Tuesday, 27 June 2017

TRESemmé: Professional and affordable.

Related imageI'm usually last man standing, backing our people.

I was the one saying 'Sven-Göran Eriksson was the best England manager we have had for years.' He lost only 5 competitive games. his popularity had declined when England inexplicably failed to win the world cup in 2002. But not for me. I still backed him. 

Even when  Eriksson's England team lost a World Cup qualifying match against Northern Ireland 1–0, the first time that England had lost to that team since 1972, it was a 'don't panic' message from me.

 So, I was the almost loan voice in the UK still suggesting many years after it was  acceptable, to stick with Ericksson. That was despite two press attempts to remove him. One that only a rumoured squad strike prevented. But I still thought, correctly as it turned out, that a replacement would do no better. Probably even worse.

With Hodgson, I was concerned from day one. He'd had a good season, for sure. And been steady enough for decades. But was that really enough? A safe appointment ? 
He certainly stated well enough. Win upon win. So benefit of the Quango doubt given again.
 But he didn't face any real tests. It was all very easy. Easy qualifiers in easy groups with easy friendlies. Looking much better than perhaps he was.
Still, why change a winning team? Even if it was a mixture of those past their prime and those too inexperienced to be relied upon.

Same with Dave Cameron. Long after it became apparent he wasn't going to win us the world cup either, I was personally still suggesting he was better than whoever else was available. He may have had only an extra time win against the Broons, and a 1-0 against the Miliband, it was still better than expected. And the performances overall were solid enough.

But he went, with 'good riddance' from the many ringing in his ears.
 I would have preferred Johnson to succeed him. Even with his enourmous baggage train. And the rift his premiership would have brought. i thought better to have the war during the actual war. Rather than an insurgency of Remain for years and years.
But Boris managed to knife everyone. Including himself. And, if the Shipman book is correct, largely through lack of attention to detail, carelessness, a poor team around him and a large slice of bad luck.

So, TRESemmé it was. She was given the Quango 'benefit of the doubt'. But others on here were not at all convinced. She may have been the best of a bad bunch, but that didn't make her good. Just, less bad.
                                                Theresa May. Tessa May.

With May, 10 months after her rise to the top, I already think she should be gone as soon as it is practically possible. No replacement could do as badly as she has done. She hasn't got the benefit of the doubt.
Neither Johnson nor Gove would have lost a majority. Not Davis. Not even the, for some baffling reason, hotly tipped Rudd. Not Hammond and not even lightweight Leadsom would have lost the majority. Not even 'Chancer' Fox.

She was playing a final match, against Corbyn, for a place at the Euros. 


 That means a solid 2-0 expected to see her through.
A 5-0 against such poor and part time opposition, was wildly predicted by the press.
The fans would have been happy with a good 3-1 to raise the spirits for the coming tournament.

One-Nil would have done in reality. Just to get to the actual upcoming event.


Instead we got a dismal 0-0. 

And even that wasn't the whole story. Players injured. Players sent off. Red cards awarded. A dressing room split. A team line-up that baffled everyone. Star players left on the bench. No understanding of the opponents strengths and weaknesses. Players playing out of position. No tactical sense of how to beat the opposition. 
No plan B, when plan A started to go wrong. Just a long ball up to the front and a hope somehow that it goes in. 
And a very worrying feeling, that they might be weak and inferior opposition, but they have turned up to win. And we haven't.

When responding after the game she revealed she hadn't even brought her regular back room staff along for this crucial match. Instead she was using a new strategy for the election. Formulated in complete secrecy and never tried on the training grounds. By her two closest and youngest advisers.

You can't win anything with kids.

History to May's Rescue

We learn that May told her MPs: "I got us into this mess, and I'm going to get us out of it".  I even take a tiny crumb of comfort from her use of this phrase because it's appropriate, modestly-couched fighting talk - a line that (I assume) was fed to her by someone with half a brain.  If there's one thing she can do, it is pulling herself together, head-girl style, with an evident sense of duty, a straight back and a clear delivery of a prepared line.

The right wing commentariat has been replete with five-point plans for her (we've already cited Lilico's), not many of which go beyond statement of the obvious, nor count as much of a contribution towards a proper strategy.  The much-lauded Gavin Barwell might prove to be a fair choice as May's Chief of Staff: he's not a bad mini-strategist.  (Equally, he might be out on his ear soon if the tower-block fire-risk fiasco is laid at his door.)

The essence of her strategy (or, the Tory's, as you prefer) must be: play for time.  Playing for time always seems lame, almost sordid in an intellectual sense: where's the creativity in that?  But it has its place in the armoury of off-the-peg tactics and strategies - and isn't always trivial to execute.  (Let's see them get through the summer without serious riots ...)

Meanwhile, some more exalted strategising can take place, to which end it's worth considering some real-life cases of leaders / regimes / etc who seemed down-and-out, but made it through - if not triumphantly, then at least in a functional sort of way - to win out in the end.

I propose to start a collection of interesting historical precedents, and invite readers to add their own in the comments: the more diverse, the better.  Obviously any 'precedent' needs to be examined carefully for false analogies: history doesn't repeat itself, it only rhymes. 

But some rhymes are very compelling.  To start the ball rolling, here are three I made earlier, in chron order.

1.  The Jacobite Rebellion of '45

In pursuit of full-scale regime-change, Bonnie Prince Charlie made it as far as Derby with his Scottish army, a far deeper incursion than anyone had foreseen.  Despite clear numerical superiority, many in England were wetting themselves - an outright panic.  Still, it all came to a halt, then a retreat, then a massacre - the 'predictable' outcome to such a romantic, ill-conceived venture, despite how it looked for a brief moment.

2.  Stalin in 1941

Operation Barbarossa took Stalin utterly by surprise.  For days, nothing was heard from him, and rumours abounded he'd fled Moscow in ignominy.  He had been taken for a fool, proved to be strategically inept, and was in genuine, serious peril.  So it seems likely he had some very bad nights.  But after a bit he got a grip, stayed at the helm ... and we all know the rest.  

3.  Saddam in 1991

The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had gone like a dream, and Saddam commanded one of the two largest battle-tested armies in the world (the only other one being Iran's).  But he hadn't reckoned on the American response, and by January 1991 was looking down the barrels of quite a few guns.  Even then, he had a few tricks up his sleeve: for example, on the first day of the air war (Desert Storm) he shipped his air force to Iranian airfields.  (Sitting in an Allied HQ at the time, let me tell you, no-one saw that coming ...)  But in due course his army was swept from the field, and things can't have looked great by the time the last grain of Kuwaiti sand had been prised from his grasp.

But he was still in power 12 years later ...

= = = = = = = = = =

History is replete with stories of these kinds.  One of our Anon's has already suggested Alfred the Great.  So - your further suggestions below, please.


Monday, 26 June 2017

DUP agree simple deal for Government

So, time to reflect on the DUP-Tory negotiations.

Much harder this time round than 2010 when Clegg and Cameron were clearly such bossom buddies (with hindsight, easily could have swapped roles with one another, so close were they politically).

This time the DUP sensed their chance against a weakened Prime Minister and came up with a very long list of demands, for a party that is not strictly needed to keep the Government in power.

This then drew 2 weeks of avid criticism of May (remember, I was not a fan originally and have sadly seen my view of her come to pass) and her inability to negotiate even this.

The first rule of negotiation though, is to negotiate, to stay at the table. Not to strop off like a child or say 'no deal' like the yanks do all the time. This achieves little. What actually works is patiently sitting there, hearing the otherside out, whilst making it clear you can't give them much but still want a deal.

This takes time, in this case 2 weeks, eventually if your position is sound and a deal makes sense for both parties, then it is done on reasonable terms. Even when one side started out with a hard bargaining position.

So to today, where the DUP have won basically a tiny pork barrel and concession of some policies the Tory's did not want to implement anyway (again, good negotiation tactic to offer the easy giveaways up).

So on balance I would give this deal a good 7/10 - the main drawback being the awkward handling a the beginning causing a longer delay than necessary - but the right answer in the end.

It does not bode too badly for Brexit then, not that you will read that in the mainstream media currently.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Camden council. Wise decisions or blind panic?

More than 700 flats in tower blocks on an estate in the Swiss Cottage area of north-west London have been evacuated because of fire safety concerns.
Camden Council said people in four towers on the Chalcots estate were moved for "urgent fire safety works".
The council added it was booking hotels but around 100 residents have spent the night on air beds in a leisure centre.The estate's cladding is similar to Grenfell Tower in west London, where a fire is feared to have killed 79.
BBc Website. 


Anyone who deals with any building or safety issues in the UK faces this dilemma. 
If you discover something is dangerous you must act. A tower block that now appears to be clad in a material that is a composite of fireworks. Phosphorus. Gunpowder. Petrol and BBQ lighters can not be considered a safe place to house people. And so the council are removing the people to alternative locations.

That this looks more like panic than action is they have not prepared. 270 rooms were rented in a hotel. And space made at a leisure centre and another building.  5 blocks were originally told to evacuate, now since reduced to 4. From the reports it appears the council decided to act as soon as the fire service said they could not guarantee residents safety. A question Camden Council must have demanded an answer too. 
The fire service report came late in the day and the evacuation began in the evening. Some resident had no idea what was happening and had only heard about from the news on TV.

 Taxis were being hired to transport people. Taxi drivers not told why. Not told that residents were coming with everything they own. Including pets and cots and all manner of personal items. Taxi drivers [heard this on the radio] were eventually paid by a council official from her own credit card as there was no method of payment available for the council to pay the cabbies.

This is obviously a really severe issue for the council. If the fire service says no, they don't have a lot of choice. 
Personally I have never known the fire service to give a guarantee of safety. They used to do a compliance check and a safety of equipment check. And when you joked 'We are all safe now then?' they always said "No building is ever safe, sir. You are legal. That's all."

The blocks have been there for years and years. Not burning down. They were happy to leave the residents in place whilst the fire service carried out checks. Nothing has happened since the tragedy at Grenfell on 14th June and now, ten days later. If the building was likely to kill all its occupants it should have been evacuated the same day, or soon as.
Could not the council have waited until it had booked all the necessary hotel rooms. Informed the residents by meetings. Explained the procedure and the reasons. Arranged buses. Explained the process of works being carried out and a timetable for eviction and return. 
And have some cash ready to dish out for the occupants.

How much extra time would that take? Another 24 hours? 

The reason  it looks more like panic than reaction is that once the fire service reports the council is now the body responsible for ensuring the safety of the occupants. And they wanted to ensure they had acted. Because if a fire did break out and hundreds died, this would be a 'Police Chief Brodie, You knew and never closed the beaches', slap in the face moment. Followed by criminal prosecutions.

Residents have reported there have already been fires in the block and it wasn't a problem. 
Some 80 people have refused to leave and are now being given eviction notices to remove them against their will. 

 "Did the council do the right thing?"

Council bosses in Camden are on the £150-£200,000 a year pay deals. Their job is to manage.

Could they not have organised 5 fire extinguishers for each flat and training on their use? 
Could they have delivered respirators, fire alarms, electric warning panels monitored from within the building to all residents? Monitored by a trained, round the clock, fire crew from the London fire brigade. Who would monitor the building inside and out at all times? 
There is an issue of the gas pipes. Could that not be turned off until the building was made safe?
Could the bottom floors [whatever number the fire service can safely manage to reach people from, up to six stories I guess] retain their tenants?
And I'm sure other ideas too. Even doing some of these ideas just for the time it took to arrange proper accommodation would have been a way of managing.

The council cannot really be blamed here. They have been told the news and it would take supreme courage and confidence to not just remove everyone immediately. 
That is the UK today. The actual likely percentage of a risk occurring {which is mostly how health and safety is measured}  is irrelevant when considering the risk of it actually occurring and the consequences of it happening. To you. The decision maker. And your decisions being judged.

Safer by far to opt for the quickest, if not the best, response.

Retail, which is my area, is subject to the most stringent and costly fire safety regulations imaginable.

Every workplace and shop in the country, by law, must have a fire extinguisher. Most have a minimum of 3.
Depending on age,and size, smoke detectors are fitted. And sprinklers. And regular checks and fire evacuations are required.

On any shopping centre built since the 1990s there will be multiple exits. Shopping centres will contain many hundreds if not thousands of people so fire and evacuation are a daily concern. The average shopping centre has 100 retail units. Each of those will have one or two fire exits in addition to the door the public use to enter. Those fire exits lead to backstage corridor areas that will equally have many different exits to the outside. Human activated break glass  fire alarms are fitted throughout. Even though there are hundreds of smoke detectors that automatically activate and report a fire to the monitored fire control room. Fire hoses and axes are fitted too, in addition to automatic sprinklers. 

No rubbish or equipment of any kind is ever permitted to block corridors or fire exits. Even the smallest shop must keep its fire exit clear at all times. Night or day. A pain for retailers on delivery days. All rubbish is in one area and is managed daily. There is tons of cardboard and paper every day in a shopping centre. It is squashed and removed each day.

Shops have fire curtains fitted at huge expense as standard. These automatically drop down from the ceiling of the open entrances {shops don't really have doors  anymore in shopping centres} to head height usually, so people can pass underneath.
The smoke is trapped by the curtain for a period. And flames running along a ceiling would be too.
All areas have back up lighting. Emergency lighting, strips, flashes and everything written is in reflective  glow in the dark, so can be read. 

The fire alarms sound continuously. With the public address issuing a calm but firm, 'Do not be alarmed. But please calmly make your way to the nearest exit." 
Huge smoke sucking ventilators are on the roof to remove the toxic killer smoke from the building and push it outside. The security are also trained in basic firefighting and can assist in a small blaze. Though their main task is evacuation and containment.
Every door is fire proof. The main ones are automatically activated by a fire alert to close, as during the day they would be open.  At night, all doors in all shops are closed.

A full fire evacuation is usually complete in under five minutes. That's the results from unannounced checks sprung on unprepared retailers and from general evacuations when the system has just gone off on one by itself.  The whole system is automatically linked to the fire station who attend always unless a false alarm is phoned through from the control centre. 

That's pretty good. But then the entire building from its inception has been designed with an eye to containing fire. Removing people quickly and safely, and allowing firefighters to tackle a blaze. 

On many newer centres and outdoor centres and high streets there is a linked system whereby a fire alert in one shop triggers an alert to the neighbouring shops to evacuate too. Air conditioning units automatically shut down. Lights over exits automatically come on. The floor lights pointing the way to an exit illuminate automatically too.

As far as I am aware there have been zero deaths in shopping centres in the UK despite them being made and filled almost entirely of glass and plastic.

I cannot conceive of a reason, bar the obvious one that in the private sector, its them footing the bill, why public access buildings have an unbelievable level of fire regulation whilst domestic buildings do not.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Gas Storage: Rough Old Business

One of our esteemed Anon's asked what's up with Centrica closing down the Rough storage facility.  It wasn't a complete bolt from the blue.  But it's not small !  Rough represents getting on for 75% of UK's gas storage inventory - though a smaller % of total deliverability from storage, because Rough is a slow old beast and can't pump out very fast.  The new generation of 'fast cycle' facilities are smaller but can fill and empty in a couple of weeks, vs Rough which more or less took all summer to fill up, then months to blow down in winter.  'Seasonal storage' in the terms of the trade.  (Rough trade, geddit?)

Well, it used to be ...            graphic from Centrica

I wrote about some of this at fair length a few years ago when M.Fallon called Centrica's bluff and declined to subsidise them to build a new one.  So they didn't.  It was unusual for a politician to spurn a request of that sort in 2013, and it's even more unusual these days.  No-one builds a power station of any kind today without public money (via electricity consumers) being sent their way.

Rough was always an artificial thing, built by the old BG in the early 80's - the closing days of their monopoly, when they could just pass through the costs.   It's very debatable whether it was needed then: but they just did it anyway - because they could.  Engineers love building things.

Seasonal storage is not much wanted these days either - the spread between summer and winter wholesale gas prices is at an all-time low, which signals as much.  It's one of the reasons Centrica can't justify restoring Rough to health.  That and the one-off revenues (half a billion quid over a few years) they will make as they blow down the rather substantial amount of 'cushion gas' for the last time - the opposite dynamic to most offshore field abandonments, which only cost money and are therefore typically put off as long as possible.

How will we cope in winter?  We nearly found out in March a few years back when Rough temporarily conked out during a cold spell.  Extra LNG cargos should do the trick: we have very substantial LNG regas facilities in the UK - built by Mr Market Mechanism between 2000-2010 with narry a subsidy in sight - just a bunch of companies willing to follow through on the obvious fact that UK gas production started its terminal decline at the start of the century.  Glory be.  One of the great examples of the market being left to run its course that I often like to cite.  (It helps that regas is really cheap and quick to build.)

Come that freezing March month, and it may not be cheap in the spot market, though ...  then you find out who's hedged and who's shorts are dangerously exposed.  Chilly, it can be.  And of course if our good friends in Qatar are still in bother, well, hmmm.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

is an empty Queen's Speech the best sort anyway?

There is certainly plenty of Government in the UK, different levels going right up to the EU and ECHR.

In our daily lives we are all affected by it, one truism of life too is that increasingly there is more Government than before.

Back say 100 years the Government share of GDP was well below 20%, now is pushes nearer 50%. The rise of Government, periods of austerity only being mere pinpricks, is inexorable.

So, given that the Country is not necessarily improved by constant tinkering, a welcome space of few new laws being put in place is probably quite a good thing. In fact, simple things like no fiddling with the tax code give certainty to business decisions for example and make planning easier.

So a minority Government's Queen's speech is in many ways something to be celebrated - because not much will happen, people will be freer of political interference. Perhaps, with the great repeal bill in the works as well, the lawmakers will be so obsessed with their craft for a few years that the rest of us are left alone to a greater extent than usual.

All things being equal, that should be a big plus for economic growth in the UK.