The UK’s Cycling Scandal and the Chronic inertia in High Places – continued

 

Where to look

THE PROBLEM IS IN LONDON.

Newcastle simply did what they were paid to do; but they did it with relish and abandonment. Hence my criticism of their maladministration that the Local Government Ombudsman said did not exist, with Bindmans LLP saying that my 100+ page dossier detailing it was of no arguable substance for judicial review and “bound to fail.”

The problem is that UK Governments have no reverse gear when all the evidence suggests that new urban cycle lanes on narrow, already congested highly polluted roads is madness; the entire focus should now be planning the arrival of the new generation of autonomous electric vehicles with charging points and parking places freeing town and city centres from pollution in just three or four years time.

 Why must the dead hand of the past control the present and the future?

 There is a convention that once a Minister makes a policy statement it must happen. A Manifesto pledge is given and, if from the Government, it too must happen. An Act of Parliament is a direction to the Executive to deliver it. A new sacrosanct Human Right is created, and it must be respected even if other rights conflict with it.

But what if it is ill prepared – very ill advised – extremely naïve – or just plain stupid? What if it has been hijacked by handful of political zealots or a lobby?

 No criticism is allowed. It is too late. No damage limitation. It is an admission of weakness and official fallibility. Checks and balances are permanently out of order. They are a nuisance. Complaints are dangerous. Ombudsmen” useful safety valve. No post mortems. Protect backs, and save faces – hundreds of them. Media focuses on Rip Off Britain in Private Sector never in the Public sector. Public Sector is good – Private Sector and its profit motive bad, but the Left’s ideological denial of the State’s gross abuse of power far, far greater than any abuse by private enterprise, is mind-blowing in its sublime ineptitude.

So, protect the reputation of British Civil Service as the best in the world – it may or may not be – but meanwhile, we must all suffer the consequences for ever from its uncorrected cock-ups, and throw away taxpayers money as though it grew on rhododendron trees.

THIS PROBLEM URGENTLY NEEDS A SOLUTION

In my retirement I see this with 360-degree vision. I quote T S Eliot in Four Quartets, Little Gidding 1942 that I preface the Prologue to my book Death of a Nightingale

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

This is me.

I have witnessed two acts of political lunacy at very close quarters, not just one – one the act of the Newcastle City Council, the other the act of the Sunderland City Authority; but both enthusiastically pursuing policies driven from London. They made me think as never before.

It has gives me some satisfaction to have helped local residents and traders in Gosforth Newcastle persuade the City Council drop their plan to put cycle lanes and red lines on Gosforth High Street for non-existent cyclists, narrowing and further congesting a main arterial road and putting at health & safety risk any cyclists who would have used the cycle lane and inhaled toxic diesel fumes from ever slower moving traffic. They would seem to have done so.

It has given me even more satisfaction to have helped in Sunderland the parents of Barbara Priestman School for physically disabled children in their successful campaign to keep their school open when nationally the policy was to close it,

I did not need to do any of this. I shall explain at the end the gruesome reason why I did so and why I write what follows. I flag up a chronic malaise where a relatively small number of people cock things up permanently for the rest of us.

 With cycling, it is a Chicken and Egg situation. Nick Clegg, then LibDems Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Government, is the Chicken, and Sustrans, the National Cycling Charity and Cycling Lobby, the Egg. It doesn’t matter which came first.

Nick Clegg as Deputy PM, publicly announced Government policy to double the number of cyclists on UK’s roads by 2020. Maybe he wanted to reconnect LibDems with the student vote he had lost with his broken pledge on student loans. Meanwhile Sustrans had as its vision that one driver in five would give up his or her car for a cycle for all short journeys if there were cycle lanes to cycle on. A toxic mix if ever there was one. Sustrans, with its Vision Zero, totally ignores the increase in accidents to cyclists of over 60% in recent years in Bristol, Britain’s First Cycling City and their own home base. Egocentrity OTT.

In the Prologue to Death of a Nightingale, having spent three years working professionally for the Liberal Party in Victoria Street in London, I wrote: “I shared with him my view as to the Achilles Heel of the Liberal – naïveté.” Here was another prime example. No health & safety examination. No joined up thinking with urban pollution and the VW scandal. No market research or test marketing so far as I can see. Just a simple assumption that what works in Copenhagen and Amsterdam would work in UK’s narrow winding urban and rural roads. Save the planet. Combat obesity. Just the simplistic Liberal DIY quick-fix approach to complex problems.

And with Sustrans no 360 degree vision, more like 10 degree vision – not in their line of sight an aging population, the lifestyles of people very different from their own and the coming of the autonomous electric cars. All of this as far from their little minds as Robinson Crusoe on his desert island was from the real world.

The same is true, I suspect, of the upper echelons of the Civil Service, I guess ex public school, ex Oxbridge, ex real world, relatively young, starry eyed and, in London, probably can be seen riding bicycles to work. Book-wise yes. Street-wise I suspect almost totally lacking.

Thus the Department of Transport endorsed all this and now do their best to implement it with the Treasury opening its coffers. Over a billion pounds made available to Sustrans and others directly and indirectly via local authorities bidding for it.

The following is sheer bureaucratic folly and I quote it in its entirety. Note the carefully detailed costings.

They actually boast a plan for 2040! Five Year Plans were bad enough for those who can remember Stalin’s 5 Year Plans in Russia and George Brown’s here in the UK.

 The government has published its £1.2 billion long-term plan to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys.

The government wants cycling and walking to become the norm by 2040 and will target funding at innovative ways to encourage people onto a bike or to use their own two feet for shorter journeys.

Plans include specific objectives to double cycling, reduce cycling accidents and increase the proportion of 5 to 10 year-olds walking to school to 55% by 2025.

The £1.2 billion is allocated as follows:

£50 million to provide cycling proficiency training for further 1.3 million children

£101 million to improve cycling infrastructure and expand cycle routes between the city centres, local communities, and key employment and retail sites

£85 million to make improvements to 200 sections of roads for cyclists

£80 million for safety and awareness training for cyclists, extra secure cycle storage, bike repair, maintenance courses and road safety measures

£389.5 million for councils to invest in walking and cycling schemes

£476.4 million from local growth funding to support walking and cycling

In addition, the government is investing an extra:

£5 million on improving cycle facilities at railway stations

£1 million on Living Streets’ outreach programmes to encourage children to walk to school

£1 million on Cycling UK’s ‘Big Bike Revival’ scheme which provides free bike maintenance and cycling classes

 

And for an illustration of built-in chronic inertia it would be difficult to beat this:

 “Under the Infrastructure Act 2015 , the government is required to set a ‘Cycling and walking investment strategy’ for England. This is the first of a series of shorter term, 5 year strategies to support the long-term ambition to make walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys by 2040.”

 

The insanity is entrenched. It will need another Act of Parliament to undo the damage.

Meanwhile what they should be doing is planning charging points and parking places for electric autonomous cars, pollution free, due to arrive in the 2020’s in ever increasing numbers.

 AND NO REVERSE GEAR HERE TOO

 With Special Educational Needs, few know that the start was a little amendment put in Labour’s 1976 Education Act in a forty minute debate in the House of Lords. This way a small clique of egocentric zealots determined the line of travel for special educational needs provision in the Warnock Report two years later with its harmful legacy to this day.

One size was to fit all. No account of human fallibility – kids and their teachers. Continuing classroom disorder and likelihood of bullying ignored. The cost of extra help for mainstream – Non Teaching Assistants up from about 50,000 to over 265,000, partly for this, not anticipated. Rights of children with special needs created. Rights of children without special needs ignored.

 For my sins I take Times Ed waiting for the light to dawn. It never does.

Equalise, Equalise Equalise – Homogenise. Homogenise. Homogenise.

I have written about this at length.

 AND AGAIN NO REVERSE GEAR.

If Britain is to go it alone after Brexit, it needs to be fit to travel. Currently it isn’t.

SOME SUGGESTIONS

 Helena Kennedy QC is a Human Rights lawyer and Labour Peer. She chaired the Power Inquiry in 2004 to investigate the decline in popular participation and involvement in formal politics, and in its report in 2006 made 30 recommendations.

 I don’t know what has happened to them since – I suspect not much even though Labour was in power at the time – but, as I continue with this post, I am going to make some suggestions to deal with the problem I have outlined, I am going to challenge her to endorse them. I hope you will help me gain her active support for them in the Lords.

 

 


A Trailer – Cycling Scandal – Human Folly and Institutionalised Inertia – why we’re locked in for ever.

Why must we pay for the after-effects of policy cock-ups ….. for ever? Suppressing legitimate complaints is just a part of the ratchet of inertia.

If you know the NE England you will know Penshaw Monument, built in 1844, a small Doric temple visible for miles around, and a Folly. Google it! This Folly doesn’t inconvenience anyone.

 Visit John Dobson Street in Newcastle today and you will see an £18m Folly – a new segregated cycle lane where you will more likely see skateboarders than cyclists – and this inconveniences everyone traveling by car, bus, van or lorry in the heart of Newcastle.

Like Penshaw Monument it will be there in 2044 and beyond

 This is the legacy bequeathed to future generations by a small highly egocentric cycling lobby that believes that what makes sense for them should make sense for everyone else.

I may have helped to head off a similar folly in the heart of Gosforth Newcastle – the City Council appears to have dropped its insane idea of cycle lanes and red lines there. The national folly remains.

 I shall explore how it comes about that once the State starts to construct a folly it is well nigh impossible to stop it. I will give you two quite different examples, polluted urban cycle lanes and the closing of over 100 special schools, some very good ones. There another group of highly egocentric political activists high-jacked the State. Know the problem, find the solution.

TO BE CONTINUED Meanwhile read the last two posts on the Cycling Scandal

The CYCLING SCANDAL – PERSONAL INTEGRITY IS NO MORE, INSTEAD SOLIDARITY WITH YOUR MATES OR JUST DOING YOUR JOB

This is the stuff of autocracy and the institutionalized cover-up.

 

A good friend of mine calls me a Bedlington terrier. I gnaw at a bone when there is meat on it.

And there is meat on this one if you read my last post.

 

Newcastle’s plan for cycle lanes for non-existent cyclist, narrowing an already narrow road and congesting it still further with a hidden agenda that one driver in five should give up their car for a bicycle for all local journeys is crazy. Trying to implement it reeked of maladministration,

The Local Government Ombudsman didn’t want to criticise anything.

 

I gnaw at this bone, but no-one wants to know, and my legitimate complaint is suppressed.

 

Assistant Local Government Ombudsmen back up their colleague Kim Burns, Bindmans lawyers close ranks to say I have no arguable case for judicial review and it would be bound to fail. When it came to the crunch an Investigator and one of the 17 Legal Ombudsmen in 10 days over Christmas and Boxing Day chickened out of asserting that Bindmans should heed the decision of their colleague and reply to my criticism of their Advice.

 

Meanwhile the Local Government Ombudsman, the Legal Ombudsman and her CEO had highly paid leave of absence. And other partners in Bindmans remain silent.

 

What this means is that solidarity with your mates or just doing your job preempts personal integrity.

 

See the danger. The train driver transporting Jews and others to Auschwitz says that he is just a train driver; mind you, in his case if he refused to do his job he and his family would have ended up in Auschwitz. No such excuse for the apparatchiks in the offices of the Local Government and Legal Ombudsman who sit and their computer terminals and do the job they are hired to do.

 

One final example before I say the price we pay.

 

For my final throw at minimal cost I wrote to Bindmans saying that I was going to take them to the Small Claims Court alleging breach of fiduciary duty – negligence and breach of contract.

 

Bindmans never cease to surprise me. Even before I engaged them they were saying that “you could easily be looking at costs of £50,000 to £80,000 costs.” London lawyers turning away business! Then, when I do engage them, they go to inordinate lengths to give me some of my money back. If you read just my last post you see what nonsense they write. You see the evidence they ignore. It would have been much easier to write the pre-action protocol letter than their gobbledygook Advice.

 

Now a new surprise. Bindmans do not reply. They instruct another firm of solicitors to reply on their behalf, BLM. The letter is signed BLM with no indication as to who actually wrote it. Katie Connell a solicitor for BLM sends it to me. She says she is “the file handler.”

 

My guess is that Bindmans wrote the letter but preferred to reinforce it by getting BLM to put their name to it. The sting in the tail “we do not consider that this is a claim for the small claims track due to its complexity … a claim of the kind you propose would need to be determined by a High Court Judge,” Implied, this could cost you a small fortune!

 

But maybe they are right. Dealing with 33 criticisms of their Advice would be complex. I write back to say I will rely on just the criticisms of just two paragraphs and the evidence contained in two pages of the Executive Summary of the 100 page dossier. A first year law student could deal with this, never mind a High Court Judge.

 

And I write “in letter-writing anonymity is the recourse of cowards and often scoundrels. You continue to refuse to name the author of the letter you sent to me. You say you are just a file handler. You also describe yourself as a solicitor. Until Bindmans told me, I did not appreciate that the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 prevents solicitors from drafting any documents relating to any proceedings containing a contention that they do not consider to be properly arguable. This applies to you and I would have thought to all the 200 or so partners in BLM in whose name the letter has been signed.”

 

Katie Connell herself replied saying that she endorsed BLM’s first letter.

 

This was my reply:

 

I for my part have no wish to prolong this dialogue.  You say, “any allegations that our client’s advice was negligent is denied.” It is blindingly obvious that Newcastle Local Authority was guilty of maladministration, that Ms Kim Burns was biased in its favour and turned a blind eye to it, and Bindmans LLP did likewise, looking for ways to distance themselves from the accusation.

 

It was professionally outrageous that Bindmans should say that a 100+ page dossier evidencing the above did not provide an arguable case for judicial review and that it was bound to fail and that they disobeyed the ruling of the Legal Ombudsman that they answer my criticisms of that decision.

 

You have now joined quite a long list of people who see black as white.

 

I shall now refer this to the Court of Public Opinion and refer both BLM and Bindmans LLP to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority alleging that the stance you have taken on their behalf in relation to my threat of action in the Small Claims Court is itself not arguable and is bound to fail, this in breach of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011.

 

There is an old adage “When you are in a hole, stop digging.” Bindmans really shouldn’t have invited someone else to share their hole with them, and try to take advantage of professional solidarity.

 

The next post the terrible cost of all this. The dead hand of the past controls the present unless you break the ratchet of which this is a part. Some of my connections in Linkedin may feel this is not unimportant.