Archive for January, 2010

Schools in Wigan sitting on £9 million

January 31, 2010

As a former long-standing school Governor, I’m aware of how a school’s finances can fluctuate and how a school needs to have the ability to hold on to its reserves.
A large school may have a budget of several millions but, because of LMS (part of the move towards privatising schools), a school is responsible for any unexpected bills that may arise, such as structural and/or fabric problems, suich as bad foundations, aging pipework or similar causes.
Bear in mind that schools are always built according to the lowest possible tender (more so, since PFI)and one has to expect sudden unexpected problems, which are usually expensive.
Pre-LMS the Local Authority could distribute a central fund to help out individual schools but this is no longer true. In fact I’d be very surprised if funds clawed back by the Local Authority were allowed to be re-distributed to other schools. I suspect it would go back to a generalised slush fund, at local or national level.
I would hope that any claw-back is kept to the absolute minimum, for various reasons.
First, a School may try to make savings to fund some capital project, but finds itself unable to make sufficient savings in one year to fund the possibly essential project.
Schools may decide to forgo something that may be of benefit, because of fears of clawback, and instead may decide to fritter it away on many. lesser beneficial projects, to avoid having their next year’s budget cut.
Schools may find themselves with a stable and experienced staff, which means that salary costs will be rising in the next few years. Clawback could mean having to try to lose important members of staff, disrupting departmental initiatives. They would have to buy in cheaper, younger staff.
In business, a company that lets funds sit idle is wasting a resource but a Company that shaves its resources too close to the bone can suddenly find the liquidators at its door.
Schools shouldn’t be viewed as businesses: They should be viewed as non-fiscally-profitable public assets, whose real profitability lies in enriching the nation, by educating its workforce. An over-eager clawback can cripple a school’s ability to perform this function.


January 31, 2010

Our population is aging, as I am.

I’ve got long arm disease and have to wear specs (Iwould like readyspex to do bi-focals and varifocals, as I don’t go to specsavers, I prefer to buy my specs at a reasonable price).

This means that I lose a lot of fine detail, when watching TV. It also means that the constant push  by advertisers to get me to buy an HD-TV is not only annoying, it’s pointless.

I’ve also got a spot of AMD, as have, apparently, many other older punters, so the next development, that the money men are hoping to rip us off with, may have over-estimated the market for 3-D TV.

Virginmedia joins big brother

January 31, 2010

The way things are heading, there could be a  resurgence in the Post Offices’ fortunes.

It is illegal to open other people’s snail mail but e-mail is becoming increasingly vulnerable to snooping.

We have already had our MP’s give various security agencies, including the Americans,  the right to snoop into our emails. That right was extended to other agencies including MP’s mates on Local Councils.

Obviously the Chinese have decided that they want join in, building on the groundwork laid by criminal hackers and spammers.

Now VirginMedia have decided that they have a moral right to spy on their subscribers, in case, Virgin alleges, they are illegally downloading pirated music etc.

This url :

Seems to indicate that Big Brother is getting scarier.


January 31, 2010

I was put onto this website by a friend and I check its daily newsletter.

Mostly it’s about what those with money should do to either protect what they have or to get more. Sometimes it highlights a particular political situation, in terms of how it impacts on investments, and because of this it gives you a heads-up on possible future problems.

The latest issue has picked up on an article, by Gideon Rachman, in the Financial Times and the speculates on its significance.

I’ve copied the bulk of the email text:

When nations turn into hoarders – My thanks to a subscriber for this interesting column by Gideon Rachman for the Financial Times. Here is a section:

Chinese state-owned oil companies are engaging in ferocious bidding wars with western energy companies as they go after access to the same oil and gas fields, particularly in Africa. The pursuit of “energy independence” has become a bipartisan dream in the US, leading to a big increase in the production of biofuels made from grain which, perversely, has helped to tighten food prices. Middle Eastern investors, in particular the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs, have been leasing huge tracts of land in Africa, in an effort to grow food that is reserved for their own nations. In Europe, supporters of the protectionist Common Agricultural Policy are freshly emboldened.

This new global paranoia about food and energy security is driven by four factors: economics, demography, the environment and geopolitics.

Rapid economic growth in Asia has increased demand for food and energy and helped create destabilising spikes in prices. China’s demand for oil has more than doubled over the past decade. Just before the global financial crisis, prices of food and oil were surging, leading some big food producers to restrict exports. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, claimed recently that there had been food riots in more than 60 countries over the last two years.

Today’s food and energy scares are sharpened when governments examine demographic and climate trends. The United Nations has estimated that the world’s population could exceed 9bn by 2050, compared with about 6.6bn now. This, it says, could necessitate an increase in food production of about 70 per cent from current levels.

Environmental worries add to the paranoia. Even if it now turns out that the Himalayan glaciers will be with us rather longer than the UN climate panel foresaw, politicians such as Britain’s Mr Benn regularly cite the threat that climate change will devastate some of the world’s most important agricultural land.

Finally, there are the geopolitical concerns. Worrying about sea lanes in the age of the internet sounds anachronistic. But the globalised trading system still relies on moving huge amounts of food and energy around the world by ship – and there are at least three choke-points that look vulnerable to disruption. The one that is getting all the attention at the moment is the Gulf of Aden, just south of the Suez canal, where a large multinational flotilla is fighting the threat from Somali pirates. The Strait of Hormuz, through which most Gulf oil needs to pass, could easily be blocked in the event of a conflict with Iran. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has fretted publicly about its “Malacca dilemma” – the fact that most of China’s imported oil from the Middle East has to pass through the Malacca strait, a narrow waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia. China is uncomfortably aware that it is ultimately reliant on the American navy to keep these vital sea lanes open – a fact that may be driving the Chinese effort to build up its own navy.

My view – Ever since the secular bull market in commodities became apparent in 2002-2003, Fullermoney has expressed concern over the inevitable competition for essential resources which are finite in supply, occasionally scarce, and often costly to produce. These concerns abated during the dramatic economic meltdown of 2008 but have begun to return with economic recovery.

Needless to say, when it comes to hoarding, countries with big current account surpluses are in a much stronger position than debtor nations.

We are right to be concerned about future supplies, not least regarding ‘rare earths’ frequently mentioned on this site which are increasingly required for many cutting-edge technologies.

Regarding the United Nations estimate that the world’s population could exceed 9bn by 2050, Fullermoney remains sceptical of all very long-term forecasts as these are based on little more than trend extrapolations. Secular trends can persist for a long time, but not in perpetuity.

I can think of two reasons – one nasty and one nice – why the global population is more likely to peak at around 7bn and quite possibly decline. 1) A larger population proves unsustainable so more people die before reaching breeding age and/or the stresses produce more conflicts which cull the global population. 2) As more people and particularly women become educated, and as more couples achieve material wealth, they often choose to raise fewer children as we have seen in most developed nations.

I am rooting for number 2 above, and although I do not expect to be around in 2050, good luck to those who live that long.

Dyslexia eruls

January 28, 2010

Mrs. Retkin may have an infallible way of  teaching people to read but I doubt if she will receive any encouragement from the Educational Establishment.

There are people, who genuinely suffer from Dyslexia, just as there are people who associate different flavours with different colours etc.

Some dyslexics are affected simply by the strong contrast of black and white, which causes the letters to swirl around . (similar to many optical illusions that we are all subject too). There are other varieties of dyslexia but the numbers allegedly suffering from Dyslexia has risen quite considerably in the last few decades.

The overweening concern for the rights of children has created a situation where, if a lazy child says that he/she can’t read, then it is up to teachers to offer a solution. The teachers, or the over-protective parents, will push for  the child to be referred to the Educational Psychologist. As the Ed. Psych. is human and can’t always tell if the child is faking it, the child is classed as Dyslexic (similar situation with some alleged Tourette’s cases).

The child now has a “get out of jail free card” and the school must take steps to offer extra assistance. This requires extra staff and possibly specialists to co-ordinate the extra staff and provide training to subject teachers.  Schools then  become entitled to extra funding.  The Education Department then needs extra staff  to respond to this and  to co-ordinate funding, training and seminars for this new Industry.

The structures can’t be dismantled because of the small number of genuine cases.

The professionals are now mired in this structure.

Adopting Mrs. Retkin’s techniques would, if they work, mean an attack on the Educational Psychologists, cutting school staffing levels and school funding (the extra staff and funding is beneficial to the school in other areas) and cutting down on the Education Department’s establishment.

Mrs. Retkins methods could only take hold if a Junior Minister were to set up a pilot scheme, to be trialled and then run out, through the Ed. Psychs., and on into schools.

Free school meals

January 28, 2010

With reference to the story about the school, which banned pupils, who weren’t on free school meals, from going on funded trips, one needs to take into account the pressure on schools, in this respect.

The Education Department is required to try to counter social deprivation. It chooses to do this by taking note of the number of pupils registered with a school, for free school meals. It isn’t a very good yardstick, as there are regions, where residents are happy to apply for every state benefit going and are quite knowledgeable of their entitlements. There are regions where residents are too proud to claim entitlements, or their children are afraid of being stigmatised, or the parents simply aren’t aware of their eligibility. Such areas are often not classed as socially deprived and so do not have any Council funded centres advertising or advising on such matters. Some of these residents may be people, who earn just enough to keep them  locked out of any benefits and aren’t aware that cutting their working hours by just an hour or so, or putting a bit of their savings under the mattress, can launch them onto free  meals, prescriptions, dentistry etc.

Schools, try to encourage parents to register for free school meals, because this benefits the school. The school not only receives extra funding (as in the case mentioned , where extra funding had been made available to pay for trips for pupils on the register for free school meals) but they get Brownie points, when legal tables are drawn up. These tables purport to compare the performances of like schools (and even like Councils), where the comparison  is based simply on this one indicator.  A school may be achieving quite good exam successes, for its size and budget but another school with a similar roll of pupils but higher number of free meals and with a better budget achieving lower exam grades, is classed as performing at a higher level.

Perhaps the school, in your story, was simply trying to encourage eligible parents to register for free school meals!

Stephen Fry and teeth

January 28, 2010

I quite like Stephen Fry and his QI program, even  though  he’s becoming progressively camp – er.

I feel inclined to take issue with some of his pronouncements.

After making panellists squirm, as he debunks common misconceptions, and jumping on poorly thought out comments, he really needs to ensure that his statements are unequivocally true.

I can’t think of a good example but the one about crisps will do. He asserted that sugar didn’t harm your teeth, as didn’t stay in place long enough. He wished to make the point that crisps and similar can lodge between the teeth and that the starch in them would break down, slowly, into sugar and eventually into acids which will dissolve the Calcium  ions out of the teeth. This is similar to the reasoning behind athletes eating pasta  before an event,  rather than sweets.

My contention is that whilst the sugar in tea may be washed away by saliva. The sugar in sweets is such a high level that acid attack can be very severe. In addition, boiled sweets can be very resistant to the beneficial effects of saliva. I’ve heard of a chap who held a polo mint in place on a canine, as he sucked on it. Over time that canine dissolved down to a peg for Polo’s, before eventually giving out completely. I’ve found  bits of toffee or boiled sweet jammed between teeth, which had to be pried out with a toothpick.

Stephen Fry is a Physicist by training (1st at Oxford, I believe) ERROR SEE BELOW and knows the value of precision in his comments. It’s even more irritating that he uses words like “largest” in his questions, knowing that this will, often, unfairly, trip up his panellists.

What’s wrong with asking for the most massive living organism in the world? Alan Davies would still say “the blue whale “. Sean Lock would still say “that big, big tree in America, the redwood”  but  Stephen could still amaze them with his “fungus” and the audience would be tuned in to the delights of  using a more precise vocabulary.

A final footnote about rinsing your mouth after a meal, with unsweetened tea,  possibly adding cheese as the final course. The tea washes away some of the sugar, whilst the cheese not only helps dislodge odd bits of sugar and starch, it replaces the Calcium ions that were removed by them.

Final, final note. Don’t brush your teeth, until at least half an hour after a meal. The acid attack has softened your teeth and brushing removes the softened substrate. The time gap allows the Calcium  ions to be replaced and harden the tooth surface, making it better able to resist erosion by the brush.

Final, final, final note. Don’t let your NHS dentist de-scale  your teeth, or you’ll end up with a set like mine. Basically , de-scaling removes  the outer layer of enamel so the bacteria can take up residence in the porous dentine, underneath, and eat away at it creating cavities.  Your dentist gets paid more for destroying your teeth, than for protecting them.

I don’t know where I picked up the idea that Stephen Fry was a Physicist, although according to Wiki, his dad was.

His assertion that he didn’t know if all stars are spherical was what caused me to check Wiki. Wiki says that he got some class(!) of degree in English Literature from Cambridge.

He is certainly very knowledgeable, even if he isn’t Science oriented.

Whatever! he’s got more dosh than me and he’s had Emma Thompson waggle her bare breasts at him.

rationing and under-nourishment

January 28, 2010

I was listening to Radio Mersyside, last night. It was one of those “ do you remember when?” forums.

This one was predicated on the latest bit of political nonsense about there being an obesity epidemic (what a horrible abuse of the word “epidemic”! ) and how we were all healthier under wartime rationing.

Total, arrant nonsense.

One pundit, even refuted the observed truth that we were undernourished by trying to claim that children , brought up during the War, were taller than Today.

My generation, of “Baby Boomers” , were taller than my Dad’s generation, who fought the War: They having being brought up during The Depression. My son’s generation and those born since the early 70’s have more six-footers than this country has seen since the GI’s came over in WWII (the Yanks had eaten well, even during The Depression). We weren’t just skinnier, during the War, we were too skinny, with organ damage,  caused by lack of protein. This would have been compounded by stress and vitamin deficiency issues.

Remember we didn’t end rationing until 1954 (6 years after the Germans ended rationing, thanks to our Special Relationship with America) . Until then we had been eating such wonderful commodities as Margarine. This does not contain Vitamin D, as does butter, and Rickets was a problem. Margarine didn’t have Vitamin D added, until after Windrush, when it was found that Caribbean kids weren’t getting enough sunlight to produce their own Vitamin D. Margarine also became yellow like butter, with the addition of carotene to provide Vitamin A, whilst white bread now has Calcium added ( in the form of bags of cement, I read somewhere).

A final note: The best evidence of the relationship between height and nutrition can be found by a combination of  looking at articles on how the minimum height for recruits was dropped from 5’4” to 5’0” , during the Boer War, with a visit to the H.M.S. Victory , or the nearby sailors’ cottages, in Portsmouth.                                  (

Even back in the early days of TV, the Upper classes often spoke of “getting a little man in”, when referring to working class tradesmen, who were, of course, under-nourished, as children.

Current account wishes

January 27, 2010

The Office of Fair Trading has invited MoneySavingExpert to a meeting next week to discuss how the current account market can be improved for consumers.

My posting

 I want three things:

 1.a promise to keep ATM’s free of charges (else I’d join counter queue and draw out lump sums)

 2. a promise to keep personal cheque system (I don’t fancy sending currency, via the post, to those who, like myself don’t have card readers and don’t like giving out my bank details)

3. A promise not to give away money, to someone who claims to be me, and then take it out of my account, demanding proof that I’m not the person, who has defrauded them.

no shortage of short police

January 27, 2010

I think we should be told the  names of the MP’s who believe that we need to cut the number of police by 10%.

First, it should be ascertained if they understand the meaning of the word “need”, because if we truly “need” to cut the number of police by almost 6,000 then their constituencies must be totally free of crime and it would useful to find out how this has been achieved.

Perhaps they  misunderstand the meaning of the word “need” and believe it means “we’ve spent all your tax money on  banker’s bonuses and our own expenses, so there’s actually nothing left to pay for the personnel that would protect you from criminals”.

The latter would seem  more likely.

By extension, we could cut down on the number of judges and courts, which would reduce the number of people being sent to prison. Following on, from that, we would see less headlines about criminals being freed to commit further  acts of  murder and rape, which for some reason, the public believe to be a consequence of  the indifference of  their MP’s.

In fact,  let’s pay of the national debt by closing all courts, police stations and prisons. The subsequent savings would be enormous and the properties would bring a good price.

Admittedly Hospitals might experience  an  extra burden from subsequent stabbings etc. but as we are probably going to be cutting the numbers of nurses and doctors, we could extend the philosophy and close hospitals too.

Consider it,  MP’s, with the job market flooded by the newly unemployed ,could  hire their own private police and medical staff,  on expenses, and, as far as the rest of us are concerned, we are only useful when it comes to election time, anyway.

Published version

Only crime-free areas benefit from police cuts PLEASE reveal the names of those MPs who believe

it’s necessary to reduce the number of police  officers nationwide by nearly 6,000 (“Police forces must face huge cuts in officers, say MPs”, January 26).

To make such an outrageous suggestion, I can only  assume that their constituencies must be practically crime-free, and it would useful to find out how this was achieved. Or perhaps they’re trying to tell us they’ve  spent all this year’s tax revenue on their expenses and ensuring bankers receive generous bonuses, so there’s nothing left to pay for those whose job it is to protect us from criminals.

If the justice system  is working such wonders, I’m justified in asking if there’s also a plan  to reduce the number of judges and courts, which in turn would cut the prison population.

John Shale, Wigan, Lancs