Chip Mountain

Earlier this year, Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach of Eire) was reported to have said: “I don’t think the UK has yet come to terms with the fact it’s now a small country. I think the reality of the situation is that the European Union is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country”. The EU’s attitude towards Britain has not been lost on other trading nations throughout the world.
One of the side effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns is that restaurants and fast food outlets are not selling as many french fries as previously. Consequently, there is a mountain of 2.6 million tons of frozen EU chips looking for export markets.
The population of New Zealand is less than 10% of the U.K.’s and their farmers are apprehensive that there will be a chip tsunami heading their way. Potato NZ have discussed possible responses with the NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) should there be a flood of EU chips on the NZ market.
In a typical bureaucrat fashion, the Government have responded that they are keeping an eye on the situation and that under WTO rules there needed to be evidence of actual harm or a risk of harm to the industry before an anti-dumping action could be taken.
When I first read of Potato NZ’s action, I thought it was a case of crying before you are hurt. But it is. NZ’s potato growers supply approximately 85% of their domestic market, a large proportion of which is consumed in the hospitality business.
They are quite rightly fearful that EU producers will roll over them like invading tanks.
Meanwhile NZ and the EU are negotiating a free trade agreement. If NZ is to have open borders for EU goods, then the potato growers of N.Z. are not the only ones who should be feeling fearful.

Another Fine Mess

Sometimes you just have to admire someone, even though you know it may encourage them to pursue otherwise questionable activities.
One such person is Glyndwr Wyn Richards of Aberystwyth who was recently convicted in Aberystwyth Magistrates Court of using a vehicle in a way likely to cause danger or injury.
Which is a pity as Mr Richards apparently took reasonable steps to avoid any such danger or injury.
He needed to move his non-functioning Skoda and what could be more appropriate and efficient than to hoist it on top of his VW Passat, tie it down as securely as possible, drive slowly and be supervised/escorted at all times by a man on foot who could and did give warning when the load shifted.
There were various comments by people who gave a knee jerk reaction to something that definitely is not on the list for a Darwin Award. The best comment came from Dyfed-Powys Police who said “That’s no way to move a second vehicle.”
So, raise a toast to Mr Richards.
Faced with an insurmountable problem he marshalled his resources and harnessed his brain cells to provide a viable solution. His activity did not injure anyone and he brightened our day.

Meanwhile on Planet Babergh- Precision v. Accuracy

We’ve all had those days when we were much younger, when our boss asked us to produce a five/ten/twenty year forecast of whatever was taking his fancy at the time. The forecast would take into account economic cycles, inflationary expectations, disposable incomes, family sizes and so on. To make it credible all assumptions should be detailed and justified.
I suspect that something like that happened recently in Babergh & Mid Suffolk’s housing department when someone was asked to produce a twenty-year plan for housebuilding based on whatever factors were deemed relevant.
The answer is 17,568 homes over twenty years.
Note the precision.
Who believes this rubbish? In the real world our boss would have either called it 17,500 or being a clever sort, he might have said 15,000 so he could under promise and over deliver. If he was on the brink of an unwelcome retirement, he would have rounded the figure up to 25,000 so that his successors would be forever on the wrong end of target fulfillment.  
But he would have realized early on that the further away you are from the present the less reliable is your forecast and the more precise it is, the more it will attract criticism & derision.

Unfortunately, many of our public servants do not review their public utterances – hence precision taking precedence over accuracy and unreliable statistics rule our lives.

Buying Greenland

EPSON MFP image

We have returned to England and are in the throes of buying a house. Meanwhile between moving the buying process along and setting up paint samples – alas we have three different kinds of white and I cannot tell the difference – every day seems to bring a different moan or calamity warning about Brexit. But every now and then there is a glimmer of unintended humour to brighten up the day.
One such shaft of brilliance was a letter in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph which could unkindly be sub-headlined “the view from the manse”. Supporting the proposal to buy Greenland the writer gives no thought to the outcomes for the present inhabitants – only to characterize them as requiring (permanent) subsidies and being alcohol addicted.
What these people need is “American investment and can do spirit (which) would enable it to do what Denmark had failed to do:  … up and running”.
It’s a bit like the kettle calling the pot black. One day the Scots will live the life they long for: devoid of subsidy and alcohol, and they will not like it!

Hahoter Hatov השוטר הטוב

If you need a break from Trump, Brexit, Boris, Hunt, Iran and so on I cannot recommend more highly the Israeli police series Hashoter Hatov (Good Cop)  It’s available on Netflix and ticks all the boxes:

  • It’s cross cultural.
  • It’s intellectual (foreign language with subtitles), but occasionally risqué.
  • It’s family centered from the police station to the actual families.
  • It’s only 30 minutes for each episode so you can binge-watch without guilt.
  • The humour and situations range from the real to the bizarre into the surreal but always credible.
  • Finally, it let’s you laugh at other people’s problems without excessive schadenfreude.

It’s my find of the month!

 

Not All News is Bad

This week’s local government elections in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk are not all bad news. Katherine Grandon was re-elected with only two votes less than 2015 but this time with a much reduced turnout.
Katherine ran as an Independent after quite surprisingly having found herself unadopted for a ward which she had loyally served for eight years as their Councillor.
So, definitely a case of rejoicing and champagne all round.
John Hinton was once a senior member of Babergh’s higher echelons until he fell out with the Council’s future direction. He also stood as an Independent and was resoundingly re-elected.
Elsewhere the Conservatives in East Cornard swept their board with three seats defeating two prominent Labour councillors.
The results for Babergh are not all milk and honey. The Conservatives have dropped from being the majority party to being merely the largest. Some decent people are no longer on the Council, but as always, some people will be gladly missed and hopefully soon forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Brexit for changes in fortune, but local personality and local loyalties also played a part. My friends who got re-elected understood that you must get out the votes if you want to be elected. Others, who rely upon the tides to lift them up, often find themselves beached when the tides go out.

Important News You May Have Missed

I have been very quiet on the blogging front. Not because I have nothing to say, but because I have been overwhelmed with the news coming out of Westminster, Washington and North Carolina politics.
This week has seen a lack of progress in the Brexit process. One cabinet minister has resigned (been sacked). There are local government elections in England on Thursday and there is a fear that Brexit frustration will flow into the voting patterns and that very many hard working councillors will be swept away by a possibly ungrateful electorate.
The Mueller Report has been delivered, summarized and published in a redacted format. The Attorney General has appeared before the Senate and as we speak he is resisting appearing before the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile in the real world in East London football, West Ham beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on April 27th. and Leyton Orient have returned to the English Football League having achieved promotion from their non league status.
So, all in all, it’s a great time for East London football and long may the teams prosper.

Chocolate and Lent

It is always important to enjoy the present whilst at the same learning from the past. It is also never too late to think of Lent, Easter and Chocolate.
An article in the Tablet last year reported that Chocolate is “innocent” in the eyes of the Church. Its consumption does not break any religious fast. This was declared in 1662 by Pope Alexander VII.
Admittedly he was only concerned with chocolate beverages. But none the less we are assured that the teaching of the Church cannot change. Of course, as a legalist one cannot add sugar or sugar substitutes – but dark chocolate can be very satisfying.
So enjoy the present and make sure you are stocked and prepared for Lent.
http://www.thetablet.co.uk/columnists/3/9829/chocolate-is-innocent-in-the-eyes-of-the-church-its-consumption-breaks-no-fast
http://www.thetablet.co.uk/author/50/sara-maitland

Meanwhile at Endeavour House*

We’ve all been to those meetings called by a Team Leader who demands “Ideas!”
They are rarely productive and often degenerate into farce as the stressed participants come with more and more outlandish ideas. Sometimes good ideas are tweaked and sometimes discarded as being too far ahead of their time. Sometimes, though, ideas escape and I would have loved to have been at the meeting that discussed filling Suffolk County Council’s budget deficit by mandating that staff should take two days unpaid leave as a contribution to solving the problem.
The council now advises that “Following valuable feedback and meaningful negotiations with UNISON, we have decided to remove the proposal to apply unpaid leave…for all staff”.
It makes you wonder what ideas were left on the floor destined for perpetual obscurity.
Meanwhile, I have always thought that overheads should always be reviewed to ascertain waste. Classic examples are jobs whose title includes the words “Deputy”. What does a deputy do and why is the job necessary?
Last time I looked, Suffolk County Council had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. There were another seven staff who accounted for Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Incidentally, the seventeen did not include assistants and clerical staff. What do these communicators do to occupy their time?
Resources in the wrong places prevent good ideas and good projects from receiving the life blood they need.
The answer to the deficit should not include unpaid time from staff, but should focus on unnecessary jobs i.e., jobs that do not give added value for the residents and taxpayers.
One would have thought the County’s Tory leadership would have known that  – it’s not a mistake that Colin Noble would have made.
* Endeavour House is the joint headquarters of Suffolk County Council, Babergh District Council and Mid-Suffolk District Council.

The Call of the Dinner Plate

There’s always room for a good political joke. I heard this (disparaging) remark about a politician I admire and thought it worthwhile repeating for cleverness and appropriateness for using against someone else.
“…spends his time trawling through the calendars of each village and town council to see when their next village fete or open day is so that he can fill his face at the trough. I’ve never known a man turn up to so many free lunches. He’d attend the opening of a letter if there was a sandwich in it for him!”