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The Lobby – general discussion

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What’s on your mind today?

Comments

It is very encouraging to see the continued fall in number of cases. of coronavirus, number of deaths and number of people in hospital, though the backlog of other hospital treatments has been pointed out again. The BBC has updated its map showing regional cases in much more subdued colours. That alone has made the situation look better, even though the numbers did not change. Vaccination progress is meeting the target and by the time it’s finished the weather might be good enough to do it outdoors on the better days, reducing the risk.

I wonder how many people will carry on being cautious after vaccination.

I see the travel industry and someone from Heathrow are moaning that if restrictions are not eased for this summer we will possibly lose some travel companies and airlines as well as jobs. Well, in view of the part airlines and holidaymakers and other overseas travellers have played in spreading COVID that is surely better than losing even more victims to COVID?
Some do not seem to understand the seriousness of this pandemic, or am I misjudging them?

As soon as people can travel again the travel trade will bounce back. The names and the planes might be different but I don’t see why restoring foreign holidays should take priority over getting the domestic economy back on its feet. Unfortunately, job losses are everywhere and the travel industry is not a special case in my opinion. Airlines should be used to having their ups and downs and stop whining. Holidays represent discretionary expenditure so I think there is a strong case for whacking an extra tax on airlines and cruise ships for the emissions and pollution they cause. It would only touch those most able to afford it.

Had it not been for foreign travel (for leisure and work purposes) we might not have had to contend with new variants of coronavirus. Nevertheless, I’m not surprised that owners don’t want to lose their businesses or employees their jobs in the travel industry. If all companies had refunded money they had been paid there might be fewer people desperate to have their foreign holiday.

Perhaps quarantine hotels will prove a pragmatic solution to allow people to travel in a safe way. Only the government can lay down the rules and enforce them.

Yes – I see that Lastminute.com has been given a final written warning by the CMA over the non-payment of refunds: pay up within seven days or we’ll see you in court. The CMA also told them off for pushing people onto the airlines to claim their refunds for flights. If proper regulation causes some shrinkage in the package holiday trade that will be no bad thing. It is possible that shoestring operations such as Lastminute and others like them – essentially using the internet to cut costs and provide minimal customer service – will not have the liquidity to survive effective enforcement of the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018.

@VinorHill: “A.I. begins with the programmer and his/her expertise in the subject he/she wishes to convert to A.I.”

@Patrick_Taylor: … humanity would be better off if all this code is checked for sense …

A true Artificial Intelligence (AI) system, such as a neural network, does not require programming and there is no code that can be checked. It learns the difference between a cat and a bird for example, in ways that can be compared to the way a young child is taught to tell the difference:

“Look Mummy! Cat!”. “Yes! Can you see its sharp claws?”

“Look Mummy! Cat – sharp claws!”. “No, that’s a Bird. See its wings?”

“Look Mummy! Bird has wings!”. “No, that’s an airplane … (sigh!)”.

The more animals the child sees – the so-called learning sample – the more accurate it becomes. It doesn’t mean it is fool-proof and won’t ever make mistakes in future. The diversity of the learning sample will also affect the outcome. If the child has never seen an Australian animal, it may incorrectly classify a kangaroo, koala or possum as something else. Hence we say that the child (or A.I. system) is biased by what it knows and is already familiar with.

We cannot unpick a child’s brain to verify the “code” used to make these determinations is correct, so the second part of the learning process is to test the child (or A.I. system) with a subset of the learning sample that we have held back for this express purpose. Note that this subset, which is just a random sample of the original data, cannot correct any bias in the underlying data. It can only tell us how good or bad the system is at doing what it has already learnt to do.

This is what the article is about. If the learning sample is itself biased or deficient, then so is the A.I. system when it comes to making decisons for real. So I would say that the difference between A.I. and conventional computer program is: “Recognisable garbage in, same garbage out”.

Fortunately, the UK GDPR already provides some protections that avoids the needs for US-style litigation as the first port of call. It applies to all automated individual decision-making and profiling.

Article 22 of the UK GDPR has additional rules to protect individuals if you are carrying out solely automated decision-making that has legal or similarly significant effects on them.

You can only carry out this type of decision-making where the decision is:
– necessary for the entry into or performance of a contract; or
– authorised by domestic law applicable to the controller; or
– based on the individual’s explicit consent.

You must identify whether any of your processing falls under Article 22 and, if so, make sure that you:
– give individuals information about the processing;
– introduce simple ways for them to request human intervention or challenge a decision;
– carry out regular checks to make sure that your systems are working as intended.

The term “legal or similarly significant effects” would include credit scoring and job recruitment, since both of these result in a contract being offered, or not, as the case may be.

The difficulty with Article 22 as a consumer is knowing where A.I. or other automated decision making applied. If you get rejected for a credit card application in the space of 10 seconds, you are pretty safe in requesting human intervention if you thing the decision is unreasonable.

While I accept that A.I., once created, learns and develops, initially, someone has to put the circuitry together and decide how the programme interacts and adds information to its data banks. That person/team will create parameters for the programme. They may be required to moderate it at some point if it becomes a wayward offspring. Human intervention is also necessary to check that it is doing what it is designed to do and deal with complaints when it is seen to mis-diagnose. At some point, there needs to be a check that outcomes are reasonable and the product of this A.I. is what the user expects. Like humans, with the wrong information input, the wrong conclusions can be drawn.

Patrick Taylor says:
12 February 2021

Thanks Em for the explanation and Vynor Hill for the caveat. Bottom line is apparently that your port of call for complaining/querying is the company . Who no doubt employ low grade workers to assure the complainants that is has been reviewed – just as their smart script tells them.

SO we then get to the question as to whether the GDPR has teeth ? and if it has does it have an enforcement arm who actually have the will, or manpower to actually enforce anything?

Looking at the various bodies who you might imagine regulate businesses etc we have an ineffective and reduced Charity Commission, Trading Standards ditto, QQC was a a joke for decades, the NHS safe whistleblowing is another unfunny big joke.

From a consumer point of view we are being being steadily left in a worse position vis-a-vis most things as regulation becomes a sham or shambolic.

In the early days of India independence a decision was made to half low level consumer courts [with powers ] to correct the imblance between traders and a mainly rural ill-educated mass population. One could make a good case that we are now in precisely the same situation where the population as a whole has no clue as to the operation of major companies, legal mumbo-jumbo, and their systems.

In Australia given the misbehaviour of their banks they now have to appoint officers responsible for various sectors and these individuals are directly responsible for the acts and omissions by name and by prosecution. It would seem that this would be a good idea for the likes of Currys [!].

Seriously though the balance of power over the last decade between consumers, regulators , and big business is seriously out of whack.

The ripping of money from the nursing industry of the UK [ and of Canada] by loading homes with debt and then letting go bust shows that regulation needs to be much more agressive in looking for problems caused by pure capitalism making use of inadequate rule making. And the unspoken rule “too big to be allowed to fail”.

Since Ian’s expulsion, this site has languished. People are talking about vaccines, Nintendo and Barclays Bank elsewhere.
I received a Which? e. mail this morning extolling the virtues of a plant based diet. Well, perhaps there was a little fence sitting, but that was the tone of the article I was told to read. Pretty much since the dawn of time, we have been feeding from the planet on anything that moved or sprouted. Lately, ( these last few decades) people have been expressing vegetarian and vegan interests, mainly (I believe) because of animal husbandry and slaughtering worries. They have been a minority, but there are more now than there were. The rest of us seek a balanced diet and rely on the Supermarket and butcher to provide us with this. Some go out to Beefeater and Steak restaurants for a treat, Kentucky Fried does the chicken side and the chippy does the fish. Various ethnic outlets – take away and eat in – provide alternatives which have a meat base in their curries and sweet and sours. So we eat and live in a tolerant society which accepts the views of everyone and the divergence of diets as a personal choice.

Now, we are changing this and there is a moral imperative being inserted. Don’t be a vegetarian because you believe in animal welfare, do it because the planet will suffer if you don’t. Thus the milk in our tea, the chicken in our hotpot, the cheese in our macaroni are being portrayed as antisocial. I find it very sad that the habits of my lifetime and those of all my ancestors will be changed by moral decree. I am being pushed to travel less, eat a proscribed diet and shop for less things because our industrial revolution has come to a criminal halt. Unlike the Covid vaccine, there is no light at the end of this tunnel. Hair shirts all round. Is there an alternative solution? I wonder whether our offspring will welcome these restrictions in order to make the world a better place for them? Will they look at what we did in the past and see it as exploitation of their world or will they look and say “why can’t we do the same?” We must all look for new qualities to provide a worthwhile lifestyle, new things to occupy ourselves and new values to espouse. History will tell us if we have succeeded.

Ian looked in yesterday and today, so I don’t think he has been expelled. I do miss his input, and the morning humour.

I wonder how much methane wild animals produced before we drove them to extinction, or near.
I think much of this diet publicity is badly thought through. Our main problem is simply an ever growing population that, whatever we choose to eat, will eventually result in our demise. We might just delay that slightly. I have no answer to dealing with that; maybe there is just an inevitable outcome?

I go along with what you are saying, Vynor, but, to mix metaphors, my mind is wrestling with the elephant in the room which is that, collectively, our generation has expanded Earth’s population to a point well beyond natural and industrial sustainability – despite [or because of?] the existence of global structures like the UN and the World Bank. Without some serious moves to reduce the rate of population increase, whether we eat meat or palm oil are just sideshows. Husbandry and processing deficiencies are not immune to resolution so I believe the argument is really a profound philosophical one rather than a topical ethical one.

In earlier times, high birth rates were necessary to counteract the effects of epidemics, infant mortality, and the lack of effective medicine. There is no longer such justification and despite the uncomfortably high death rate from Covid-19 it has not been devastating [in statistical rather than emotional terms]. How a sophisticated and intelligent society deals with the next logical considerations in this train of thought is a sensitive and controversial difficulty and, like most, I hesitate to go there in this place at the moment.

Patrick Taylor says:
14 February 2021

There is research on happiness that indicates people can be happy without having lots of everything. Humans are after all slightly advanced animals who can be beguiled by shiny objects, speed, noise etcetc but ultimately warmth/shelter, food, sex are the basic needs.

Living simply need not be a hairshirt problem if you calibrate what makes you content then life can be enjoyable and also not excessive for the planet. If this seems wishful it is simple history that previous generations managed to be happy without the trappings of modern life. The cults of envy, need or unfairness might be seen as an artefact of an advertising industry intent of working onour lowest instincts.

I agree, Patrick. We can certainly be happy with less. However, previous generations were also happy because they did not know what we know or have what we have. There was always the expectation that the next generation would be an advance on the one presently there. This has gone and now we look to regression, materially at least. This may be a good thing for the world. I wonder if future generations will think so or regret this backward trend.
Wild animal methane was acceptable because we didn’t add to it that much. Society is now trying to curb it along with the other pollutants that we have contributed to making. I can certainly do without some of the modern fripperies, but I do enjoy a good chicken casserole and a nice piece of fish.

Maybe we should eat more fish. We catch a lot and then send it to the EU – or at least did, particularly with shellfish, until they started playing games. I would quite happily help consume any of the surplus mussels, oysters, crabs, langoustines……. I like a good seafood casserole. So perhaps this would reduce our consumption of meat produced on land.

I’m not sure about milk and cheese. Maybe we could milk pigs and horses which emit less uncontrolled methane than ruminants. The dung (d**g) could be used to enrich the land, produce clean natural gas, but then we need to think of CO2……….. Horses might be a useful alternative for local journeys, instead of electric cars……….. I’m on a flight of fancy……

I agree with you Vynor.

When I was young, every village had several farms and cows were a common sight, these days, you hardly ever see a field of cows.

The number of cows in the world goes down every year, but the number of vegans goes up. I just wish there was some honesty in highlighting all the extra land required to grow these crops, plus the extra water, pesticides and fertilizers before transportation, processing, packaging etc.

There are plenty of cattle round here. When they go out for the summer months I will be watching what I put my feet in when taking exercise near home.

It is well established that it is best to limit consumption of red meat and processed meat. Some cannot tolerate milk and other dairy products and some of them also have to avoid beef. Others don’t get on with certain plants, the worst example being severe nut allergies. Some plants are toxic unless cooked, beans being a well known example. Some seafood causes problems for others.

Patrick Taylor says:
14 February 2021

Pigs and chickens are the least damaging sources of meat and if we managed to get to the stage that pigs were allowed to eat food waste then that would be quite useful. Beef cattle are single use therefore not something to encourage.
Bearing in mind that “Roughly 65% of the world’s cattle are in India, Brazil & the United States”

Feeding cattle with animal waste is presumed to be the cause of the BSE outbreak in the 90s. Here is a government warning of another problem: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pig-keepers-warned-not-to-feed-kitchen-scraps-to-pigs-due-to-african-swine-fever-risk

I have only just discovered the reason why cows have hooves instead of feet. It’s because they lactose.

Very good, Beryl.

Apart from certain reptiles, are there any four-legged animals that have feet? And before some one points out that cats, dogs and some other four-legged friends have feet, I would say that what they have is pads.

Although evolution has resulted in some amazingly adapted creatures, it is just as remarkable for what has not evolved. Whenever I see seals on land I wonder how it comes about that they have not developed feet that are more useful than flippers; perhaps ocean mobility is the greater necessity, although they can lollop along at around 5 mph on a beach.

Perhaps 4 legged creatures do not have the same need to balance on their legs as 2 legged ones.

It is strange how some creatures have evolved quite dramatically – humans for example – while others have hardly changed, if at all, like crocodiles.

ENERGY SUPPLIERS AND PRICES
Here is a recent article about the current cheapest energy supplier deals: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/02/top-five-cheapest-energy-supplier-deals-for-february-2020/

First in the list is Avro Energy. That’s one I have heard of, but looking at the most recent accounts on the Companies House website I see that the company has made considerable losses and the auditors have expressed concern.

There have been plenty of failures of small energy companies and in each case their customers have been passed on to other companies. Sometimes it can take time for customers to recover credit balances from their account with the defunct company, as mentioned in a recent Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/energy-company-ceased-trading-refund/#comments

I suggest that Which? should check the financial status of companies that are identified as offering a good deal.

The next on the list of cheapest energy suppliers is GoTo Energy. Companies House shows this as a dormant company.

It’s interesting that GoTo is offering a variable tariff. The best deals are usually fixed tariffs.

A little humour thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. A man in his 30s was invited for vaccination because his height was recorded incorrectly as 6.2cm, from which it was calculated that he had a rather high body mass index: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-56111209

Well that’s certainly not a tall story 🙂

I blame going metric.

I also blame AI, or whatever intelligence were not used to create the software. You might think putting in acceptable limits on calculated body mass would be sensible, warning when they were exceeded.

And some are happy to rely on software to operate driverless cars?

I’m concerned about driverless cars but statistics show that the ones with drivers cause more accidents.

I doubt there are enough driverless cars and, for example, HGVs, in real traffic to give that sort of confidence.

One difference between a driverless car and one with a driver is that the former can be in an accident where the best most alert driver in the world may have no ability to determine events. I do accept that there are genuine accidents and there is poor driving in part of the population. We have seen in planes how software can cause disasters, even given the huge effort and redundancy that goes into creating expensive systems. We don’t have many driverless trains. Can we totally rely on cheaper software and control systems to keep us always out of danger? Driver assistance maybe but I think I would rather be in control.

It was a joke, Malcolm.

You must be careful with jokes, wavechange. Don’t want to lose you. 🙂

But if we all get barred from here, we could always go someplace else like Mumsnet 🙂

Clearly a case of Belittled Mistaken Identity.

Shouldn’t Mumsnet be a barred site in these days of sexual equality – as Woman’s Hour perhaps should be? To be pc, should it be Personsnet?

I thought that wearing a mask and gloves would be enough during the pandemic, but when I got to the store I was told that pants and shirt were also required 🙂

Obviously not a Co-operative store, Beryl.
I went to a convenience store but couldn’t find the toilet.
Didn’t Tesco’s have to ban people who turned up in dressing gowns?

There’s nothing pc about Mumsnet malcolm. Most of the posters would get banned from here for half the things they post.

And they are raising the next generation. 😱

In a posh convenience store you would request use of their facility Malcolm.

I think they lived next door, well almost, and were still in their PJs.

I tried their toiletries aisle without success, Beryl.

I think I am losing my mind, Beryl, as I occasionally have a very realistic dream that I turn up for work wearing just pyjamas. I feel very uncomfortable. Perhaps these Tesco customers were in a dream as well.

It isn’t many years since I would wear a jacket, shirt and tie whenever I went out. Now it has all become much more casual, and why not? But I would draw the line at a mask and gloves. You’d surely need to protect your feet with shoes.

No you didn’t dream it Malcom. http://www.news.bbc.co.uk – Tesco Ban on Shoppers in Pyjamas.

Likewise, I thought my mind was answering jokes before they even appear. My today 11.45 comment was intended to follow Wavechange’s today 01.15, which I mistook for today 13.15 and it somehow became adrift. Insomnia was one of the side effects I also suffered after the COVID-19 vaccine It lasted 2 weeks but .I have made up for it since!

Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask, “Where have I gone wrong?” Then a voice says to me, “This is going to take more than one night.” 🙂

PS: The last para is a joke!

I posted this in the wrong convo but am interested to know if anyone has tried making cheese and how they got on.

I had this bright idea of making sheep’s milk cheese but discovered it is almost impossible to buy the milk unless by mail order.

Are ewe wanting to know where to buy sheep’s milk, Alfa? I would start by asking any local sheep farmers, who might be able to advise even if they cannot help.

It wouldn’t be on male order, alfa.

Sheep Shots

There are ramifications here in the milk production cycle. Most people use goats milk because nanny knows best when it comes to cheese. I kid you not.

Must be Jacob’s sheep then?

Quite right Malcolm, I noticed that too and shouldn’t have posted on gas boilers there. Obliquely, perhaps, we were encouraging Which? to look at this problem and improve it by doing so…
More seriously, the general point with a whole lot of “planet” issues is the fact that developed countries have spent centuries building a life style based on consumerism, new inventions that don’t take account of resources needed to build and use them and scant regard to the impact of these on the natural world. “Man” was dominant and could do what he/she liked. All the regressive steps we now need to take halts this cycle with a sudden brake. We are presented with a society that has a set of lifestyle goals and a complete set of retail goods, desires to travel and the means to do this by car, plane, boat and train. All of a sudden none of these things are available without the nagging doubt that they will destroy our world. Where ever one looks, there are caveats that require an altered behaviour and in doing without that which was taken for granted. In some cases, this just requires us to stop doing things or do less of them, travel and use of fossil fuels are two major ones. In other cases we are looking at the disruption of what we do every day. Everyone now needs to have an electric life, use public transport or cycle instead of hopping in the car to go to clubs, shop and take leisure trips or see relatives.
In the past we adopted new lifestyles because they were an improvement over the ones that went before, new clever gadgets, new freedoms and new ways of doing things. Today we are asked to adopt new lifestyles that are worse than the ones we had before in terms of personal benefit if not in planetary terms. Governments have to lead the way in guiding us and encouraging these changes, possibly by reducing the availability of things like our cars and the way we drive them and making manufacturers change their products to comply with new norms. By doing this they drag a reluctant public along. This seems to have had some success with the lack of protest at city congestion charges, new road layouts, speed humps and traffic restrictions. They are flagging the banning of fossil fuel cars and talking about alternatives in the building industry. I wonder how far this strategy can go? How far the public can be pushed by what is presented to them as a fate-accompli? I don’t think many of us actually like the idea of change, despite being worried about what we are doing to the planet. I would like the politicians and the scientists to tell us exactly what we are going to have to get used to in future. I don’t think they would dare to do that even if they knew, themselves, for sure what will happen. It is this uncertainty that is unsettling as much as the changes themselves.

I believe there are plenty of easy ways to reduce our environmental impact. One of my favourites is to make use of park & ride schemes when visiting city centres. If I go to a meeting with two friends who live locally we car share rather than going in three cars. It saves fuel and avoids parking penalties. As a young driver I avoided driving into city centres to save money on parking but now there are better reasons.

With illegal levels of air pollution in cities we have two choices – we either do something about it or make them legal.

We can all do our bit to reject consumerism, the disease of the modern world. If only we had a vaccine.

I should like to see much more use of alternatives to the car and have been giving thought to this in the context of Norwich where I live. There are six park-&-ride locations around the outskirts of the city and it remains the biggest park and ride bus service in the UK, but it is struggling. The current movement restrictions are a major contributor which has seen the frequencies cut back and some services suspended, but it was suffering from poor ridership levels before that. Unfortunately, as things stand, it cannot compete with the city centre which has thousands of multi-storey and surface car parking spaces which are mostly close to the primary destinations. The County Council developed the P&R while the City Council operates many of the car parks and makes a lot of money out of them, so there is a basic conflict of interest there. Most of the car parks are commercially run, however, and currently uneconomical.

The P&R fares seem quite reasonable to me and there are various ticket options from all-day any-time to selective times and group tickets. The national concessionary travel pass gives a reduction of around fifty percent on the fare but people in that category make little use of the P&R because they prefer to drive in and park close to the shops or park near the city boundary and catch a local bus in for nothing; travelling time is not so critical for that group.

Convenience is another factor for most people coming into the city for shopping and other engagements; they want to have the car close to where they are shopping so they can drop things off and return to the shops or go for a meal without the encumbrance of lots of bags. The P&R service does not suit that desire.

Another issue is operating times. The last buses back from the city centre to the P&R are before 6:00 pm and that is too early for many people coming in from the country once or twice a month who want a full day out.

The facilities at the windswept out of town parking sites are basic to say the least and the P&R set-down points in the city are not so convenient as the central car parks for the major destinations either. Having to hang around in the cold and wet for up to twenty minutes – or more sometimes – whether on the inward or the outward journey, is not appealing.

When the P&R scheme was conceived it was assumed that it would be used to a great extent by commuters working in the city centre. Unfortunately, over the years, many of the large office blocks have been vacated by their occupying firms and converted into small flats and the number of office workers has halved. If they have survived, such companies have moved to out-of-town business parks with ample car parking and the large businesses that remain in the city centre mostly have extensive car parks of their own.

The reduction in weekday footfall in the main shopping area caused by the relocation of office workers was already having an adverse impact on the economics of the retail sector before the coronavirus epidemic struck, but that has dealt a severe body blow since Norwich had already seen the closure and boarding up of many stores and now faces the loss of several more. The shopping frontages have been reduced to a scattered collection of barely-surviving outlets over a wide area with many gaps and a lack of buzz. Country folk will make fewer shopping trips or stop coming in altogether and the P&R will experience another downturn.

Like many large towns and cities, Norwich has one central shopping centre and a number of shabby smaller parades distributed around the suburbs serving basic local needs. It was until recently in the top ten of UK shopping centres but now it is in the top twenty [which probably means it is No. 20]. With most of the major names well represented at least once on the major thoroughfares, two big indoor malls, and a full set of other facilities like banks, building societies, post offices, service providers and eating establishments, it was a good destination for the whole of Norfolk and north Suffolk but I think those days are now over for good. The leisure sector is now on the edge of complete collapse. I question whether Park-&-Ride can survive.

Norwich had a serious pollution problem in the city centre. That has eased with the fall in traffic levels and the incremental modernisation of the bus fleet. The gathering momentum of electric motoring will probably make some of the City and County Councils’ transport policies and ideas out-of-date before they hit the ground [they evolved under the government’s Transforming Cities program; it spoke too soon – it’s been transformed alright!]. Additional bus lanes, cycling priority schemes, a congestion zone, diversionary traffic routes and bypasses to take through traffic away from the centre, and car parking levies on businesses, were all there but will become unnecessary or unaffordable and the problem will be how to get people back into the city.

I expect this scenario will be reflected all round the country but at present there is no coherent strategy to change the shape and purpose of the city and it will gradually adapt itself in a haphazard way through the effluxion of time. I think we need to reset the entire environmental agenda in line with the emerging circumstances.

I very much agree about the early closure of P&R operations. I don’t know if this is simply lack of demand, in which case the problem may resolve itself, or there is a problem with disruptive people who may have drunk too much.

If I may repeat my earlier suggestion, I believe there is scope for, city centres to be redeveloped to focus on cultural and leisure activities and for larger shops to become display centres where we can inspect goods rather than carry them away. That already works well for furniture and other larger household items. The goods could then me delivered from a local warehouse or collected from an out of town depot. That might not work for clothes shops because people like to try on clothes, but in most cases it could cut down on the need to carry bags.

The past year has seen many changes that we could not have envisaged. If we are prepared to accept the need to improve air quality, different cities can explore alternative solutions and we might learn what works best. Many of our city centres have become rather run down in the past ten or twenty years and don’t have as much to offer.

The early evening closedown of the P&R services was due to lack of demand. The bus company providing the service said running four buses an hour was not economically viable and requested a reduction in frequency. The County Council considered that any longer wait between buses would put people off using them and so it was agreed that the last buses would leave the city centre at around 6:00 pm.

There are three routes all crossing the city centre connecting to one of the six P&R sites at each end of the route. They are ‘fast’ limited-stop services and they don’t make any intermediate stops after leaving the city centre. Because the sites are in rather remote locations well outside the built-up area there is not much other passenger demand. The destinations have no other functions and are not particularly pleasant places to wait when there is not much activity. For security and general management reasons the County Council did not want to have just a few cars scattered over a 5-6 acre site waiting for their owners to return and they thought that would also depress demand for later services.

I don’t think there were any concerns over possible anti-social behaviour but the question was never put to the test. Norwich has an excessively vigorous night-time economy but its clientele tends to come in on a bus or train and go home [or wherever] in a taxi early the next morning so the P&R service would be of little benefit to them.

On the face of it, Park-&-Ride seems to be an ideal solution for reducing pollution but the practicalities show how difficult it is to operate economically and beneficially given various other constraints. Finding large enough sites in the right locations that are safe and attractive to users proves to be very difficult. Ideally they should be in places which are a destination in their own right like the centre of a suburb or village. The existing model presupposes that all inbound bus passengers will arrive by car, possibly having travelled 10-20 miles; a more realistic location policy might have been more successful whereby local residents could walk or cycle to the site. A few of the Norwich sites are close to normal bus service routes but, given that the sites are at major trunk road intersections, interchange is not easy.

If people miss the last bus back to the P&R site they usually have to get a taxi to return to their car which would add £10-12 to their travel expenses.

I agree with your suggestion for redeveloping city centres to serve different purposes. I should like to see the stores currently scattered around the ring roads brought back into the main shopping area. Rent levels and business rates could be the show stopper unless major changes are made. There is currently a considerable amount of vacant floorspace available in a wide range of capacities in the centre of Norwich and many other towns, including accommodation big enough to take large furniture, carpets, DIY, or electrical appliance stores. Parking space is reasonably close in most cases but, unlike at the retail parks on the ring roads, it has to be paid for separately.

I am not sure there is the potential for much more in the way of leisure and cultural provision. The two malls in Norwich are pursuing that with mixed success – the current circumstances are not propitious – and one of the Norwich business community leaders was recently quoted as saying that there was “a limit to how many more bowling alleys and climbing walls are needed in one city”. More imagination required, methinks . . . but these are retail specialists; they are being taken outside their comfort zone.

Two major problems arise with these thoughts: (1) who, or which organisation, is going to pull all the interests together, develop a master plan involving a complete reallocation of spaces within a smaller overall footprint, and make it happen?; and (2) where is the money coming from to fund the investment given that the existing stores and malls are financially exhausted? There would be redevelopment opportunities from space released on the fringes during the contraction of the city centre but the redevelopment timescale could be medium to long term.

I have not used the (one) P&R site when visiting my nearest city, usually to visit friends. Instead I park on the outskirts, often near to where I used to live where there is never any problem parking. Then I take a bus into the city. I see car sharing and P&R as more enjoyable alternative to travelling alone, having to drive through busy traffic and paying for parking.

Vynor’s post suggests that making changes to tackle our unsustainable lifestyle are negative. I’ve no doubt that some are but perhaps it’s worth doing what we can to help. During the past year I have spoken to friends and other people who have welcomed the opportunity to work from home. If they can do their job well and want to avoid commuting it’s a step in the right direction.

A very interesting and thought provoking post John, an absorbing read and an analysis that should be seen in parallel with planetary issues. I suspect you describe the woes of many cities nationwide. People’s habits are changing and the government must work out how this will impact on their green agenda. Maybe the way of life that we once took for granted is changing bit by bit without seeming to have any driving momentum behind it. Certainly city councils have made it more difficult to visit their centres for air pollution reasons, and the on line revolution and out of town malls have also played their part. I wonder if this will come home to bite when folk get disillusioned with on line shopping and find that there is no alternative left. Not only will the government have to worry about its reformation of society, it will have to deal with vast swathes of retail real-estate that are empty and unused. The employment of workers in these industries will also be an issue. It is a complex and difficult world we live in at the moment. The government is doing most of the talking and projecting, but the “silent” population moves in mysterious ways and produces surprises of its own.

What do you see as possible ways forward, Vynor? I’m not just thinking about air quality in the cities but the whole range of environmental issues you mentioned at the start.

I’m no expert, but as I’ve said previously, we need a clear path laid before us with target dates for each action and a sensible pace for the change between what we do now and what we have to do next. Above all we need a clear understanding of what has to change and a public acceptance of the reasoning behind these decisions. Bashing the public with threats is the wrong way to go. The government is to ban fossil fuel cars by 2030. Why? – partly explained, (though it is not clear how much of this is to placate the conservation lobby and how much to save the planet.) how? not at all clear. Policies evolve for charging points and technologies evolve slowly, but it all happens without clear steps as to what should happen next year and the year after that: where we are expected to be short term as well as finally. If travel is environmentally damaging, where is the road map that tells us what we must do today, next year and subsequently? If gas boilers are fossil fuel consumers, where is the plan to change them, this year, next and subsequently? Where are the plans to tell people what alternatives there are to their environmentally damaging lifestyles? What should we be doing today as well as tomorrow? We should not be treated as pawns to shift and manoeuvre at the whim of the next government initiative, we should be part of that initiative and be treated with respect. Each area of change needs its roadmap and then we can proceed with some idea of what our immediate future will look like. The government is probably afraid that they can not convince the public to do what they want by reason -herding cats comes to mind – so they legislate instead. That way friction builds and we all get grumpy!

I believe we need to start by reducing our reliance on personal transport, but providing sensible options. Back to in-town shopping centres again, plus local shops, rather than out-of-town shopping villages that rely on car travel. Accessed by well run electric public transport. That’s how it worked when I was young. What is different now though is we also have home delivery of online purchases, including food, to avoid many individual shopping journeys.

Commuting is another waste of time and a major source of pollution. Hopefully the pandemic will have shown that many people can work from home, at least part of the time. But, we should also encourage work to be moved out of congested areas and more dispersed across the whole country, and nearer the places where current commuters choose to live whether for the environment or property prices. Much less travel required with walking, cycling, public transport.

The school run seems to clog roads and pamper children, although partly exacerbated by centralising primary schools. I walked to my first school but had a longish bus ride to the grammar. Why have we lost the ability to do that? Discouraging car journeys – lack of parking? – for parents and teachers would need attractive public transport and school buses. Designed for the public, not the authorities. John’s description of lack of demand for park and ride in Norwich after 6pm may be addressed if town centres are better developed to attract people out of working hours and provide more appealing and secure environments, plus limiting the ability to drive into town.

We need to make alternatives attractive, not set out to simply penalise, so a real choice exists. It seems clear we cannot support personal transport in its present form, both on pollution and congestion grounds, and reliance on it disadvantages the many who do not have the means to run a car.

Providing sufficient electricity generation to fuel all the electric cars at current mileages, if nothing changes, seems unachievable, alongside the loss of natural gas for heating and cooking; this would seem to demand a gradual move to a more realistic future. But how do we achieve this with short term administrations? Well, they have managed to promote and fund HS2 (probably now even more of a white elephant) and Crossrail at huge cost, so maybe there exists the means to think about the need for and the type of transport we need in the future, devolving the policy to local administrations. And politically attractive if we really do care about our environment.

Thanks Vynor. I agree on the need to engage with the public and explain the needs and priorities for change. I believe there are opportunities to experiment with different approaches and find out what works best for us, for example in dealing with traffic pollution in cities. Although I am generally supportive of measures to tackle environmental problems and follow developments with interest, I don’t understand how we can produce enough electricity to power our cars and replace gas in the proposed timescales. The government has not explained. Being able to carry on using our cars and gas boilers until they require replacement will reduce the pressure.

I had been planning to switch to an electric car next year when mine is ten years old, and Ian’s Conversation helped encourage me to do some investigation. Prices don’t seem to have fallen as had been predicted. I guess I will keep my diesel car for longer than I had planned to and wait until electric cars have improved and might be more affordable. Diesel engines have been targeted, but they are significantly more efficient than petrol ones and there is, I believe, scope to develop high temperature catalytic converters to deal with particulates. Modern diesel vehicles are already equipped to remove nitrogen dioxide from exhaust emissions.

The government might be reluctant to publish a roadmap in case deadlines are not met for reasons that may not be within its control. It took far too long to roll out virus testing so the vaccination programme was not ambitious and not surprisingly the targets have been met.

I am encouraged by combined action of governments to coordinate research, development and testing of vaccines, and to communicate information in a way that ordinary people can understand.

I don’t know how the public can be given facts and considered scientific opinion without commercial bias.

Malcolm – I very much agree about the need for incentives, both to make change easier to cope with and possibly make the alternatives more attractive.

I am not convinced that many people are prepared to give up their cars yet or that everyone will be happy to shop online, so out of town shopping centres will continue to be needed for some time yet.

Hopefully we will see more people taking holidays in the UK in future.

”It took far too long to roll out virus testing so the vaccination programme was not ambitious……. ”. I must have misunderstood either this comment, or what I have been led to believe. Given the new virus was first seen around 14 months ago, I thought the development of new potential vaccines and very compressed trial programmes, normally taking years and not months, plus mass production was extremely successful. This led to the UK in particular starting mass vaccination on a scale that beats most other countries, something to be applauded.

But maybe I have misunderstood?

Malcolm, I agree that the UK roll out of vaccination has been excellent.

So, too, has been the health car provided by NHS and all the very hard work that schools and universities have put in to mitigate the crisis.

I am less impressed by the efforts of our Government and their cronies, not least those responsible for test and trace and for the wastage of money on substandard ppe.

Along the way, the UK suffered a high death rate, when compared to a lot of its peers. It is hard to pin down all the causes for this. I don’t think it can be attributed to any single factor.

Malcolm – By ‘virus testing’ I am referring to a term that has been in widespread use, so yes you have misunderstood. The government has acknowledged that testing was inadequate and that the first peak of cases was a considerable underestimate.

Here and elsewhere I have commented about the success of the research, development and testing of the new vaccines.

Derek, I agree about the apparent failure of test and trace, partly attributed to not involving local authority public health officials in the implementation. The spread was also down to an unwillingness, perhaps, to go into proper lockdown in the hope we could keep the country largely functioning, and a decision not to close our borders. We can blame individual officials for this – some like to pillory people – but these individuals do not normally act alone; they have a large force of colleagues to research and advise. I also blame a part of the population who either did not comprehend the serious nature of the epidemic, were not reached by the publicity, or simply chose to ignore the precautions we were all asked to take..

We can always blame the government but it is hard to see how, in a free country, we can ensure its will is carried out. Perhaps we should have followed China’s strategy – but is that a type of regime we would favour?

Meanwhile, back to the acceptability of proposed developments for environmental reasons. Perhaps it’s worth looking back at some changes that were controversial at the time but are now seen as beneficial changes.

One example was the reduction and then removal of lead from petrol because of its effect on the health of those living in urban areas and alongside busy motorways and other roads. Removal of lead made if possible to introduce the three way catalytic converter, which has made further reduction in pollution from cars. There was considerable opposition to removal of lead because of concerns about damage to engines, especially vintage ones. Thanks to lead replacement petrol and additives these problems were overcome and we can all enjoy cleaner air. For balance, catalytic converters are expensive and they are sometimes stolen.

Wavechange, thanks. I see now you meant to say “testing people for the virus”.

Much was said, if I remember correctly, about the efficacy or otherwise of testing methods, especially at the beginning. Precautions at the beginning did seem very stringent – I remember coaches with socially -distanced and protected occupants being taken to isolation venues.

It would be interesting to have an expert resume of the role of testing. I imagine that will come out in an inevitable, long winded, public enquiry. However, my view is we look ahead to how we can protect against a recurrence of this virus in one of its many forms. It, hopefully, will also make us look even harder at how to improve the NHS so that dealing with extraordinary events does not cause collateral damage.

When we say how heroic the NHS staff have been – with which I agree in principle, although I would substitute “dedicated” for heroic – and how resilient and adaptive most of the population has proven to be, I am reminded of just how professionals and civilians alike suffered death and deprivation for far longer in WW2. When the chips are down we are a remarkably resourceful and resilient country.

I think you should have a word with the BBC, Malcolm. We would not want the people of our fine country to be confused by the meaning of a term they have been using on their website for many months.

I get fed up with the constant carping about the UK’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. I have yet to come across a crisis or catastrophe where [relative to the scale of the disaster] big blunders have not been made. There is no doubt the country was poorly prepared for the onslaught of the virus and that catch-up was therefore expensive and in some matters wasteful, but in other areas we have excelled in no time from a standing start. We can all look back and say we should have done this or should have tried that, but the whole world was learning and, to a considerable degree, in a panic. Statistics have not always been reliable nor comparable [China – with the world’s biggest population – has only notified 4,833 deaths!].

Yes, the government got some things wrong, the people got some things wrong, politicians of all flavours got a lot wrong, the scientists didn’t get everything right, and the media just went berserk.

Somebody thought that if the UK death rate exceeded 20,000 it would be a national calamity – it is now over 120,000 [to which can be added those who have died because their care and treatment was side-lined to make way for covid cases]. It is through the dedication and resourcefulness of many different people that it is not much, much higher than that.

It really is remarkable that, in the space of a few weeks, a prodigious amount and type of PPE for the NHS was supplied and delivered [the consumption rate shot up from the normal levels], that special emergency hospitals were set up and equipped [all those beds and the necessary apparatus were not sitting in a warehouse somewhere], that a workable test and trace system was set up [albeit imperfectly], and that an efficacious vaccine was developed and produced in double quick time.

Over seventeen million UK people have now been vaccinated, which means UK industry has turned out 17m+ one-shot hypodermic syringes, 17m+ one-dose phials, all the paraphernalia that goes with a mass vaccination operation including an impressive computer database and operating methodology. OK, a lot of the progress has been trial and error – but what would people have preferred? That we mark time while we went through a research programme and carried out various tests and experiments first, designed new furniture, apparatus, equipment and other resources from scratch, undertook a textbook procurement exercise for every item on the inventory, sat down with a white board and had a long think about the appropriate form of logistical operations? Let’s not forget, we had no well-rehearsed plan for an epidemic of this scale and intensity. In the space of a little over a year we have [I hope] got the virus under control and reduced its impact substantially where it does occur. Every day lives are lost, but many more are saved.

This hasn’t all happened by accident, or because we are a relatively wealthy nation, or because we are blessed with infinite resources and personnel. We know the reason – I don’t need to get triumphalist about it because we are not yet out of the woods even though we can see the light at the end of the tunnel [to borrow metaphors frequently recited on the BBC and in other media].

My greatest sense of sadness is that because of political failings over the last two decades we completely messed up the provision of adult social care and left it in the hands of under-funded local authorities and care home operators of dubious competence under an inadequate supervisory regime. The other deep tragedy is the number of NHS workers who have made the ultimate sacrifice while treating and caring for people in their homes and in the hospitals.

Really, have we done badly? . . . Or didn’t we do well? History will have to be the judge.

I am in favour of a public inquiry so long as it is based on learning lessons rather than casting blame.

I read today that fraudsters are pinching small cash amounts from many people instead of stealing large quantities from a few of us. They hope to get away with the odd £10 where there is less chance that it will be investigated or reported. If this the case and there is mass targeting going on, it may make us less willing to use on line shopping channels and internet finance. Sadly, there will be no high street to return to.

Does this include all those too-good-to-be-true sales on Fakebook?

A recent recorded message scammer gave me a phone number in Germany to call if I wanted the calls to stop. No doubt there was a financial incentive somewhere. When I looked up the number, people were calling it with no joy in ending the calls.

I can’t remember any offhand, but I have seen quite a few small amount scams that would probably never get reported or a reimbursement requested.

There have for a long tme been worrying reports of police without the resources to investigate all crimes. So the value of the crime and the chances of a conviction are weighed against the effort required. Understandable but not an acceptable way to protect society, if it is true. However, the only answer is to better learn to fend for ourselves and not assume we can always rely on others to protect us.

I have often wondered how I could get the adult population to each send me 10p. That could net £4 million. I guess many just shrug off a loss of £10 as down to experience and not worth the effort of pursuit.

Another worry is the attitude that the insurance will pay out. I am aware of a family who had 3 cars stolen off their drive in the middle of one night, one with a tracker which is how the theft was quickly realised. There was little evidence of the police doing more than a cursory search – essentially at the place the tracker last gave a location. All insurers quickly paid out, to their credit, and upon renewal we will all be contributing to a loss totalling nearly £100 000. Meanwhile the professionals who carry out these thefts seem to be allowed to carry on their trade. I hope I am wrong and that efforts are being made to disrupt their activities. If I hear more I will report back.

Here is an article that is relevant to theft of small amounts of money: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/beatthescammers/article-7952411/Half-people-wouldnt-spot-small-frauds-bank-statements.html

I have always looked for unexpected transactions. I would spot an unfamiliar transaction but might be caught out if a supermarket or filling station had overcharged me by a small amount. I am being careful with online grocery orders because I have seen a couple of mistakes thanks to substitutions and products not being available but they have been rectified promptly.

I’m surprised how many people don’t ask for or don’t take a receipt for contactless purchases.

” There seems to be resistance in Europe, particularly Germany, to having the AstraZeneca jab. ”

NIH syndrome. Not Invented Here. Had it come from a German lab it would be the best thing since sliced bratwurst and criticism would not be tolerated.

There seems to be resistance in Europe, particularly Germany, to having the AstraZeneca jab. This partly seems to stem from the EC negative attitude to it and the row they caused over their supplies.
And Germany is refusing to give it to the over 65s.

I was under the impression that in the UK the efficacy of the AZ vaccine was good. Is there a problem?

There are also reports of numbers in Europe having a reaction to the jab that causes them to have a sick day. I have not heard of this happening here. Is there any data?

The EU is well behind the UK in administering vaccines. Denigrating the AZ vaccine, unless on good grounds, is shooting themselves in the foot. As our restrictions are relaxed will we still control travel to countries that have not vaccinated the majority of their population, unless we have established that the vaccines we use do prevent the recipients from acting as a virus carrier if they contact infected people?

Compared with Germany and most of the rest of the EU we have not exactly faired well with coronavirus fatalities so there has been an incentive to get on with vaccination in the UK. I presume that Germany will choose to use its favoured vaccines.

If only we could persuade everyone to stay in their home country until the pandemic is over.

There are 18 european countries with substantial deaths – between 0.1 and 0.2%. 35 worldwide. There may be good reasons for the spread – ethnic groups, large households, international hubs, avoidance of precautions, family economic situations. I doubt the answer is straightforward.

I’d prefer to look at the positives. the UK work on vaccines and our ability to identify variants, the extraordinary roll out of vaccinations made possible bu placing huge orders with all the manufacturers. This seems to be preceding an earlier removal of restrictions than originally anticipated, albeit with a responsibly cautious monitoring approach.

I wonder where the EU will be on mid-Summer’s day? I hope further on than would seem likely.

I presume we will get data that shows whether or not any or all of the vaccines also prevent us being carriers. If they do prevent transmission that will allow international travel to resume in some way. Let us hope we also prevent the admission of people who have not been vaccinated unless they are shown not to be infected.

Another of the achievements has been the way that countries have worked together and shared information. I look forward to young people and perhaps children being offered vaccination, not least because a lot of time at school has been missed in the past year.

Indeed, on the whole. Apart from a few shenanigans the world has come together behind a world pandemic.

At the moment there have, I understand, been no trials on children and the vaccines are not approved for use on them. While they have a very low chance of contracting a serious infection they may still act as carriers.

I despair at some of the questions asked by reporters at the press conferences. I also wonder whether some of the business owners interviewed understand that the virus kills when they seem more concerned about money. Not that they don’t have my sympathy but I do think they should consider what they say and how it comes across. A casino owner tonight was a case in point. One of the least essential businesses that deserves our help, I would suggest.

The death rates per hundred thousand of the population of some random European countries are as follows –

France, 124.72
Italy, 158.39
Germany, 81.93
Ireland, 85.22
Netherlands, 89.03
Poland, 111.04
Spain, 143.61
Sweden, 124.21
UK, 181.70

As well as the factors Malcolm listed as being relevant to the spread of the infection I would add general population density and multicultural diversity and distribution.

An interesting statistic would be the survival rate for all hospital admissions per country.

It is widely accepted that the general state of personal health in this country is not good so any deadly virus will have a serious impact because we are an easy target. We need to develop a preventive health care system instead of a reactive one.

Patrick Taylor says:
24 February 2021

The AZ vaccine has a problem with variants with very much diminished efficacy against the South African variant. AZ are working on a new vaccine and had even considered mixing the first Russian vaccine into the process.

As fatalities tend to be in the higher age group the non-use of AZ seems a very pragmatic decision.

There are a couple of YouTube channels, one by a UK doctor, and one by a Canadian Pharmacist which discuss the various treatments that have been revealed if not fully tested. Gargling! with mouth wash, colcochine for reducing inflammation, and of course Vitamin D to fortify the body.
They also discuss any news and research coming out statistically and explain the relevance.

If you really like to see what is happening phys.org reports 5 nights a week on all manner of research and has a section for Covid research. Last year I recorded on one night 78 articles under that heading – normally now it is 20 to 30. : )

” As fatalities tend to be in the higher age group the non-use of AZ seems a very pragmatic decision. ”

Providing another vaccine is used in it’s stead. Otherwise it’s better than no vaccine at all.

I must admit to preferring the data from those who are intimately involved in the field, rather than an unidentified UK doctor and a Canadian Pharmacist.

I’m confused by “As fatalities tend to be in the higher age group the non-use of AZ seems a very pragmatic decision.“.

I don’t know how the Pfizer and AZ vaccines compare in practice, but the indications seem to be that vaccination is producing very encouraging results. Is that all down to Pfizer?

A couple of quotes, from the DT and the Science Media Centre:

“According to new results, a single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine prevents two-thirds of Covid transmissions, raising hopes for the easing of restrictions by Easter.
The data, released on Feb 2, also revealed that the first jab prevents 100 per cent of hospitalisations after 22 days once an immune response has had time to develop.
The study found a single dose was 76 per cent effective in fending off infection between 22 days and 90 days post-injection, rising to 82.4 per cent after a second dose at that stage.
……………..
Many experts have pointed out that the study on the South African variant was small. While it looked into whether the vaccine prevents mild and moderate disease in a group of mostly young people, it did not look at whether the vaccine prevents severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths.
However, a tweaked Oxford vaccine which can cope with the new coronavirus variants circulating in Britain will be trialled in the coming months before being rolled out in the the autumn, scientists have said.”

“A University of Oxford spokesperson said:
“There is no basis for the claims of very low efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which have been circulating in the media. The results of the clinical trials have already been published transparently in 5 peer-reviewed scientific publications showing similar immune responses in younger and older adults and a good safety profile, and high efficacy in younger adults. Furthermore, the preliminary efficacy data in older adults supports the importance of this vaccine for use in this population.”

The two vaccines are different in how they operate, so it’s not useful to assume that what applies to one will apply to the other. Variants of the virus is are in circulations and modifications of the vaccines will be needed as new variants arise. This was expected and has been planned for.

I was Pfizered but didn’t get to find out why. They were too busy dishing it out to chat. I haven’t heard of any major abreaction to the AZ version in the UK and it would certainly have been headline news by now if there had been such problem. I don’t think that the EU are going to explain their reasoning to us but I also don’t think that it is politically motivated. They don’t seem to have a coordinated EU approach to vaccinations and various parts of the EU are adopting different strategies with some disarray it seems.
I hope we protect our borders until they are safe and according to the BBC I am one of 78?% who think that we should do this. If we can sort our own island out and begin to make it work again, that will be good enough for me, especially if we can be philanthropic in the distribution of vaccines to those countries who need it most. I don’t see foreign travel as being an option this year except for freight.

I thought that quarantine hotels might be the best compromise but not if it applies only to this returning from the worst affected countries.

Oxford virus here, AZ sounds too commercial. I’m hoping we all get the second dose of the vaccine, if only because the UK has ordered far more doses than needed.

Oops. I meant Oxford vaccine. 🙂

Recent Customer Service

We hear so many complaints about companies here on Which?, I thought I would share some of our better recent experiences.

A couple of months ago, I contacted a company to complain about their product who thanked me for bringing the matter to their attention and offered to send me some vouchers as a gesture of goodwill if I sent them my address. As I would be unable to use them, I didn’t bother replying. Yesterday, I got an email to ask for my address again as they would still like to send me vouchers. (Premier Foods)

A mobile phone case didn’t shut properly because the magnet was in the wrong place and not noticed until 6 weeks after purchase when used for the first time. A polite email and a replacement was sent by return post.

A van got bogged down on our lawn a few months ago. We received a letter from solicitors offering to send a team to repair it and we might be eligible for compensation. We thanked them and replied we had done most of the repairs but if they would like to send us a roll of turf to complete the repairs, it would be appreciated. We are still waiting. (Sainsbury’s)

Two sacks of peanuts (25kg) for the wildlife were not up to their usual standard. A photo was sent to the company and the next day a replacement turned up free of charge.

I have not named the small companies in case they get taken advantage of.

But it is not all bad out there.

I have been avoiding shopping since last March and have been dependent on online supermarket orders. When I have had any problems with Morrisons and Tesco their customer services have been easy to contact and problems resolved promptly. Waitrose was unhelpful by expecting customers to go into the store when arriving to collect an order but after some of us complained, collection points and a phone number were provided – and now Waitrose have an extra customer. It’s not all bad out there.

After receiving my monthly online energy statement from Ovo, I was a little surprised to find a small debit balance and was advised to increase the monthly payment to prevent having to pay them a large sum later in the year.

Having considered January as probably the most expensive month of the year, also the recent below average freezing temperatures, I went straight into my account which supported a large credit balance. My monthly online payments are debited from my bank account the day after submitting my meter readings which were more than enough to cover the small deficit plus my next months usage.

I anticipate my energy usage will decrease considerably during the coming months when my credit balance will build up during the summer months, and so I will not immediately be persuaded to increase my monthly payments in line with their demands, preferring to top up if and when necessary.

Ovo were fined a hefty sum recently for irregularities in their standard charges which prompted me to double check my dealings with them, in light of their recent SSE acquisition.

PS: Highlight of the day. I have just been watching a blackbird having a bath in the bird pond. It’s not all bad out there!

Here is information about the fine mentioned by Beryl: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/ovo-energy-fine-overcharging-customers-ofgem-a9307856.html

At present, Ovo are allowing me to manage my monthly payments and since I have smart meters they know exactly how much gas and electricity I use each day. After being at home throughout the winter months my debit is £55.02 but with the warmer weather this should be cleared soon.

Ovo is the only energy company I have been happy with since privatisation but now that Ovo and SSE are one large company I wonder what will happen in future.

Patrick Taylor says:
24 February 2021

bbc.com/news/business-56130187
Seems like a nice company ….

” I realised she was right, and I remember I gave her a hug. ”

Sexual harassment right away.

Mind you in most American companies she’d have been fired on the spot.

Uber went down this route because it grew too quickly and had major problems with racism, sexism, bullying etc because there were no mechanisms in place to deal with it.

Thanks for the link Wavechange. Ovo, now the second biggest energy supplier, have cut 2,600 jobs since its SSE merger:
http://www.theguardian.com-Ovo to cut 2,600 jobs after SSE merger

I think we need to be vigilant, I am not in favour of over indulgent large monopolies who engage in surreptitious business practices.

Patrick, Octopus Energy currently seem to advertise quite a lot on TV which includes 4 Which? recommendations, no doubt to their advantage also, which causes me to wonder why? Companies who are experiencing problems tend to make a last ditch approach through over advertising before going under.

1% of the general population meets the clinical criteria for psychopathy. In the business world, figures around 3-4% have been cited for more senior positions in business.

http://www.theguardian.com – Crazy at the wheel – Psychopathic CEOs are rife in Silicon Valley

Thanks for your link too. Although I have not seen any changes with Ovo, possibly because I’m managing my own account online, I was aware they were having problems, have been fined and their Which? rating has fallen. It’s a hard time for business. I appreciate you are not on smart meters but you may be able to adjust your direct debit and to make a one-off payment to clear a debt by visiting their website.

I have noticed that Octopus is also advertising heavily on YouTube. Their last accounts showed that they are running at a loss. It’s a pity because I know some customers who are happy with Octopus and it has been a Which? favourite.

A lack of competition is not a good thing but the energy market has demonstrated that too much competition can can have adverse effects for consumers. My view is that for efficient and economical supply and management of energy services we probably need around ten to twelve equally sized companies. It is no longer necessary for them to be regionalised so they could all cover the whole of Great Britain [Northern Ireland might need to remain a separate case].

The position of the smaller companies has been too volatile and they have had difficulties in securing forward supplies economically. They also tend to be favoured by customers likely to undertake switching whenever the balance of advantage changes so they are particularly vulnerable to flights of customers leaving for a competitor.

The smaller companies do not have the baseload of large-scale government and commercial energy supply contracts which puts them at a disadvantage when negotiating for supplies. Companies that depend almost entirely on the domestic market really have to run to stand still and that is sometimes a stretch too far. It would be a shame if Octopus faltered because I thought they had a good business model and served consumers well with an easy and transparent billing and customer service operation.

It is interesting that SSE decided to exit the domestic energy market and transfer that business to Ovo, which, so far as I am aware, is not an electricity generator or a gas importer which could have higher cost implications for consumers.

I don’t think local authorities should ever have been allowed to set up their own energy companies, but, in the case of Nottingham, was that considered a spin-off from running an extensive electric tramway system, or just an example of a local council getting above itself?