Boris Johnson loves mad grandiose building projects ( remember the third London airport in the Thames Estuary) and more recently a tunnel/bridge under the Irish sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland.
But what is emerging is that that even the most basic grandiose project -London’s Crossrail link and the high speed railway from London to Birmingham can’t be built on time to cost or even properly completed. A failure to integrate Crossrail with the rest of the railway system and continual cost rises for HS2 are the main reasons for delays.
MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last week achieved one first – getting HS2 to provide some proper figures on the real costs. The entire HS2 project – if ever built from London to Scotland – will be £98 billion if not more. The first phase from London to Birmingham now has a budget of £44.6 billion – of which £11 billion has already been spent but we won’t see any results for the travelling public until 2029 at the earliest if not 2032. And probably in reality even later.
What is more disturbing is that service will initially run only from Birmingham to Old Oak Common in west London -not to London Euston where it can connect with other services.
Whitehall still quarrelling over the plans
Worse still internal Whitehall quarrelling means that they haven’t even fixed the most crucial arrangement – what will the Euston terminus look like.
“The redevelopment of Euston station is currently estimated to cost £2.6 billion. Despite HS2 Ltd telling us last year that the design of the station was ready for planning consent, the Department has spent the past 15 months looking for cost saving options and efficiency opportunities, including the potential for a smaller station.
” HS2 Ltd asserts that it is getting close to the point where the programme will literally run out of time if a decision is not made soon, and that Old Oak Common is being set as the London terminus when the railway first opens to decouple it from the risks at Euston.”
This is an extraordinary situation. It is made much worse because the area around Euston Station is now one gigantic building site after homes, shops and private businesses that border onto the existing station were demolished. And people living next to the site are being moved because of the noise and dust. And all for a new terminus whose configuration has still to be determined by the Department of Transport and which could be smaller than currently planned.
Further up the line there are disputes involving the land they are purchasing, environmental damage and pollution problems created by the development.
Volume of complaints rising
The MPs report: “We are already concerned about the volume of complaints on disruption from the programme which does not bode well for the future as more communities will be impacted as construction progresses. HS2 Ltd estimates it has handled 124,000 queries over the past three years and interacted with over 76,000 people along the route.
….”the number of complaints from the public about High Speed 2 has increased as main construction on Phase One has started. Complaints to the Independent Construction Commissioner HS2 rose to 86 in the first quarter of 2021 from 74 in the previous quarter. The majority of complaints are about the impact of construction on roads and traffic, vegetation clearance and about noise and vibration. Due to the scale of the programme and the time until the railway is complete, complaints are likely to increase.”
As part of its ” levelling up ” programme the government has promised to reskill the nation so people can get jobs as part of the regeneration of Britain post Brexit. Yet again the MPs point to further failures. The much trumpeted National College for High Speed Rail was a failure in attracting students and has had to be renamed the National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure and, most recently, merged with the University of Birmingham.
The MPs report: “The Department admits that the performance of the college has been disappointing and hopes that its latest merger, new leadership and new curriculum from September 2021 will be an opportunity to get the best out of the arrangement. Yet the Department’s involvement with the college has been limited as it falls under the Department for Education’s accountability remit.”
As for extending the railway to Scotland via Leeds and Sheffield that is in doubt and could be scaled back to Crewe. This has been partly confirmed by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, who in an interview yesterday with the Financial Times has cast doubt on whether the line from Birmingham to Leeds along the eastern side of England will ever be built – hinting that other projects may have priority.
“We want to make sure we get trains to Leeds in a way that actually benefits people on the network and not blindly follow some plan invented 15 to 20 years ago which no longer benefits people.” he said.
This completely contradicts what he said only in May when he promised the government would “complete HS2 and include HS2 on the eastern leg to Leeds”. All this suggests that costs must be mounting up with another U turn in prospect.
If this is levelling up – it is farcical
So what do we have here? An extremely expensive part built railway that may not even initially link Birmingham and central London beset with issues and aeons away from the dream of a high speed line linking Scotland with central London.
If this is to be an example of ” levelling up ” Britain it is just farcical. Meanwhile in the European Union we left the high speed train network goes from strength to strength with new lines and a sleeper train network planned that will reduce the need for air travel – all part financed by British train customers as most of the companies running our train services are owned by state rail companies based in the EU.
Our new high speed train system is going nowhere soon and causing nothing but pain and disruption.
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A report out today by Philip Alston, the former United Nations rapporteur on human rights, condemns the outcome of Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation of the country’s bus services for denying rights to the people of the UK. He came to the UK to interview people about bus services and contacted some of the bus companies.
In a stinging review he finds that many people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family because of a costly, fragmented, and inadequate privatized bus service that has failed them.
“Over the past 35 years, deregulation has provided a master class in how not to run an essential public service, leaving residents at the mercy of private actors who have total discretion over how to run a bus route, or whether to run one at all,” said Philip Alston, who authored the report with Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell, Co-directors of the Human Rights and Privatization Project at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “In case after case, service that was once dependable, convenient, and widely-used has been scaled back dramatically or made unaffordable.”
He describes the form of privatisation as the most extreme possible – with the exception of London where Transport for London has overall control of how private operators run services.
He is also critical of the government’s new bus strategy started by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, saying merely tinkers with the existing system, offering ineffective half measures that fail to address the structural cause of the
country’s bus crisis.
Some of the points in the report.
“People living in London, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can get a concessionary pass to travel for free on buses at the age of 60, an important measure that guarantees older people access to transport. But in England outside London, the government has tied the bus pass to the female state pension age—which was changed from 60 to 66, severely penalizing those on the cusp of retirement who had every expectation that they could rely on a pension and a free bus pass in the next phase of their lives. The UK government should rectify this injustice
“The abysmal state of the bus system in many rural areas is perhaps the strongest argument against a deregulated, for-profit approach to public transportation.
” There is no reason why rural parts of the United Kingdom cannot have a functioning bus service. The Zurich region of Switzerland guarantees villages of 300 people or more at least an hourly service seven days a week. In North Hesse, Germany, bus routes reach all communities with more than 200-250 residents on at least an hourly basis, with ambitions to double public transport use by 2030. Notably, none of these systems rely on an unregulated market to provide this essential service.”
He makes a strong case for bus services to be returned to public ownership and for Parliament to lay down minimum standards for the provision of bus services.
This really is a damning indictment of the state of bus services in England and it has human rights implications because women, people with disabilities, the poor and those living in rural areas cannot access services or get jobs because of poor transport. As usual ministers are pretending they provide good services while other similarly rich countries -like Switzerland and Germany -provide services that English people can only dream about. In the meantime the bus operators make good profits by not providing the services they need.
Judicial review saves 175 year old station from ” unlawful” demolition by privatised rail company for a car park
When Save Britain’s Heritage appeared before Mrs Justice Lang to argue the case for saving Brandon Station it was almost a lost cause. But the judge who is pretty independent and also recently granted a judicial review to women born in the 1950s so they could seek compensation for the rise on their pension age was not be put off.
Breckland Council in Norfolk had already given the owners Greater Anglian railways the go ahead to demolish the booking hall that had been empty and boarded up for 16 years so they could create a 100 space car park for commuters to Norwich, Cambridge and Ely. The scheme would have cost £1m and was accepted by the Railway Heritage Trust.
The station on the Norfolk /Suffolk border is becoming busier as more rail services are introduced. The town itself is a mixture of historic flint buildings and sprawling estates and has strong military connections because of the nearby Lakenheath and Mildenhall air bases.
unlawful development certificate
But when the judge started examining the case she found the development certificate issued by the council was unlawful because the scheme appeared to encroach on land not owned by the private rail company because of irregularities in the boundaries of the site.
She was not impressed by the council granting permission while the building was being considered for listing. It has since been listed.
The railway station building is constructed of local knapped flint, gault brick and slate to a design by Victorian architect John Thomas in 1845. Mr Thomas had Parliamentary connections as he who was appointed the superintendent of stone-carving at the Palace of Westminster by Sir Charles Barry. when Parliament was rebuilt. He was also commissioned by Prince Albert for stone carving work at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Local people have archive coverage of a Royal visit by King George VI and the Queen Mum to Brandon station in the second world war. There is a website by Darren Norton about both world wars here.
There were also many foreign troops stationed there. Here is a picture of Polish troops in 1946.
Also the station and the town of Brandon were used for an episode of the iconic BBC series Dad’s Army. See here.
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage said: “This shows that determination, persistence and resourcefulness can bring back historic buildings on death row. We have already commissioned plans by the architect Doug Reid, obtained initial costs from builders, and will now be working with the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust on raising finance.”
The most recent press release from them is here.
The aim is to restore the buildings as local business units with a cafe to encourage new start ups in the area.
2020 was supposed to be the Year of the Bus. A newly elected Tory government promised £220m to improve services which had been in decline since 2010 when another newly elected Tory led government created the cuts.
The initiative ticked every election promise box. It was going to reverse service cuts – mainly in the shires as part of levelling up. It was going to produce a brilliant new demonstration package of co-ordinated bus and train services in Cornwall – one of the poorest areas of England. It was going to be green -promising the first total electric powered bus service in an English city. It was going to be faster with more dedicated bus lanes and expressways and it was going to be easily accessible by introducing a national data system for services and fares available on the internet.
Then came Covid 19. And as a new National Audit Office report revealed on Friday the bus plan crashed off the road.
Buses have never been a glamourous subject. As the NAO report shows they are mainly used by the poor, over 70s, the 17-21 age group before they get their own wheels and single women seeking a safe way home.
It also suffered huge service cuts and big fare rises for many of its passengers outside London. A useful map in the NAO report shows how passenger traffic has declined by an average of 10 per cent between 2010 and 2019 – falling highest in places like Tyne and Wear, Lancashire, Teesside, East Sussex and Lincolnshire but rising in Bristol and Brighton and Hove.
Some 3000 routes have disappeared with bus mileage down from 243 million to 112 million and the average local authority support for services dropping 38 per cent with 42 authorities slashing expenditure by over 50 per cent. Some of the worst examples are West Yorkshire, Surrey and Northamptonshire. Average fares went up 18 per cent between 2010 and 2019.
free bus pass
The biggest cost to local authorities has been the free bus pass – now estimated at £650m a year – a national service – but funded by the local authority where you live. Funding from central government to bus operators has dropped from 31 per cent to 24 per cent between 2010 and 2019.
One of the problems is that since the de-regulation of services the government has had little control – so it can make a lot of noise about improving services – but it can’t force private operators to do it. The plan for a national data system for bus timetables and fares – depends on whether individual operators want to spend the money.
When Covid 19 hit the government was faced with a dilemma – only key workers were encouraged to use public transport – slashing revenue. The government did provide extra cash in tranches to bus companies to keep them going. But it also raided its shiny new support budget to improve services.
The plan for a co-ordinated Cornwall transport service from Plymouth to Penzance was dumped.
So was the money put aside to restore cut services. And it looks like – despite interest from 50 different towns and cities – to be the first to run an all electric bus service – is being delayed by Whitehall inertia.
And other promises to improve express bus services = especially in the West Midlands – have been undermined by the operators themselves.
First Worcester cut service
One check I did on Google First Worcester company had created a furore by halving the number of express buses between Worcester and Birmingham north of Bromsgrove – forcing people to use more expensive services elsewhere. Yet this is an area given priority in the government’s new bus plan and it happened before the Covid 19 crisis hit.
There are some bright spots. Bristol has improved passenger use by 36 per cent. Nottingham has increased bus use and invested in clean bio gas buses and new trams by imposing a work car parking levy. And London, which was not examined in this report, has seen bus use up 89 per cent.
The lesson is clear to all. Grandiose plans to ” level up ” the poorest parts of the country are going to be very expensive if they are to work. And if they don’t deliver there will be a political price to pay for falsely raising people’s hopes. You have been warned.
The hospitality industry has suffered huge damage because of the Covid 19 pandemic. Not only are chains like Pizza Express , Frankie and Benny’s closing branches but even more up market venues like the Ledbury in Notting Hill.
One of the latter hit was a number of London restaurants run by Mark Hix, a celebrity chef, author, and owned jointly by the Reading based WHS Restaurant Investments where he had a 25 per cent share.
Without his agreement the company went into administration closing its four restaurants in London and one restaurant and town house in Lyme Regis.
The administrator’s report says that even before the Covid 19 crisis ” the business has struggled to maintain sales… with revenue declining in 2018 and 2019 as a result of sector-wide pressure across the casual dining market”.
But instead of accepting this huge setback by just taking early retirement at 57, Mark Hix went back to his roots in Dorset, bought a fish truck and started selling local fish at a local farm shop. The man who was an chef director at Caprice Holdings ( sadly the Caprice is now closed) before he had his own restaurants is now back on home turf.
He has managed to buy back the lease from Deloitte’s, the administrators, of his first restaurant in Lyme Regis and is working almost non stop to revive the business with some of his signature dishes. Extraordinarily Deloitte’s won’t allow him to use his name in the title of the restaurant, The Oyster and Fish House, and according to an article in the Telegraph Magazine wanted £11,000 for it.
He is a great example of someone who has refused to take Covid 19 lying down and with luck should benefit from the staycation boom in the UK as people flock to the seaside.
There is a curious bizarre local issue about the place he has got back – none of which, I might say, is anything to do with him. Some 60 years ago the land next to the restaurant including a nearby house, reputed to be summer home of the Cadbury family – the famous chocolate manufacturers – collapsed into the sea. This led to Lyme Regis Borough Council ( as it was then) compulsorily purchasing the land.
What didn’t fall into the sea was the gardener’s home Cliff Cottage and the land surrounding it. This included an old garage on the site.
According to Marilyn Bolton, an ex councillor in the past and his present landlord, an informal agreement was made with the then town clerk on the boundary between the new council owned land and her property. This was strongly contradicted by Stan Williams, the deputy mayor, who said there was no agreement allowing her to encroach on council land.
And it is certain this was never legally clarified. Land registry records show that Mark Hix’s restaurant ( the garage was demolished and a new restaurant built) straddle her property and council owned land – enough for it to be legally codified in a lease agreement in 2013. So he has two landlords.
To make life even more complicated it also straddles a right of way Stile Lane which according to Dorset Council has never been rerouted or extinguished.
Dorset Council said in a statement: “We can confirm that Footpath W2/12 from Pound Street to Marine Parade in Lyme Regis is obstructed by a number of buildings and landscaping works carried out over many years to re-profile the area following landslips and the creation of Langmoor Gardens.”
“The Highway Authority has powers to enforce an obstruction of the public’s right of free passage over a public highway, but there is an alternative route, which is safer and more commodious for the public. Therefore, this is a considered to be a low priority for already stretched public funds.
” When planning permission was granted to extend the building that is currently obstructing the footpath, this did not give permission to obstruct the footpath. The applicant was advised to apply to divert the footpath by legal order and that this order must be confirmed before work commenced. We do not believe that West Dorset District Council received such an application.”
60 year old row over footpath and land encroachment
None of this would matter at a jot – if it wasn’t becoming a live issue after an elderly resident complained about it to the mayor of Lyme Regis, Brian Larcombe, and the deputy mayor, Stan Williams. They are now investigating this and seek explanations.
It appears that secrecy surrounding property and boundary deals by successive town clerks going back years has come back to bite them by not being open about what was going on.
In the meantime if you want to savour a good meal and are holidaying in Lyme I suggest you dine there and enjoy modern British cuisine. You will be helping a very determined man get his business back on track – in defiance of the bean counters and the bureaucrats who seem to have rather messed up.
Chris Grayling – who tomorrow is expected to become chair of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee – is a byword for wasting public money.
I have already written for Byline Times on his activities – and so extensive were his failings it took two long articles to add up the cost of Chris Grayling. You can read them here and here. He seems to have cost the nation some £2.7 billion – an extraordinary achievement for one individual – as well as causing misery for the probation and prison service and for millions of commuters.
Yet every human being can sometimes get things right. And last month Chris Grayling did so in a decision which involved risk.
A court judgement – virtually unreported except in the Financial Times – vindicated a very controversial decision he took as transport secretary way back in April last year on every count.
Grayling decided to disqualify three bidders from getting hold of three very lucrative rail franchises – the West Coast main line from London Euston to Glasgow and Edinburgh; the East Midlands franchise and the commuter lucrative South Eastern franchise from Kent into London.
The bidders banned were Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains (as part of the West Coast partnership with the French state owned SNCF) Sir Brian Souter’s Stagecoach and Arriva owned by German state railways Deutsche Bahn.
The reason why Grayling disqualified them is because all three did not want to take on a big share of the liability for paying out pensions to some 346,000 retired and active train drivers and staff while they were running the services. Instead they wanted to make as money as they could by dumping the pension cost onto the state – that’s you and me.
Their move was despite a ruling by the Pension Regulator which said anybody running a privatised rail service should have to fund any pension shortfall and not taxpayers.
Their decision caused consternation in rail franchise industry since two of the contracts were subsequently let to new providers. The East Midland franchise was awarded to Abellio East Midlands Ltd and the West Coast Partnership franchise was later awarded to First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Ltd. The South Eastern competition was cancelled.
Expensive law case
A lengthy and extremely expensive trial followed with costs building up not only for the ministry but the three companies and the companies who subsequently won the contracts who had to keep an eye on the case. Deutsche Bahn’s owned Arriva decided to settle out of court.
So complicated is the judgement from Mr Justice Stuart Smith that it runs to 193 pages and the Courts and Tribunals Service issued a rare explanatory memorandum to help the public understand it.
If it had gone the other way it could have thrown the whole rail franchise system into further chaos – since it would have meant that the two private contractors would have won the franchises by an illegal competition and they would have to bid again.
But it didn’t. As the Department for Transport said; “We strongly welcome this decision, which finds our franchise process was fair, our conduct was transparent, and the disqualification at the heart of this case was proportionate.”
There is a sting in the tale. The Department of Transport want Sir Richard Branson and Sir Brian Souter to pay all its costs.
This is a blow to Sir Brian who condemned the ministry when it took the original decision as ” dysfunctional and deceitful”.
And it will be lesson for Sir Richard who once wrote: You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.
This time he has taken a real tumble, particularly after suing the NHS when he failed to win an £82 million contract and then blaming the NHS Commissioners. See the riposte here. The case was settled out of court and it is understood his company Virgin Care got £328,000.
This new judgement may explain something else. The Department for Transport is very wary about continuing the present franchise system. And because of Covid 19 it has virtually nationalised the railways. I suspect it won’t return to the old system as it won’t want any more nail biting court cases even though it won.
Labour is much clearer – they will simply nationalise the system permanently – a decision that its new leader Sir Keir Starmer has followed through from Jeremy Corbyn.
The damning report by the Public Accounts Committee out today tells you everything you already knew about HS2 – the high speed rail link from Euston to Birmingham and eventually Manchester and Leeds.
This rail line – at one stage facing being scrapped by Boris Johnson – earned a reprieve despite costs escalating almost out of control from costing £55bn when it was commissioned to an estimated minimum £88 billion today. Even commitments to petitioners against the scheme were wrongly calculated at £245m when the figure is now nearer £1.2 billion .And that may not be the end of the story as costs could still rise while the public will get a much delayed service with fewer trains.
The report also shows there is a huge problem with the redevelopment of Euston station – used by millions of mainline travellers and commuters – which no doubt will create another out of control of budget. We still don’t know the real cost for that.
But what I found really distasteful that Bernadette Kelly, the highly paid permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and Mark Thurston, the UK’s highest paid public official in charge of HS2 – he is on an eyewatering £605,350 salary and got a £46,000 bonus despite not keeping public money under control- conspired to cover up their failings and keep information from the public and Parliament.
The report is quite clear desperate officials were well aware that public money was going down the toilet but decided NOT to tell Parliament and be less than honest in the official annual accounts of HS2 to disguise the mess they faced.
Bernadette Kelly revealed to MPs in March that she had undertaken four separate assessments to see if the project was viable last year – but neglected to tell MPs anything about it when she appeared before them. She claimed it was ” commercial sensitivities ” that held her back.
This is serious stuff. As the report says: ” We are disappointed by the Permanent Secretary’s response to our concerns about her failure to explicitly inform the Committee of the programme’s delays and overspend when asked about the general health of the project.
“This was something that an accounting officer should share with the Committee. Failure of an Accounting Officer to provide accurate information to Parliament is potentially a breach of the Civil Service Code and a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. “
To put it bluntly she may have broken the Civil Service code which lays down the ethics and rules governing how officials should behave and she may have lied to Parliament.
In that case I think there should be an inquiry and if she is found to have behaved as badly as that she should be disciplined or even sacked.
Mark Thurston appears to made sure that his company accounts did not give too many hints of the failure to control money. Why he should have a bonus when his costs went sky high – is a mystery to me. He should pay it back and questions asked whether he is the right man for the job..
I agree with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and deputy chair of the committee: “This PAC report on HS2 is one of the most critical, in both the transparency of Government and the handling of a project, that I have seen in my nine years in total on the committee.
“The Permanent Secretary appeared before the committee in October 2018 and again in May 2019. In March 2019 HS2 Ltd formally told the Department it had breached the terms of the Development Agreement, and would be unable to deliver the programme to cost and schedule – yet the Permanent Secretary did not inform the committee on either appearance that the programme was in trouble.
“This is a serious breach of the department’s duty to Parliament and hence to the public, which as the report says, will undermine confidence. Furthermore, the PAC was in the dark about serious cost overruns and was therefore unable to do its duty to inform Parliament that value for money .on the project was at risk.”
The United Kingdom used to be regarded as a world leader in upholding high standards in public life. The actions of these two individuals in trying to cover their tracks is more in line with a banana republic.
Visiting the Kennedy Space Center on a huge nature reserve on North Merritt Island this year is not just awesome but at an extraordinary time in its history.The Florida site is not only where NASA does its top level research as well as showcasing its past achievements it is now the place where the world’s richest men are competing with each other to launch into space.
If you ever wondered where the huge profits of international capitalist companies are going, most of the money they have made is being spent here. They are gambling on a new lucrative tourist business that will be worth billions in the future. And they are changing the face of Cape Canaveral. Dotted among the state owned space facilities are brand new space centres owned by private individuals and companies each competing with each other to build rockets , space capsules and launch sites . The only one missing is billionare Richard Branson whose Virgin Galatic company is based elsewhere.
Thus you have Elon Musk, worth $37.7billion, and owner of Tesla electric cars ,with SpaceX, planning with his Falcon rocket to take US astronauts to the space station and then planning to go to the Moon and beyond. He is competing with the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, worth $125.3 billion and owner of Amazon whose Blue Origen company wants to go to the Moon. And you have Boeing with a base here who want to expand from building aircraft to spacecraft.
And what is also interesting is that the Space centre itself has the Journey to Mars centre where enthusiastic scientists are openly aiming to recruit the next generation to work on their space programme to “solve the impossible ” for the Mars mission.
The talk aimed at today’s ten year olds is premised that if you follow the history of the development of flight within 40 years what could be accomplished by a few pioneers will become commonplace for commercial services for tourists. Hence the interest in the commercialisation of space.
On the cruise ship one of the most interesting lectures came from a NASA scientist who explained some of the pioneering work being done to aid the space project.Dr Lawrence Kutznetz showed that the breadth of research was spilling over into fields that could help the disabled , aid medical research,and go the limits of technology.One worldwide research project involves designing a light weight spacesuit from scratch which will be essential if anyone wants to roam around Mars. Unlike the Moon Martian Gravity is similar to Earth’s and no human could walk more the few yards without collapsing under the weight of what they have to carry to stay alive. So using the Internet, peer reviewed research is designing new materials, sealing the helmet from the rest of the body and allowing the rest of the suit to leak
Another project has very recently discovered by mistake that a particular drug when used on elderly mice caused cells covering its whole body to regenerate turning the equivalent of a 60 year old mouse to having the energy of an adolescent.
Scientists are not quite clear how this happened. The implications of this last experiment I can imagine will be very interesting for our wealthy billionaires funding the space programme – imagine being able to live until you are 150 – double the present lifespan.Or imagine Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch being offered a double lifespan.Perhaps not.
Other experiments have discovered that if you link two people’s brains using non evasive electrodes it is possible by thought alone to operate another person’s artificial hand.
So not only is the space centre an exciting place to visit but some of the research going on there is in the realm of science fiction.
Last year was an extraordinary year for this blog and my readers deserve a big thank you for following me. The number of hits is at record levels topping over a million for the first time.
This is more than double the previous year and the main driver has been the campaign by BackTo60 along with other groups to get back lost pensions for 3.8 million people born in the 1950s. The interest in this issue has been phenomenal. In 2017 I had less than 100,000 hits. In 2018 it was 464,000 and this year’s figure shows it has grown ten fold since 2017 – at over a million.
Reporting the campaign for 50swomen has been a big insight into how difficult it is for such a large group of people to get justice or even get noticed by the mainstream media.
That there was injustice over the five and then six year delay in paying out pensions to the 50swomen is unquestionable. That the Department of Work and Pensions took every step possible to deny the women the money – even down to arguing in court that the ministry has no duty to tell anyone about their pension was unbelievable.
The campaign by BackTo60 has had its highs and lows. The fact the claimants initially won the case for a judicial review at all – when detractors said it would never be granted- was a key victory. But to be followed by a comprehensive defeat at the High Court was a big low.
Ironically the defeat finally brought the issue to front page mainstream media and TV and secured sympathetic coverage.
Then there was the general election campaign. Labour became the first party to publish a compensation package with support from two of the biggest trade unions, Unison and Unite, was a major acheivement.
It was only half way to full restitution – but it opened a debate on how it should be paid and that compensation should be paid to the women.
But Labour was defeated in last month’s election- and the very offer to the women was derided by opponents as an example of the party making too many generous promises with public money.
So where does it go now? There are three routes to justice. First there is the approach to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal the judgement. Lawyers for BackTo60 would not have recommended this action and the raising of money to do it unless they could see there was a good case.
Then there is the approach by Waspi and others to the Parliamentary Ombudsman – putting forward six test cases – this will take some time before he issues a judgement.
There is also the case for a special temporary measure being passed by Parliament to pay out the money on the grounds of inequality – this could lead to full restitution without going to the courts. But the composition of the new Parliament will make it difficult to get it passed.
That all this is problematic does not mean people should give up – and I for one will still continue reporting this campaign – because the sense of injustice has not changed one iota and the women deserve to be compensated.
People will notice this year that many of the blogs are appearing in full on Byline Times – a growing independent print and on-line media group dedicated to holding power to account. I have a retainer with them to analyse and investigate issues arising in Whitehall and Westminster especially as now Britain will be in a post Brexit world.
Given the government now has a solid majority this is needed more than ever and I intend to pursue this vigorously.
Child sex abuse
I have not done so much this year on this topic but it does not mean I have lost interest in it. Many of the cases involve people who have never had justice so I will return to it.
I did put forward my opinions following the conviction of the paedophile Carl Beech for perverting the course of justice.
Travel and reviews
This blog will occasionally do a review of a film and a book. This year I reviewed Andrew Lownie’s biography of the Mountbattens and a film on the Durham Miner’s Gala.
I also travelled this year taking my disabled wife, Maragaret on an eye -opening world cruise – blogging from Bermuda, Samoa, Waitangi in News Zealand, Darwen in Australia, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Singapore.
I am taking another break later this month when I am taking my disabled wife on a cruise round South America, going up the Amazon and across the Beagle Channel and visiting Rio, Buenos Aires, Chile and Panama among other places. So expect some more blogs from unusual places.
I shall be back by April ready to resume full domestic coverage of everything from the continuing battle for justice for the 50swomen and the latest political developments. Have a great New Year everybody.
I have done a special investigation for Byline Times showing the extraordinary contrast between the decline of the electorate in Westminster and Kensington and the huge property and tourist boom bringing in non voting oligarchs, foreign buyers and purpose built blocks of AirBnBs.
This may have contributed to Labour winning Battersea and Kensington from the Conservatives at the last election. This time it is not so clear as Labour and the Lib Dems are vying for votes.
See my full story here.