In the early days of this year, I started this series of articles pointing towards the enormity of major decisions that were likely to be taken this year; some of which had been ‘put off’ for successive years of which the decision whether to renew the UK’s submarine based ‘Trident’ nuclear deterrent had reached a crucial stage and could no longer be avoided. In this series, I selected what I considered to be the most important and where the outcome was less certain than others. The Scottish elections were not included for the simple reason that the SNP were likely to remain the most popular winners.
My choices accurately reflected that this would be a year of big decisions and that's precisely what it turned out to be with major consequences for every man, woman and child. I made no claim to any foretelling ability or insight, nor use of a 'crystal ball' but merely pointed out that certain possibilities existed with occasional smatterings of likely outcomes based upon logic and speculation. What happened proves that I’m the last man that anyone should seek out for betting and gambling advice and that my reasoning was no better or worse than many other commentators.
Without doubt, the biggest shock of the year was that of the Brexit referendum in which the local population decided, mistakenly in my view, that they had experienced enough of an inflexible EC and voted in droves to commit the country to separation from that community despite the uncertainties and likelihood of greater poverty and unemployment. In terms of the vote itself, as described in a past article still available on this website, this was an English and Welsh decision rather than one favoured by Northern Ireland and Scotland and involving a vote of 48% of residents quite happy with the status quo. It’s still shocking to realise that such a crucial and major decision has been accepted in the wake of a singular vote and where ample precedent exists in the shape of previous ‘Scottish Independence’ votes in which much higher percentages were demanded as proof of popular desire. It begs one to ask why similar conditions did not exist in this case or in the most recent ‘Scottish Independence’ vote. I have doubts as to whether the Brexit vote carries the absolute and necessary conviction in which the government has a sufficient mandate for exit.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll dismiss any comment on the rapid change of government and where the former Home Secretary Theresa May (or may not) replaced David Cameron within days of the Brexit result being known. Six months after the vote, she’s still dithering about and perhaps regretting that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ quotation without spelling out what that means. Six months later and we’re already aware of how the international value of the pound sterling has sunk to just two thirds of its former value and temporarily producing a short-term boom for exporters that will be offset by imports costing more in the New Year.
Just one day after the Brexit vote, fresh meat prices at Smithfield Market in London soared as EC meat producers bumped up the prices and allowed British and Irish farmers to follow suite. As the leading fresh meat distributor in the UK with around 780 deliveries per day to local butchers; it was the first indicator of what might follow nationwide. Writing in December 2016, the cost of red meat at wholesale level is about 20% higher than pre-Brexit and white meat close behind at 18%. In some ways, meat retailers have already reacted by insisting on use of British and Irish suppliers
Labour intensive aspects of fruit growing and farming are already struggling to recruit workforces normally available from Poland and other EC countries and where the reduced value of sterling is a major factor and making Norway and Denmark more attractive to such workers.
Overall, the British Isles imports around eighty per cent of all food consumed with a further 80% of this figure sold through the large supermarket chains. It’s inevitable then that food prices will significantly rise in the short term and perhaps more noticeably in 2017. The £500 tax threshold increment announcement in the Chancellor’s Autumnal Statement is unlikely to offset this for many poorly paid workers. Thankfully, most energy companies have purchased sufficient supplies to avoid increases in their charges during this winter.
Returning to the theme I mentioned earlier about the referendum itself, I’m personally convinced that the voters were ‘hoodwinked’ into the belief that Brexit was about ‘taking back control of our borders’ with respect to net immigration and settlement in the UK. If true, then can we expect unemployed British workers to be roaming orchards and fields next year? Will we lose a substantial number of doctors and nurses from the NHS? Can we be certain of finding enough talented scientists and top class engineers from within the UK? In short, is it naïve to expect low levels of immigration at a time of an ageing population less able to perform acts of wealth creation for the nation? If we submit Article 50 in March 2017, does that mean Brexit on April Fool’s Day in two years’ time?
In negotiations to secure access to the European Market, it already astounds me that some of our politicians speak openly of monetary contribution to the EC in a manner akin to capitulation as to what the EC wants rather than what we voted for. This represents a bizarre form of warped thinking since the UK currently has a massive trade deficit with the EC and thus indicative of a European desire to trade with the fifth largest economy in the World. Ultimately, any decision to purchase from an EC member country is taken at a more local level and if the EC decides to ‘punish’ Britain for leaving its increasingly Federal Club then we have the strongest of motivations to say ‘no’ and point out that there are many other countries of the World capable of manufacturing cars of equal or better spec than BMW and Volkswagen. Taking this argument to the extreme, if the EC wants access to the fifth largest marketplace in the World then maybe they should consider paying us for the privilege! In any case, the British position should begin with a firm stance rather than a whimpering admission plea.
In closing ‘The Year of Big Decisions’ series, and prior to introducing ‘The Year of Uncertainty’ series, my last decision on my list was that of the US Presidential elections and the success of Donald Trump was another in which I, like many others, never foresaw his rise into the ‘White House’ and despite many serious allegations levelled against him. Although hardly qualified to comment on the alleged misdeeds of Hillary Clinton, it does seem that the US public hated her more than Donald Trump. It precedes what will prove to be an interesting year for many people and especially with the French elections due in a few months.
Finally, I wish you all, greetings and felicitations always and not just at Christmas nor restricted to any religion, creed or skin colour. May your God bless and protect you!
Editorial - December 2016
It's Shopping But Not As We Know It!
Like many cost conscious souls in Britain today, the cost of energy used in the home represents a significant part of any budget and reminds me of my youth when my parents often bid me to switch off lights illuminating unoccupied spaces. We didn't have the luxury of double glazing, insulated walls or central heating back in my youth but in modern times; I'm sure the cry of many parents is similar in which small adjustments to the thermostat can adjust the bottom line of an enery bill by a significant amount. It's a trait that I've inherited in which I recognise how firing up the main natural gas fuelled boiler of the central heating system represents a colossal 29 Kilowatts to heat each and every room even when they're unoccupied and consequently representing a huge waste on many occassions. In my three storey four bedroom house, the shower consumes eight kilowatts of electricity and is not reliant on hot water from the main boiler. Drying clothes is undertaken by a 'semi-industrial' Croslee 'White Knight' gas fuelled tumble dryer whose performance far outranks that of any electrical equivilant. In comparision charts available at the 'British Gas' website, one can easily compare with similar properties in my immediate neighbourhood and where my consumption places me firmly in the 'green zone' and provides ample proof that I'm paying significantly less than my neighbours during even the most adverse weather seasons of the year. Of course, it was always planned this way and required some degree of thought and initial investment.
In current times, I chose to go further and where, during times when I was alone at my desk, it made greater sense to heat that area rather than the whole house. I did a few checks to ensure that even on the coldest days, the southward facing glazing helped to ensure a minimum of twelve degrees and thus less likely to cause water pipes to burst due to frost. Even the lowest temperature recorded in the car garage was five degrees despite much worse existing outside. I introduced usage of two oil electric heaters on the stair landing of the first and ground floor whose collective maximum consumption was 1500 watts and where one was later scrapped because it failed to match the performance of the other and leaked. It was replaced by a unit of construction and energy usage.
My notion to limit heating to the area where I was working alone prompted me towards selection of a Dimplex DXGL02 fan heater with climate control features and costing about £50 to purchase. Like many times in the past, I headed straight towards the Curry's Electrical Internet Website to place my order with the Fife Central Branch located beside the John Smith Business Park in Kirkcaldy only to learn that my goods could only be collected from stores located in Dundee or Perth; both of which lie twenty-six miles from my home location and making the transaction unviable. The local Curry's branch in Kirkcaldy had been closed down and which compelled me to shift this order to the Argos store in Glenrothes and where it would be available next day for colllection and at a lesser price at the 'Fastrack' counter. Next day, I parked my car in a space closest to the Argos store and struggled to walk the short distance. It wasn't obvious what actually constituted the 'fast track' counter but I asked and received a small package whilst 'hen-pecked' by an old woman complaining why I had been served and bypassing the long queue. Cutting a long story to one of shorter duration, I was initially disappointed by the product but then appreciated how proper control of it's functions made it a good purchase.
I suppose the sad aspect of this experience is to realise how Dennis Curry, former CEO of the company, was probably well ahead of his time when he suggested distribution centres of the type akin to AO and others and where he lost the vote of confidence by a fraction of a percent. Plans for a shop in the Saltire Estate of Glenrothes were cancelled. It's additional proof that the age of local retailing is in major decline and where the cathedrals of monetarism invested in shopping centres are at risk. In China, there are towns of sixty thousand people without any form of shopping facility. Have they already worked out what the future might hold? Home delivery is a growing part of many retailers in Britain and elsewhere. The basic question is whether we, as consumers, have reached the end of one epoch replaced by one favouring a few competing giants online likely to include Amazon, Argos, Asda, AO and perhaps to a point of representing monopolies over whole sectors of merchandise and and ultimately setting the price of each item?"
Wrecking the System!
I still recall the moment when I tried to explain to a colleague about computer virus' problems for the first time and he laughed in my face upon conclusion. Such a thing just didn't seem possible in his hardwired existence and where, the interconnectivity between home and business computers is allegedly a blessing that allows distant remote operators to fix
problems on your computer and always assuming that their intervention is wholly legal and altruistic. Such channels of intervention are commonplace on many computers and exist to provide links to hardware and software updates and more whilst providing a major gateway to intellectual theft. It's sad to realise that popular Scottish science fiction writers like the late Iain Banks was apt to keep his work on a computer that was never connected to the Internet lest somebody stole his work. These days, I adhere to a similar agenda whilst throwing 'false trails' capable of being traced with minute accuracy and proving the origin of the stolen documents whenever plagurism is suspected. Like many people, I spend modest amounts of money to purchase what I perceive to be the best defensive software to stop software designed with malicious intent from entering my computers but even this fails to protect one from the 'spoof email' brigade who can 'hijack your email' address then generate hundreds or thousands of emails allegedly from your account. The signs become obvious when you get messages from the 'mailer-daemon' of message delivery failure. Such copy-cat mischeif typically results in your email address appearing on 'black lists' with serious consequences for individual users and businesses. It's like ID theft in cyberspace so I've stopped using email until the day comes when the system can securely deliver messages with complete accuracy. A simple telephone call often suffices to clarify important matters but even this represents problems since the creation of a mobile telephone implies the ability of a recipient to receive the call rather than the inconvenience of voicemail. For my part, i switch off my mobile phone when I drop into the driving seat of my car. If it's important enough then they'll call back but its surprising how few actually contact me afterwards. In a similar vein, my landline telephone number is connected to a 24/7 answering machine and where similar comments apply. Is this what the Internet World is becoming? Malware in which computer systems are infected with a scrambling code making the legimate user of the software becoming more suspectible to blackmailers demanding fees in exchange for release codes that are never given even when the fee has been paid! Secure back-ups created on a regulr basis are the answer to such attacks and where the existence of such files provides the ammunition to tell the 'theif' where to go after consideration as to how the malware was implanted in the first instance. Whilst not directly related, I'm delighted that the government has elected to play a more pre-active role in targeting the origin of such scams and with a promise to retaliate in similar measure. The US government is pledged likewise. With luck, such activity will also extend to call centres and more to stop unsoliicited telephone calls designed to gather data about you.