Saturday, 4 June 2011

Welding for free. (Well, almost free).

I had a play at welding the other day, for the first time.

Thanks to the Freegle network I mentioned before, I managed to bag a free mig welder. Of course with Freegle you don't get brand new units: this one wasn't working due to some tinkering inside and the CO2 line had ben removed.

For someone like me with plenty of practical experience, it wasn't a problem: a prod around with a multimeter showed me where all the wires should be reconnected to and a reel of gassless mig welding wire gets round the problem of not being able to use a Carbon Dioxide bottle. Finally ebay produced a very cheap (and very essential) welding mask.

So now I'm able to do welding for an outlay of less than 20 quid. Bargain. I do love the internet.

Plus the welder and the mask are saved from ending up in landfill, so double bonus.

And I've bagged some free bits of metal to practice welding on too.

No state intervention, no Faux Charity, no Quangoes involved: just people using the power of the internet and their own initiative to reduce energy consumption and land fill use. "Big Society" at its best.

Of course if you want to weld even cheaper, youtube has videos of how to use bits of old microwaves to create an arc welder. There are plenty of second-hand microwaves on Freegle or you just put out an ad for one.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

BBC Panorama Care Program

I was shocked last night while watching the Panorama programme about abusive carers.

However, from the start of the programme there were alarm bells ringing, provided from the narration.

First off, patients at the "Hospital" were only allowed to see visitors in a visitors area. This causes a problem straight away, as it creates a "behind closed doors" mentality where staff can act without fear of discovery. If I was a parent of a service user in any facility, I would be seriously concerned if I couldn't access their bedroom and living area without a good reason like it was a unit for violent residents.

Actually a place like this calling itself a hospital sets off alarm bells, because it enforces a mindset of staff and patients, rather than carers and service users. A place like this should be regarded as the service user's home and its up to the carers to facilitate their lives in their home. It doesn't matter if the home houses 1, 10 or 100 people, its where they live and it should be regarded as their home.

Its quite obvious that the segregation of staff levels was another issue within that home. Keeping nurses or supervisors tucked away in offices is not a regime that is conducive to openness. It allows the care workers to make up excuses for behaviour. The best regimes are when supervisors are working with carers and if needs be able to pitch in and demonstrate best practice.

Its quite clear from the programme that companies are able to totally disregard things like DOLS and POVA and the regulating body the CQC can miss it despite inspections. Which indicates the current inspection and documentation regime is inadequate.

What isn't needed is knee-jerk legislation piled on top of the current huge pile of paperwork. What is needed is a common-sense approach to caring that puts the service users first and establishes that carers are not enforcers of company policy, nor bullies or security guards: they are there to care.

Finally, the CQC needs to take whistleblowers more seriously, with rigorous investigations of homes that come under suspicion.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Stating The Bleedin' Obvious.

This BBC article brings to light a report that says top bosses pay is losing the link with the performance of the companies they manage.

Talk about stating the obvious.

Its been obvious for the past decade or more that "performance related pay" has evolved a long way for senior managers and directors of companies into a greedy grab-fest. 

The people to blame are those that agree to and write up the contract terms the people to blame are the shareholders that don't hold those people to account.

But this is the problem with the system. When we have huge institutionalised shareholders that don't take an interest in the day-to-day running of the company whose shares they own as long as they pay a dividend, the situation will continue.

Do it Yourself

One of the main tenets I've found in the blogosphere is that government should stay out of things as much as possible, because once it starts getting involved the costs go up and the service goes down.

One such area is Recycling, where national and local government decided to stick their mighty oar in thanks to EU-set targets and are doing a bloody inefficient job of it with their boxes of many colours, their rules and regulations and threats of fines. Its so messed up that our old electronic goods end up polluting parts of Nigeria, surely the antithesis of what recycling and environmentalism is all about.

The thing is, recycling has been going on for years: jumble sales, car boot sales have existed for eons and have successfully recycled far more of other people's tat than the government could ever do.

Of course with the introduction of the web, came new ideas. Freegle and Freecycle are dedicated to allowing people to swap their unwanted stuff for free. The principle is that you offer stuff that you'd normally take to the tip, thereby recycling it for free (well, other than the cost of petrol to pick it up). When i say tip, you'd be surprised at how much usable stuff people would rather take to the tip than go to the effort of selling.
When I've done one of our numerous house moves, I've offered the stuff we didn't want to take with us on there. The only downside is having to set up a dedicated email folder for the huge number of emails that come in. I've used them for years now and they have partly furnished the grown up kids new digs and helped us out when times were hard. My daughter rides a free bike to college, I'm sat on one of a free set of dining chairs.

The thing is, these are classic cases of the so-called "big society": people just getting on with doing it themselves. Its a pity government don't include estimations of the amount these different organisations recycle in its figures, because I'm pretty sure it would exceed EU targets. On the other hand, I'm happy the clunking fist of government hasn't yet strayed into this territory, because it'd kill it overnight.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Keeping China Out: The Real Reason for Overseas Aid.

I've searched long and hard for the reasons behind ring-fencing and ultimately increasing the foreign aid budget when the country can't afford to run things at home.

Why would a country, almost bankrupt and borrowing money to keep services running, use a portion of that borrowed money for aid and give it away? It doesn't make sense, unless you look at the issue from the viewpoint of a company, rather than an individual.

As individuals, we hopefully try and spend less than we earn. Doing otherwise would end up with us owing money and paying interest and eventually a whole world of nastiness.

With a company, there are several different reasons to borrow money: you might invest in new equipment in order to be more productive, you might want to invest in a marketing campaign in order to boost sales.

In the case of foreign aid, I've come up with really only one compelling reason: we're acting like a company: borrowing money to spend on marketing against the competition. Its an attempt at stopping China from entering our spheres of influence.

China has huge cash reserves, which its using to buy influence and invest in resource supply around the world. The only reason we're spending money abroad when we can't afford to has to be keeping China from buying into those countries we see as allies. We're pumping billions into India, who in turn spend billions on a space program. It seems utter madness until you start to understand what a huge change would happen in the world if China and India became closer. There would be a paradigm power shift towards the East and the West would suffer greatly as a consequence.

The problem lies further in the future: can we afford to continue spending such huge sums? Obviously our domestic tax take can't sustain it, so are we just delaying the inevitable? Is it a short-term thing until the EU finally controls foreign policy and attains a critical mass strong enough to compete with the super-powers?

Finally, isn't this all a waste without the resources to defend our spheres of influence? Without a strong armed forces able to enforce our interests abroad (especially against the might of China for instance), aren't we just pissing in the wind?

A couple of nuclear powers and a rag-tag bunch of dis-unified armed forces aren't going to be able to stand up to unified forces from a better funded and more populous nation.

If this is the real reason for continuing foreign aid and the haste with which we're abandoning sovereignty to the EU, isn't it about time we were told the truth? Isn't it also time we sopped the huge waste in armed forces procurement.

"Talk softly and carry a big stick" has always been an apposite phrase when posturing about the world stage. Unfortunately we haven't enough of the right sort of sticks to back up the talk any more, thanks to the daylight robbery brought upon us by defence contractors and our piss poor procurement system.

Our government has yet to realise we are a spent force and it needs people of vision to chart a new future for this country.

I'm convinced the corrupt regime of the EU is not it.

Sharon Shoesmith: Victim or Indicator of Social Services Culture?

The fact that Sharon Shoesmith has won her case is a reminder to me of my own personal dealings with social services departments. I think what she is trying to say in her "I accept responsibility but don't accept blame" stance is that she was only following orders. 
As with other social services managers I've met, she seems the same sort of hard-faced kind whose job it is to ultimately deny services to those families chewed up and spat out by their departments. So what she's ultimately saying is yes, she accepts responsibility for denying the provision of service to that family, but don't blame her because she was only following policy from on high. 
Its also the reason why she's adopting the victim mentality when it comes to her sacking. "Why should I be sacked, I was only doing the job I was told to do..."
That she has taken things this far rather than accept she was at fault for management failings and deserved to be sacked shows exactly the sort of people social services are employing and families have to deal with on a daily basis.

In the end she has only won her case on a technicality. She won because proper dismissal procedure hadn't been followed. 
Which also says volumes about the character and judgement of Ed Balls, who thought he could act like god, wade in and force her dismissal.
Now we face the unpalatable prospect of her winning a substantial amount of compensation, sucking even more funds from the public purse.

However, she is an indicator of something far bigger and vastly more rotten in the state of social services in the UK. On this blog, by far and away the most read and commented on post is the I Hate Social Workers one (Type "I Hate Social Workers" into Google and its ranked second). Its a testament to the amount of ill feeling and sense of unfairness that is generated by the Social Work system, the family courts... in fact everything to do with the emotive subject of state intervention in the affairs of families. I originally wrote it months ago and yet people still comment on it now. 

One thing that is striking is that in some instances, there seems that a huge corrupt, profitable business has emerged around the social services departments of some local authorities.

For instance, if local authorities have adoption quotas to fill, where are they going to get a supply of very young, adoptable babies from? Of course the social work system, where they can snatch babies from families. Is there not a conflict of interest at work here? On the one hand government forces local authorities to maintain levels of adoption and on the other forces them to remove babies from families at the slightest (often manufactured) signs of impropriety. Isn't the logical conclusion that in some instances policy formation could lead to babies being snatched by local authorities purely for the purposes of reaching adoption targets? Or to put it another way, place babies taken from families into the adoption system too hastily.

There are several issues about the provision of local authority care, but here's just one: If for instance a child is referred to an independent care home, isn't it in the interests of that care home to magnify the report of the slightest of inferences by the child that results in the child staying in care? The company running the home makes money from each child in care and the more children it "processes" the more money it makes. Isn't that a conflict of interest?

I've already commented about the family courts issuing hyper injunctions but I'll reiterate here: Isn't it unconstitutional that a court interprets bad law in a certain way and then forbids the victim of that bad law seeking to change the law by talking to their MP about their case? Isn't that yet another conflict of interest, where the courts seek to uphold a system that operates bad law in secret by banning the reporting of the situation to the lawmakers who could change that law?

Am I nuts are am I the only person who sees the issues around this emotive subject? From the strength of feeling in the comments on that one thread of this blog, maybe not.