Archive for the Government Category

Scottish Elections: Results and Fallout

Posted in Election, Government, Labour, Lib-Dems, Politics, Scotland, SNP, Tories with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2011 by pieman70

Well, the elections are over, over for quite some time, but I wanted to see the fallout of the campaigns before posting, honest.

So, for those who weren’t watching, it was an unprecidented result, in a parliament with a voting system specifically designed to stop any party achieving a majority, with the express goal of keeping the SNP out and an independence vote off the table, the SNP have won the first majority government in Scotland.  Yes, Scotland currently has a government that can be absolutely secure in the fact that it has a mandate from the majority of voters, that’s PR for you.

While the collapse of the Lib-Dem vote helped, with most of their voters clearly turning to the Nats, they also made massive inroads into common Labour safe seats.  The response from the Labour side has varied in the blogosphere.  There was denial, particularly during the election, where Labour were convinced it was merely the Lib-Dem swing, despite loosing safe seats to the SNP, or as seen here, Denial mixed with a shrill terror that the Evil Nationalists are re-building Hadrian’s wall as we speak.  Or here, where they blame the Tories for their loss.

Fortunately, most of the other blogs have correctly started looking inward for the reasons of Labours Defeat.

Part of it had to be the woeful negative campaign.  Put simply it appeared Labour were confident Scotland would sharpen up from its little dalliance with a party that wasn’t them now the Tories were in and all they really needed to do was sit back, make some comments about how terrible the Tories were and the voters would flood back.  It highlights a basic flaw in Labours general national plans so far.  In effect labour are working on the principle that they will win the next election through the virtue of not being the Tories.  That is so far the entirety of their case.  Scotland should be a wake up call that this is not nearly enough.

The other interesting point was Labour’s inability to fight on the Centre left, uncommon in westminster elections where they merely have to fight for the same few swing seats against the Tories, but more common in Scotland.  Furthermore, it shows how Labour still take their working class vote for granted, and they shouldn’t since they are seeking out alternatives as it sinks in that Labour no longer represent them.  Hopefully this will be a kick up the behind for Labour, however so far the party has been pretty quiet.

So, independence, will it happen.  I know a few nationalists (Hell, I’m married to one) and most of them think it won’t happen.  I have to agree, I don’t think there is the appetite.  However, the opposition parties should not think that a loss on an independence referendum will mean the end of the SNP.  A lost referendum will actually show that people clearly liked the SNP’s policys despite the independence issue rather than because of it, and Labour really should be looking at that side of the SNP and learning.

As for the SNP, the training wheels are off, no more excuses this time, no minority status to fall back on and the “It’s Westminster’s fault” argument will grow tired if its wheeled out repeatedly.  Interesting times indeed.



Posted in Government, Transport, Weather with tags , , on January 5, 2011 by pieman70

We’re all doomed, the icy white stuff has trapped us, quick, stockpile bread, milk and petrol in case they run out.

Yes, it has snowed, a function of weather.  Its snowed a lot, we also got trapped by a wave of idiot commentators and idiotic members of the public spouting uninformed opinions regarding the way our infrastructure stands up to the snow.  I thought I’d take a look and try to explain why we appear to grind to a halt in the snow and hopefully bust a few of the myths in the process.

So, to begin, why do our roads, rails and runways seem to shut down entirely when the snow hits while no other country seems to have this problem.

This is actually part of our first mini myth; countries with a similar or warmer climate, such as Belgium, Germany and France do suffer in the snow, to roughly the same extent.  In the previous snow fall there were massive tailbacks on the autobahn and deaths in France due to accidents.  Their trains get slowed down as well.  Their rail networks hold up slightly better, but this is due to their relatively recent construction (Around 1940s-50s) and the lower frequency of services.  As to why we survived better when we got similar snowfalls in the 1960s, quite frankly fewer of us travelled smaller distances to work and did not expect shops to run 24/7.  Back then it was also not unthinkable to call and say you were snowed in.

So, what about countries with snowy climates, Russia, Canada, North America, even Sweden, Norway etc.  How do they keep things running during their far more severe winters?  Well two reasons.

First, they Engineer for it, their infrastructure is built with snow in mind, such as better facilities for clearing points when they freeze and snow drift breaks.  Similarly more of their vehicles can be equipped for snow.  They also have a larger stand-by level of snow ploughs gritters etc, as anyone who had to deal with bitter cold and severe snow and ice every year will have.  Why don’t we, because we won’t pay for the gritters or the stand by crews, and I assure you if we did then come the first mild winter some lump like Eric Pickles or the Tax Payers alliance would be out asking why we are wasting so much money on gritters that are not needed, using the usual faulty memory that plagues those who resent paying a penny of their vast fortunes in tax.

We haven’t engineered our infrastructure for this in the past because there has been little to no requirement.  It make it pretty clear that this weather is unprecedented, or at any rate rare when it doesn’t qualify to be included in the engineering specs for the construction of new roads and railways or the abilities of council vehicles and trains.

Similarly, in places like the Northern US and Canada, a “snow day” is not an uncommon occurrence, where whole schools and workplaces will close for a day.  This official closure allows the authorities to clear the roads without the rush hour traffic getting in the way and compacting the snow into ice.

Finally, as people they are better prepared, many in those parts own snow tyres or snow chains, and just about every municipal vehicle will have access to these as well.  At least now our authorities are looking into buying such things for the next cold snap, hopefully allowing ambulances and police vehicles to avoid getting stuck.

The second question is “Why do we start running out of simple things like bread and milk?”  This is easy.  Particularly for perishable goods such as bread, milk and fresh fruit and veg, most stores now work on a principal of receiving supplies of these on a daily basis, this allows them to minimise losses through spoilage by only stocking around a days worth of such items.  The down side is if the supply chain is interrupted supplies can run short.  This is not helped by people panic buying the minute the snow hits, the stores can take a small run on bread but people filling their freezers quickly wipes out their supplies.  Fuel is a similar case although will usually last slightly longer.  The pres don’t help as the minute they say there are shortages it promotes even more panic buying.  Again in cold countries, this just doesn’t happen because people are used to the weather and don’t get driven into a panic by the possibility of 24hrs without being able to drive to Tescos, something which seems to affect most brits judging by the rushes around the Xmas Day and new years closures.

People also do need to pitch in.  In Edinburgh the Army were drafted in to clear the streets, conversely, in Aberdeen, where this weather is more common most know in heavy snow you dig yourself out, then start digging out the street.  We have a certain complacency that it is the council’s job to clear the snow, which it is, however they will usually have more important routes to clear, so if you want your street cleared quickly, do it yourself.

Finally, and this will sound bad, its high expectations.  In cold countries people understand that it’s best to wait out the snow, allow the authorities to clear the roads then carry on.  We seem to insist that in the face of adverse weather everything must carry on regardless.  People seem to think that with the passing of a snowplough and gritter that roads will magically return to black tarmac.  Well sorry, a snow plough will be wrecked by hardened ice and grit ceases to melt anything below -10.  Grit is tricky to do right, too soon and it will simply be washed away or destroyed by traffic, too late and the snow can dilute the effect.  Finally, things can and still do go wrong.  The M8 closure should not have cost a transport minister his job, no opposition MSP has been able to explain how they would have acted differently.  The M8 was hit by heavy snow during the morning rush hour where, as anyone who has driven it during that time will tell you, it is full.  You could not have got a gritter through that traffic, the traffic then compacted the fresh snow to ice and this causes accidents and in some cases made some hills completely impassable.  I drove a more minor road that day and it was an experience I would not like to repeat.  We need to learn the world will not end if we take one day off work, and the govt needs to stop kowtowing to businesses complaining of the cost and call a few snow days, for the long term good.

The Problem with Labour

Posted in Coalition, Government, Idiocy, Labour, Lib-Dems, Politics, Tories with tags , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by pieman70

You may be asking why I’m having a pop at labour, surely with the cuts announced and whatnot I should be going at the Tories.  Only its been done better by better folk.  I recommend a look at Obsolete and Liberal Conspiracy for good arguments against the cuts.

Nope, I’m having a pop at Labour because, not counting the Lib-Dems (And I suspect we have many years of not counting the Lib-Dems consider the damage this coalition is doing to their reputation, ho-ho, political humour) is that like it or not (And I don’t) they are the best credible opposition to the cuts, and the most likely alternative to play the “Big” party in a future coalition (Should we get a fairer voting system)

It looked promising when Ed Milliband beat his brother in the party leaders election, the Tabloid and Tory spin that he was a puppet for the unions and the “Red Ed” moniker seemed like tired old jibes and really weren’t sticking. (In fact my Union backed Diane Abbott, guess more of its members who didn’t tick the box to stop contributions to Labour disagreed.)

Ed made a good start, namely by saying the Iraq war was a mistake.  That made me sit up I can tell you.  I thought this was a turning point, they might now start admitting that not everything Blair did was fantastic and right.  I think Blair did some things right, minimum wage for one, but it seems like the Blairites in the Labour party don’t like to hear any word against anything he did, and he made some howlers.  There was the Iraq war, draconian terror legislation, idiotic and costly Public Private Partnerships, I could go on.  In fact one of the worst policys was removing student grants and introducing tuition fees.  A bad policy in general, and hypocritical considering it was passed by those who had more of their education paid for by the state than any subsequent generation.

The problem with the introduction of fees was that it removed a taboo, Thatcher was too scared to go near free education but now the taboo has been removed the increases proposed by the coalition are merely bartering over how much.  Worse, unless they admit that the policy, which may have seemed right for the time, was a mistake, then Labour look hypocritical for opposing increases, since critics can simply stump any labour minister by asking if they think fees are a bad idea.

Sadly, I see a lot in the Post Brown Labour Party that I saw in the Post Major Conservatives.  back in 1992 many Tories were looking back at the Thatcher years with nostalgia.  In those days the Tories were looking for a new Thatcher, or at least a thatcherite to regain the heydays of that era, not realising that Thatcherism had been rejected by the electorate as much as Major’s government.  The same now stands for Labour, the Blairites get snippy if anyone dares say that anything King Tony did was a bad idea.  This is unhealthy, again they blame Gordon Brown for Labour’s defeat, but people were as tired of Blair before Brown came in.  Just as people didn’t vote out the Tories because they weren’t Thatcherite enough, they didn’t vote out Labour because they weren’t Blairite enough.  Quite frankly this factioning has to end and sadly a leader can’t end it, instead the party itself has to choose to put these things aside.  They can’t really effectively oppose Coalition policy when it so closely matches much of the Blairite policy of the past.  The party needs to cleanse itself of the bad parts of Blair and brown.

Sadly at the moment it looks like they’ll go down the path of the Tories, at the moment the Political party has decided to rebel against the expulsion of ex-immigration minister Phil Woolas.  It is covered very well at Obsolete, Liberal Conspiracy and Enemies of Reason.  Some of the party have decided to defend this man, the man who sang from the Daily Mail’s hymsheet during his tenure as Immigration minister and who chose to use false information against his nearest rival combined with the worst form of dog whistle racism.  He has been rightly punished by the law for his illegal conduct, but instead of doing what the party leaders have done and quite rightly rid themselves of this liability some have risen to defend him, why?  Loyalty? more likely because he is one of “theirs” and they protect their own.  If this is what the Parliamentary Labour party is rebelling over then we are surely doomed to a minimum of 10 years of tory governance.

Looking for savings in all the wrong places

Posted in Coalition, Government, Politics, Recession, Spin, Tories with tags , , , , on September 12, 2010 by pieman70

Surprisingly, we didn’t see the real extent of the coalition’s plans for budget reduction during the budget.  In fact it’s been an ongoing series of small announcements that has shown the full extent of the cuts that they propose.

Much has been written (And very well written) in other places regarding whether these cuts are even necessary, and at base many of them have a point.  It is ideological from the Tory side to reduce the size of the state and favour the private sector.  My problem is that this ideological crusade for “Small state” is blinkering them to better ways at promoting recovery and saving money.

I’m going to try and stay off the “Evil Tory” narrative and portray this purely as how I see it, bearing in mind that I’m an engineer not an economist.

During the election campaign Cameron talked about reducing council wastage, seemingly a war on glossy leaflets and expensive police cars.  (The police car story in question was pretty well debunked) At the time I wondered if there were really enough savings in this area to hack chunks out of the deficit.  Now, I understand every little helps, but, like the police car story I think much of this has been based on a perception of reality rather than reality, namely that councils are full of jobsworths who haemorrhage money in pointless projects.  No where is this clearer than in Eric Pickles recent idiotic crusade against “Unnecessary” road signs.  There he was, on BBC breakfast wondering around London pointing at signs asking “Why is that there” or declaring “That’s totally pointless”.  As I said previously, I’m an engineer not an economist, and so as an engineer who has studied highway engineering I can tell Mr Pickles that the road signs are there for one of two reasons, first, and by far the most prominent will be because the signs presence is stated in the Design manual for Roads and Bridges, which states, amongst many other things, what signs must be placed where and at what intervals.  As the representative of the council said on the same BBC breakfast news, if a sign warning of a speed limit or parking restriction isn’t where it is legally prescribed then enforcement of any charges there is impossible.  The second reason is that there has been a reported need for such signage, this could be questioned but is quite often borne out of accident black spots, say a one way street which is hard to identify, may well have increased signage.  The only other signs are ones directing you to places.  Now here’s a wee contrast.  Drive through Glasgow, particularly the south side, not many road signs; now try to find the M8, The science centre or the Burrel collection.  All are badly signposted with some roundabouts being completely unsigned.  Compare this with Dundee, loads of sign posts but finding your way around is easy as signs are placed in advance of turnoffs allowing you to find lanes etc.  I did laugh when the council official challenged Eric Pickles to take a trip around his borough with a camera crew and point out what signs he thought were surplus to requirements and the council official would explain why it was there.  Sadly I fear that uninformed blowhards making opinionated judgements will be a sad hallmark of the coalition’s cuts.

The second place where “Wastage” will be cut from the public sector is in staff.  This is based around the narrative that public services are filled to the gunnels with “non Jobs” and that this was a handy way for Labour to appear to reduce unemployment figures.  This approach has two problems.

First, assuming that the staff cuts are these non-jobs, and I accept some of these do exist, although like the savings Cameron said he could get from glossy leaflets I suspect far fewer than are needed to make the numbers talked about, the government is going to be paying these people one way or another, they might as well be recouping some of the money as tax, be it income, NI, VAT or any other tax.  Cutting their jobs means you pay less, but both government and the private sector get less out of them in the long run.  Still at least this one I would concede is arguable and depends on your opinion.

When asked about cuts it is always stated to come from wasteful “Backroom” posts, to you or me this means, admin.  I’ve previously posted on how underappreciated admin staff are, and this is the same thing writ large.  The Coalition is sadly filled with managers, they’ve never done admin, and they don’t understand it or indeed see the point of it.  Whenever admin is being cut anywhere what you have to remember is it needs to be done.  An administrator will do it efficiently, sack the administrator and suddenly doctors, engineers, managers and everyone else has to cover that work.  It means either record keeping becomes sloppy, and this can have serious consequences, or that the people covering admin have less time to do their actual job.  Either work falls behind causing problems or more expensive professionals have to be hired to balance the workload of a relatively cheap administrator.

The third is the daily mail favourite, Benefit fraudsters.  Yes the damnable scroungers who take from taxpayers like you and me to buy their big tellies and tasteless trainers.  Now I’m not a fan of benefit fraudsters, ideally I would like to see them all stopped, but is it really as big a problem as something like Tax evasion.  Well, financially speaking benefit fraud costs us around 1.6bn, quite a bit (I won’t go into the 5bn odd bandied about which actually lumped in errors) tax evasion, and this is evasion rather than all the people doing perfectly legal avoidance, is worth 15bn in unpaid taxes.  So, if you were looking for some quick cash and wanted a group to pursue, which would you pick.  I don’t buy the argument that tax evaders are harder to catch; the actual hardcore fraudsters are every bit as skilled as the accountants working for tax evaders.  I would guess that going after “Scroungers” is a good headline grabber when in reality all that will happen is more difficulty and pressure on legitimate claimants, after all they provide details and so are the easy target.  In fact they recently told the FT that they should be less black and white on tax evasion, could you imagine the uproar if someone said that about benefit fraud.  It would definitely be a better use of scarce resources to go after tax evaders and closing tax avoidance loopholes.  I did like some of the suggestions on the spending challenge website.  These included anyone involved in UK politics or the running of the country must be a taxpayer, and anyone running any news media in the UK must also be a taxpayer.  Can’t see why either of these would be unpopular with the public so I expect to see these go ahead soon, unless Mr Osborne can come up with a reason why not.

The final miss-step I will look at is the seemingly ever-present thought that farming things out to the private sector will always save money.  This is one of the places where the Tory Private Sector good, public bad dogma rears its ugly head.  They won’t consider, despite the evidence to the contrary, that privatisation is not always the answer.  At a basic level it seems simple; you pay a company to undertake running a utility or service at an agreed cost.  The up side is that the company may well already have staff on its payroll and an admin department to save the trouble of running one yourself.  Also, private companies have to make a profit and so will run at maximum efficiency.  This assumes that public run organisations can not run efficiently because of the lack of a profit motive.  While I would agree that many don’t I reject this.  There is no reason why a non profit public utility can’t run as efficiently as a profit chasing company.  Particularly undertaking public services.

Second problem, regulation.  If you take anything out of public ownership it requires independent regulators (Public run organisations are regulated by govt departments) which equals expensive Quangos.  Sadly this is directly tied to the profit motive mentioned earlier.  Regulators are required to ensure private firms provide the contracted services to the agreed standard.  Without regulation the government would be faced with constantly pursuing companies for breach of contract, and anyone following the Edinburgh trams farce can see how easy that is.  Or indeed, to take the example of the East Coast train provider Stagecoach, there came a point where the fines for reneging on their contract were less than the losses they were incurring on running the service.  This was in a regulated industry and net result was government having to take back control, effectively paying for the running of East Coast trains twice.  I suspect that the same thing will happen when Connaught finally fail.

I hope this hasn’t come across as Tory bashing; my problem is that the coalition is trying to solve a huge problem by only considering the world through their narrow ideology.  It is blinding them to other solutions and that can only be a bad thing.  It’s never good whey party dogma interferes with dealing with a problem.  George Osborne has recently said that he wants to see £4 public sector cuts for every £1 tax rise and what occurred to me is that he wouldn’t even consider that the other way around.

What went wrong?

Posted in General Election, Government, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 9, 2010 by pieman70

The results are in, and the good news is we have a Hung Parliament, bad news is the change didn’t go as hoped.  Tabloid fear mongering and the usual last ditch of the traditional parties in “Vote for anyone other than us, get them” worked once again to deliver the usual, bland old election result.  We also lost a good MP in the form of Dr Evan Harris (LD) and kept some particularly poor ones in Nadine Dorres (Con) and David Tredinic.  Overall very disappointing. Only good news was the Greens won a seat.

I was looking forward to a wide open election, no seat is safe, who knows who would win.  A combination of the expenses and the lib dem surge should have given this, but instead voters decided that they fear the unknown, and got it anyway.

Worse, as we speak Nick Clegg may well be selling his granny for a taste of power.

That’s unfair, but from experience in the Scottish parliament, the lib dems will drop any flagship policy for a go at being in charge.  Basically, as I stand, if he gives up PR for forming a government, well, the Lib Dems won’t be getting my vote for a very long time.

Nick has other options.  My prefered one is to form the “Rainbow Coalition” Lib dem, Labour and lots of smaller parties, with a goal of electoral reform and fiscal stability.  Problem is that this is about 100 times more likely to collapse than a simple 2 party coalition, and this would certainly mean that a future election campaign would be run with a “Don’t want a hung parliament again do you” a shame because it is the more grown up, evolved form of democracy.

The other way I would be interested to see would be a minority Tory government, heinous as the concept of 5 years of conservatism is, the current party is already tearing itself apart over not winning, and the offer they tabled for the Lib Dems in public showed very little in the way of compromise, it could be a good excercise in growing up and not always getting your way to have to get each policy through on its merits and on bill by bill agreements, much as the SNP do in Scotland.

A mean part of me also sees how much the torys are tearing themselves apart over not winning, and so I can only see further division when they don’t get their own way and can’t do favours for their big donors.  In that vein I also hope that should Cameron end up in Downing street and Mr Murdoch comes asking for his pound of flesh, Cameron response is “Where’s my majority you feeble tuppence” closely followed by “And by the way, I’m going to legislate against you ruling so much of the news medial you useless bastard” Indeed I hope the “Sun wot won it” myth is finally gone, since tory support fell away once the sun got on board.

For a last bit of Tory bashing, I do find it funny that the torys are now doing the “Back room deals” that they said were a terrible undemocratic thing, guess that only applies in a Lib-Lab pact.  Second, some top tories are calling for Cameron to be removed and replaced as leader, so, they’d have a PM who was not elected, much the same criticism that they used on Gordon Brown the past few years eh?

Bloody hypocrites.

The Obligatory Election Post

Posted in General Election, Government, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 3, 2010 by pieman70

As some who live in britain may be aware, there is an election going on.  Now, I’ve been trying to shy away from political blogging mainly due to my inability to do it particularly well, but I’ll once again have a crack at it.

Many blogs will start with the phrase “Now I won’t tell you who to vote for” but I’m different, I will, sort of, not really.  At least I’m honest in trying to influence your vote, of course the reach of this blog particularly in a blogsphere full of blogs about the election means the effect will be about as much as my actual seat (Ultra safe labour), but, like voting for someone who isn’t Douglas Alexander, I’ll still write it.  So, who do you vote for.

First, turn up to vote.  I can’t stress this enough, whatever level of hell we end up in its twice your fault if you didn’t even bother getting out to vote.  Spoil your ballot paper, write a protest, it doesn’t get officially counted but you never know.  Either way get off your sofa and Vote.

Second, if you have a good constituency MP, vote for them, regardless of party (Unless you find their politics particularly odious).  Good constituency MPs are worth their weight in gold and don’t let simple tribalism or anti-labour/tory sentiment do you out of a good one.  How do you know?  Well ask around, have they ever helped anyone you know?  Do they hold regular surgeries, and finally, bt by no means foolproof, how often do they break ranks in votes.  In general safe seats are held by one of two types of MP, good constituency MPs who could get voted in as an independent if de-selected, or Yes men (Douglas, I’m looking at you) who are more concerned about being de-selected by the party than serving their constituents.  The former can break the whip without fear of reprisal, the latter can not.

Third, obviously considering the last post, don’t vote conservative.  I don’t like being so blatantly partisan, but Don’t.  Now, you may ask why.  Well I personally dislike their policies but there si something greater than my whims.  Teh Tories are tied in very deeply with Rupert Murdoch and its been fun watching his papers scramble with the fear that the election may not be the forgone conclusion that Labour was in 1997, but a Tory loss this year would finally dispel the myth that the Murdoch papers decide election results rather than, say merely back winners.  This would hopefully mean that never again will our leaders do shady deals with this millionaire tyrant in order to curry his favour, and the hopeless optimist in me also hopes for the new government, whatever its configuration, to perhaps consider the implications of one man holding this much power in the delivery of news and finally do something about it.

Fourth, Break safe seats, you may not unseat a candidate, but try to unseat some safe labour or tory ministers, or at least make the election night that bit less comfortable.  Preferably do this voting for a smaller party, such as the Greens or indeed the lib-dems.  You may not shift the yes man, but hopefully it will be a reminder of who they work for.

Fifth, ignore the scaremongering of a hung parliament.  Alex Salmond of the SNP is right, despite my post about compromise politics, Minority governments and coalitions are the ultimate destination of true democracy.  It means those who didn’t vote for the winners can still have their views mean something, yes all too often the politicians take the huff and stop playing, but if we keep returning balanced parliaments they’ll get the message.

Finally, vote for who you believe in, ignore all the parties saying candidate X will never win, they only won’t win if no-one votes for them.  In ’97 safe seats fell, and they hopefully will this year.  IF you like the greens, Vote green, if you like the lib-dems, vote lib dem, if you like UKIP or the BNP, stay at home (Ok vote, but you’re wrong in just about every way) with any luck by next election we will finally be rid of this antiquated voting system and we can then see real change.

My vote, is private, but I’ll tell you where I’m leaning, as I have no green candidate, its between the Lib-Dems and the SNP.  The Lib-Dems, because It would be a real kicker for them to actually win the same or better seats than the other two.  contrary to what the papers report the surge started before Nick Cleggs appearance on the leaders debates (Which also, contrary to what they said, he won and Cameron lost, on all fronts) because somehow people decided that they might win, and therefore weren’t a wasted vote.  They definitely represent the most liberal views of the big three.  My other choice, the SNP.  I’m still in principle opposed to Scottish independence but they do have some other attractive policies and have signed up to the Power 2010 pledge.  Plus in the Scottish Leaders Debate Alex Salmond said the most sensible things about immigration (Here’s a hint, it was the very opposite of the Daily Mail’s stance) anyone has said all campaign.  That alone is worth support.

Lets hope this all turns out, there’s a feeling that we’re close to real change, Not the kind Cameron is pedaling, I mean ground breaking change, it’s a dream, so close you can touch it, I almost don’t dare speak about it lest it melts and vanishes for all time.  Its hope.

GARL or Who Makes up These Contracts?

Posted in Engineering, Government, Politics, Transport with tags , , , on September 30, 2009 by pieman70

Mock up

Well, I’ve not talked about politics and transport for a while, and here is a post which kind of combines both.

Just recently the SNP has announced its new budget; something that has caused much consternation was the cancellation of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link.

Now on the political side, the SNP hasn’t exactly done itself any favours.  They must have known that this would be unpopular.  The Greens are already complaining that a public transport initiative was cut while road building continues and Labour are claiming that the SNP are anti-Glasgow.  Now, I will come to the reasons that the project is claimed to have been cancelled in a minute or so.  First I’ll go over how this could have been better handled.

The SNP should have known this would be an unpopular decision, and so I would have suggested a good offence with this one.  I still expect to hear is that Westminster has cut the Scottish budget, and so this is their fault, but I think they already know that argument has incredibly limited mileage, regardless of how much the Westminster labour government does seem to want to show up the SNP. (Still sore about loosing the Scottish parliament as their own rubber stamp service I guess) A good direction would have been to blame the Edinburgh trams, as they tried to shut down that white elephant but were blocked, and the project has now spiralled out of control, they could have argued that there would have been plenty of money to pay for GARL if the Edinburgh tram project could have been canned.

The actual reason given, although the SNP haven’t really been playing it to its full, a pretty poor move politically, is that the costs were becoming significantly greater than initially stated.  This is actually an intriguing angle.  If they played it as stopping another Scottish Parliament or Edinburgh tram wild overspend before it started, they may get some more understanding and support on the decision, after all, they would be wildly slated if the project ran wild on their watch.

What actually confuses me is this, how do these projects run wild?

I’m an engineer, and while studying my HNC we covered contracts in a little detail, much has sadly vacated my empty head, but the basic Tendering process and contract rules have not.  The basic gist is this.  Someone wants a big project undertaken, say a building built.  The client will usually provide a specification, plus surveys and all the information a contractor needs to make an estimate.  The contractors will then make up a document explaining how they would conduct the project, what timescale it would be completed in and how much it would cost.  The contract types generally hold bonuses for early completion, and also some bonuses for coming in under budget.  Similarly there are penalties for running late, and generally any cost over-runs must be covered by the contractor.  This works because it keeps both sides honest (It’s actually more complicated with clauses for various possibilities of delay but this simple explanation should fit)

However for some reason Government projects seem to work differently.  For these if a contractor runs over time or over budget, the Government covers the shortfall, and I’ve no idea why.  Why should costs spiral for a tender when a contract has been agreed.  If we are farming big projects out to private companies, particularly high profile ones such as Trams or a Parliament building, then we should basically say “Well you said you could do it for amount X, that’s what we gave you, now we want our building to spec, if you’ve under bid, that’s your problem.”

Now back to the SNP, if they could commission some works, and have them come in on budget and on time, they could build a reputation for better practice on bug projects.  No spiralling costs with this government.  Sadly, from how it’s been played so far, this may be the breaking of them.