Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Israel to attack Iran?

Israel is massing warplanes in the Caucasus for an attack on Iran, it was revealed yesterday.

Preparations are underway to launch the military attack from Azerbaijan and Georgia, reports our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej, quoting military sources.

Israel was, in fact, training pilots in Turkey to launch the strike and was smuggling planes into Georgia using Turkish airspace, they said.

However, Turkey was unaware of Israel’s intention of transferring the planes to Georgia, the sources said.

The unexpected crisis between Israel and Turkey following an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza Strip hit Israeli calculations.

Azerbaijan-based intelligence units, working under the cover of technicians, trainers and consultants, have helped with the preparations, the sources said.

Military equipment, mostly supplied by the US, was transported to a Georgian port via the Black Sea.

Georgian coastguard and Israeli controllers are co-operating to hide the operations from Russian vessels, said the sources.

They point out that according to Israel, it will not be in a position to launch a strike on Iran without using bases in Georgia and Azerbaijan due to the limited capabilities of its nuclear submarines stationed near the Iranian coast.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Press TV reported that a very large contingent of US ground forces had massed in Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border. The independent Azerbaijani news website Trend confirmed the report.

Those reports came just days after the Pentagon confirmed that an unusually large fleet of US warships had indeed passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal en route to the Gulf. At least one Israeli warship reportedly joined the American armada.

Press TV also quoted Iranian Revolultionary Guard Brigadier General Mehdi Moini as saying that the country’s forces are mobilised and ready to face Israelli and American “misadventures” near its borders.

* Iran last night said it has cancelled plans to send an aid ship to the Gaza Strip as Israel “had sent a letter to the UN saying that the presence of Iranian and Lebanese ships in the Gaza area will be considered a declaration of war on that regime and it will confront it,” Irna said.


Towns where one worker in two is foreign

Click on picture to enlarge

The picture above shows the shocking amount of foreign workers in London, with the highest number being in Newham, the East London borough which is to host the 2012 Olympics. That is 65,100 jobs out of 93,700 and yet 25,600 British-born people in the area are out of work.

Slough, Leicester, Luton, Reading, Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, Crawley and Elmbridge are areas outside London with the largest populations of foreign workers.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Crich, Sunday 4th July - A service for our soldiers

Servicemen and women past and present and their families will gather at the war memorial in Crich for a service of remembrance this week.

The annual regimental pilgrimage for the Mercian Regiment will take place on Sunday, 4th July.

It will commemorate the lives of those members of the regiment who have given their lives in service to the country.

Hundreds of serving and former members of the regiment are expected to turn out to the event, which will kick off at the landmark memorial at 3pm.

More than 50 local dignitaries, including deputy mayor of Amber Valley, Cllr Ron Ashton, have been invited to attend the event.

Lieutenant Colonel Keith Seddon, who is responsible for the event, said: "Normally if we have got a memorial it's a case of the longer it's there the less population will visit it, but it always turns out to be the opposite here. More and more people come to the pilgrimage every year, come rain, wind or shine.

"The support for the regiment is fantastic at the moment."

The pilgrimage will be led by the colonel of the regiment, Brigadier A R D Sharpe OBE and the main service will be led by the Right Rev Paul Butler, who is the Bishop of Southwel and Nottingham Families of those soldiers who have recently lost their lives in Afghanistan will later gather at the dedicated post-1945 memorial for a small ceremony of remembrance.

The Mercian Regiment includes soldiers from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Ripley and Heanor News

Black councillor who called Asian colleague a 'coconut' is guilty of racial harassment

A black councillor who called an Asian colleague a ‘coconut’ during a heated meeting was yesterday found guilty of racial harrassment.

Lib Dem Shirley Brown, 48, used the term to describe her counterpart Conservative Jay Jethwa at a Bristol City Council debate last year.

The jibe is used to accuse someone of betraying their heritage by pandering to 'white' opinion - as a coconut is white in the middle but brown on the outside, the court heard.

Mrs Jethwa, 42, did not hear the insult during the meeting but was alerted by a fellow councillor and later watched it on the council's webcast.

She wept at Bristol Magistrate's court yesterday as she recalled the ‘deeply upsetting’ moment she watched the footage.

Mrs Jethwa, who moved to England from India 24 years ago, said: ‘I was in the council offices and was asked if I'd heard what had been said.

‘When I heard it later that night I was shocked. I heard her say there was a word in her community for people like me and that word is coconut.

‘I was completely shocked and I was numb and had to rewind the footage to see if it was only me she had directed the comment to.

‘I was very very upset and distressed. The word is doubly insulting as it insults both me and the white population. She added that 'the water was either worth drinking or throwing away'. I consider this racist and saw her comments to mean that my comments were worth throwing out.’

Brown's outburst came came in response to Mrs Jethwa's proposal to cut funding to the city's Legacy Commission on February 24 last year, the court heard.

The project was set up in 2007 to educate people on the abolition of the slave trade two centuries ago.

She told the meeting that spending £750,000 of tax payers money ‘righting the wrongs of slavery’ did not make sense when Brown is alleged to have launched her racist tirade.

The Conservative Party lodged a formal complaint over the remarks to Bristol City Council on February 26.

A member of the public then complained to Avon and Somerset police and a criminal investigation was launched.

In July, Brown was suspended for a month by the council's Standards Committee for using ‘offensive and abusive language' but said they did not deem the term racist.

The suspension was then overturned on appeal by the Adjudication panel for England Tribunal Service in August and Brown was allowed to continue in her post.

But yesterday she was found guilty at racially aggravated harassment and given a 12-month conditional discharge.

Handing down his verdict at Bristol Magistrates Court, Chairman of the Bench Simon Cooper said: ‘She now, like so many other people, regrets in hindsight what she said.

‘She singled out that remark and therefore the remark was purely gratuitous and not concerned with the council debate.

‘In that context I am satisfied that Shirley Brown managed to cause distress to Councillor Jethwa. I am satisfied there was a potential for, albeit minor, public disorder and stimulation for racial hatred.’ Ordering her to pay £620 in costs: ‘You made a mistake for which you have to accept responsibility. It is a sad case.’

Speaking after the hearing Cllr Jethwa said: ‘I am satisfied with the court's decision. It vindicates the decision to prosecute. It sends out a message that such calculated insults will not be tolerated from any quarter.’


Monday, 28 June 2010

Capello's England fails miserably in World Cup

I’m not a drinker these days, but I had four pints of lager yesterday while watching the football in my favourite pub. I would like to say we had a brilliant day, but England lost 4 – 1 to Germany in the World Cup, which means they are now on their way home.

I watched in disbelief when the Uruguayan referee disallowed a perfectly valid goal and the whole pub erupted. After the match had ended, I had to wonder what would have happened had the goal been allowed.

Would England have won the game and gone through to the next stage? We will never know, but I doubt it, as Germany were the better team.

I, like many others, had great expectations when Fabio Capello took over as manager. After all, his record as manager is pretty good, with League and Champions League titles under his belt with teams like Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus.

His time with England isn’t so good and I see many are asking him to throw in the towel. I too believe he should go, my reason being that he just can’t deliver the goods.

Anyway, enough of that. The point of this article is to tell you about my afternoon.

The streets were deserted, the pubs were full and the fans were singing their heads off. I met up with friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for quite a while. If ever you want to meet up with old friends but don’t know how to get in touch, you know they will appear on footy day. Sorted!

Football days in my local go like this... DJ playing football songs, 1st half of the game, more footy songs, 2nd half of the game followed by disco. It is a very lively affair thanks to the wonderful landlord, landlady and bar staff.

We really didn’t think the game would go the way it did and the disappointment on people’s faces as Germany scored that fourth goal said it all. Some walked out, but many of us stayed to the end to watch the match come to its painful conclusion.

Everyone was numb, stunned, dumbfounded to see our national team get such a thrashing.

We all piled outside to sit in the sun and drown our sorrows when a football appeared. This is common practise when England play. The whole pub comes outside and plays footy in the street. It’s a main road and I remember a few years ago the town was cut off as cars, buses etc couldn’t get through.

Of course the police came and closed down all the pubs in the area. God knows why because there was no violence, just harmless fun at the end of a long days drinking. The police round here don’t handle things very well to be honest and sometimes it can turn nasty. Little Hitlers, some of them, especially the ‘specials’. I think the authority goes to their head.

Yesterday was different; maybe they realised that if they just take a step back everything will be fine. I didn’t see one policeman, not one, and everyone had a whale of a time.

We lost four footballs yesterday, all of them ending up on top of the shops and no way to get them back. Of course all the shops were shut so we couldn’t buy any more.

I left at around 9pm. I was ready for something to eat and put my feet up, but everyone else was still in full swing.

You really wouldn’t have thought England had lost.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Great Inertia Sector: A whistleblower's account of council work where staff pull six-month sickies

The next time you call your council and are passed around from department to department, put on hold 5 times and hear lots of laughing and giggling in the background while you are getting nowhere and angrier by the second, remember this...

In his emergency Budget this week, Chancellor George Osborne announced he was cutting public sector expenditure by 25 per cent. Unions have declared the cuts irresponsible. But are they? Here, one employee for a large inner London authority lifts the lid on the culture of inertia and incompetence at his workplace. The Mail knows the true identity of the man - a graduate who has been a planning officer for eight years. But to protect his job, he is writing under an assumed name.

Monday morning, it's 10am and I'm late for work - but there's no point hurrying because even though I should have been at my desk 30 minutes ago, I know I'll be the first to arrive at the office.

Sure enough, the planning department is a ghost town.

Our flexi-hours policy means that employees can start any time between 7.30am and 10am, but council workers like to treat that as a rough guideline rather than the contractual obligation that it is.

I'm a senior planning officer: it's my job to inspect buildings, grant planning approval and to guide members of the public looking to alter their homes.

Our department has 60 employees and - until last Tuesday - a budget of £22million.

I've been there for two years and in that period the only time I've ever seen every employee present and correct was at the Christmas party.

At least ten people will be off sick on any one day. The departmental record holder is Doreen - she has worked a grand total of eight days in 14 months.

Doreen must be the unluckiest woman in the country.

In the past year and a half she claims she has: fallen victim to frostbite; been hit by a car; and accidentally set herself on fire.

But she's really pulled out all the stops with her latest excuse: witchcraft. That's right, Doreen believes somebody in Nigeria has cast a spell on her and that it would be unprofessional of her to attempt to do the job she is paid £56k a year for while under the influence of the spell.

She has already been off for four months on full pay. I've no idea how long this spell lasts, but my guessing would be six months to the day - the exact amount of time council employees can take off on full pay before their money is reduced.

But having just eight weeks of full pay left won't be a problem for Doreen and the rest of the council's sickly staff - they'll simply return to work when the six months is up, put in a day or two's work and then go off sick for another six months on full pay again. Easy.

Of course they have to provide sick-notes from a doctor, but as you can buy fake ones online for £10 it's never proved a problem.

There are procedures in place to address attendance, but nobody ever follows them through - chances are the person whose job it is to monitor sickness is probably signed off himself.

Some human resources managers, usually new to the job, do try to take action - but it mostly backfires.

All credit to the bright-eyed young HR manager who, last year, wanted to dismiss a senior employee who had been off sick for three months.

The employee had still been using his company mobile phone, from Marbella.

However, the employee was able (with a little help from the mighty Unison union) to argue that there's no reason why 'sick' people can't rent villas in the Costa Del Sol.

I've been told by colleagues that I don't take enough sick leave - when I protest that it is because I'm in good health they look confused. What's that got to do with anything?

At my borough a worker can take two weeks before having to produce a doctor's note (fake or not).

With the five weeks' annual leave plus bank holidays, even the most conscientious worker in my department is easily taking 12 weeks a year off.

To add insult to injury, some London boroughs recently introduced a new scheme whereby anybody who did an extra 15 minutes' work a day for 20 days could take an extra day's holiday.

But when you can so easily take six months off, who needs official holidays?

Back to the day's business. Jerry is the next to arrive at 10.25am - before he takes his jacket off he performs his morning ritual of taking both his phones off the hook.

God forbid that any resident and council tax payer should be able to speak to him and get some of the advice he's paid £64k a year to dispense.

Jerry is 63 and two years from retirement. He is what is known in the civil service and local government as an 'untouchable' - he's been at the council for more than 40 years, does no work, but would cost an absolute fortune to get rid of.

So he's left alone to play online poker, Skype his daughter in Florida and take his two-hour daily snooze at his desk, no doubt dreaming of the day when his gold-plated public sector pension will kick in.

If you think Jerry's pay is generous, consider this: the head of my department is on an annual salary of £170k plus bonuses, his deputy nets £99k and even the office PAs are on a very respectable £38k - just two thousand less than I get.

I listen to my answerphone and, as usual, there are about 20 messages from people trying to report faulty streetlights or complain that their rubbish hasn't been collected - calls that have been misdirected by our useless call centre.

When I first started here at the council, I tried to pass these messages on to the right department, but eventually gave up - nobody answers phones, nobody listens to voicemails, and emails go unread.

There's no point showing any initiative. I once wandered down to the 'Streetcare' department to ask why the hell nobody was answering the phone.

But only two staff had turned up that day and they were both in the prayer room. Yes, you read that correctly, all large council offices now provide prayer rooms, primarily for their Muslim employees whose faith requires them to perform devotional prayers at midday, in the afternoon and at sunset.

Although it's two years since I started working for this authority I've also worked for two other London boroughs in various capacities over a period of 12 years. In that time I've never known anybody be sacked, no matter how inept and unprofessional they may be.

I'm not sure what it takes to get fired in local government. I'd say 'murdering the CEO' but, even then, you're more likely to be sent on an 'anger in the workplace' course.

Councils love their workshops, training courses and seminars. This week alone I've been invited to attend: A cycle hire and efficiency course; a traffic and pollution briefing; and a training course on offsite health and safety.

Next week there is a two-day course on 'letter writing skills' - I dearly hope that Jackie, our departmental PA, will attend this one. I've given up using her and now type my own correspondence and reports.

The last time she typed a letter for me (to an architect) she misspelt 'accommodation' and 'environment' throughout.

I gently pointed this out to her and asked her to redo the document. But she went sick for two weeks with stress, complaining that she was being bullied.

When my boss called me in to discuss this I, jokingly, said: 'Well I'll just let her misspell everything in future, shall I?' To which he replied: 'Yes, I think that's best for now.'

I'm not sure what workshop I was asked to attend for that particular misdemeanour, but I do recall the 'cultural awareness and sensitivity' one following an incident where I outrageously asked a black colleague if I could open a window behind her desk.

It was 88 degrees outside and our offices have no air conditioning. This lady was born and bred in North London but claimed her Caribbean heritage meant she felt the cold and opening a window by six inches would cause her to suffer.

I did the workshop and wrote her a letter of apology as recommended. I actually began to question whether I was racist or insensitive.

That evening I saw Sean, my oldest friend who is black. I ran the window story by him - he eventually stopped laughing after about 20 minutes.

You can't be made to attend these workshops but, surprisingly, the take-up is remarkably high.

Not because those going want to improve their skills, but because a full day's training comes with a full day's free catering.

' Fact Finding Missions' are another great favourite within the public sector. The last one I attended was a two-day trip ( transport and four-star accommodation included) to a football club in the Midlands.

Supposedly it was to understand how other inner cities tackle sporting events in areas of high population.

However, the only 'fact' I discovered was that it takes about 11 pints and two whisky chasers before my boss keels over.

In fairness, there are some very hard workers at the council, but they are so massively outweighed by the workshy that they're fighting a losing battle. The culture is very much one of getting minimum done for maximum pay.

Even when a reasonable proportion of the staff turns up for work (for our office that would be about 60 per cent) very little gets done because the officers cannot be bothered with the fiddly paperwork that goes with the job.

When residents contact the office because they want, for example, a loft extension or to replace windows in a conservation area, they hit such a wall of inefficiency and apathy that many simply give up or go ahead without permission.

I recently received a letter from somebody looking for the plans to a building that was erected ten years ago.

I passed it on to Jackie the ever-efficient PA, who claimed she couldn't find them. I went to look and located them in 30 seconds.

The only time the department ever really jumps into action is when architects complain.

They know planning inside out and won't be fobbed off with delaying tactics that ordinary citizens have to contend with.

You can't even give them the old council favourite of claiming that you can't answer any of their questions because of 'data protection'. We love that excuse - nobody really knows what it means, but we use it all the time.

Bosses of local authorities have bonuses dependent on not getting high numbers of complaints.

But the only way complaints can be recorded is if they are dealt with - if they're ignored or mysteriously lost then they never existed and won't be counted.

Despite all this, my department makes a huge amount of money - mostly from private developers. If they want to build something it costs them £2,300 just to have an initial planning meeting with us. W

hat they don't know is that we've already had a meeting and decided they probably won't get permission - unless they agree to a 'planning gain' - a dodgy but perfectly legal practice whereby a developer who wants to build, say, a hotel, will be told that he can have his planning permission, but only if he also agrees to build a community centre too.

It's a way for councils to improve local amenities, without having to pay for them from public funds.

Some might call it bribery. For us, it's everyday business that ensures our budgets are protected for our vital work - like protecting our pay rises and perks.

So can anything be done to curtail this greed, waste and chronic incompetence?

George Osborne clearly thinks so, with his bold promises to tackle the bloated public sector head-on.

We had a meeting on Thursday to discuss the Chancellor's proposed cuts - there was talk of strike action among the younger workers, but much rubbing of hands among the 'untouchables', many of whom could walk away with six-figure golden goodbyes.

The cuts and pay freezes are desperately needed, but the one thing Mr Osborne will never be able to control is the culture of inertia and inefficiency that is rife throughout the public sector.

Of course, when I tell my friends in the private sector about my working conditions, they can scarcely believe it.

As the recession bites, they consider themselves lucky to be holding on to their jobs, and are willing to work extra hours or take a pay freeze to ensure their firm's survival.

In the public sector, though, there is no competitive edge; no incentive to cuts costs or improve efficiency. Few genuinely fear for their job security, protected as they are by threats of union action every time the axe looks likely to fall.

It's the same story across the world: when a nation's public sector is allowed to expand into a bloated behemoth, it is almost impossible to cut it down to size, still less to change the culture of waste and laziness that sets in.

I don't know what the solution is. Even those, like myself, who join with the best of intentions are soon worn down and end up subscribing to the 'if you can't beat them, join them' school of thought.

Of course the real scandal is it's your money that's paying for the jollies, the prayer rooms and the never- ending workshops.

In my authority's borough, the average householder pays £1,330 a year in council tax. I'm sure they'd be thrilled to know that they're funding Jerry's internet gambling and Doreen's never-ending sick pay.

Good luck Mr Osborne - you're going to need it.

Daily Mail

Footnote: Just out of interest I thought I'd list the inner London boroughs...

All material published on these pages represents the personal views of the DERBY PATRIOT and should not be taken to represent any political party.