Just call me Dave…..

May 11, 2010

So as I am writing this it appears that the Lib Dems and Conservatives have agreed a deal to form a coalition Government after 5 days of ‘negotiating’ and with many twists and turns along the way. Gordon Brown has quit as leader and Prime Minister leaving the way for ‘Call me Dave’ to take over.

When we all (when I say all I mean 60% of us) made the effort to vote last Thursday did we really expect to see the events we have seen since polling day? We were being warned months in advance that a hung parliament was on the cards but did we really believe it? Surely Gordon Brown was so unpopular throughout the Country that there could only be one outcome with ‘call me dave’ becoming Prime Minister? Apparently not….

The Tories managed to gain 37% of the vote meaning that 63% of the UK’s voters didn’t vote for change! Does this mean that they deserve a mandate to Govern our country? I mean Gordon Brown has been criticised from day one as being an unelected Prime Minister! Therefore is it ok for ‘call me dave’ to take this role even though he hasn’t received enough of the vote? Or are we forgetting that the UK is not a Presidential country and that we are supposed to vote for a party not a President/Prime Minister?

If I was a Tory or Lib Dem voter (which I’m not by the way) I would feel like I had just been, pardon the phrase, shafted where the sun don’t shine! How can both ‘call me dave’ and Nick Clegg oppose each other so much during the campaign that they now feel that they can ‘work’ together in Government? Will this really provide a ‘stable’ Government that we now keep hearing on a ‘minute by minute’ basis? I think not but time will tell….

What about manifestos – whose will be adopted, how will both parties be able to keep their promises to their voters and what happens when both sets of MP’s decide that they can’t agree with each others proposals? This doesn’t sound stable to me!! One thing that sticks in my mind from the pre-election campaigning was something that George Osborne said to Vince Cable during the ‘Chancellors’ TV debate ‘Vince you can say what you like because you will never be in Government’. I wonder what he thinks now?

What this has shown me is that the Conservatives are so desperate to get into power that they will get into bed with your granny if it secured enough seats! Can such a party be trusted to run a ‘stable’ Government? It has also shown that ‘call me dave’ wasn’t the change the country wanted (figures speak for themselves) and that the electorate were just fed up with Gordon Brown. If ‘call me dave’ was/is the answer then the Tory party would have got an overall majority and we wouldn’t be in this mess we are in now.

What will also be interesting is that when we all come around to vote again what will a vote for Tory or Lib Dem actually mean and will you be able to trust the party you are voting for not to stitch you up again?

In the meantime I predict that Labour will win the next General Election with David Miliband being the next prime Minister….

Just remember where you heard it first!

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The Bulger Case

March 3, 2010

Since I have started to write blogs on subjects away from Liverpool FC I haven’t really touched on a subject that may ignite a passionate debate such as this. My blogs have been more focused on my personal moans about public transport etc and have been mainly light hearted, but the recent developments concerning the return to prison of Jon Venables who was convicted 17 years ago for murdering young Jamie Bulger has made me want to share my views on this awful crime.

Before I go on I know that there will be strong opinions on this subject but the point of this blog is not to dig up and go through every detail of what happened 17 years ago but to discuss how Bootle and the people of Bootle continue to be affected by this and why after all these years the Town is still suffering.

Most of you won’t know me personally but those who do will know my professional ties to Bootle and the Town Centre and will understand why I want to write a blog about it.

When on Tuesday this week the news broke about Jon Venables returning to prison for not complying with his release order, I knew that the media would again go into detail about the horrific crime that happened 17 years ago.
I want to make it clear that we should never forget what the family of Jamie Bulger have had to experience over the last 17 years and the injustice they feel but we should also remember this crime has also hurt Bootle as a town and its residents.

The main reason for this I believe is that both Jon Venables and Robert Thompson  have been allowed back into society (only after serving 8 years in a young offenders institute) and therefore it is very difficult for the family of Jamie Bulger to move on along with the town of Bootle also. Every time the press and media refer to this case then they all decend on Bootle with their cameras to remind the nation of where it took place and to stand outside the local shopping centre where Jamie was taken. I feel that if both Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were detained in prison then this would be less likely and would help the people of Bootle to get on with their daily lives without the regular intrusion of the media.

I am sure the recent developments concerning Jon Venables has angered not just the people of Bootle but the vast majority of people because it seems that the Ministry of Justice decision to release him and Robert Thompson may have backfired and that maybe trying to ‘reform’ killers no matter how old they isnt the answer but that is another discussion altogether.

In the meantime I hope that the people of Bootle will one day be able to live in their town without the constant reminder of the awful crime that happened 17 years ago.

Lets Drive…..

February 25, 2010

Whilst enjoying a very lazy Saturday morning this weekend watching TV in bed enjoying Saturday Kitchen and before that the BBC News there was a story that caught my attention. It appears that children as young as 11 years old are starting to learn to drive by attending courses at a driving centre in Birmingham with the idea being that their technical skills are well advanced by the time they reach their 17th birthday.

Of course with any TV debate they wheel in the people who are for and against the issue they are discussing and in this case it was Quenten Wilson (car journalist) studio and his 11 year old son and a man whose name I forget representing an accident prevention/safety campaign group.

The interesting point I found with this debate was that the man from the safety campaign group was trying to prove that if kids as young as 11 learn to drive many years before they are legal to do so they are more likely to cause accidents and drive dangerously than if they didn’t. His argument was based on the thoery that when a 17 year old takes his/her driving lessons they will already know how to drive and therefore won’t concentrate on learning important road skills.

Is it just 17 year olds who are a danger to the roads and would these 17 year olds be more of a risk if they did learn the technical skills of driving before being road legal? In my view and after 20 years of driving experience I don’t think they are.

I do a lot of driving in my job as a surveyor and cover a lot of miles and the type of driver that I often encounter and tend to swear and shout at are not the 17 year old ‘reckless’ driver but drivers who represent the middle age and old age pensioner groups.

Lets start with middle age drivers – these tend to be the type who sit in the fast lane of motorways doing 65mph and refusing to move out of the way or doing the same speed in the middle lane whilst the inside lane is empty just because they think the inside lane is for lorries. They seem oblivious to the fact that they are the ones responsible for the queue of traffic behind them and that there are other people on the road besides themselves! They tend to be the drivers who only look straight ahead and refuse to look in a mirror of any kind. In my view being oblivious to other roads users is just as or even more dangerous than how a 17 year old driver may or may not drive.

Moving on to the old age driver – they may have 40-50 years of driving experience but this doesn’t mean they are safe with it. For example, how fast are your grand parents reactions, how good is their eyesight and would you let them drive you on a 150 mile journey doing an average speed of 30mph? The old age driver tends to believe that they still drive cars with a maximum speed of 30 mph and that by doing anything above that, even on motorways, will cause them to have major nose bleeds! Are we all confident that if they are following a vehicle that may break suddenly they have the reactions to cope or whether they can see an incident 50 yards ahead and react accordingly? I’m not confident they can!

I personally think that teaching young children the technical skills of driving before they reach 17 is a very good idea. Think about it, when you learnt to drive were you forever looking at the gear stick when changing gear and looking at your feet to make sure everything was being done correctly only to find the driving instructor slamming on the brakes via the dual control system because you have drifted onto the other side of the road? If you eliminate this lack of technical knowledge before they are legal surely the 17 year old is already a safer driver before they venture onto a road.

I also think that every driver when they reach 65 should be required to take a reaction test along with a sight test to ensure that they are road safe. This would then be a test that would have to be taken every 5 years. I see too many old drivers on the road who just shouldn’t be behind the wheel and if these tests were introduced then it would eliminate the unsafe driver.

I know people reading this will say I have something against old people on the road but I don’t. If you are going to label all 17 year olds as dangerous because they are immature then surely when we get old and our bodies start to fail us is it right to assume we are still safe drivers?

Personally I think when all learner drivers of any age pass their test they should also undertake an advance driving test within the first year of passing which also includes how to drive on motorways. I think that will go a long way to reducing poor driving skills that we see on the road today.

So what I’m trying to say is I agree with the idea of learning to drive as a kid because it may help to reduce the accident rate in the young and help make them better drivers in the long run. I mean, if kids are now being taught about sex and the dangers of drugs and alcohol to help prevent teenage pregnancies and addictions then why can’t accident and safety groups accept this thought process with driving skills?

Just an idea….

Public Transport and Us

February 17, 2010

Blogging is a relatively new concept to me and I have recently written a few blogs on the goings on at my football team (www.spglfc.wordpress.com) where I seem to have found writing a new source of enjoyment. As my confidence in writing has grown (writing and literature have never been my thing) I have decided I want to try and write about other topics rather that just concentrate on Liverpool FC.

People who know me would suggest that I sometimes have a lot to say about general things that affect me and will then most likely say they get bored of me getting on my high horse about them!! However there are many things people get frustrated with where they feel some sort of injustice and I find that these types of situations are normally associated with Government/bodies or Local Authorities.

The idea of this and future blogs is for this to be a forum for people to express their views and frustrations on the topics raised where you can either agree or disagree with my views.

My first topic for discussion conentrates on an area I am most likely to talk/moan about and is based on the fact that I spend a vast amount of my working week using……Public Transport.

For the past two years I have commuted to work in London from the South West of England. I board my train at Chippenham and travel to Paddington where my scheduled travel time is 1 hour 15 minutes. I then have a tube journey across London into the City which takes another 25 minutes.

People are often shocked when I tell them about my commute but when you compare it to the average commute into London there isn’t any significant difference. From my point of view the benefits of living in the country far out way the time I actually travel to work.

The issues I have with communting are with the train companies themselves and the way the paying customer is treated like a second class citizen and because of privatisation, the way the Government seem to ignore the concerns and outrage of the general public. This blog raises issues I experience when travelling with First Great Western and will discuss fares, delays, compensation, attitudes of the rail companies and how all this relates to the green agenda policy.

Rail fares are a common topic and often a sore point for commuters and will often cause the most debate. Until the Government intervened a few years ago by regulating fares, the train companies were able to increase fares above inflation without necessarily improving the service as a result. Now train companies are only allowed to put fares up in line with July inflation levels each year.

In the case of FGW (First Great Western) and until January 2009, season ticket renewals were discounted by up to 20% depending on your journey because of unacceptable performance in the previous years. This had been forced upon FGW by Government who had threatened to take the franchise away (although FGW will always say they initiated this).

As soon as the restriction on FGW came to an end in December 2008 they immediately started hitting their targets resulting in any discounts on renewal being removed. My monthly season ticket now costs me £694 (yes that’s right) but this also covers my tube journey. As I previously mentioned my journey time is 1 hour 15 minutes and one of the questions I always put to FGW when making a complaint is do I get value for money? They of course always reply saying that I do. Is this the kind of level people want to or should be paying just to travel to work? Some people may say that you choose to live 90 miles away and you have to accept it but to me that is not the point. The Bristol to London line is very popular and many people now commute to London from Bristol, Bath and Chippenham so are the current levels of pricing justified?

I would suggest you would be hard pressed to find these levels of costs levied to rail passengers across Europe so why are they here? Why is my cost of travelling to work more than some mortgage repayments? I believe that this is purely a result of private train companies concentrating on profits before service.

Because I am not entitled to any form of compensation anymore I often send complaint emails to the customers services department at FGW which sometimes generates a small token gesture in the form of rail vouchers that I can use for money off my next ticket. But in my view this gesture does not come close to compensating me for the numerous delays I endure on daily/weekly basis.
During the second half of 2009 I kept a note on my iPhone calendar of every delay I experienced which included the length of time I was delayed. The results of this I think were quite shocking and relate to my earlier point in that do I get value for money. Out of my 336 journeys made during this period I experienced delays on 52 of them (please note that a delay is only a delay if it is 10 minutes or over with most days experiencing between 5 & 10 min delays) which also equates to 17 hours worth of delays over a total scheduled travel time of 420 hours. These delays oocurred over 50 days out of the 168 days travelled (30%) with the longest delay being 1 hour 37 minutes on one trip.

FGW policy is to only compensate passengers who purchase tickets on the day and ignore the passengers who purchase weekly, monthly and annual tickets – the core passegers (unless they fail to hit their target of 90% trains on time) . In my view this sends out a 2 finger salute to all passengers who pay for their travel on this basis. If a train is an hour late or more the ‘day tripper’ as I like to refer to them as will get a full refund whilst I who pay £694 per month gets zero!! Am I right to be a little annoyed about this and to feel hard done by? I certainly think I am!

This brings me onto the attitude shown by rail companies towards their fare paying customers. When I make a complaint to FGW after a delay a lot of their responses tend to have the tone ‘sorry guv it aint my fault’! Examples of this are when delays are ‘blamed’ on Network Rail where there have been signal failures or over running engineering works. In one complaint I highlighted the fact that if delays are caused by Network Rail then FGW must be compensated by them and this then could be passed onto the fare paying passengers. The response I received was as follows ‘the compensation given by Network Rail doesn’t cover our costs and as a result we don’t make a profit so we cannot pass this onto passengers’. Priceless! This just highlights my view that profits DO come before service.

With rail companies such as FGW forcing the public back into their cars with their pricing policies and general attitudes to providing a public service is the Government’s agenda of getting us using public transport starting to fail? As a rail commuter I want a service that is on time (most of the time) and for rail companies to put their passengers before profits and not to be charged huge amounts that represent mortgage payments to simply travel on a train to work. If the Government continue to allow rail companies to take us down this road then many of us will turn to the comfort of our cars to make the journey to work.

The Government need to realise that providing public transport should not be left to companies whose only goal is to make profits for their share holders at the expense of paying passengers and quality of service but to start making it easier for us to leave the car at home by providing a service that the general public can rely on and be confident of using.

Unfortunately I don’t give up much hope for this happening anytime soon.