Nominative determinism, Crossrail and HS2 delays, loss of trees, a Brexit deal, LightPhones

22 September 2019

In an enchanting example of nominative determinism, Nick Diable and Martin Shields have been accused of tax fraud.  They diverted at least £50bn from several countries’ tax coffers into their own pockets and concealed their actions from their managers, at least until they were caught.

The stunning incompetence of the management of large British companies isn’t limited to the banking and financial sectors but extends right across the spectrum from construction to manufacturing to travel.  (Interestingly, the management of smaller companies tends to be very much more competent, which makes me wonder if human brains can only cope with so much without needing a nice cup of tea.)

An impressive example of this corporate incompetence can be seen in London’s Crossrail project.  Work started in 2009, with a budget of £15bn and a completion date of December 2018.  It’s now likely that it won’t be completed until the winter of 2020/21 and the final cost could be about £18bn.  One of the problems is apparently that it didn’t occur to anybody that the software on the trains and the signals at the lineside would need to talk to each other.

None of this bodes well for HS2 but the Government ordered a special review of HS2 in August because it wanted “clear evidence” before deciding whether to go ahead.  The company has admitted that the proposed £55.7bn first phase to Birmingham, due to be completed by 2026, is likely to be delayed until 2031 and its cost has risen to £88m.  (The prime minister himself recently claimed the total cost would be “north of £100bn”.)

Nevertheless, the Woodland Trust has discovered that contractors will be starting to clear 56 hectares of land on the planned route in the near future, including Sheephouse Wood near Charndon in Bucks (otters) and Decoypond Wood in the Chilterns (great crested newts and black hairstreak butterflies).

When the Trust revealed this, the government asked HS2 to delay the destruction of ancient woodlands but agreed that clearances considered to be “absolutely necessary” could still go ahead.  Unfortunately, the decision lies with HS2 who are, of course, deeply concerned about the effect on the countryside (not) and have disingenuously said they’ll plant four times as many trees as they remove.  It’ll be several future centuries before these newly-planted young trees could begin to replace the highly complex ecological communities that have developed over past centuries in the ancient woodlands that HS2 will destroy, but do we really expect commercial developers to worry about that?

A report earlier this year from the New Economics Foundation, an independent charity, concluded that 40% of the benefits of the controversial project would go to London and that the money would be better spent on upgrading the existing network and smaller-scale local projects such as:

  • full electrification of much of the northern rail network and the Midland and Great Western lines
  • reopening the trans-Pennine line between Manchester and Sheffield
  • linking the two lines that terminate at different stations in Bradford
  • creating more four-track sections on the three core north-south mainlines
  • building bridges to take slower, regional lines over intercity tracks.

I reckon re-dualling the single-track sections of the Waterloo-Exeter line wouldn’t hurt either.

Somebody said that Boris Johnson is apparently still writing his column for the Daily Telegraph – surely this can’t be true?  Mind you, I suppose the Telegraph has never claimed to be impartial or objective or balanced about what it prints.  Its front page headline yesterday said “UK hatches plot to sink Britain’s exit plan”.  Even if we ignore their creative mélange of metaphors, there’s a hint of paranoia – given a choice of conspiracy or cock-up, I’d go for the cock-up explanation every time.

Meanwhile, David Cameron’s memoirs claim Johnson is a congenital liar and only backed Brexit to further his career.  Talk about stating the bleeding obvious.

What are the odds that, to keep his promise to leave the EU on 31 October and turn down a large number of suggestions for suitable ditches to die in, he resurrects Theresa May’s deal, backstop and all, moves a few commas, calls it the Johnson deal, and we leave with that?  I’m not surprised the EU is fed up to the back teeth with our repeatedly messing them around.  If I ever get a chance to go to the continent again, I’m going to say I’m Irish …

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the new Light Phone has just been launched.  It’s about the size of a credit card and only offers calls, texts and an alarm.  In fact it does exactly what my antique clamshell ThickPhone does with the internet disconnected, except that my ThickPhone has large, friendly buttons that can be seen with the naked eye.

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