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Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Feb 3,2011

United States citizens have been warned not to use public transport in Britain, following a new warning from the State Department.  This is presumably a response to the raising of the threat level to “SEVERE” by the UK Government last month.

It will be interesting to see whether American tourists take any notice and whether it eases the problems of overcrowding on London Underground and on London’s buses.

Jan 13,2011

Every January, the Lord Mayor of London hosts a dinner at the Mansion House in the heart of the Square Mile in honour of the ‘Governing Bodies of London’. For the last ten years this has been addressed by the (elected) Mayor of London – in effect providing a platform for an Annual State of London Address
Mayor Boris Johnson has usually offered an entertaining, if sometimes rather incoherent, fifteen minutes or so of fairly random observations vaguely related to London issues. (Not quite the dignified and substantive gravitas-loaded approach originally envisaged by the Court of Aldermen and the Court of Common Council that make up the Corporation of London.)
Tonight was no exception. The only point of any substance was the Boris Johnson solution to poor industrial relations on the London Underground: an offer to those present to drive the trains. After several glasses of wine, quite a number in the audience seemed up for it.
Our safety in their hands (courtesy of Mayor Boris Johnson).

Dec 15,2010

Colin Talbot at Whitehall Watch has some interesting predictions here.

Dec 10,2010

I got in a cab earlier today (as one does) and said to the cabbie (as one does): ‘I thought they said it was going to get warmer today.’
And he replied (as anyone now would): ‘Ii don’t know who said that – it must have been Nick Clegg.’

Dec 1,2010

I spent a large part of today sitting in on a table-top exercise designed to see how London’s police and other services and agencies would respond to a developing emergency on the streets of London.  It would be inappropriate to go into more details. However, it did bring home to me the importance and value of such exercises.

I will readily admit to once having been something of a cynic about such “war-gaming”.  The idea of bringing together quite a large group of people to act out how they would do their jobs in an imaginary set of circumstances at first sight could appear rather absurd.  Yet the evidence from de-briefs after real emergencies convinced me long ago that these sorts of exercises and practices have a real benefit.  Organisations or parts of organisations that only work together occasionally or only do so under normally fairly clearly-defined situations need to understand each other’s capabilities and practices in the very different circumstances that would apply in a major emergency.  Exercises mean that key individuals get to know each other, procedures are tested and worked through and – most importantly – potential problems are identified and can be resolved.

Although some of the reports from the inquest into the deaths of those killed in the July 2005 bombings have inevitably focused on those things that did not work as well as they might have done, much of what the witnesses have described has demonstrated how well London’s emergency services performed under the terrible circumstances of that day.  I know from those I have spoken to who were intimately involved how important previous exercises had been in planning for what unfolded five years ago and improving the collective response of the emergency services.

I am sure today’s exercise will have been similarly valuable, even though one hopes that the procedures tested never have to be carried out for real.  Several issues emerged where it was clear existing plans were inadequate or required further consideration.  And it has to be better to discover such problems in an exercise than in the middle of a full-scale emergency.

Nov 18,2010

Lynne Featherstone MP likes to describe herself rather grandly as “Minister for Equalities” In fact, she is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (usually abbreviated to PUSS in civil service parlance) in the Home Office.  During her pre-Ministerial life she had a reputation as a campaigner for whom no gesture was too demeaning for her to make it.

Now, as a Minister, she tries to behave all-statesmanlike.

And today, she was called to the House of Commons despatch box to answer an Urgent Question granted by the Speaker because a policy change had been announced to the media before it had been reported to Parliament.

And the announcement?  This was that the Conservative Coalition, of which she is proud to serve as Equalites figleaf/Minister, has decided not to implement legislation passed by Parliament (under the Labour Government) earlier this year which would have required public bodies to take action to address socio-economic disadvantage.

And the justification?  There was no need for such a duty and to include such a duty in Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 was “an empty gesture”.

Apparently, Lynne Featherstone MP – the Minister – wants to reassure us as she put it today:

“Equality is at the heart of what this coalition Government are all about.”

Of course, that is not what Lynne Featherstone MP – the non-Minister – said last year in the debate on the Second Reading of the Equality Bill.  Then she called for even more powers in the Bill.  Her words were:

“The Government should have made legislative proposals to tackle socio-economic inequality in a Bill of its own”.—[Official Report, 11 May 2009; Vol. 492, c. 579.]

As Fiona McTaggart MP for the Opposition pointed out after Lynne Featherstone’s public u-turn in the House of Commons this morning:

“Dropping the socio-economic duty was not in the coalition agreement. It was a major part of the Equality Act 2010, which Parliament passed only this year. While we know that the Conservatives have never wanted Government to take responsibility for building a more equal society, that is not the view that the hon. Lady herself has previously taken.”

And asked:

“What proposals will the Minister now bring forward to assess the impact of Government policies on the most disadvantaged? Despite her fine words, is it not true that this Government simply do not care about socio-economic inequality? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has proved that the Government are hitting the poorest hardest. If there is no duty, how will people know about the impact of Government decisions on the most disadvantaged?

With this duty in place, public bodies would have had to think about what they should be doing to improve life chances. We all know about Sure Start; indeed, the Minister referred to it. We know its fantastic work, and how its impact is greatest on the most disadvantaged children. Councils would have had a duty to take that into account if they were thinking of closing children’s centres, but she is now saying that they will not. Does she think that is right?  …

The Minister said that we cannot deliver inequality by legislation, but the simple truth is that the Government do not believe that they have any responsibility to deliver a fairer society. Of course, legislation does not work like magic, but it is a key way that Government can change things. Road safety legislation does not stop all accidents, but it does make our roads safer and it does save children’s lives. This duty would have helped to make our society fairer, and it would have given poorer people a fair chance, so why is she scrapping it?”

Answer came there none.

Nov 18,2010

We are told that there will be a revamped National Cyber Security Strategy published in the next few months.  This will explain what the £650 million of new money allocated for cyber security in the spending review will actually be used to deliver (I understand that Whitehall Departments are still bickering over who will get their hands on this money – the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office both believe it should come to them rather than the Cabinet Office).

However, I wonder whether it will also propose legislation.  In the United States a number of members of Congress are putting forward what they are calling the “Homeland Security Cyber and Physical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2010”.  This will give a statutory basis to the Office of Cybersecurity & Communications based in the Department of Homeland Security and would, in particular, create a new Cybersecurity Compliance Division to oversee the establishment of performance-based standards responsive to the particular risks to the .gov domain and critical infrastructure networks.

This is an interesting model.  In the UK, the Government bodies that are responsible for protecting the critical national infrastructure do not have a statutory basis and do not have any formal powers.  In my view, this hampered the effectiveness of the old National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre, which is now incorporated into the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure and falls under the ambit of the Security Service.

I have long advocated that underpinning the “voluntarist” and consensual framework Government needs to have a statutory frmaework that – in extremis – can be used to require Government agencies and those private companies that supply much of the national infrastructure to meet certain minimum standards and can direct action effectively in the event of some major problem arising.

Nov 9,2010

The British are supposed to be a nation of animal-lovers, so I suspect the report in Le Figaro about the use by al Qaeda of “kamikaze ” suicide dogs to attempt to blow up airlines will produce more outrage than the use of printer cartridges in the recent unsuccessful attack on cargo planes.

Des chiens sont déchargés d'un avion à l'aéroport de Los Angeles.
The report says that explosives were inserted in the stomachs of live dogs to be transported by plane and was only foiled because the dogs died.
Nov 2,2010

The Home Secretary’s statement on airline security was repeated in the House of Lords by Baroness Neville-Jones, the Security Minister.

I asked her whether the device found at East Midlands Airport would have been detected by existing scanning arrangements had it been checked in as hold baggage by a passenger in a UK airport (and also whether this would be true in other countries given the differing nature of security regimes around the world).

Her answer made it quite clear that while this incident has raised important issues for cargo flights, it is also apparent that there are important issues for passenger flights as well.

The full exchange is below:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as the Home Office appointee on the Metropolitan Police Authority, with responsibility for overseeing counterterrorism and security. I, too, am grateful to the Minister for the full account that she has given. With what degree of certainty does she feel that these devices would have been detected had they been in checked-in passenger baggage on a flight embarking in the United Kingdom? Given the variations in standards of airline security in different parts of the world, what degree of certainty does she have regarding incoming flights that such baggage would have been detected at airports elsewhere in the world? What will her answers mean in terms of current levels of aircraft security for passenger airlines in this country?

Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord asks some pertinent and, I have to say, extremely difficult questions. My honest answer to his first question must be that we do not know the answer. This explosive is extremely difficult to detect. Technologies are known for detecting PETN and one consideration that we will have to take advice on is whether we should extend PETN testing to cargo going on board aircraft-most particularly passenger aircraft, but also other aircraft. We have to do this in a way that is consistent with assuring the public that they can travel safely, while not crippling the country’s economy and international commerce. Therefore, an international effort will be needed and we shall talk not only to other operators but to those who may be able to help us technologically. Part of the Transport Secretary’s review will consist of talking to the companies. Many of them are well advanced in increasing-and we will be increasing-the screening processes, including capabilities that are not necessarily at the moment distributed as a matter of course.”

Sep 24,2010

I have just returned from the announcement by Harriet Harman, as Acting Leader of the Labour Party, of the result of the ballot for Labour’s nomination for London Mayor.  Ken Livingstone won convincingly by more than 2:1 over Oona King following a lengthy campaign in which huge numbers of London Labour Party members took part.

I had always been sure that Ken would win but the margin was substantially better than the 3:2 I had expected.

It is a very good basis for the forthcoming campaign, particularly following Ooona King’s very gracious and fulsome concession speech declaring her support for the successful candidate.