schemes would have been implemented long ago (and the Great Central mainline would probably have been re-opened for high-speed passenger trains to the North and Midlands and nightly freight traffic from the Channel Tunnel, thus eliminating the need for HS2 in the short term at least). There are a dozen or so stations, most in London, which have dangerously overcrowded platforms or which have created terrible bottlenecks on the network. When are those pressing problems going to be addressed?]
Let\'s fix what we already have. We could probably still have a sensibly priced HS2 (on which more than Brummie businessmen and Whitehall mandarins could travel) with the money that\'s left over. Unfortunately, almost £800 million has already been spent on the project, without any discussion or approval. It\'s the replacement of the Trident missile system, all over again