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Thursday 18 January 2018

The dangers of the media echo chamber

We have moved into an age in which the traditional news media no longer merely report the news but seek to shape it. Newspapers and broadcast media have become political actors, campaigns and even parties. As a consequence, the trust that the public used to invest in establishment entities such as the BBC, or the 'broadsheet' press, has disappeared. They are all guilty of disseminating 'Fake News', and public trust of journalists and journalism is now in the gutter. Alongside that of politicians. 

The consequence of this is that most of us now communicate only in echo chambers, with those who share our views and beliefs, using sources that confirm such opinions. The more pronounced this becomes, the more polarised our nation and society, the greater the mistrust and the more egregious the Fake News. From both sides.  

I have written before that I respect greatly the journalistic integrity of Der Spiegel, an openly left-liberal publication but one that fights the loss of journalistic professionalism in a way that the Guardian would simply not understand. It takes a certain courage for Spiegel to ask 'Is there truth to refugee rape reports?' and then to answer the question in a conditional affirmative. Something I suspect strongly that the Guardian would never do. 

Germans are particularly sensitive to notions of mass rape. Antony Beevor helped lift the lid on the extent of Soviet rape in Berlin - the Downfall, bringing to a popular audience hidden records that both German and Russian authorities would rather have remained hidden. Rape and conquest, rape and invasion, are linked in German historic memory, so sex crimes attributed to migrants are big news. In the German echo chamber, no mainstream news outlet references the website - but Spiegel sought to challenge what it displayed.  

They found that though many of the rape reports were either false or referred to sexual assaults that fall short of rape under German law, many others were based in fact. Now after finding this unwelcome result, a dishonest media outlet would have shelved the result. All credit to Spiegel for publishing. They write;
The classical media find themselves in a quandary here. If we don't write about the issue and about the rumours circulating on the internet, skeptics see that as proof that something is being hidden. Yet if we do write about specific websites like the one covered in this story, we run the risk of enhancing the profile of pages meant to incite hatred online.
So yes, the pandemic of sex assaults carried out by migrants is based on reality. Police statistics back this up. But the real benefit of honest reporting across the echo chambers is to challenge prejudice and preconceptions; migrants commit sex assaults not because they are Muslims or brown, it is suggested, but because they are "more frequently young and male and are more likely to live in a large city, lack education, be unemployed and have no income".

Well, to a point, Lord Copper. I think why they commit such a high level of sex assaults is still open to judgement. But acknowledging that there is a problem is a good start for both polarised sides. And perhaps our UK media, including the BBC, can even learn a lesson that will allow them to raise their own gaze from the gutter. 

Wednesday 17 January 2018

EU to ban stun fishing. For the second time

The EU's identity as a corrupt but inept bureaucracy was confirmed yesterday as French, Belgian, Irish and British MEPs dealt a kick to their Dutch colleagues in requiring the Council to add a new ban on stun fishing to a change in fishing rules. The Dutch fishing minister now faces another kicking from Dutch trawler owners who have spent over £300k per boat converting vessels to electric stun fishing. The vote was 402 to 232 - by no means overwhelming, indicating nations other than the Netherlands have a snout in this eco-destructive trough. 

The story to date is this. First, the EU banned stun fishing in 1998. Then produced a scientific / technical report in 2006 recommending continuing the ban. Despite which, Dutch lobbying, blackmail or string pulling managed to get an exemption for Dutch trawlers - with the effects described in a previous post HERE.  However, British, French, Belgian and Irish fishermen have mounted an effective and concerted campaign to expose the deep harm caused by the Dutch - with the result that MEPs, fearful of the political reaction at home rather than out of principle, I suspect, have acted. 

However, the law will be written by the EU Council. This leaves the Dutch some wriggle room to water down the requirement, delay it or fail to implement what the EP have requested. These delaying and blocking tactics are all part of the wonderfully corrupt way in which the EU works. 

For the UK, one major problem remains. As I wrote in November:-
One current problem is that Dutch boats can fly the red duster and take UK quotas; the previous requirement on UK flagged vessels being owned by Brit nationals was overturned. Our 1988 Merchant Shipping Act was challenged by the European Court of Justice in the Factortame case and overturned - requiring us to register foreign-owned fishing boats.  A single Dutch owned and crewed vessel, the Cornelis Vrolijk, but UK flagged, accounts for almost a quarter of the entire English catch and about 6 per cent of the total UK quota. It lands all catches - some £17m annually - in the Netherlands.
Michael Gove must act now to prepare to reverse the effects of Factortame and to restore the 1988 Merchant Shipping Act to the form in which it was agreed by our sovereign parliament. 

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Carillion - sub contractors and suppliers

For the construction arm far more than the FM concerns, intelligent journos have started to pick up on the impact of the firm's collapse on other than direct employees. The real pain is likely to be felt by sub contractors and suppliers - with an impact on tens of thousands of people working for smaller firms carrying out specialist works for the fallen behemoth.

Subbies are always the last to be paid anyway, and have the longest wait for their money as main contractors will generally not pay until their own monthly claims have been passed, and even then may pay only a percentage, with their own retention in place. Main contractors who have won work by underbidding will also squeeze subbies already contracted. I know from personal experience how very close to the edge many subbies on big jobs walk.

Ideally, if the job is to be finished, the subcontractors will be novated to the new main contractor on the same terms - but even this takes time, and when it is likely that Carillion haven't paid them for three months (and they may end up with nothing) the prospect of waiting another three for a payment from a new principal contractor will force many to the wall. 

Clients will only find main contractors to replace Carillion on cost-plus terms if continuity is to be maintained; there is simply no time to cost and negotiate new contracts. And rescue firms will know they must secure rock solid fee agreements now, up front; clients happy to agree crash costs at times of crisis will always backtrack once the hiatus of the rescue is over; getting it sewn up tight whilst you have the advantage is the only way. 

And make no mistake, it's the clients that will pay. As long as the crash costs now are equal to or less than costs of demobilising the schemes, mothballing, re-tendering and re-mobilising, with all the substantial costs of delayed delivery, they will pay. And that means us - taxpayers - in many cases. There really is no alternative. The least-cost options will still cost us a fortune.

Monday 15 January 2018

When construction pigeons come home to roost

Balfour Beatty must be breathing a sigh of relief this morning that Carillion's recent takeover bid was not successful. BB was lined up to follow Mowlem, McAlpine and Eaga to boost Carillion's sales and potential profits in a process that only works so long as there are more companies with which to merge or take-over; once the music stops, the whole thing generally collapses. 

Carillion was overburdened with debt and major construction contracts were simply not providing the profits to service them. This was disguised for a while by accounting for 'other receivables' i.e. money expected to be released from construction contracts, but never materialising. And this is a tale that is common throughout the construction industry. 

I once let a large contract to a subsidiary of a well known mega firm. It was a newish subsidiary run by set of very confident managers, but with no great track record. Still, their bids were excellent value and they were underwritten by their parent. Shortly after my contract started, rumours came in of heavy time over-runs on another job. They moved key contract management staff from my job to the problem job, and as a result they fell behind on my job. Their solution was to bid low for yet another job; the ever-growing order book made the risk of losses look unimportant. They failed to perform adequately on the third job, too. All the while they were reporting expected contract out turn as close to budget - even when they were into LADs for late completion. A few weeks after my job finished and the final account on their first job became clear, they submitted requests for additional payments of several millions. All the while they were still reporting to their board high levels of profitability - the cost claim was 'income' and contrived to maintain the fiction for as long as possible. 

Well, we demolished their silly claims without breaking sweat, but that took time. By the time their major losses on all three jobs became clear, the parent company decided to close down the subsidiary. The very confident managers became ex-managers. The fact is that they were able to continue forecasting profitability long after the point when it was blindingly obvious they'd cocked up hugely.

In effect, the head company shareholders subsidised my scheme by their cocky managers underbidding and hoping to make up the profits from changes, additions and variations. The form of contract I used didn't allow very much scope for that. 

Well, I'm sorry for all the good folk at Carillion including those I know and have enjoyed working with. But that's mega construction firms for you.  

Sunday 14 January 2018

Brexit - FAQs

Given that Project Fear is achieving peak risible on social media, now may be an appropriate moment to answer a few Remoaner points;

Brexit will mean Brits are banned from travelling in Europe
Brits will be able to travel in Europe visa-free but with passports, just as we have been since 1947, with stays of up to 3 months. No change.

British people will never be allowed to live abroad
Brits can live wherever they like in the world, and do. Generally one needs a source of income, health care arrangements and the consent of the country in which one wants to live. There has NEVER been an absolute, unconditional right to live in another EU country. Nor is there is a single  EU wide standard, and individual national standards are likely to remain as they are now. No change. 

Our children will be barred from the ERASMUS programme
UK access to ERASMUS will continue unconditionally until 2020. After that, the British Council, which funds and runs the UK programme, is committed to facilitating reciprocal access to Europe and the Commonwealth for young Brits. 

Our children's access to EU universities will be restricted
This is probably a good thing if it happens but is sadly unlikely. EU universities are utterly second rate and rank way below the UK's HE sector. The EU27 don't have a single university in the international Top Ten; the UK has four. However, if young Tarquin is so irredeemably stupid that he can't even get a place on the media studies course at Steeple Bumstead, I'm sure that the University of Ibiza will still give him a place on the English degree course. For a fee. 

Brexit will mean food prices will rise
The EU is deeply protectionist and maintains high food prices to ensure good incomes for EU farmers; imports to the EU are therefore heavily taxed. After Brexit it's entirely up to the UK whether to maintain these trade barriers or not - though there are implications for UK farm incomes if we scrap them. Whatever, the UK government will have its hands on the levers that determine retail food prices - and you can be reasonably certain that they will ensure no overall price rise, though the mix and origin of the nation's shopping basket may change. 

The NHS will collapse after Brexit without EU staff
Simply, Bollocks. See the NHS' own breakdown of staff origin. Many EU staff who have gone home since 2016 - a small part of a small part of total staff - have done so because the £ used to buy €1.40 but now only buys €1.12. That's quite a drop in incentive for a Polish nurse working in the SE and also having to pay rent. EU churn will be compensated for by additional worldwide recruitment.

Right. I'm fed up with this now. The remoaners talk so much bollocks one could continue indefinitely.