Monday, January 16, 2017

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #3 BT

I knew it was a mistake. The moment I decided to ring BT to tell them how slow my superfast broadband was, I knew I would regret it.
Call me brave, call me foolhardy, I rang them anyway. Inspired by the latest attack on BT by a committee of MPs complaining about its terrible ‘broadbad’ service, I thought it was time to tackle the issue head-on.
Using BT’s own test on my computer I find I am enjoying a service of 5.09 Megabits per second (Mbps) though I am paying for somewhere between 27 to 36 Mbps.
So I call them and the first bloke I speak to says (and I quote): ‘You are not on superfast, it’s a basic copper connection you have there and 5 Mbps is the expected speed for your connection.’
He says superfast fibre optic broadband is actually available; I just haven’t got it. I point out I only switched to BT because I was promised superfast broadband so he says he’ll talk to a colleague.
‘You are on copper,’ he says again. ‘You are definitely not on superfast.’
Several minutes later I am transferred to a woman and I have to explain the whole thing once again. She listens and asks if we’re talking about a business line. I say we’re not so she tells me she can’t deal with it and I am transferred one more.
After a lengthy pause I have the pleasure of explaining the situation for a third time. I spend the next 36 minutes, followed by a brief pause to test the line, and a second bout of 23 minutes, in conversation with a woman whose English is not all that clear. This may have something to do with being based in Bombay.
Her first announcement comes as a shock as it completely contradicts her colleague. She says: ‘You are already connected to fibre optic.’
At this point I may have lost my sense of humour.
While I am waiting for her to carry out various tests and listening to something which would once have been called music but which is just a hiss and crackle down the line from India, I have time to reflect on the MPs’ report.
A couple of BT goons got into trouble for laughing at the report but with luck the Government will do something about the plan to separate BT from BT Openreach, the company which owns the nation’s broadband infrastructure. When 121 MPs agree the service is ‘dire’ surely someone will do something.
Breaking BT’s monopoly would be welcome to thousands of people whose lives are made a misery by the company’s bureaucratic indifference.
A self-employed friend spent weeks without any broadband as BT failed to effect repairs. She almost went out of business.
My hairdresser says when she complained about the slowness of her ‘superfast’ broadband she was told it was probably caused by the neighbour’s Christmas tree lights.
Worse still, another friend was visited three times by BT Openreach engineers after he complained about his ‘poor to atrocious’ broadband.
The third engineer declared the problem was the copper wires down the road being aged and fairly useless.
‘He told me to call BT Openreach,’ says my friend. ‘Even though he was from BT Openreach he couldn’t do anything about it himself.
‘I called BT and they said go to BT Openreach, which is part of the same company. Openreach said “You have got to speak to BT – only the provider of the line can talk to us”. I went back to BT who said they couldn’t help, I needed to go to Openreach.
‘This has gone on for six months. Ultimately a lady from Madras rang to ask, “Can we close this case now?” I have given up.’
BT says superfast broadband is available to 95 per cent of us and splitting up the company would leave less money for investment. It also says we’re ahead of most other countries.
If it’s so good, how come it’s so bad?
Ofcom is investigating the idea of splitting up BT but we can be pretty sure it will do whatever the telecoms giant tells it to do.
Meanwhile my friend in Bombay is back on the line saying she can’t find anything wrong so she will have to send out an engineer. If the fault is on my premises, rather than out in the road, I will have £129.99 taken from my bank account.
I balk at this so she offers yet another test which involves unscrewing the cover of the connector which brings BT into the house and plugging the router directly into the socket inside. Yet again the speed is tested.
The good news is it’s now 16.88 Mbps. Not exactly superfast but better than superslow. At the end of it all, Miss Bombay tells me: ‘You have been very patient and cooperative.’
Which makes me wonder how mad her other customers must get.

PS Six months later my BT broadband bill has soared to £26 per month and the speed is back at 3.4 Mbps. I ring to discuss the situation and half an hour later take part in an on-line diagnosis with an operative in India which gets us nowhere. Eventually she transfers me to some other department to discuss my extortionate bill and after a few moments the phone goes dead. Naturally they don’t bother to call back even though they certainly have the number.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #2 VW

As we all know, those clever chaps at Volkswagen have duped the entire world with their baffling emissions scam so we had to take our Golf into the dealer to have it set right.
At the same time they gave it a check-up and discovered a nail in a tyre. The tyre was perfectly functional until they removed it whereupon the tyre deflated and they declared it impossible to repair.
So far, fair enough I suppose. But they then announced that, because the car has tyre-pressure sensors which only work if the tread on each tyre is the same, it would require not one but two front tyres.
The un-punctured tyre had 5mm of tread (like the punctured one) and was good for many more miles. But it would have to go because otherwise the warning light would come on, stay on and we would somehow be in breach of the warranty. Or some such cobblers.
After much argument, we submitted so we had to buy a pair of tyres and throw away a perfectly good one.
What is the point of an allegedly sophisticated system if it can't cope with something as simple as one tyre with 8mm of tread and one of 5mm. And if it's so wonderful, how come it never noticed the nail in the tyre in the first place?
This comes after VW has tried and failed on several occasions to deal with the Bluetooth phone system which means anyone speaking to the driver hears what they said echoing back to them after they have spoken. This is, apparently, standard on VW cars. So be warned.

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #1 BUPA

The Government shouldn't be surprised local authorities need more money to look after our growing population of old people. After all, part of the problem is caused by the rise in the minimum wage.
Unfortunately, given how tough their jobs are, many care home workers have to get by on £7.20 an hour rising by 30p in April.
That's not a huge amount of money for the individual but if you add together the 1.6 million care workers in the country and give everyone a 30p-an-hour pay rise, that's virtually £1 billion.
Suddenly the minimum wage starts to look quite expensive and the money has to come from somewhere.
Given that people are living longer, councils can't save the money by cutting the service, assuming we wish to treat our elderly with a modicum of dignity.
So that means it comes either from us as taxpayers, from us as care home customers, or both.
Yet the whole sector seems like a licence to print money. For a start, councils only have to foot the bill for the care of a pensioner when the individual’s assets have been whittled down to £23,250.
Until that point, a pensioner has to find the fees out of their own pocket. That almost certainly means selling their home, if they own one, and any other assets they might possess. It means losing all their hard-earned savings leaving nothing to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
This may be fair enough, I suppose. Why should the taxpayer subsidise someone's old age just so they can hand on a legacy to their family?
But there is something dispiriting about the way a lifetime of work disappears in a matter of months. The price for growing old has never been higher.
I know of one elderly couple, confined to separate care homes 50 miles apart, whose wealth has disappeared completely. No surprise, really – their fees were £10,000 a month.
If you are poor enough for councils to meet the cost of your care, homes will
charge about £25,000 a year. Pay for it yourself and it’s £35,000-plus.
And for anyone who goes private – the majority of old people – once a home has got its claws into you, there is no escape. An elderly relative incarcerated in a BUPA care home has seen her fees soar by £199.36 a week – 25 per cent – in two years. Her fees are £51,667-a-year.
The home is nothing special. A new manager every six months means the turnover in employees is bewildering. It is never fully-staffed.
Many carers are kind, helpful and willing but lack direction and seem forgetful, if not negligent. Bad management is to blame but what can you expect if the boss changes twice a year?
In its latest ransom note, BUPA says if my relative is unhappy about the cost she’s free to go elsewhere.
This nonsense is the vilest insult of all. Where could she go? The upheaval involved would be intolerable for a frail old lady, as BUPA know only too well. That is why they can charge whatever they like. They have a captive clientele.
To make matters worse, the family is now afraid to take up arms on our relative's behalf for fear they would retaliate in some way and make her plight even worse than it is already. It’s risky even to complain when they fit her with hearing aids with flat batteries, which they do with distressing regularity.
No wonder they could afford to pay chief executive Stuart Fletcher over £2 million last year. He’s now left and finance director Evelyn Bourke, who got £1.3 million in 2015, has taken over and no doubt gets a huge pay rise. Even Labour Peer Lord Leitch, BUPA’s non-executive chairman, trousers £385,000 for his part-time job.
BUPA is allegedly a non-profit-making organisation. Yet this disgusting rip-off merchant made £278.3 million profits last year which it stuffs under the mattress to top up its reserves. It has a quite staggering £3.6 billion in the bank and still whinges about the minimum wage.
And if one organisation can be this unscrupulously grasping, no doubt many others are as well.
Luckily local authorities are in a position where collective bargaining can at least deliver better value for money than individuals get.
But it's still a costly business made worse by the fact that a three per cent council tax rise in most parts of the country raises a whole lot less than it does in the rich South East.
So where is the extra money to come from? Local taxpayers will doubtless have to cough up as usual but the Government should take a look at organisations like BUPA.
In the past, Chancellors have imposed ‘windfall’ taxes on oil companies and banks which have exploited their position in the market. If BUPA can get away with imposing fee increases on customers of its don’t-care homes, it’s time the Government did the same on its excessive profits.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Down stethoscopes and save the NHS

A doctor writes:
Bruvversansisters it’s time to down stethoscopes and show the Capitalist ruling-class bosses who is really running the show. We are sick-an-tired of being taken for granted, treated like mushrooms and forced to work all hours just to scrape a living while the upper toffs swan around in their chauffeur-driven Jaguars enjoying a life of leisure on the backs of the poor, oppressed doctoring classes.
Well, I have a message for you Mister So-called Jeremy Hunt, you can push us around only so far before even the poor, oppressed doctoring worm turns and you are on the receiving end of the full working-class backlash.
One out, all out, you don’t get us, we’re part of the doctors’ union and we aren’t fighting for our rights we are fighting for human rights, for the benefit of every single user of the so-called National Health Service.
We’re fighting to overthrow the capitalist system of privatisation, the Thatcherisation of national ‘elf, Thatcher and her son Cameron. Jeremy Corbyn is right. Why should we fight other people’s wars in far off countries we know nothing about?
What’s Syria got to do with the national ‘elf? This is where the money has to go. We can’t afford to waste billions on a foreign war when we have so many ishoos here at home. Ishoos, sistersanbuvvers, which we can only resolve through a negotiated settlement to the long-standing demands of Britain’s hard-working, oppressed, taken-for-granted doctors.
We’re standing up to this ‘Elf Secretary not for ourselves but for oppressed health workers everywhere – oppressed consultants, oppressed leading surgeons, oppressed staff nurses, oppressed managers, oppressed directors, oppressed chairpersons as well as oppressed former employees who have retired early with oppressively huge payoffs and been re-employed at even more oppressively generous rates of pay.
Not to mention oppressed ‘elf service agency staff everywhere, who fulfil a very real need especially at weekends when every self-respecting doctor is out on the golf course training to become a consultant.
This is where the Government commitment is needed. Not on some far-flung battlefield any more than its money should be wasted on nuclear deterrents when it should be devoted to the crumbling infrastructure of our beloved NHS.
This service is still the envy of the world. Or it would be if it paid its oppressed doctors a living wage and did not demand long, anti-social hours from young men and women who are sometimes so exhausted when we come off a shift that we don’t even have the energy to person the picket lines or write a protest letter to our MPs.
Call this democracy? Call this freedom?
We need to stand up to this so-called elected Government and its so-called election pledges which less than 25 per cent of the population actually voted for, and absolutely no-one in Scotland or London. Or Wales.
So what if more people die at weekends than during the week? Is that our responsibility as doctors? Of course not. It’s because people who go to hospital at the weekend are sicker than Monday-to-Friday patients.
That should be obvious even to stupid Tory politicians. Do they not realise nobody goes to hospital at the weekend if they can help it?
First off, it means not taking any time off work. Who would go to hospital in their own time when they could go at a time when their employer was paying? It might mean missing the football or not going shopping. It certainly means risking poor treatment and very likely a premature death.
So you only go to hospital at the weekend if you’re dying anyway. Which means it can’t be the responsibility of our fellow hard-working doctors if there aren’t many of us actually on the wards on Saturdays and Sundays.
We – the professionals – know our patients and we know those admitted at the weekend will probably die anyway. So why should we be forced to disrupt our social lives just to pretend we could do something about this even though we know we can’t possibly?
The Government thinks more deaths at the weekend is some sort of killer argument. We have to show the boot is on the other foot. Bruvversansisters this is about so much more than pay and conditions – important though they are. This is about the future of the national ‘elf. This is about our children and our children’s children.
If we give in to the demands of this so-called democratically-elected Government we might as well sell off the hospitals, privatise the ambulances and condemn the old, the sick, the disabled, not to mention the transgender community, to a short and brutal life as oppressed, neglected outsiders.
We have to make a stand because this Fascist regime is determined to dismantle the National ‘Elf and sell it off to their friends in the City so a few fat-cat party donors can line their pockets at the expense of the working man and the doctoring classes.
The ‘elf service is great – walking out helps keep it that way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ajockalypse Noo! The backlash starts


Scotland's politicians may think they've got the upper hand but obviously the country's tourist industry thinks otherwise.
On the day Nicola's tartan army descended on Westminster in their stupidly-named aeroplane (Gael Force One - ha!), the Scottish tourist board felt the need to take out a two-page advertisement in the London Evening Standard extolling the virtues of the haggis-munchers' homeland.
No doubt paid for thanks to huge subsidies doled out year after year by the English taxpayer.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Milibandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Boris could be PM by Christmas

I wrote this last December for the Express & Star. Though UKIP will get fewer seats, the Lib Dems more and we probably won't win the Ashes or the World Cup, you never know....

Looking back on 2014 is all very well but what about looking back on 2015? As Charles Dickens might have said: ‘2015? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’
England winning the rugby world cup and regaining the Ashes were, without a doubt, the highlights of a year when the country’s past glories were proudly displayed for all to see.
Unfortunately, though, both the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta reminded us of what we have lost.
Waterloo was a famous victory over the French – the very people who, for most of 2015, were making life as difficult as possible for our various Governments to re-negotiate a deal on membership of the European Union.
And Magna Carta, the basis of our civil liberties and freedoms, was also the basis of our democracy. But what a terrible year for democracy it has been.
With no work to do, our MPs spent the first four months of 2015 going round the country ‘stirring up apathy’, as ex-Home Secretary Lord Whitelaw once said.
Most of us were bored to death of the General Election long before polling day yet, as predictions of the outcome grew more and more uncertain, the manic politicking of all the parties grew more intense by the day.
Finally polling day arrived. UKIP did not do as well as some people expected but still picked up 10 seats. Nigel Farage became an MP. The Lib-Dems did as badly as everyone hoped and were reduced to 14 MPs while the Greens gained three.
Most shocking of all was that the Scottish Nationalists won 45 seats, compared with just six in 2010.
After days of uncertainty, excitement in the ‘Westminster village’ and a certain detached curiosity among the rest of the country, the SNP leader Alex Salmond emerged as the power-broker.
After some bad-tempered negotiations with Ed Balls, Mr Salmond agreed the SNP would prop up a minority Labour Government.
He became Deputy Prime Minister and Ed Miliband tried to form a Government.
Labour’s leader did make it through the doors of Number Ten but his triumph didn’t last long.
Though Labour was shored up by the SNP and the three Green MPs, the new coalition was struggling from Day One.
Collapse was inevitable. And though this had been central to the SNP’s demands, Mr Miliband discovered his backbone and refused to allow Mr Salmond to hold a new in-out referendum on Scottish independence.
So the Queen – who this year became Britain’s longest-serving Monarch, beating Queen Victoria’s record – was forced to intervene. She asked new Tory leader Boris Johnson to try to form a Government.
He immediately abandoned David Cameron’s election pledge to hold an EU referendum – ‘the time is not right,’ he said – and persuaded new Lib-Dem leader Danny Alexander to form another Tory coalition.
UKIP at first refused to join but then Boris made Nigel Farage Minister for Europe so he pledged to vote in support of Mr Johnson’s Government.
The Unionist parties from Northern Ireland also signed up on condition there was more money for Ulster.
This uneasy and fragmented arrangement only lasted until the party conference season when it became clear supporters of both the Lib-Dems and UKIP were outraged by the turn of events.
Yet there was no easy way to call another General Election, thanks to ex-MP Nick Clegg’s introduction of fixed-term, five-year parliaments when he was Deputy PM.
The rules said there had to be a vote in the Commons requiring two-thirds of all MPs to support calling an election. At the first attempt, there was chaos as the Conservatives, with 251 MPs, refused to vote to dissolve Parliament.
This condemned Boris Johnson to struggling on without a majority and when MPs rejected his much-delayed Budget in November, there was a motion of no-confidence passed in the Government which, 14 days later, triggered the General Election.
Even that was controversial. Britain’s politicians went into Christmas 2015 in a state of high anxiety. The next election is due to be held on Thursday, January 7, 2016.
As a result, politicians are spending the entire festive period campaigning for votes.
Everyone who hopes to get away from all that political unpleasantness for a couple of weeks over the Christmas and New Year period has been disappointed.
Some MPs were even out knocking on people’s doors on Christmas Day itself. One Labour MP was mistaken for Father Christmas though she later denied she was as fat as all that and said her beard was actually a scarf.
As we look forward to 2016, we can at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that, while one way or another we have not had an effective Government for the whole 12 months, life carries on as normal.
Perhaps the best thing to say about 2015 is that we never really had a Government at all – and nobody noticed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie

Let’s stop fooling ourselves. The poor victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre are not martyrs to the Western belief in freedom of speech and open democracy.
They are, certainly, victims of hate and the fascist intolerance – not to mention brutal stupidity – of militant Islamists.
But for all Charlie Hebdo’s satirical stance against that religion and, as far as one can tell, against all others as well, they can’t be described as dying for the cause of Liberty.
That’s because Liberty and freedom of speech do not exist.
We pay tribute to these empty ideas and pretend they represent the cornerstone of Western democracy.
But we are wrong to place faith in such a tarnished concept.
It’s simply not true to say we enjoy freedom of speech, whether you are looking at France, Britain, the United States or anywhere else in the so-called free world.
Our freedoms are hemmed in on all sides. We are not free to say or write whatever we want.
In France, for instance, it was for decades unacceptable to reveal details of the private lives of public figures.
That’s why President Mitterrand could have a child by his mistress and nobody noticed. It’s why Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a potential President, could enjoy the kind of sex life Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi thrived on and get away with it until he tried it on with an American chambermaid.
Most British journalists know stories about the great and good which have never seen the light of day.
Some of these stories would – quite rightly – destroy careers if they ever saw the light of day. But the laws of defamation make it very difficult to ‘tell the truth’ about people in powerful positions unless you have absolute proof of their alleged wrongdoing.
Fair enough, you might say. But sometimes that much evidence isn't readily available. It explains why Jimmy Savile and other paedophiles got away with it for years – publishing rumour and gossip is dangerous. You can't get away with it. You’d be sued and bankrupted –even if you’re telling the truth.
As for attacking Islam, well, since Salman Rushdie became subject to a fatwa for his really rather dull novel ’The Satanic Verses’, our great liberal elite has shied away from conflict with Muslims.
It’s still perfectly acceptable to attack Christianity – after all, Christians are likely to turn the other cheek rather than resort to the Kalashnikov. But other faiths – not just Islam – are much less likely to come in for scrutiny let alone satire.
Self-censorship ensures we tiptoe around the Jewish faith, for instance. It is acceptable to attack Israel for its political machinations but it would be beyond the pale to comment adversely on the faith itself or some its own fundamentalist fringe.
We cannot say what we might think on a variety of subjects. Never forget, we now have ‘hate crimes’ which mean that if, for whatever reason, we genuinely and truly loathe a particular faith, race or lifestyle, it is actually illegal to say so.
It may be morally wrong even to harbour such thoughts but the law is now so sensitive to the possibility that someone might be offended that it cracks down on anyone foolish enough to step out of line by saying something controversial.
For example, until the 1960s homosexuality was illegal. Many people still remember when same-sex relationships were simply unacceptable to the vast majority of the population.
Today we have no choice but to accept and, as it were, embrace homosexuality. Personally I couldn't care less but many people still find the whole idea of gay relationships wrong.
Even though not so long ago that would have been a mainstream view, they now have to be very careful what they say. The world has changed and sometimes people are reluctant to change with it.
So what was once mainstream opinion is not simply marginalised, it becomes illegal to express. This is bizarre in a society which prides itself on its freedom.
Meanwhile the Government wants to impose State control on the media following the Leveson inquiry. If politicians had their way, nobody would be able to express any opinion without a licence from the State.
This is mainly to protect actors and comedians from revelations about their sex-and-drugs lifestyles and politicians from disclosures about their financial affairs.
Yet we pride ourselves on our freedom.
Militant Islam is certainly a monstrous enemy. We must root it out and protect ourselves from madmen. We must cherish the freedom we’ve still got and protect it as much as possible from the ultimate silencer.
That includes resisting security service attempts to limit our freedoms even further.
But terrorists have already scored some crushing victories. Few people will risk their lives for the sake of a satirical cartoon. Censorship by Kalashnikov is even more successful than censorship by law.
But the truth is that freedom of speech is dying anyway. ‘Je suis Charlie’?
Non, nous ne sommes pas Charlie.