Saturday, 29 September 2012

Land Rover reveal refreshed Defender range for 2013

Land Rover has revealed some minor changes to the Defender for the 2013 model year. Are we looking at the final spruce-up for the European market? The refresh includes a new colour pallet, with Barolo Black and Havana being added to the range. But also several options have been added for contrasting roofincluding Fuji White, Santorini Black, Indus Silver, Orkney Grey, and Firenze Red.
On the inside, the 2013 Defender receives some new fabric and leather seats in the front, while Bluetooth connectivity was standardized with an optional Alpine audio system, complete with a subwoofer. The 2013 Land Rover Defender keeps its existing engine option, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel, also used in the Ford Transit. Prices start at £22,350.

Paris Motor Show 2012 : The Brits on show

The Paris motor show has been a bi-annual affair for some time, so it’s a very special event on the calendar for the major manufacturers, even if the major industry growth is now out East in China and India. For 2012, there was the usual positive motor show buzz, with both manufacturers and journalists talking up the industry’s positive side.

As far as the British industry is concerned, 2012 has been good news – and when you consider that Jaguar and Land Rover chose to launch the Range Rover L405 and F-type concurrently (shades of 1970 with the original Range Rover and Stag, and 1994 with the P38 Range Rover and X300), this is a welcome show of strength by a combined company that enjoyed serious growth during 2011, and continues to do so throughout 2012. Of course, th0se unveils took place at British motor shows – something we don’t have anymore.

Bentley, MINI and McLaren also unveiled new metal at the show – although, admittedly the Bentley was a racing concept, the McLaren was an engine-less mock-up (but jolly exciting nonetheless), and MINI’s new metal wasn’t really that new (or built in Austria). Once again, the current lame duck of the ‘British’ UK sales chart, MG, remained a no-show, although it’s a likelihood that this will change in time for the next French show, when the MG3, MG5 and much-delayed MG6 will also on the new car price lists.

New British land speed record from electric super car - made in Green Britain!

As you may have noticed on AROnline, were proud of Britain and British engineering. Staunch supporters of the underdog too. So when a British team of engineers breaks a LSR (land speed record) we get excited! Sustainable energy firm Ecotricity usual stock in trade is as a supplier of renewable energy, however boss man Dale Vince OBE had a pet project – an electric supercar.

To prove you can take the boy out of Norfolk, but not the Norfolk out of the boy, Vince and his team hunted for a Lotus; an Exige to be precise. A couple of clicks on eBay, done and dusted. Fast forward four years to the present and Exige evolved into the Nemesis. So how did they do it?

Old friend of MG Rover and petrolhead Peter Stevens offered his services, subtly reprofiling the car. Some slight ducting tweaks on the front clam shell, and a longer diffused tail at the rear being the most obvious changes. Next up Toyota’s multi vale four cylinder IC engine and transmission got swiftly replaced by two 125 kW electric motors (125,000 watt) giving 330bhp and 600Nm of torque; as with all electric motors pretty much available from zero revolutions.

This also necessitated an extended 90mm increase in wheelbase. Power sits behind the front seats in a composite container holding the 96 100A/h 4.2 volt battery cells. These batteries charged by wind farm supplied energy. Rather patriotically the exterior is resemblant in a union flag motif, dimensionally a little narrower, a little longer, a little higher than the stock Exige. However at 1166kg, a whopping 233kg heavier than a stock Exige - 25% heavier. Or for the layman an Exige with two 18 stone rugby players perched on the roof rack….

Under £1m later, the team found themselves at Elvington Airfield in York. The ex-RAF airfield is famously known as the site of Richard Hammond’s ill-fated crash; however on 27 September 2012, 21 year old Nick Ponting happened to be the man in the news headlines. The existing record by Don Wales (grandson of Sir Malcom Cambell) set upon Pendine Sands of 137mph was surprisingly set over twelve years ago. This benchmark Ecotricity needed to beat. For the creation of a legitimate record Ponting needed two passes – one in each direction – to equate for any wind assistance. Away they went.

Using the Motor Sports Association’s calibrated test equipment, Ponting’s first two-way average being 148.419mph, a new British LSR, subsequently be topped with a new verified run of of 151.607mph.

British engineering at its best…

Friday, 28 September 2012

Conservatives launch new poster ahead of the Labour Party Conference in Manchester

You read it on ConHome or my blog first. The Conservative Party launches its first attack on Labour this weekend and it focuses on the Institute for Fiscal Studies' estimates that Labour would borrow £200 billion more than the Conservatives. That's £3,200 more debt for every person in the country. Con HQ have gone for an adaptation of the iconic Labour's not working poster (from Margaret Thatcher's 1979 campaign) rather than the Labour's tax bombshell campaign (from John Major and Norman Lamont in 1992).

Commenting on the campaign, Tory Chairman Grant Shapps commented:

"Labour isn't learning. They still think we can borrow our way out of the debt crisis. Their plans would mean borrowing over £200 billion more. They would shackle every person in this country with £3,200 more debt - over and above the debt they already ran up when they were in government. More spending, more borrowing, more debt - Labour isn't learning."

An ad van bearing the poster will be touring Manchester from tomorrow - to greet Labour conference goers as they arrive in the city.

Calculations by the independent think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, estimate that if Labour were in power, and the Coalition Government had not made the tough decisions it has, our country would be borrowing over £200billion more by 2016-17.*

This equates to shackling every person in the UK to £3,200 more debt. And this staggering figure is in addition to the debt they already ran up when they were in government.

* The IFS have estimated what the level of borrowing would be under the plans inherited by the Government from Labour (the Darling Plan) given more recent economic forecasts. The IFS show that ‘in the absence of additional fiscal tightening announced since the general election’ by 2016-17 borrowing and debt would be £201billion higher than under Government plans (IFS, Green Budget 2012, 1 February 2012, Table 3.1, p. 57).

Discover Small Wonder (the Short Story Festival) at Charleston

'Small Wonder' the Short Story Festival is on at Charleston Farmhouse & Gardens this weekend from Thursday 27th to Sunday 30th September with lots to do for all the family.

Events include:
1) Talks by Authors with an opportunity to purchase signed copies
2) BBC's Will Gompertz talking about Modern Art
3) Family Animation Event
4) Pop Up Cocktail Bar
5) Boating on Charleston Pond in traditional handmade boats
6) Family Workshop with Micro Library Books
7) Gardeners Question Time

To find out more about these events, please click on

To find out more about Charleston, please click on

Disabled parking spaces are available in the car park but for those wishing to travel by train from either Eastbourne & Hastings, Brighton & Hove or the Haywards Heath direction, there is a Shuttle Bus Service available from Lewes Station provided by Cuckmere Community Bus at a cost of £2 for single fares or £3 for a return ticket (sorry, concession cards are not valid or accepted on this shuttle service) and more details about the timetables are available by clicking here

Thursday, 27 September 2012

New Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insists he is "open-minded" about third Heathrow runway

By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.

Until the reshuffle, Patrick McLoughlin had been a whip for 15 years, serving six leaders, and two Prime Ministers - which explains why his media appearances have been few and far between. In his first big interview since being appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Mr McLoughlin has denied being appointed simply to see a third runway through, and insists he is "open-minded".

The first point of interest in Mr McLoughlin's interview with the Evening Standard is the news that Boris Johnson's omnipresence continues - he has seemingly extended his powers over transport in London:

"He has already had London’s Mayor lobbying him. “I was talking to him this morning and we agreed to set up a working party between the department and the Mayor to look at some of the transport issues he wants to develop. So, I look forward to having a good relationship with Boris.” Officials from City Hall and the Department of Transport will meet regularly under the plan, giving the Mayor a formal input into the Whitehall machine, though it is not the devolution that Mr Johnson really wants."

The second, and major, point of interest is his declaration of being open to different options for airport expansion:

"Mr McLoughlin insists he is open-minded and asks people to trust the independent commission headed by Sir Howard Davies, set up to review aviation policy. “I’m not going to say what it should do. But I hope people will see it as a very serious piece of work. It will look at all the options, be it Boris’s scheme, the Foster scheme, and others, and hopefully people will come to accept and respect it.”"

Mr McLoughlin does not have good news for fuel-price campaigners, however, saying an increase in fuel duty is necessary:
"With another inflation-busting fares hike rise in the new year, is he lobbying George Osborne against it? He will not say, but points out: “Don’t forget we are putting a huge amount of money into the railways.” On the 3p fuel duty increase set for New Year’s Day, he insisted: “I’d be very happy if we didn’t have to raise taxes but the truth is we’ve got to balance the books.”"

Finally, Mr McLoughlin is rarely mentioned without it being noted that he is a former miner. The trend continues today:

"“Am I proud of my background? Yes I am. I worked in the same pit that my dad did, though he died when I was very young. I think it helps that politicians come from all walks of life.” He disagrees with the attack by fellow Conservative MP Nadine Dorries on the number of “toffs” in the Cabinet. “William Hague went to a comprehensive, so did others. I think David [Cameron] has tried to take people best suited to their jobs and no one has been held back by their backgrounds.”"

One might make the point that the allegation is not that working class MPs have been deliberately held back, but that more public and private schoolboys have been promoted.

An Englishman's home, should be his castle

David T Breaker: Householders deserve the right to defend themselves and the means to do so.

When a burglar enters a property, a "home invasion" to borrow the rather apt American terminology, the intruder does far more than simply cross a threshold uninvited. The victim, excluding any financial and sentimental losses incurred, is often left with a heavy psychological weight, the sense of safety and security we develop from our homes forever shattered; some can simply place the event behind them, but others are left with a trauma they seek to resolve with extreme security measures, high tech surveillance equipment, or even moving home. For the resident, a home that's been broken into is rarely the same.

Yet for the resident that is both present and awake during a home invasion there lies a risk that life very literally will never be the same: are the intruders violent, as in the case of an elderly grandmother who was water-boarded or an elderly couple tortured with a hot iron, are they sexually violent or of murderous intent, and what response does the householder undertake? Does the householder defend themselves, their family and their home, thereby risking their judgement being second guessed as not "reasonable", or simply hide away and hope for the best? For some, the elderly being disproportionately victims of home invasion, physical reality makes that choice for them, being left with no viable alternative but appeasement. And if the homeowner does decide to take action, what action can he or she take? We are all, to one degree or another, at a disadvantage, intruders often being in groups of two or more, overwhelmingly young males, predominantly of above average fitness, and often equipped with crowbars and other weaponry; what match is the average householder, half asleep in their pyjama outfits, armed only with whatever is to hand in their bedrooms? Are we expected to defend ourselves with slippers and socks?

Sadly however, for the best part of a century, governments of all stripes have actively sought to disarm, weaken and emasculate the public, nationalise self-defence, and erode our ancient rights to protect ourselves, our families and our homes. It is after all in our Bill of Rights "That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions", yet through a series of Home Office memos giving direction to police forces responsible for the issuance of gun licenses, starting in 1937, the justification required to own a gun has been continuously increased to reduce the number of lawfully possessed firearms. By 1969 the police were required to deny all licenses for self-defence purposes, with crimes in subsequent decades skyrocketing. Indeed across Europe, countries with lower gun ownership rates report higher rates of home invasion, assault and even murder than those with more gun owners; likewise nearly half of all burglaries in England occur when the victim is at home compared to 13% in the US; and the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report of 2007 found that states with laws allowing licensed gun owners to carry their firearms have a 30% lower homicide rate, 46% lower robbery, and 22% lower violent crime rate than states without such laws, Florida’s violent crime rate and murder rate dropping by 32% and 58% respectively since they introduced such laws. Homeowners with the right to defend themselves, and the equipment to do so, are evidently a deterrent, with figures from the U.S. Department of Justice finding that 34% of felons had been "scared off, shot at, wounded or captured by an armed victim" and 40% of all criminals admitting that they "had been deterred from committing a crime out of fear that the potential victim was armed".

Recently of course the rights and wrongs of our homeowner laws have been back in debate after the high profile arrest of a couple accused of GBH having non-fatally shot one of the four balaclava-wearing criminals they found breaking into not just their house but their bedroom. Yet despite recent headlines declaring "License to shoot burglars" there remains nothing of the sort. Though the intruders failed in their bid to gain a reduced sentence because of their injuries - the judge wisely noting that if you invade a house with a gun then you can expect to get shot - the couple themselves were fortunate that the CPS decided not to prosecute; there is no clearly defined right to defend your home, the couple finding themselves arrested, detained in police cells for three days and treated to the full criminal suspect experience, handcuffs and all, until authorities - in safety and comfort - had decided if they had acted "reasonably". Surely however, as Cicero noted, "any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right"? It's also statistically right: a study by criminologist Gary Kleck of Florida State University found that "Robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or those who did not resist at all."

Which in the end means that the public simply cannot be expected to continue on the current legal basis, uncertain of their rights, denied access to legally licensed firearms, and without the deterrent that a "castle doctrine" - a statutory act guaranteeing the right to defend, as was once common law in England and was subsequently made constitutional law in 44 US States as well as statute law in the remaining 6 states - would provide. It is long time that the culture of disempowering and disarming law abiding citizens ended, it's time that the ancient right to defend ourselves and to own the licensed firearms to do so was restored. In short it's time to put the law abiding majority first, not criminals.

Ceremony to mark progress on The Keep

Another major step is about to be taken in the construction of a new £19m historical resource centre for East Sussex and Brighton & Hove.

Early next month, the project partners will gather at the site of ‘The Keep' at Woollards Field, Mouslecoomb, near Falmer to mark the completion of the roof of the building.

East Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and the University of Sussex are working in partnership to provide the new archive centre, which is due to open to the public by the end of 2013.

The partners will officially mark the completion of the roof at a ‘topping out' ceremony at the site at 9.15am on Monday 1 October 2012.

Representatives of the partners at the ceremony will include Peter Jones, Leader of East Sussex County Council, Councillor Jason Kitkat, Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council and Professor Michael Farthing, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex. Phil Durigan, the MD of Kier Construction, will also be attending.

Councillor Tony Freebody, Lead Member for Community Services at the County Council, who will also be at the ceremony, said: “The Keep will be the new home for thousands of archives and historical resources dating back over 900 years.

“The public centre will enable people to research their local and family history and provide opportunities for school visits and a wide range of activities and facilities for everyone to use. It will be a wonderful resource for everyone in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove.”

Janita Bagshawe, Head of Royal Pavilion and Museums at Brighton & Hove City Council, said: “The Keep is on course to meet BREEAM Excellent and will provide a state of the art building for housing collections and ensuring their long term care to enable generations to come to learn from them.

“It will bring together in one place a range of collections from the city and county and provide for the first time opportunities for learners to work with a range of archive and museum resources.”

Professor Michael Farthing, University of Sussex Vice-Chancellor, said: “The Keep is an excellent collaboration and means that our own internationally acclaimed Special Collections archive, which includes the Mass Observation diaries and precious original manuscripts of Virginia Woolf and Rudyard Kipling, will benefit from shared archival and conservation expertise.”

Pensioners now know that they cannot trust the Lib-Dems

So now we know beyond all doubt that you cannot trust Nick Clegg and you cannot trust the Liberal Democrats after listening to some of their batchy ideas at the Brighton Party Conference this week and to be honest I suspect that for many people out there in the real world, sorry just won't cut it!

Nick, Vince and the gang despise percieved wealth so much (even though I suspect many of them would be considered to be fairly well off by most of us mere mortals) that they have come up with a range of plans that include cutting winter fuel payments to pensioners, withdrawing their bus passes and clobbering them with additional taxation if they happen to live in a house that they deem to be valuable.

Nick Clegg even cited the unfairness of pensioners bus passes by saying that it was not fair for hard working heavily taxed younger people to have to pay for Sir Alan Sugar's bus pass. This really does demonstrate just how little he understands about the scheme. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that whilst Sir Alan and many other wealthy pensioners may be eligable for a free bus pass, this entitlement represents no actual cost to the tax payer unless 1) the small administrative cost is incurred by applying for the pass and 2) the pass is then used for each bus journey. Sir Alan Sugar is not alone in joining millions of other eligable pensioners in not actually taking up the free pass, let alone using it (in fact I wonder if Sir Alan can remember the last time he caught a bus and why would he when he can afford to be chauffeur driven around in a Rolls Royce?).

Furthermore the proposed tax on property, previously vaunted as 'the mansion tax' could prove to be very damaging as there are many pensioners who may still reside in their family home but have actually become cash poor with the raids on pensions carried out by the last government and the slow recovery which we all hope is taking place now. London Mayor, Boris Johnson summed this up rather well when he said "I like Nick Clegg but he can’t be serious. These proposals are a non-starter. He knows it. I know it. The idea of a mansion tax is crazy. The idea of a mansion tax by the back door through vastly inflated council tax bills is nonsense. These taxes will disproportionately hit London and Londoners, penalising people simply because of circumstance, trapping people who in many cases are cash poor. London is the motor of the UK economy; kicking it hard makes no sense at all."

Boris is of course quite right as by far the largest proportion of valuable property is located in not only London, but the shire counties and South East which surprise surprise with the exception of our own Eastbourne MP and neighbouring Lewes MP, has little or no Lib-Dem members of parliament.

Nick says that for blue to go green, you have to add yellow. It didn't raise much of a laugh when he said it but I say, "to lance the increasingly large boil in this Government, we have got to take the yellow out at the earliest opportunity".

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

On TrAC for apprenticeships

Training and Apprenticeships in Construction or TrAC, is a new scheme that aims to help train young people for the building trade, and make life easier for local businesses to employ them.

Many small to medium sized businesses find it difficult to commit to the typical two to three year apprenticeship. TrAC takes the pressure off by employing the apprentice directly and hiring them out to employers for periods of around six months. In exchange, companies provide training in specific skills, like carpentry and roofing, while being freed of the responsibility of being a permanent employer.

The not-for-profit company has been set up with CITB ConstructionSkills and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and has financial support from around 30 main contractor partners. Locally it is working with Build East Sussex, a network led by the County Council.
Build East Sussex
Build East Sussex has already been successful in linking main contractors with smaller local businesses and matching employers with job seekers in construction.

Deputy leader of the Council Cllr Keith Glazier said: “We made a promise to increase work opportunities for our young people and help local business growth. TrAC has the potential to do both.”

If you're a business and would like to know more call 07973 141302 or email

If you're interested in becoming an apprentice you can apply at, or call 01263 735486 or email

Stoptober' Challenge for East Sussex Smokers

A new national campaign is calling for all smokers, including people in East Sussex, to join a 28-day quitting challenge next month (October).

Smokers are being encouraged to take part in the first ever mass quit attempt launched by the Department of Health – called ‘Stoptober.'

We know that if you can stop smoking for 28 days you are five times more likely to stay smokefree. Stoptober leads smokers through a detailed step-by-step programme to help them achieve this goal.

Many famous faces, organisations, employers, East Sussex County Council and East Sussex Stop Smoking Servicesare supporting the campaign in a bid to get people to quit.

Stoptober includes a preparation pack, 28-day Quit Calendar and Health & Wealth information wheel. Smokers will also receive support and encouragement through a daily messaging service, inspiration from celebrity mentors and expert advice. This will include:

a Stoptober app (available via smartphone)
motivational text messages.
a Facebook page.
Register for the material and find more details online:

Stoptober website
Cllr Keith Glazier, the Lead Member for Public Health, said:

“This is an important campaign for the health of people in East Sussex. I hope smokers will get involved. I know that giving up smoking isn't easy, but with the help of Stoptober it can be achieved”.

Dr Diana Grice, Director of Public Health, for East Sussex, added:

“We want to help as many people as possible in East Sussexto become smokefree and we know how difficult trying to stop smoking can be for many people.

“Stoptober offers smokers a supportive and encouraging process to follow, to help become smokefree within a month. It encourages smokers to share their experiences and tap into all the social support that is available to help them in their quit attempt”.

As well as the financial benefits of stopping smoking, those involved with 28- day programme will experience physical improvements including a better sense of smell and taste and more energy.

Longer term, those who stop smoking reduce their risk of heart disease and lung cancer, as well as protecting others from their second-hand smoke.

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of premature death in East Sussex. On average there are 1,040 smoking related deaths in the county each year.Smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK and one in two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking disease.

Stoptober 2012 kicks off on Monday 1 October and runs for 28 days.

If you want additional support from your local NHS stop smoking services in East Sussex please call: 0800 917 8896

Adult Social Care is ‘Making a Difference' in East Sussex

Ever wondered what exactly it is that Adult Social Care does, how many people we support or the kind of services we offer?

Published this week you can find out what Adult Social Care has been working on since April 2011 in our report and video called: ‘Making a Difference – the local account'.

Using real people's stories and video-clips of work across the county, ‘Making a Difference' shows what we have done in the past and what we will do in the future to make adult social care even better. It also covers some of the difficult things we have to face, such as a growing elderly population and financial pressures. The Report and video can be found at:

The video shows how people benefit from our different services and the range of things which are provided. So did you know that in 2011/12, there were 18,200 people in East Sussex who received an adult social care service, compared to 17,700 or so in 2010/2011?

There was also a 20% increase in the number of carers who got a service last year (2011/12) at more than 4,000, compared to the previous year.

‘Making a difference – the local account' is packed with information and we have worked closely with the Local Involvement Network (LINk), to produce it. This Network represents individuals and community groups who work together to improve health and social care services in East Sussex.

Cllr Bill Bentley, the East Sussex County Council Lead Member for Adult Social Care, said:

“I hope people have a look at the video on our website. It is an honest portrayal of our work from people who actually receive our services. I would also like to thank everyone who took part and who gave their time to be in it.

” It shows that our services are working well, but we are always looking for ways to get better at supporting local people. In particular, supporting carers and acknowledging the difficult and invaluable work they do and improving what we can offer people who pay for their own care and support”.

Alan Keys, East Sussex LINk Chairman, added:

“Demand on services increase each year, especially with our ageing population. The role of the Local Involvement Network (LINk) is to represent the patient, carer and public interest. We are working closely with Adult Social Care and the NHS to modernise and improve the quality of care and life of people being cared for. We welcome this opportunity to be involved in the making of ‘Making a Difference'”.

We are presenting our local account to various forum and representative groups throughout East Sussex and will have a stands open from 10am to 1pm, at Eastbourne District General Hospital on 11 October and the Conquest Hospital on 12 October.

David Cameron promoting UK business

The Prime Minister is using his attendance at the UN General Assembly Ministerial debate in New York this week to promote British business across the Atlantic.

It is part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to boost prosperity at home by linking Britain up to the fastest-growing parts of the world.

Around a busy schedule of bilaterals and diplomatic work, the Prime Minister will seize on the legacy of the London Olympics to further promote Britain as a guest on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman. Reaching an average of over three million viewers per night, the Prime Minister is due to appear on Wednesday’s show to highlight all that Britain has to offer and to encourage more Americans to visit or to set up a business in the United Kingdom.

David Cameron will also meet the founders of some of New York’s most innovative technology start-ups who have London’s Tech City in their sights as part of their global expansion plans.
Entrepreneurs from 13 leading tech start-ups are set to invest over £30 million in the UK in coming months, and expected to create more than 100 news jobs in East London’s fast-growing technology cluster.
This means that around 100 US companies will be responsible for over 1,500 jobs in Tech City in the next three years.

The Prime Minister will use the meeting to highlight what the Government is doing to make inward investment into the UK as attractive as possible. He will stress that Britain is open for business and emphasise initiatives such as tax breaks for start-ups, special visas for entrepreneurs, and support for venture capital.

And he will promote iCITY – the new technology park being developed on the site of the Olympic media and broadcasting centre which is one of the most digitally connected buildings in Europe. This will add huge value to East London’s technology cluster with Tech City now one of the fastest growing digital centres in the world. A recent report by the Centre for London suggests Tech City is now home to over 750 high-tech companies.

The Prime Minister will also launch the London-NYC Start-Up Awards programme which will celebrate the thriving technology community in both cities. The awards will look to increase business collaboration between the cities and offer a number of mentoring opportunities.

The first awards ceremony will be held in New York in 2013, with the judging panel including UK and US-based successful tech founders. In a sector built on the sharing of new ideas, this initiative will provide a platform for entrepreneurs in both cities to work more closely together, cementing both cities’ status as leading technology hubs and boosting investment and growth.

Monday, 24 September 2012

New business bank to boost lending

The Government has announced the first steps in a Government-funded bank to help small and medium sized businesses.

The new bank will aim to attract private sector funding so that when fully operational, it could support up to £10 billion of new and additional business lending.

The business bank will address long-standing, structural gaps in the supply of finance, identified in Tim Breedon’s report on non-bank finance.

The bank will operate at arm’s-length from Government. It will be professionally run and commercially focused. It will facilitate the provision of loans, including long-term capital, to UK firms through banks and other financial institutions. By harnessing the power of capital markets, it has the potential to transform business finance in the UK.

It will bring together in one place Government finance support for small and mid-sized businesses. It will also control the Government’s interests in a new wholesale funding mechanism which will be developed to unlock institutional investment to benefit small businesses.

The new institution will operate through the wholesale markets, it will not have any retail presence and will not displace or subsidise banks. Its role is to encourage the development of private sector solutions and enable the market to work properly, not compete with it.

More detail on the design of the bank and the types of interventions it will support will be provided in the autumn.

Roofing experts warn: beware companies offering power jet washing!

Roofing experts are warning the public to beware of companies offering power jet washing to remove moss from roofs.

The National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) issued the advice after receiving a record number of calls from people complaining about cold callers selling the service. East Sussex County Council's trading standards team have also experienced a glut of calls from concerned consumers.

Companies often target elderly and vulnerable people especially those living in bungalows as there is easier access to the roof. They persuade home owners that moss causes damage and that the roofs can be spruced up at the same time with a coat of paint. They maintain that the paint increases thermal efficiency and will extend the life of the roof – claims the NFRC say should be treated with caution.

They advise that moss on roof tiles is rarely a problem and only needs to be taken off if it blocks gutters and drains. Removal is a simple job that can be done at reasonable cost. The force from power jet washing can also break and displace tiles, as can the weight of a person walking on the roof.

Councillor Matthew Lock, lead member for economy says:

“These treatments are mainly cosmetic. I understand that people want their roofs to look clean and tidy but removing moss can be done in a simpler, safer and cheaper way.

We have a number of approved handymen on our Buy with Confidence Scheme who can unblock gutters and drains at reasonable rates. We are talking about the difference between a few hundred pounds and a few thousand.”

East Sussex's Buy with Confidence Scheme promotes honest and reliable traders. It puts consumers in touch with traders who have agreed to provide high levels of customer service – and have been vetted and approved by Trading Standards.

Buy With Confidence
Property owners concerned about the condition of their roof should contact a reputable roofing contractor for a proper assessment.

Full text of Andrew Mitchell's to-camera apology

The Chief Whip has just given a statement to reporters in Whitehall. It was his first appearance in front of the cameras since the story of his encounter with Downing Street police officers:

"Well I want first of all to reiterate the apology I made last week in Downing Street. It had been the end of a long and frustrating day. Not that that is any excuse at all for what happened. I didn't show the police the amount of respect I should have done. We should all respect the police they do an incredibly difficult job. I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer on the gate, and he has accepted my apology, and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there. I am very clear about what I said, and what I didn't say, and I want to make it absolutely clear I did not say the words attributed to me. I am now going to go and get on with my work."
Transcribed by ITV News.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

William Hague announces new British Commonwealth embassies to head off expanding European diplomatic network

Eurosceptics don't always have cause to celebrate. The story likely to annoy the Conservative backbenches at the moment is the proposed BAE/EADS merger, to which David Cameron appears to have consented (£), which Eurosceptics rightly fear will stop Britain from having a world class independent defence industry, and instead empower the French and Germans.

William Hague has good - exciting - news for those who despair. Tomorrow, he will announce the launch of a network of new embassies across the world which will be shared between British Commonwealth nations, and which will seek to head off the creeping influence of European Union diplomats.

The Foreign Secretary is in Canada, where he will sign a diplomatic agreement to open joint embassies with that country, and he also hopes Australia and New Zealand will join the initiative. It's no surprise Canada should be our closest diplomatic ally: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended and protected the motherland's interests before - over the Falklands for instance.

Mr Harper has a proud record of being Israel's strongest defender at the United Nations, so he will be entirely aware of the pernicious affect international bodies can have. He will, I have no doubt, share Mr Hague's suspicions about the European Union's fast-expanding diplomatic programme, the European External Action Service, which is setting up offices in America and elsewhere, and seeks to sideline Britain's position as a major diplomatic power.

In nations where Canada has an embassy, but Britain does not, or vice versa, the countries will share the embassy - and the same will hopefully apply for the Anzac nations. This will obviously expand the number of countries where Britain has an embassy, and will therefore counter the influence of the European network of embassies. Mr Hague said:
"As David Cameron said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year, “We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values.” We have stood shoulder to shoulder from the great wars of the last century to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and supporting Arab Spring nations like Libya and Syria. We are first cousins. So it is natural that we look to link up our embassies with Canada’s in places where that suits both countries. It will give us a bigger reach abroad for our businesses and people for less cost."

United by monarchy, history, language, heritage and political tradition, we have much more in common with, say, a Canberran or a Torontonian than we do with an Athenian or a Roman. We are already diplomatically close, but this move by Mr Hague to extend our interests is a very welcome renewal of our four countries' friendship. The Commonwealth was neglected under Labour, who rejected the old English-speaking countries, and embraced "forward-looking" Europeans. The Coalition has started correcting this.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

'Sorry' appears to be the easiest word if you are a Lib-Dem

As Lib-Dems gather for their party conference just along the coast in Brighton, there are growing calls for Cllr Neil Stanley to follow his Leader and do a remix of his apology at Eastbourne Borough Council's Full Council meeting this week.

Party Leader, Nick Clegg became a national laughing stock this week by offering a belated apology for breaking their promises on Student Tuition Fees, not for actually backing the introduction of the fees but for breaking the promise - the sort of 'sorry if' my young son offers his sister under duress after one of the many petty squabbles that children have.

If an Eastbourne Lib-Dem were to consider offering a musical apology here though, who knows where they'd start? The list grows week by week. So in the spirit of coalition, whilst we do not share power with them in Eastbourne, here are a few suggestions they may want to consider:

Sorry for allowing the town's many assets to get into such an appalling state that, they have bits dropping off them and need covering up in unsightly scaffolding and faded wraps to protect the public.

Sorry for paying former Wish Tower Restaurant tenants a six figure sum to leave, telling the public it was unsafe when no structural survey had been completed and then flattening it on a whim without paying any respect to the family who gave it to the town as a gesture for those who fought for country during World War Two.

Sorry for giving false hope that a temporary replacement may be provided for the flattened Restaurant before the deal had actually been completed in an effort to spin good news.

Sorry for promising to scrap parking charges when they actually expanded the council's own pay to park scheme on our seafront and introduced higher charges than the County Council scheme they failed to scrap.

This is only a start but you can be sure that there will be a million and one other opportunities for Lib-Dems to be sorry before residents get the opportunity to show them the door!

On a more serious note though, every copy of the Nick Clegg single that is sold will generate charitable proceeds for Sheffield Children's Hospital in his constituency.

So if you want to enjoy a laugh in a good cause, log on to iTunes and search Nick Clegg but be careful, only one is for charity. Over to Eastbourne's Lib-Dems, which charity would they benefit it this way?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Investment in youth centres following review

Three busy youth centres in East Sussex are to get a £120,000 makeover from the County Council.

Following a review of all youth centres and buildings used by the council's Targeted Youth Support Service (TYSS), £120,000 is to be spent improving Heathfield Youth Centre, Hollington Youth Centre in St Leonards and The Joff in Peacehaven.

Youth clubs – Connexions 360 website
Detailed plans are being drawn up and the funds, from the council's Capital Programme, will be spent on improvements to the facilities and on refurbishment.

The decision follows a review of the centres TYSS currently uses which examined the costs of running buildings, the extent to which they are used, and their condition.

Cllr Nick Bennett, the council's Lead Member for Learning and School Effectiveness said: “This is about using our money wisely and where it is most needed. The three centres we will be investing this additional money in are three busy, important youth facilities which need to be improved.”

Bexhill to Hastings link road one step closer

The Government's decision to confirm the Compulsory Purchase Orders following the Public Inquiry into the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road has been welcomed by East Sussex County Council.

The decision by the Secretaries of State announced today (21/9/12) means that the Council can acquire the land needed for the road and for new environmental habitats.

Councillor Peter Jones, Leader of East Sussex County Council, said: "The Secretaries of State have fully considered the recommendation put forward by the Inspector following an extensive and thorough Public Inquiry. We are very pleased that he recognised the vital role the road will play in regenerating the area for people and businesses. We are now eagerly await the resolution of the legal appeal by the Hastings Alliance so we can get on and really make a positive difference for the area."

Last month, the application from anti-link road campaigners for a judicial review of the scheme was thrown out. The group has renewed their application and a hearing is scheduled for October.

Councillor Jones added, "We believe the argument has already been exhaustively debated and we will continue with the important environmental preparation work while this challenge takes its course.

"This road is absolutely crucial to the regeneration of the most deprived local economy in the South East. It'll bring real benefits to Hastings and Bexhill, including better access to jobs; fewer cars using roads that aren't suitable for them; opportunities for housing and business development; and a reduction in the number of accidents on local roads.

"The road will make it possible to build 1,200-2,000 new homes and business park space of 50,000 square metres; it'll create more than 3,000 new jobs and bring economic benefits valued at £1bn. It is for these reasons we believe the road is so important to the area, and that's why, despite the fact we're still waiting to receive final funding approval from DfT, we want to start work as soon as possible.

"Add this to the £500 million capital programme the County Council will be investing to support the economy over the next four years – it means more business investment, more company expansion room, more local jobs and a stronger economy for the benefit of the whole community."

Further information
Decisions were needed from the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Communities and Local Government to confirm the Compulsory Purchase Orders and Side Roads Order for land needed for the road and for new environmental habitats.

Environmental work, including archaeological surveys and creating new habitats for wildlife, began in July. In April, East Sussex County Council's Cabinet agreed to allow an early start to work on the road before we received final funding approval.

Martin Callanan MEP: European leaders think that a corner has been turned — it hasn't

Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.

After what has been a relatively quiet summer compared to recent years, the ‘crisis’ returned with a vengeance before Eurozone leaders’ tans had even begun to fade.

Once again, it was the European Central Bank that would step in with another measure to buy time and prolong the really difficult decisions. Previously, the ECB had created some breathing space in this crisis by what it called a LTRO – Long Term Refinancing Operation. Essentially, the ECB gave financial institutions loans at a one percent interest rate, in the hope that they would use the money to buy up government bonds and release the pressure valve.

The markets liked it, and for a short while, yields dropped. When they returned to unsustainable highs a few months later, the ECB did exactly the same thing: LTRO2. Unfortunately, the temporary nature of the action was far from sufficient for the markets and pretty soon we saw pressure rising again in Italy and Spain.

Aware that LTRO3 would be an incredibly expensive way of staving off the inevitable for a few more weeks, the ECB finally decided to move towards more direct intervention, with the ECB itself able to buy up bonds on the secondary markets, but with more strings attached than a Thunderbirds puppet.

This move is by no means a panacea. It is another way of moving debt from one balance sheet to the ECB’s. Eventually Europe is going to have to deal with the underlying cause of the crisis. However, for the time being at least, the move has kept the markets relatively satisfied.
So, in this context, we have already begun to see a certain arrogance amongst our leaders, as if a corner has been turned and this is now the beginning of the end for the crisis. As a great man once said, it is 'perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ Believing they have breathing space, the EU is using this time to plan some of the new architecture of the Eurozone, and a new banking union.

The Banking Union proposals were unveiled last week. Although national regulators within the Eurozone would still have day-to-day control over their banks, the Banking Union would give ultimate control to the ECB on major decisions such as whether to wind up a bank. To the chagrin of Germany, the proposals would see all Eurozone banks brought under the control of the ECB, not just the major ones. Germany, with a number of small banks, is understandably concerned. The commission’s rationale is that one small bank does not pose systemic risk, but in Spain, a number of small banks going under did.

Last Friday, EU finance ministers met to discuss the proposals. I understand that there were many objections raised, not just from Germany, but from other non-euro nations such as Sweden and Poland who may opt in as well. From the UK perspective, our government says it remains vigilant to ensure that the Banking Union does not encroach on the EU Single Market. I have to say that I am highly sceptical about the proposals, but even more sceptical about whether they will survive the machinations of the Council of Ministers without serious change.

The Banking Union was announced formally at Commission President Barroso’s State of the Union speech. He came up with the idea three years ago as a way of launching the commission’s work for the next year.

I listened carefully to what President Barroso was saying. To be honest, it was incredibly thin on substance. The Banking Union proposals were widely leaked beforehand and the only other non-rhetorical proposal was aimed at giving pan-European political parties a separate legal status and the ability to field a candidate for President Barroso’s successor as commission president. As it stands, the position is filled by national governments and confirmed by a vote of the European Parliament.
On balance, I don’t think it’s a good idea. The EU has two elected bodies: the parliament, and the council of ministers (well, most of them are elected). If the commission president has a ‘mandate’ from the people, it will surely turn the commission into even more of a political body than at present. The President of the Commission should be accountable to national governments and to MEPs (in that order). If he or she is directly elected (no doubt on a dismal turnout) then we move another step along the route towards a federal Europe.

The speech was high on rhetoric and vacuous crowd pleasers. The most notable call was for the EU to become a ‘federation’. As Vicky Ford tweeted, the whole thing sounded like something out of a Star Trek movie, but it was far from a great surprise that Barroso wants to see further European integration.

In my speech, I told President Barroso that the direction in which the EU was headed was going to lead to sclerotic markets, angry voters and terminal decline. Proudly wearing my Mitt Romney badge I said that we needed to adopt a new agenda of small government, free markets, deregulation, and an EU that does less and does it better.

My colleague Marina Yannakoudakis also intervened in my speech to ask whether EU plans for levelling a quota for women in the boardroom were exactly the kind of well-intentioned but meddlesome, choice-destroying, job-killing EU law that is driving our decline. Perhaps unsurprisingly I agreed with her that this is a decision best made by national governments. Incidentally, earlier this week a coalition of governments – led by ours – signalled that it would kill off any proposals that are made.

Other group leaders had mixed feelings about Barroso’s Federation call. For the most part, the parliamentary group leaders were disappointed. The Liberal Democrats’ group leader, Guy Verhofstadt, was very upset by Barroso's use of the term ‘Federation of nation states’ . Instead he wanted a fully-fledged federalism aimed at creating a European nation state. The LibDems did not disagree with him.

Elsewhere on the agenda we had votes on several key pieces of legislation, including the Energy Efficiency directive. Initially this directive would have set prescriptive top-down targets that would simply have forced industry out of Europe and prescribed the same solutions to all 27 member states regardless of their climate. Instead, thanks largely to some excellent negotiation by my colleague Vicky Ford, the directive was made far more practical by doing away with top down targets and giving significantly more latitude for national governments to take measures appropriate to their markets.

I don’t think many people could disagree that encouraging greater energy efficiency is beneficial, particularly with rising fuel prices.

Unfortunately, the commission is about to make it harder for people to kit out their houses with energy-saving products such as insulation. This is because the UK currently operates a ‘reduced rate’ of VAT on energy-saving products, meaning they only incur a five percent rate. However, as VAT is governed at the EU level, items must be explicitly listed in the annex to the VAT directive before they become eligible. Energy-saving products are not.

So, as one half of the commission was preaching energy efficiency, another was threatening to take the UK to court for trying to make insulation a little cheaper. You couldn’t make it up! Thankfully, the UK Government has made it clear that it will challenge the decision in the European Court of Justice. It will be for the judges to make a decision on whether the law is on the government’s side but I think we’d all agree that they clearly have the strongest case in the court of common sense and public opinion.

The Luxembourg Green rapporteur (the MEP who steered the legislation through) was on the new BBC Europe Politics show on Friday, clearly very pleased with his accomplishment. Andrew Neil told him to go off and celebrate with a glass of carrot juice. The highlight of my week!.

Another big reform moving through the legislative mill regards the much-loathed Common Fisheries Policy. I have long been of the belief that our fish stocks have been decimated by the CFP, and the last EU fisheries commissioner himself admitted that the policy had been a failure. Clipboard inspectors in Brussels and late night ministerial meetings have made decisions about our fisheries for too long. It’s time they were made using science and local information on the ground. Personally, if I were the Prime Minister, I’d withdraw from the CFP, but in the meantime we will strive to improve the CFP as much as we can.

I was also pleased to see my colleague Saj Karim’s report adopted on Better Legislation. It wasn’t a legislative report but it does set out a number of areas in which the commission can produce less burdensome laws. I’ve always been of the view that in most cases the best kind of regulation is no regulation at all. But if we must have legislation then it’s important that there are clear principles laid down to follow. Saj’s report, which was adopted by a large majority, calls on the commission to automatically exempt small businesses from legislation unless there is proof they should be included. It also calls for a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule for any new legislation, and a generally lower burden of legislation altogether.

I’ll wind up my Strasbourg diary with a short word on Strasbourg itself. You may recall that South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox was able to secure a majority for an amendment to the parliament’s calendar, essentially meaning that we only have to make 11 trips to Strasbourg this year, instead of 12. MEPs are required by treaty to hold 12 sessions per year in Strasbourg but we usually go twice in one month after the summer in order to make up the month when we’re on recess. Ashley’s successful amendment moved these two sessions into one week, thus saving a few thousand tonnes of CO2 and about 15 million pounds. Unfortunately, France immediately took the decision to the European Court arguing that it breached the Treaty. Two weeks ago, the court’s top adviser – the Advocate General – issued his opinion on the case. The opinion is generally upheld around 80 percent of the time and, frustratingly, he sided with France. However, the full court will not rule until after we’ve held our two sessions in October so, for this year at least, Ashley Fox has saved the European taxpayer millions of Pounds that would have been needlessly wasted on our travelling circus. I'll update you further when the full court rules.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Pickles says "put out more flags"

The Labour Party changed the law in 2007 to give the EU flag the same status as the Union Jack.

Yesterday, in a boost for civic pride, the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles changed planning law to allow local flags, military/Armed Forces flags, community flags, to be flown.

This includes:

"The flag of any island, county, district, borough,burgh, parish, city, town or village within the United Kingdom. The flag of the Black Country, East Anglia, Wessex, any Part of Lincolnshire, any Riding of Yorkshire or any historic county within the United Kingdom."

It also includes Saints' flags.

It doesn't include the Government Offices for the Regions - as they no longer exist...

Mr Pickles says:

"The British people are increasingly proud to fly flags as an expression of their local and national identities. Flags unite communities across colour, creed and class, so I am cutting municipal red tape to make it easier to fly Britain's varied and diverse flags without state interference."

Andrew Rosindell MP Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Flags sais:

"I commend the Department for Communities and Local Government for taking the lead on this initiative and look forward to seeing a tapestry of flags flying across the nation."

The story of Sir John Major's 'Gift Horse'

It was with these words in an October 1993 despatch that Laura Brady announced the completion of one of the strangest assignments ever taken on by a British diplomat.

The horse in question was Maksat, a pure-bred Akhal-Teke stallion, one of the world's finest breeds. It had arrived in Moscow en route to London, where its owner was waiting.

That was the then Prime Minister, John Major. At a meeting in Downing Street earlier that year Saparmurat Niyazov, President of Turkmenistan, had presented Mr Major with a framed photograph of a horse. The only snag was that the animal was in Turkmenistan, and Britain was expected to collect it.

In an interview for the series, Sir John recalls the scene: "I was wondering exactly what one might say about such a gift. Firstly it was above minimal value so I wouldn't have been able to keep it in any event. But even if I'd been able to do so, I didn't think Norma would have fancied stables in the garden."

Sir John may have had other things on his mind in 1993, when he faced a Commons no-confidence vote
The Household Cavalry agreed to take the horse instead. With Maksat's future seemingly settled, Brady, who was then third secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow, set about arranging for his transportation.

This involved six months of tortuous negotiations with the authorities in Turkmenistan, the Russian Horse Society, the French horse attaché (for Niyazov had also offered a stallion to President Mitterrand) and EU quarantine officials, all the while keeping London informed of progress.

In the end it was decided that the horses would have to travel 500 precarious miles (about 800km) by train to Moscow, along with their grooms, before being sent on to London.

"It was a pretty distressing journey as you can imagine," remembers Sir John. "The horse began to be pretty ill-tempered. Apart from anything else it had toothache. And it manifested this by biting people and generally kicking and misbehaving."

Meanwhile Russia was in the grip of a constitutional crisis. One of Brady's telegrams back to London described how attempts to meet the train supposedly bearing the horses had been interrupted by a fierce gun battle for control of Moscow's parliament and television tower.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Difficulty in verifying a Bb Clarinet score in a country where none can read music and music itself is regarded by many as sinful”

John Phillips
Former British Consul General in Oman
The Foreign Office forwarded each one of Brady's despatches on to the prime minister's private office, where they proved popular reading. Every day a whole stack of diplomatic telegrams would come in, recalls Sir John, "most of them pretty serious and quite grisly. This was very light-hearted. My private secretaries decided it would lighten my day to read these telegrams - and indeed it did."

Brady wrote a climactic despatch, telling of an attack by bandits in Kazakhstan, which the horses survived only to end up stuck in a railway siding once they finally reached Moscow.

There, Brady had to persuade reluctant Russian bureaucrats to release them, armed only with her own ingenuity and a carriage-load of enormous yellow melons which had also made the journey from Ashgabat. The grooms had packed these for barter in lieu of travel money, Turkmenistan having run out of banknotes the previous year.

Brady's story may be unique but her despatches belong to a proud tradition in British diplomacy. Over many decades writing witty reports has been encouraged among diplomats, and developed by ambassadors into something close to an art form. The result is a whole library of miscellaneous comic gems - "Foreign Office Funnies" as they are known in Whitehall - which are much treasured and passed around.

Their subject matter may have been frivolous, but at the time of sending these reports were nevertheless formal diplomatic traffic. And they were usually classified. Most were assigned "confidential" or "restricted" status - a few rungs below "top secret" - and were therefore forbidden fruit, except to those who had passed security vetting.

Once received back at Foreign Office headquarters in London, the best "funnies" were often given the Rolls-Royce treatment. Sent for printing, hundreds of copies would be circulated throughout Whitehall and to Foreign Office staff posted overseas. Nowadays, diplomats no longer need paper to share their wit with colleagues, and Foreign Office funnies, sent by secure e-mail and then forwarded on, reach an even wider audience around the world.

If you talk to diplomats about Foreign Office funnies, time and again the same despatches come up - above all, a curious tale about a Spanish ambassador, dragging a mysterious and unfeasibly large suitcase through the desert.

Spit-roast sheep
We finally tracked this old despatch down in the National Archives, in an ordinary looking buff-coloured file entitled "Foreign diplomatic representation in Algeria".

The Spanish Ambassador's Suitcase tells of a night's entertainment in the Sahara. In 1971 all of the foreign ambassadors in Algiers were summoned to the airport and flown to an oilfield in the desert. According to the despatches from Ronald Burroughs, the British Ambassador, the Algerian government had a habit of using the diplomatic corp as "wallpaper" at official events, and this was no exception.

At their destination they endured long lectures in Arabic, feasted on spit-roast sheep, and speculated about what was in the suitcase. Part mystery tale, part comic sketch, Burroughs' account has genuine literary merit, according to the author Katie Hickman.

News of President Niyazov of Turkmenistan's musings gained quite a readership
"What great story tellers do is they pull you along by some sort of mystery or event. They make you want to keep reading those words to find out what happened," says the author of Daughters of Britannia, a book which explored the lives of diplomatic families.

"He is telling just such a story. The Spanish Ambassador keeps appearing and then disappearing and each time the speculation builds. Are you going to find out what's in the suitcase? It is just this perfect little vignette."

Almost as famous in diplomatic circles is the Muscat National Anthem, a comic gem sent in 1960 by the British Consul General in Oman. John Phillips was responding to a request from the Admiralty, asking all Foreign Office posts to check they had the correct sheet music for their host country's national anthem, after an embarrassing incident somewhere in the world when a Royal Navy cruiser stopping in at a foreign port played the wrong tune.

The despatch he wrote in reply (summary: "Difficulty in verifying a Bb Clarinet score in a country where none can read music and music itself is regarded by many as sinful") instantly won him his place in Foreign Office folklore.

It helped his career, too, say some who were serving in the Gulf at the same time. Phillips went on to become a three-time ambassador, finishing up in the coveted post of Jordan.

Of course, to get on in the Foreign Office it takes more than a way with words and a gift for comic timing. But humour does seem to play an important part.

In a previous series on BBC Radio 4 called Parting Shots we explored the recently extinguished tradition of the valedictory despatch - the last despatch an ambassador would send before quitting a foreign post. Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told us about despatches from a British ambassador to "one of the Stans" which were so funny that they made him cry with laughter. Straw said that in the despatches the ambassador had a "ringside seat" to a "very serious pantomime" in which the country's oddball dictator held sway over all.

It didn't take us long to identify their author. We caught up with Paul Brumell in Barbados, where he was posted in 2006 as High Commissioner, having previously served as ambassador in Turkmenistan.

Yes, Turkmenistan again.

'The scribe'
Niyazov, that country's long serving President, styled himself Turmenbashi, the leader of the Turkmen.

"He ruled in a very personalised, very autocratic style," said Brummell, "a golden statue to himself at the heart of every town, and the one in the capital rotating so that it always faced the sun."

In his reporting, Brummell says he knew it was important to avoid the risk of "dismissing the eccentricities of the regime as something humorous, because there were actually a lot of human rights concerns which were far from funny."

Maksat turned out not to have the right stuff for the Household Cavalry
But the ambassador agreed that "in attempts to explain how the president's musings were translated into diktat by a kind of entirely subservient bureaucracy" his despatches had managed to "generate quite a readership".

Jack Straw insisted every one of Brummell's reports from Turkmenistan was put into his red ministerial box. With a bit of wit and style, Brummell made his reports stand out.

In ordinary circumstances despatches from a post of comparatively minor significance like Turkmenistan would never reach the desk of a minister, and their authors would continue to toil in relative obscurity.

Welsh retirement
But diplomats who have literary talent can use it to make a name for themselves and gain the attention of senior politicians. Some find their reports end up being enjoyed by an even more exalted readership beyond Whitehall.

Sir James Craig was ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia. After he retired in 1984, he went with several others to take his formal leave of the Queen.

"I was taken up by one of her attendants," says Sir James, "who explained that I was James Craig who'd just come back from Saudi Arabia. And she said to me: 'Oh, the scribe'."

Craig was told that all his despatches were passed around the staff at Buckingham Palace and to Her Majesty - which he says "was quite a kick".

But what became of the prime minister's horse? Well, in the end Maksat did reach Britain. A military career, however, was not to be. After a short trial the Household Cavalry found him unsuitable for ceremonial work.

This worked out quite well for the stallion, who found a home in Wales instead. Under the care of a specialist trainer, Lorna Jane-Winn, Maksat has become a British show champion, raced at national level in endurance, sired 30 offspring - and still holds two speed records on the flat in his homeland.

The Spanish Ambassador's Suitcase begins on Monday 24 September at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4.

Over half a million more people saving in pensions

Latest figures show that more than half a million people will be saving in a workplace pension for the first time by Christmas.

This is thanks to the biggest shake-up in UK pensions for over a hundred years – automatic enrolment.

From October, starting with the largest employers, bosses will be required by law to pay into a workplace pension for all eligible staff who do not opt out.
The figures from the Department of Work and Pensions reveal that by the end of the year, around 600,000 more people will be saving into a workplace pension. By May 2015, around 4.3 million more people will be saving for their retirement.

Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:
"This is a vital reform and I'm proud the Coalition has made it a reality.

“Automatic enrolment will get up to 9 million more people saving into a workplace pension and for many it will be the first time they have had the opportunity to save. It will allow people to start planning for their retirement and this will make it easier for them to start putting something aside, along with a contribution from their employer."

Up to 11 million people are expected to be eligible for automatic enrolment, with 6 to 9 million newly saving or saving more in all forms of workplace pension schemes.

Under automatic enrolment, employers will eventually contribute 3% of earnings, individuals 4% of earnings, and there will also be 1% of tax relief to make up a total contribution of 8%.
Employees are able to opt out of the change, but they will not receive this extra contribution from their employer or the tax relief, or be contributing to a workplace pension. They will be re-enrolled every three years and be given the same option.

Share your flooding memories

We are asking people in East Sussex for their memories of localised flooding to help us lessen the chances of it happening again. One person who answers the flooding questionnaire will also win a pair of wellies.

Under the 2010 Flood & Water Management Act, the County Council is responsible for managing surface water flooding, although river flooding is still the responsibility of the Environment Agency. As part of this work, the Council is carrying out modelling of localised flood risk across East Sussex and designing flood reduction schemes in specific areas. This is a joint project involving Lewes District Council, Wealden District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council, the Environment Agency and Southern Water.

In order to help with the design of these schemes the council is asking people to share any information about flooding in four areas:

The Nevill Estate, Lewes
Eastbourne Town Centre
Uckfield Town Centre
Broyle Side, Ringmer.
On Friday 14 September 2012 residents living in these areas received a questionnaire through their letterbox and people will also be able to share their memories online on the consultations page. So if you used to live or work in one of these areas please do get in touch.

Councillor Carl Maynard, Lead Member for Transport and Environment said, “In order to do the best we can to prevent flooding across the county, we would like to hear about any flooding incidents that you have experienced in these four areas. Do you have any photos of the flooding in question or can you tell us about flood levels in or around your property? The information you supply will help fine tune our computer models and ensure that any flood protection goes to where it is needed.”

A new pair of Hunter wellington boots will be awarded to the person whose questionnaire is picked at random once the consultation is finished. All questionnaires returned, by post and online will be included in the draw.

For more information on the consultation and for a copy of the questionnaire please see:

Flooding in East Sussex – have your say

Questionnaires can be completed online or returned by post.

This consultation closes on 1 October 2012.

The seven government departments David Cameron should scrap at the next reshuffle

At the last reshuffle, David Cameron did something quite unusual: he didn't change the name or purpose of any of his government's departments. During the Blair and Brown years, changes like these were rather common. People may remember the poor Department for Constitutional Affairs, or the old Department of Trade and Industry, or its successor, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which lasted for only two years.

At Mr Cameron's next reshuffle, he could consider changing tactic, and start reducing the number of government departments by merging those which have similar purposes. There are obvious spending benefits to be considered - by keeping some staff from one department, but not retaining those whose function is already performed at the newly merged department - and there are also good reasons for Parliament to want to reduce the number of departments. Many backbenchers complain about the over-mighty executive, and the ability it has to undermine backbenchers by appointing minor payroll jobs like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as well as the obviously necessary Secretaries and Ministers of State. Reducing the number of these jobs would hand more power to Parliament. 

At the very least, there are some anomalous ministerial postings which could easily be dealt with. Why should the Minister with responsibility for Universities, for example, work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and not Education?

There are seven departments which are ripe for major changes. They are:
  • Culture, Media and Sport
  • Energy and Climate Change
  • Government Equalities Office
  • International Development
  • Northern Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Wales
The first and most dramatic change that could be made is the consolidation of the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices into one department - perhaps the Office for Devolved Administrations, or similar. For as long as devolution exists (there seems a perverse inability for the Westminster class to challenge it), we don't need for there to be different Offices for different devolved parts of this country - their devolved administrations deal with those issues the old Offices used to deal with. For example, the Northern Ireland Office's website says the department now has responsibility for:
"overseeing the Northern Ireland devolution settlement and representing Northern Ireland interests at UK Government level and UK Government interests in Northern Ireland. The department also has responsibility for national security in respect of Northern Ireland as well as Human Rights, elections, legacy issues (including current ongoing public inquiries)."
The role described doesn't need a Secretary of State, nor does it deserve a distinct place around the Cabinet table. It would be far better to have one department and one Secretary of State for all three devolved administrations, and a Minister of State for Wales, a Minister of State for Scotland, etc. Those Ministers of State could then attend Cabinet if and when their responsibilities were being discussed.
The Department for International Development is one which many readers would like to see cut entirely. The Government will not do that, but it could certainly streamline its administrative costs (which Andrew Mitchell has reduced pretty effectively already) and reconsider its budget by placing it in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A Minister with responsibility for aid spending has existed in government since 1961, but his or her importance has varied depending on the colour of the government in power.
The original Ministry of Overseas Development existed as a department from 1964 until the first few months of the Heath administration, after which it became the Overseas Development Administration and a part of the Foreign Office. In 1974, when Labour re-entered office, the Ministry of Overseas Development was once again separate. During the Thatcher and Major years, it was part of the Foreign Office again, and then DfId was created in 1997. This Conservative-led administration should learn from its predecessors, and abolish DfID, if not aid spending. Making DfID merely a part of the FCO should be attractive for some supporters of aid spending: perhaps making it a less visible part of the Government's programme would stop giving ammunition to critics of aid spending.
The Government Equalities Office is a simple case: it should be abolished. Its purpose is to "support the government’s commitment to 'tear down barriers to social mobility and equal opportunities and help to build a fairer society'". The Cabinet Office, whose role is to "ensure effective development, coordination and implementation of policy and operations across all government departments" could easily fit the "equality" function into its brief, if the Government insists on perpetuating Harman-esque notions of fairness.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change clearly does important work (the Energy bit), but will also clearly overlap with both Business, Innovation and Skills, and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Minister of State for Energy could be reshuffled to BIS, and the rest of the department could be moved to Defra, and have any duplications of responsibilities removed.

Finally, Culture, Media and Sport. DCMS cannot be cut entirely - abolishing the Sport part would be terribly unpopular, and rightly so. Instead, it could be moved to either Communities and Local Government, or perhaps Education. The Culture (ie tourism) and Media parts could easily be moved to BIS. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, already works jointly with BIS. 
You may well think BIS is becoming rather large with so many new responsibilities. The solution to that is to remove its higher education functions. The Universities and Science function, currently filled by David Willetts, should be moved to Education, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, currently Matthew Hancock, should be a Minister in the Education department only, and not share roles with BIS. That removes the "Skills" bit from BIS, which could be re-named, ooh... Trade and Industry?
A merger which could be made after the next reshuffle could be the Ministry of Justice with the Home Office. My feeling is that the Home Office is and should remain a job for a big hitter. People like Ken Clarke and Michael Howard, as well as experienced Cabinet members like Kenneth Baker and Willie Whitelaw occupied the position under the last Conservative government. Since 1997, the position has been cheapened by people like Jacqui Smith, and others like Charles Clarke, John Reid and David Blunkett have struggled with scandal. Theresa May has steadied the ship, and in time, the position of Home Secretary should be given back its prison and judicial functions and be occupied by a serious and authoritative legal figure.
Last week Dominic Raab MP called for the Coalition to "address which... government departments we really need, rather than salami-slicing budgets across the board". He noted that "Liberal Democrats have previously toyed with cutting the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The coalition is reported to be looking at the case for abolishing the Department for Culture, Media and Sport." If the Coalition parties are indeed considering the abolition of two departments, this is promising news. However, there exists the scope for the Government to cut seven departments at the next reshuffle. A reshaping of Whitehall would bring government up to date with Britain's needs, empower Parliament over the executive, and most importantly, save money.