Byline Times :National Audit Office to probe the taxpayers’ £6.6 billion ( yes it is really that!) Boris Johnson is spending on a No Deal Brexit

The National Audit Office has a useful hub on its site bringing all its Brexit investigations together.

I have a full story on Byline Times here.

As a taster:

Parliament’s financial watchdog announced the “super investigation” a week after Parliament rose. It now includes the extra £2 billion Johnson earmarked this month for “turbo charging” the No deal process.

 It follows a total of 24 reports by the NAO on Brexit since 2016 which highlighted scandals and public waste. This included the exposure of former transport secretary Chris Grayling’s mishandling of No Deal Brexit freight contracts which cost the country over £50m including paying Eurotunnel £33m in an out of court settlement.

How Singapore shames London’s record on disabled mobility

Since taking this world trip I have gone out with my wife Margaret in a wheelchair in some 20 countries and encountered many challenges – from uneven and inaccessible pavements to stairs with no accompanying ramps, high kerbs, blocked paths and sudden inaccessible dead ends.

The visit to Singapore was a treat. It outstripped many European cities in the comprehensive services available to disabled people and the ease of getting around the country.

It sends a strong message to Transport for London on how to organise disabled friendly services across the capital. From travelling on the system it was clear a great deal of thought had been put in to make it as easy as possible for disabled people. Signage, positioning of lifts and the design of trains were all co-ordinated. So was access to the street to and from stations. It makes London just amateurish and years behind and pretty hostile to disabled people..

It was a lightening visit – just one day – it involved a visit to major attraction using the underground train system.

While This the cruise terminal was not directly connected to the metro the 250 yard walk from the terminal to the new station was well signposted. It’s served Marina South Pier where more local ferry services run. Getting access was easy . A wide ramp allowed wheelchair access to the station and lifts took you down to the booking hall and platform. The lift came out exactly opposite a carriage on the train which included wheelchair spaces.There was completely level access to the train with a minimal gap. We had to change lines at the next station Marina Bay. Again the system was easy to navigate.

Going out at Bayfront station was easy with lifts to the station entrance and a lift also well used by families with pushchairs to street level.

And then there was a bonus. We were going to the Gardens by the Bay one of Singapore’s newer iconic attractions. And round the corner was a shuttle bus to take you to the centre. But it was no ordinary shuttle bus. It included a ramp so wheelchairs could be hoisted on to the back to enable disabled people to travel in style. They were also testing a driverless vehicle.

Once there the two amazing attractions the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest were easily accessible.The Cloud Forest was particularly impressive with wheelchair accessible lift and always taking you hundreds of feet above the tree, hanging plants and huge waterfalls.The pictures tell the story.

Singapore’s system is copied by the metro in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It also has lifts to platforms and ramps into stations. Unfortunately at the two stations we used half the lifts did not work. And the access to the stations is not straightforward. More like London than Singapore.

Murder at the laundrette: A Cunard experience not in the brochure 

Anybody on a world Cunard cruise cannot but be charmed  by the civilised behaviour of the crew and fellow guests. A day does not go by without any guest being encouraged to enjoy themselves by the large crew and fellow guests.Everybody is very considerate and helpful to each other. 

But there is one room in Queen Victoria where all this breaks down. It is called the laundrette. Here the genteel atmosphere throughout the ship evaporates in a mix of soap suds and wet clothes.

The laundrette is one of the few free services on board but there are only two or three machines for 100 or more cabins. And with 700 people going on a 108 day world cruise plus a turnover of some 1300 people at major ports demand is high.

To get a machine normally polite men and women are transformed into duplicitous schemers resorting to any ruse to get their hands on the machines.

When wiley women and aggressive men get going to grab a machine anything goes.

One person even came armed with two fake ” Out of Order ” notices to  attach to a washing machine and a dryer so she could get exclusive use during the voyage. The ruse was discovered when other suspicious guests tried using the machines and found they worked perfectly.

More direct action has involved taking other people’s clothes out of driers and washing machines when the guests using the machines are out of the laundrette.

One poor guest who had just loaded a washing machine and went out to get more dirty clothes came back five minutes later to find another guest had emptied her machine and replaced it with her clothes. By then she had started the machine and the first guest could do nothing about it.

As for men aggression can spill over. One man furious that another guy had taken out his washing turned to the other and said ” How dare you run your fingers through my wife’s knickers “. A fist fight broke out and it is said that Cunard threw both of them off the boat at the next port.

No wonder when you visit the Cunard laundrette you find a line of grim faced men and women guarding their machines with their lives and warning you there is a two hour wait before you need to come back.

So far the ethos of take no prisoners has not yet led to any deaths. But there is still another month on this voyage so anything could happen.

In the meantime nobody has copied the iconic Levi jeans advertisement where a  young guy goes to the laundrette to strip off and put all his  dirty clothes in the machines. But perhaps Cunard’s strict dress code of smart attire after 6.0 pm and a dinner jacket and cocktail dress on gala night puts off people from going to the laundrette in the nude. But again there is still time…

Samoa: Boris’s Treasure Island for post Brexit Britain?

The lush tropical island of Samoa in the South Pacific is famous as the last resting place of Robert Louis Stevenson author of Treasure Island.His villa is now a museum and a major tourist attraction set in the hills above Apia, the nation’s capital.

Stevenson is buried at the top of a nearby mountain and reached by a hike through tropical rainforest. There is even an environmental project to preserve the forest in that area.

It was at Stevenson’s villa that five months ago that Laura Clarke the British High Commissioner to Samoa chose to launch a new initiative aimed to boost Britain’s place in the world post Brexit. Here for one day the Union Jack flew from the building while the high commissioner waxed lyrically about how similar the UK was do this tropical paradise. You can read all about it in a FO press release here.

Samoa it turns out is one of nine countries that Britain is keen to strengthen its presence as part of a Foreign Office initiative to compensate for losing its influence in the European Union. The argument goes along the lines that for every small country that Britain supports is likely to back Britain at the United Nations as each country has one vote. That way Britain can keep playing a major role without relying on the EU.The initiative goes back to Boris Johnson’s time as foreign secretary.It is being repeated in Tonga and Vanuatu.

The policy could be expensive and the competition could be fierce. In Samoa it will mean building a high commission to compete with the ones already in the capital representing Australia,New Zealand and Japan. In both Samoa and Tonga the main competition comes from China which is aiding Samoa’s education system and operates behind a high security compound in Tonga. The Japanese and Koreans are funding a new bridge in Apia. And both islands have strong links with Australia and New Zealand.

Exactly what new business opportunities Britain will get from Samoa and Tonga is not clear. Neither country relies entirely on tourism but most of their exports are agriculture and both have tiny populations ( they have less than 300,000 between them) and are no substitute for any EU country. Britain could benefit from coconut oil and cream from Samoa. Tonga could send us frozen fish,squash and vanilla beans.

As a visitor to both countries, Samoa is stunningly beautiful and friendly and Tonga is similar. Both have a very strong Christian religious communities dating from the missionaries and still observe Sundays as a day of rest.

In Samoa family is very important and unusually there are few cementaries as nearly all Samoans bury their ancestors on their own land. As well having their own homes they build meeting halls for family events.

Surprisingly for such a beautiful place it is not overdeveloped. There are no huge tower block hotels like Honolulu dominating the coast.Instead it remains rather a remarkable tropical paradise that even Robert Louis Stevenson might still recognise.

Is Corbyn’s Labour already cutting the mustard with local voters?

Tommy Gray- Labour's biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

Tommy Gray- Labour’s biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

One interest I found I share with Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage is that both us every week check the Twitterfeed of @britainelects – which provides details of every local council by-election in Britain.

Our exchange at the book launch of Lord Ashcroft’s Call Me Dave unauthorised biography revealed that both of us have a healthy scepticism of opinion polls but a mutual interest in seeing how real voters are turning out to vote in by elections across the country.

Corbyn’s mauling in the mainstream media coupled with distrust among the Parliamentary party one might expect no one in their right mind to vote Labour and for evidence in advance of the Oldham Parliamentary by-election that he is already in trouble.

In fact the reverse is true which might explain why the same mainstream media has been rather quiet about it. Three by-elections in totally different seats have seen huge swings to Labour. I write about this in Tribune magazine this week.

They are Euxton North ward in Chorley, Lancashire; South Camberwell in London  and Banbury in Oxfordshire..

In Chorley the party recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes. The Tories were second and saw their vote drop by 0.3 per cent with 443 votes.

In South Camberwell, in the London Borough of Southwark, Labour recorded a 9 per cent swing – winning with 1,244 votes – and taking a 57.9 per cent share of the vote. The party’s nearest rival, the Greens, saw a 1.3 per cent drop and the Tories were down 1.4 per cent. Only the Lib Dems, who were third, recorded a small increase of 2.3 per cent but polled just 200 votes.

In Banbury, Oxfordshire, saw Labour take a seat from the Conservatives on a 5.9 per cent swing –taking 45 per cent of the vote in the Grimsby and Castle ward in the town. The Tory vote fell by 7 per cent and the Lib Dem vote fell by 1.5 per cent. UKIP’s share of the vote did rise 5.6 per cent – but the party only got 150 votes. Labour polled 781.

The results are not mainly good  for UKIP whose plan to oust Labour as the party of the Opposition in the North is plainly not working as their council candidates are taking a mauling in some seats and making no progress in others.The Tories are very resilient. their vote is going up from a low base in Scotland and they have made four gains  this autumn – three from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. They also put in a credible performance in Barrow where they gained 23 per cent in a traditional Labour seat  almost ousting the UKIP opposition candidate. And Labour are still falling back in Scotland.

The one bad result for Labour in England has been Bury where the Tories took a seat from then with a swing approaching 14 per cent – but other parties also lost votes.

The Lib Dems seem to be reviving in rural areas – running the Tories close in one seat and taking a Sussex seat – but they are still declining in urban areas. They can boast one landslide result in Torbay when their former MP Adrian Sanders held a seat on a 39 per cent swing. But the same night they lost their third seat to the Tories in Aberdeen.

All this suggests that there is still a lot to play for – but Labour which had a huge rise in membership following Corbyn’s victory is more than holding its own and getting some spectacular swings.

The Tory narrative put forward by Cameron and Osborne is also still hitting a nerve – otherwise they would not be gaining seats. All this makes  the December 3 by-election in Oldham the more interesting.

Stormin’ Corbyn a hit in Korea (No Mail-on-Line not North Korea but the capitalist South)

Jeremy Corbyn - a hit in Korea

Jeremy Corbyn – a hit in Korea

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

While the British media has been uniformly hostile to Jeremy Corbyn – his victory has led to some completely different  coverage abroad.

One TV station “News Tapa”   – a nonprofit online investigative reporting organisation  in South Korea – decided to devote  a half hour programme to what they called the Corbyn Syndrome- for viewers in their country.

The  TV station –  unusual because it is crowd funded by over 35,000 people using a principle also used for byline.com for individuals decided that Corbyn was an interesting phenomenon precisely because he was an example of  a popular rebellion in a mainstream party challenging conventional politics.

According to the broadcasters it hit a nerve in South Korea because politics is seen as remote, dominated by big business and career politicians and not exactly squeaky keen. Sounds familiar? They were also fascinated how a backbencher representing a working class constituency could suddenly capture the minds of so many people and propel themselves to the leadership of a major party.

As Seon-Ju Choi, the London co-ordinator for the programme’s production said :”In S. Korea, the conservative party has been in power for many years now since our president Noh who committed suicide.  In a way, it has been very depressing all the public funds have been radically cut, and many people are struggling due to lack of public service and many of privatisation, etc.  We would love to feature the amazing and exciting story about Jeremy Corbyn’s story, how the left-wing politician has received overwhelming support from the public, and became a leader of Labour Party.”

It The film is in Korean but there are enough British people interviewed – including me- for people to follow most of it.

For those interested the link is here http://newstapa.org/29509 .

It makes interesting viewing.

Bath Knight: redundant fitters launch own UK company after their bosses go bust

A demonstration of the new Easy Bath product set up by redundant staff Pic Credit:www.easy-bath.co.uk

A demonstration of the new Easy Bath product set up by redundant staff
Pic Credit:www.easy-bath.co.uk

Disabled people who bought Bath Knight products and have been left with useless warranties have been offered a lifeline by the firm’s former fitters.

Nine of them who are also owed thousands of pounds by the bankruptcy of Bath Knight in Stoke on Trent have set up their own company to sell a new updated product and to service people who own Bath Knight aids but cannot get them repaired.

This should be good news for disabled people who have contacted me to say what can they do when their supplied equipment malfunctions or needs servicing. Some have been very desperate as it is the only way they can have a bath.

In addition, the fitters have found a new UK manufacturer in Leeds to make a new product which they can supply and fit at a much cheaper price than the old Bath Knight model.

Bicky Thandi, the fitter who is organising the new company,Easy-Bath said: ” We were worried about all those elderly  disabled people who were left with no service and no guarantee because the firm had gone bust owing us money as well. We got nothing from Care Knight when they went bankrupt owing us money so we thought that lets get together and form our own business.So we have set up a free phone line for inquiries and a fixed sum for repairs and servicing. We have also found a manufacturer in Leeds who can produce a new version of the Bath Knight.”

The  free phone number is 0800 0029182.   

The Website address is http://www.easy-bath.co.uk/ .

Prices he has quoted are: for a fixed price of £150.00 including parts and labour for a repair,  and a fitting for for £250.00.

In the meantime I am looking at exactly how Bath Knight, owned by Care Knight, went bust and why weeks after it collapsed owing over £428,000 to staff and suppliers it has suddenly been resurrected in Stoke in Trent as Bath-Lift with most of the same directors.
The  new company – according to people who have  been contacting me – has been demanding money from people who had not fully paid off their equipment – to be paid to the new firm.
I am rather surprised about this given the firm went into receivership and it is normally the receiver who chases up unpaid money so it can be redistributed to staff and suppliers it owed cash.
Any information will be gratefully received and you can use the contact me section of this website and be assured that it will be treated in confidence.