England’s Rotten Planning System

March 29, 2017

The DeliveryDemon wanted a brand new shiny kitchen, matched units fitting neatly together, with nice level worksurfaces. Someone suggested looking  at Howdens Joinery offerings.

It was going to take some time so it seemed like a good idea to get some planners in to sort things out. Maybe someone from East Northants Council’s Planning Department. After all, they should have some understanding of how structures are put together.

The units needed to sit on top of a plinth, so 600 millimetres seemed about the right height. Roxhill Joinery said ‘Of course 600 millimetre units is what we will provide’. The DeliveryDemon designed out what was needed, and Howdens Joinery said ‘Of course, that’s what we will create’. The DeliveryDemon briefed the planners from East Northants Planning Department and they took her hard earned money to check that Howdens Joinery actually did what they were supposed to do.

Having done everything necessary, the DeliveryDemon headed off to spend days working long hours to pay for this kitchen (and of course to shell out what the taxman demanded).

Come the day the kitchen was supposed to be ready, the DeliveryDemon  went to look.

At first she could see nothing for the glare. The promised soft downlighting had been replaced with what seemed like searchlights. She asked for an explanation, and the reply was drowned out by a cacophony of beeping reverse alarms and revving HGVs, from vehicles which had ignored gates and warning signs to demolish the garden wall.

Finally she managed to see the promised kitchen. But it wasn’t the promised kitchen. Those 600 millimetre units were not 600 millimetres high. Some were 350 millimetres high, some only 250 millimetres. And some took up only a half or a quarter of their allotted width. The work surfaces had been hacked up and balanced randomly on the mismatched units. Not to put too fine a point on it, the kitchen was a mess.

The DeliveryDemon demanded an explanation from those planners.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 300 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 250 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us part width was the same as full width and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘All your neighbours offered us tape measures but we decided to ignore them’ they said.

‘We don’t care that your family will have to live with this’ they said.

‘We CBA to give you even vaguely credible responses’ they said.

This is a fable of our times. It exactly mirrors the surreal process we have just been through in East Northants. It started with predatory developer Roxhill, in collusion with Howdens Joinery, ignoring all the suitable industrial sites available because Roxhill thought they could overthrow  the taxpayer funded neighbourhood plans in order to rake in profits at the expense of real people.

Their multitude of planning documents were thrown together to allow planners to tick boxes. And those planners duly ticked their boxes without ever considering the omissions, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies before them. People who actually used their brains pointed out that those documents were entirely unreliable. But the planners had ticked a box saying 600 new jobs and they weren’t going to get off their backsides to perform the most basic level of challenge which due diligence demands.

‘Loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘That 600 justifies destroying people’s lives’ said East Northants Planning Department.

The 600 jobs figure was challenged on the basis of inconsistencies too blatant to be ignored.

‘Well maybe it’s only 300’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well maybe it’s only 250’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well, a lot of those jobs are only seasonal’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘We only have embarrassing answers  to your questions so we refuse to answer them’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘The answer is always loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘We’re not going to consider that a lot of those jobs will be done by robots’ said East Northants Planning Department.

Six doughty councillors toiled tirelessly to put the facts in front of their colleagues. Deaf ears were relentlessly turned. Six eloquent voices could not prevail against that obdurate deafness. Why? I have my views and no doubt you have yours.

And this has made it very clear that our planning system is not fit for purpose. Real people’s hard earned and over-taxed money pays for that planning system. Yet it allows faceless corporates like Howdens Joinery and Roxhill to ignore democratic decisions and ruin lives, all to make themselves a fast buck.

The DeliveryDemon is holds a strong view that this country is overdue for a heavy dose of democracy.

And the DeliveryDemon would advise anyone considering a new kitchen to look for a supplier whose numbers can be relied on.


Not Delivering Financial Regulation

February 18, 2015

The DeliveryDemon is sick to the back teeth of the legions of scammers who employ phone drones who are thick enough to expect people to believe them when they call out of the blue and try to scam all the personal data needed for ID theft and financial crime. When she can be bothered, she reports them to the appropriate regulatory bodies. DeliveryDemon does not have much faith in the great British bureaucracies, and in this she is rarely disappointed.

Take for example a call received recently from some sleazy bunch in Manchester calling themselves Beyond Comparison, pretending to offer free insurance. Obviously, the FCA should know about this sort of thing since either the company is regulated and not conforming to the rules, or it is not regulated and shouldn’t be peddling financial products and advice. In this case, the DeliveryDemon saw that they are registered with the FCA, so reported appropriately. She was somewhat flabbergasted to receive a reply claiming:

  • I’ve found an entry for Beyond Comparison.Com Limited (click link to double check), but I don’t know whether this is the same firm that contacted you.
  • If you do business with a firm we don’t regulate, you won’t have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme if you have a dispute or something goes wrong.
  • You haven’t provided me with enough information about who has contacted you for me to pass it anywhere. If you would like to provide us with any more information, you may wish to use our unauthorised firms reporting form

Yes, the FCA regulate this company but is indulging in a coverup by pretending it might be another company calling, and uses the opportunity to try and frighten a complainant by abdicating responsibility for companies operating within the FCA’s remit without authorisation. The FCA can identify the company as one it regulates but says it doesn’t have enough information to do anything about its malfeasance, and suggests I report it as unauthorised. Yes, really, the FCA suggests the DeliveryDemon should report an authorised firm as being unauthorised!

So what is the FCA choosing to ignore?

  • The DeliveryDemon has provided the company name, which is registered with the FCA.
  • The company call from a Manchester number and the company’s registered office is in Manchester
  • The company is phoning people claiming to hold data about them, which they are not authorised to hold.
  • The company are quoting as a source of personal information a company which has been dissolved for several years and never had authorisation to hold such information.
  • The company start by misleadingly offering free insurance, and only back off from this when explicitly queried about whether the caller is authorised to offer financial advice.
  • The company claim to be holding personal information but do not have a data protection registration

If the FCA can’t identify the company from the first two items, there’s something badly wrong with its process. If the FCA regards the other items as acceptable, it’s hardly surprising that the British financial sector is rife with corruption. But if the FCA isn’t going to get off its backside and do a bit of regulation, why the hell should the British taxpayer be paying nearly half a billion a year for this useless bureaucracy? Not only can we not trust financial companies, we can’t even trust the regulator to do its job.


Delivering Sports Participation

April 3, 2012

The DeliveryDemon isn’t hugely fascinated by the 2012 Olympics. She didn’t bother with the ticket allocation fiasco. She hopes she won’t be in London, or near one of the few non-London venues during the event. She has no intention of going anywhere to peer through crowds at anyone trotting along with a badly designed bit of metalwork, which is the nearest many Brits will get to the Olympics. She certainly won’t be watching the Olympics on television, as she still hasn’t found a good reason to go out and buy one.

According to BBC talking heads, this means that the DeliveryDemon is not interested in sport. No matter that she walks for miles in the mountains and across country – that doesn’t count. Nor does bodyflying, an activity which tests muscles most people never get round to using. As soon as she finishes rehab from last year’s skydiving accident, she aims to be back flowriding and doing the occasional bit of running. But she’s not interested in sport. The DeliveryDemon was delighted when recovery reached a point that allowed her back in the gym and the pool – but that’s not sport. She’s looking forward to being able to take winter holidays with ice climbing and snowshoeing and cross country skiing and dog sledging – but according to those in the know, she’s not a sporty person. Obviously not, since she isn’t inclined to sit on the couch, munching and drinking, while watching others do something which may be active – or which may be as inactive as darts or snooker or angling or even poker, all of which are skilled, none of which contribute much to the body’s need for physical activity.

There’s a lot of justification of Olympic costs on the grounds that the fact of the Olympics will increase sports participation. It’s a pity that those who made the decisions to spend shed loads of public money didn’t do some realistic thinking:

  • What does participation actually mean?
  • How can you demonstrate that it’s happening?

Since the powers that spend our taxes clearly haven’t done this thinking, please allow the DeliveryDemon to suggest a few actions and measures.

Work is spread throughout the country so that people don’t have to spend so much time commuting that there’s no weekday time for anything else and no weekend time because weekends are used up with recovering from the week’s commute and doing all the chores there wasn’t time for during the week.

School offer a range of activities within the timetable with sufficient variety so that all children can particpate without feeling useless or stupid, and sufficient competition to give the competitive a way of measuring their success.

Sports funding includes reasonable support for public facilities which provide ready access for the public at times when people want to use them.

Bylaws and bureaucrats do not use health and safety as an excuse to prevent popular and emerging sports like inline skating and skateboarding and freerunning in public places.

Planning decisions require provision of public open spaces including green space, and sports facilties, with properly thought out arrangements for their long term upkeep.

That’s just for starters. The Olympics will long be remembered for the white elephant developments it leaves behind, but any effect it has on sports participation will be as transient as the annual blip  in tennis court use around the time of Wimbledon – but without Wimbledon’s annual influence. If the powers that be seriously want to influence public health for the better, they need to think more pragmatically than low usage monolithic development and nanny state pronouncements.


Delivering a Drought

March 12, 2012

It’s not even full spring yet and we’re about to get our water supplies reduced – but not our water bills.

Every time the DeliveryDemon puts something in the waste bin, the drought springs to mind, as do thoughts of how ‘un-joined-up’ this country’s bureaucracy is.

Why? Well, if you live in an administrative area which is committed to the recycling, have you realised that you are using up precious water supplies to WASH the rubbish you pay taxes to have collected?

The DeliveryDemon has nothing against recycling. In fact her household were recycling long before the bureaucrats decided it had to be imposed. Bottles, cardboard, paper, tins, old clothing, garden waste – it all got sorted and composted or taken to bottlebanks or charity shops or recycling centres. No problems and no transport overhead as disposal fitted in with the weekly routine. But now the dead hand of bureaucracy has descended. So:

  • We have slop buckets.
    • They’re too small for the remnants from a day of cooking proper food, or even a single meal, so they are forever needing to be emptied into the bigger slop bucket.
    • They stink because they don’t close tight enough to keep the smell in.
    • They’re made of poor quality plastic which isn’t resistant to the acid remnants of food, so they stink even more.
    • Because they stink they have to be washed out at every emptying, and that takes water. So in just one area, that’s over 30,000 of these slop buckets needing washed out at least once a day.
    • Because the bins are never properly emptied, there’s a residue of rotted food wo go in the next collection, accelerating the decay of new food waste.
  • Then there’s the bigger slop bucket.
    • It’s not really big enough to hold a week of food waste if you use fresh ingredients and lots of fruit and vegetables. But it’s the only bin that gets emptied weekly.
    • Of course it stinks.
    • It gets pretty filthy by the time it’s been chucked at the bin lorry’s automation then thrown back anyhow on the ground, so it needs washed after every emptying.
    • It isn’t really emptied, just waved at a bigger bin, with no account taken of the fact that week old food debris tends to stick to the container, so that’s another load of water cleaning out the 30,000 bins.
  • There’s a massive bin for stuff that doesn’t go into the slop buckets.
    • This is designed to hold about 15 times the amount of rubbish produced by a household that recycles as a matter of course.
    • It’s too light to withstand the boisterous winds in open countryside so local cars and pedestrians are at danger from flying bins.
    • It’s a third bin to be cleaned out, fortnightly for this one.
  • There’s an even more massive bin for paper and cardboard and bottles.
    • That’s another fortnightly collection and another bin that needs washed out.
    • Rubbish needs to be washed before going in the bin, or it stinks and the lids are not proof against odour or flies
    • That’s another flying bin on windy days.
  • There’s another massive bin – at additional cost – for garden waste

Then there’s the disruption and complication.

  • Multiple handling of food waste from one slop bucket to another
  • Complex collection arrangements, needing a section in the local paper to remind people which bins go out when.
  • Up to three days a week when the peace is destroyed by noisy rubbish vehicles, with the constand grinding and beeping audible for streets around for hours at a time
  • Up to three days a week when the roads are blocked by rubbish vehicles whose drivers never pull in to the kerb,  thinking they have no duty of care to other road users

Of course the taxpayer can spend more money on biodegradable bags for all the slop bins. And sit on summer days with the windows closed and earplugs in till the rubbish lorries have gone. That’s what the bureaucrats want us to do. But let’s think about what this is really about.

There’s a need to dispose of rubbish effectively, recycling as much of it as possible. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary to manufacture and distribute 150,000 bins in one small area. There’s no reason why each and every household should turn into a mini waste-sorting and cleaning plant. The council is trumpeting its greenness on the basis of the council doing less, but the full picture is a lot less green.

  • The council is generating noise pollution in previously peaceful rural areas and making it worse in town.
  • The council, at the taxpayer’s expense, is financing the manufacture and use of 4 times as many rubbish vehicles as were previously needed.
  • The council is adding to the overcrowding of roads by blocking them with rubbish vehicles
  • The council is worsening the drought situation by forcing people to use water to clean multiple bins

There’s a very well established principle of economies of scale. Apply it to rubbish collection and you end up with the single collection of waste and central sorting. The rubbish industry is becoming ever more sophisticated, with technology becoming increasingly able to separate different types of waste.

The DeliveryDemon wishes her local council would acquire the intelligence to see the difference between effective recycling, and a bureaucratic ego trip which consumes resources and creates pollution.


Delivering Support for Scammers at Taxpayers’ Expense

February 9, 2012

The DeliveryDemon has been analysing the lifecycle of the common bureaucratic organisation. It is very obvious that bodies set up to deal with offences against consumers very quickly morph into something very different and much less useful. Being a bureaucratic organisation, they discourage individual responsibility in favour of box ticking and remote decision making. They quickly avoid dealing with the individual consumer, preferring to collect statistics via paperwork and cosy chats with representative organisations. This of course leaves the individual consumer dealing with layers of obfuscating bureaucracy on top of the original problem. And of course, all this bureaucracy is being paid for by the taxpayer.

These thoughts were prompted by the DeliveryDemon’s recent dealings with phone scammers. It’s common knowledge that these cold callers represent companies who profit from the sale of dubious products. They are known to target the elderly and vulnerable, timing calls for when these people are most likely to be home. The scammers frequently try to give the impression of legitimacy by using wording which conveys the impression that they are some sort of government body, and that they have the callee’s details from some official source. Recent scams include solar heating and payment protection insurance claims.

The DeliveryDemon registered with the Telephone Preference Service a long time ago, but this doesn’t stop the calls. First they exclude ‘market research’. Of course this is handing a ‘get out of jail free’ card to the scammers. All they have to do is ask a few questions to claim they are carrying out market research. Each time the DeliveryDemon looks at the TPS website, the list of things they don’t cover has grown longer, but TPS is still being touted as the best way to avoid scam calls.

The DirectGov website is promoting a new bureaucratic setup which enables simultaneous signup to TPS and MPS which supposedly stops junk mail. Guess what! The signup site brings up a warning message – ‘The security certificate presented by this website has expired or is not yet valid. Security certificate problems may indicate an attempt to fool you or intercept any data you send to the server.’

A mere few months ago, the DeliveryDemon became aware of the National Fraud Authority’s Action Fraud line 0300 123 2040. At the time the DeliveryDemon’s household was being plagued by multiple daily autodial calls from the solar heating scammers. After a couple of calls to Action Fraud, the scammers stopped calling. Great. But in a few short months it appears that Action Fraud has been quick to take the path of bureaucratic decline. The DeliveryDemon received a series of calls from PPI Claims scammers implying they had something to do with the Ministry of Justice and that they had some knowledge of a claim the DeliveryDemon was entitled to make. So the DeliveryDemon traced the callers and reported them to Action Fraud, only to be told that this was probably just their sales line. So that’s OK then? No it’s NOT. A dishonest sales line is a scam, that is and attempt to use deception to part the callee from cash. In other words it’s attempted fraud. The DeliveryDemon is nothing if not persistent and eventually Action Fraud grudgingly agreed to record the scam details for their records, but announced that TPS and the Information Commissioner were the correct complaint route.

The ICO does give advice on dealing with scam callers. ‘If you receive an automated marketing call or live marketing call which you think breaches the Regulations you should write to or email the organisation concerned (remembering to keep a copy of all correspondence). Tell them about the problem and allow them time to put things right. If you continue to receive marketing calls despite registering with TPS, or asking the organisation to stop, we may be able to help.’

Seriously, the ICO will only consider dealing with a complaint once the callee has actively engaged with the scammers. In other words, the caller has to provide the scammer with sufficient information to allow the scammer to validate the nature of the number they have been calling – and, like email address lists, phone lists can be sold for more if it has been validated that there’s a real private individual at the end of the line. This is common knowledge for anyone advising on personal security matters.

So that’s four taxpayer funded organisations all claiming to deal with phone scams, and all getting less and less effective, dropping responsibilities and passing the buck. The StayPrivate one has sprung into existence in a time of so-called austerity, and appears to bring no benefits to the table. What’s the point of politician’s airy persiflage when cutbacks in extravagance are promised on one hand, and money tossed away with the other? The DeliveryDemon despairs!


Delivering Spurious Accuracy, Demanding Constant Attention

November 10, 2009

The DeliveryDemon did a double-take. The hospital receptionist had actually offered a follow-up appointment time of 8.48 a.m. Not 8.45, not 8.50, 8.48 precisely!

Great efforts were made to get the patient to hospital for the prescribed minute. As the seconds clicked by, the DeliveryDemon gazed at the white blocks on the bilious yellow screen, idly wondering whether the developers were aware that the inability to distinguish between yellow and white is a common form of colour blindness. The clock ticked over to 8.48…… Nothing happened! At 8.55 the appointment pinged up for its allotted 3 seconds then disappeared into the ether, never to re-appear.

There is a huge disconnect between the design of this system and practical reality. The underlying driver may well be a target of fitting 5 x 12 minute appointments into the hour, but that 12 minutes is an average. Pinning appointments to an exact minute means that overruns delay subsequent appointment, but nothing is gained if an appointment finishes early – an approach which increases the likelihood of targets being missed. It also invites mockery.

The mechanism for summoning patients is equally poorly conceived. It relies on the assumption that patients gaze non-stop at the single screen, waiting for their numbers to flash up for those 3 short seconds. In reality, pillars obscure the screen from some seats, and passers-by may obscure it from any position. The area, lacking sound absorption, is noisy, so any audio cue is lost. A patient with poor eyesight may need to move closer to the high-mounted screen to read it, and age or infirmity would make those 3 seconds of visibility completely inadequate. And of course real patients are chatting, reading newpapers, watching the world go by, as the clock edges beyond the allotted minutes of their appointments. That sickly yellow screen is by no means the cynosure of all eyes.

Part of the DeliveryDemon wanted to laugh at the absence of basic common sense in the design. The reason she is not still in giggling thrall to those ridiculous flaws is the context. This was an NHS hospital. Huge sums of taxpayers’ hard-earned money went into the creation of the system. The appalling design is unlikely to result in patient fatality, but the blatant absence of commonsense in a patient-facing system must call into question the quality of other systems which are life-critical.


Ethics? That’th in the eatht, ithn’t it?

May 15, 2009

The DeliveryDemon has been restraining herself from adding to the torrent of commentary on the UK MPs’ expenses scandal, but she can’t hold back any more. It is so blindingly obvious that the vast majority of voters choose their representatives in the hope that they will deliver a fair, honest and secure environment for the voters to earn a living and go about their daily lives. If only in the interests of re-election, one might expect MPs to deliver the impression of doing just that.

Are the UK’s MPs really blind to the impression they deliver, or doesn’t it matter to them? What’s fair, honest and secure about a country where:

  • An MP can build up a property portfolio and have the taxpayer subsidise purchase and maintenance across the portfolio by calling first one property then another the main / second residence, while an ordinary taxpayer working away from home and family is subject to strict rules about what can be claimed, and must even pay tax on expenses if it looks likely that the working away period will be more than 2 years.
  • Husband and wife MPs can claim on the same property, but in small husband and wife businesses, the owners have had to fight to ensure that the wife can have earnings in her own right instead of being treated as the husband’s chattel.
  • A private individual’s expenses must have a demonstrable link to the job, whereas an MP may treat an expenses limit as an entitlement.

It’s shocking when it happens, more so when it happens on the recent grand scale. It’s embarrassing when the ethics of the situation are glossed over and ‘the rules’ used as justification. There’s a kind of grim comedy in the attempts to divert attention to payments made to the architects of recent banking failures. But the worst of it is the total absence of any way out which would restore to the country a parliamentary system which could be trusted to act in the interests of the electorate.

The DeliveryDemon has a suggestion to offer.

Historically, MPs had allowances because their working situation was unusual in that many needed to live away from home and family and local responsibilities. That’s not unusual now. Soaring house prices have made it impossible for many to live near work. Inconsistent quality of schooling and healthcare has forced some taxpayers into weekly commuting in order to avoid moving the family somewhere which doesn’t provide a reasonable quality of life. The flexibility of this country’s economy relies on a pool of people who are prepared to work on the basis of short term contracts, moving where the work is.

MPs are no longer a special case when it comes to working away from home. There’s no longer a justification for special rules and allowances for them. If MPs were subject to the same rule as the normal taxpayer, there would be no opportunity for them to manipulate the rules and take advantage of their position.