All posts by Dan Lewis

Return of the Quangos . . .

To the news again !

Congratulations to the All Party Public Administration Select Committee led by Bernard Jenkin MP for producing a report. I haven’t seen it yet but the headlines that I have are basically correct – as I explained in the Yorkshire Post a few months ago, this was no bonfire.

Speaking on LBC to Nick Ferrari this morning at around 8.10 a.m. I argued that  quangos are right at the heart of the debate about the future of delivering public services. Right now, too many are delivered in a market vacuum by quangos who are under no commercial pressure to perform. The Cabinet Office should look again at this and ask questions like;

Can their functions be outsourced?

Does the said quango duplicate another in the public sector or crowd out an existing or potential one in the private sector?

Can they be relocated to a lower cost location?

Etc.

To be fair, the real progress of the Coalition Government’s dequangoisation drive has fallen outside of the Cabinet Office’s review – the scrapping of the Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities giving budgetary control to Doctors and Michael Gove’s educations reforms, giving schools more control over their budgets, independently of the education quangocracy.

So it’s time to start again and the Cabinet Office could do worst than produce a full annual NDPB report one place – including those of the devolved administrations – not done since 2006. That was when a 372 pages long report dropped to 26 in 2007.

Regional and Regeneration policies share the same fallacies . . .

Writing in the Yorkshire Post today, I described what was wrong with typical regional policy and how to do it much better. I suggested doing effective, boring and unpopular stuff like moving workers to the work (not the other way round) with more low cost roads and buses and paying lower wages and benefits in poorer areas to increase employment. This would do so much more  than taking a bet on  low-return but glamorous infrastructure projects like high speed rail or shovelling taxpayer funds towards the latest fashionable industries – remember Scotland’s semiconductor industry?

It occurred to me later that much the same could be said about regeneration policies. Which brings me back to this event I covered for Planning IN London 5 years ago and a speech I gave to the British Urban Regeneration Association a couple of months later. Apart from big budget quangos of course, they generally share the fallacy of the Big Man – they know what’s best.

If only they did !

Shale Gas – a new European energy revolution?

Under the aegis of Future Energy Strategies, I’ve organised an evening seminar on 20th January 2011 which seeks to answer this question, with the help of these three experts – Leigh Bolton of Holmwood Consulting, Nick Grealy of No Hot Air and Dr John Buggenhagen of San Leon Energy plc. To attend, please see here for details – it promises to be a fascinating evening.

UK Gas supplies – the pace and focus of change is far from enough

In the last 10 days, we’ve had a surprising amount of news about gas that requires some digestion.

Starting with yesterday’s discovery of shale gas near Blackpool by Cuadrilla Resources – the best news that town has had in a long time.

Then there’s the ongoing cold snap in the UK combined with a long acknowledge inadequate storage capability. As I wrote a year ago in Securing Our Energy Future Chapter 3: Don’t Bet on Gas – The UK Way, Continue reading UK Gas supplies – the pace and focus of change is far from enough

A couple new posts on the Chinese Yuan debate and Plug-in Hybrids

Ok, I need to update this site a bit more often. I’ve just written two posts. One for the Economic Policy Centre blog on the brewing China/USA dispute over trade and currency valuations and another for Future Energy Strategies blog on the great potential and thus far unanticipated outcomes of  plug-in hybrids.  Enjoy !

Yes, we need Aircraft Carriers and Trident

In the ideal world, everyone would share and practice our values of Liberal Democracy or at least feel unthreatened by them and in no way want to undermine our freedom. Unfortunately, only perhaps 1 billion people of this planet’s 6.8 billion live under liberal democracy,  a billion more  in India have elective government which is becoming more liberal and the remainder exist under various levels of autocracy.

So that’s why we have a defence budget and why I’m more than happy to picture an aircraft carrier on my home page.

Today Britain finds itself squeezed between Western Europe that has long lost the will to commit troops in scale to defend its own interests and Obama’s America, which has proven itself to be all too flattering to its enemies and at best, unsupportive of even its most stalwart allies.

So I’m very worried at the current spat on defence spending being orchestrated by the Treasury, which looks like a re-run of the outcome of the 1966 White Paper when everyone lost. Back then, the cancellation of the CVA-01 large carrier project eventually led to the invasion of the Falkland lslands by a dictatorship which a less forceful Prime Minister would have done nothing about.

And then of course, the disastrous cancellation of TSR-2, some say on American instruction which hobbled the RAF with sub-standard frontline aircraft for the next generation and a half.

And now the Treasury think they’re very clever by demanding Trident should be paid for out of the Defence budget which will lead to massive cuts elsewhere in the Armed Forces. Perhaps then the Treasury mandarins might share with us the cost-benefit calculation which shows that the UK would be better off succumbing to nuclear blackmail or a mushroom cloud over London?

My guess is they haven’t done one.

A pity because by and large, most of us might think that a weapon against which there is no defence is worth having and solves a problem we will never have to deal with. That, on the face of it, is the priceless value of Trident.

So writing today in the Sunday Telegraph, General Sir Richard Dannatt is mistaken to believe that without the hugely expensive JSFs, the carriers are doomed. As was picked up in the Sunday Times, the Royal Navy could easily switch to the much cheaper Super Hornet which the US Navy has pledged to keep using for at least another 10 years.

There are literally dozens of choices like this that can be made in the procurement budget. And it’s just not credible to suggest that “. . . The answers lie with more and smaller ships, and land-based planes whose range is enhanced by a renegotiated air-to-air refuelling programme“. I know of no future scenario where the RAF has more rather than less friendly bases to operate from. The only serious response to this reality are long-range large aircraft carriers that can work from anywhere.

There’s only one thing more expensive than fighting a war and that’s losing it. Deterrence through strong defence is the cheapest option of them all because it works like an insurance policy and we neither have to fight or lose.

Don’t download Trusteer Rapport if you use Gotomypc !

HSBC is telling all its customers to download this programme – Trusteer Rapport. Unfortunately, it never occured to them to do the work and check for programme compatability with major software for small business customers. And www.gotomypc.com is very clearly not compatible – my pc is completely unaccesible !

It doesn’t help that Trusteer support said  to me today that there is “a known problem with gotomypc” but fails to make it known to the wider world anywhere on their website.  Oh well, I’m writing this blog to warn others and hurry them up on a fix of some sort. And I will write again when HSBC, Trusteer and Gotomypc get back to me with a solution.

Now, more than ever, I understand the rationale for a move towards cloud computing.

The Feed-In-Tariffs – finally revealed today

Ok, here they are.

I have to say, they look pretty generous to me. I’m going to do some back of the envelope calculations and come back with a new table that shows the yield per technology. As I wrote recently in Utility Week, if we really do get a boom in micro-generation from the 1st April when they come into force, this will not be without problems.

The Global State of Carbon Capture and Storage

It’s here!

The Global State of Carbon Capture and Storage 2009

A one-stop report for all you need to know on CCS. What is happening, what are the technologies, what are the problems, where are the opportunities?

Read it at Future Energy Strategies