This week with Brian 17 to 24 November 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including a dodgy place, my predictions, eight stadiums, too hot, pricey beer, the end of Trump, another bully, sentient cats, lost dogs, harsh fiscal realities, parking the volunteers, Kid Charlemagne, a five-cornered flag, four players and a poker champ.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• So, the World Cup is almost upon us. Usually this is an event I look forward to for weeks beforehand. I know that England isn’t going to win so I make a mental list of the countries, usually hopeless underdogs like South Korea or Denmark, which I would like to. Generally, any victor other than Argentina, Germany or Brazil pleases me but as they have won 11 of the 21 competitions held so far this is a disappointment waiting to happen. This time, though, I’ll be paying it as little attention as possible. Why? There are so many reasons I hardly know where to start…

[more below] 

Firstly, there is the human and political aspect. OK, Russia, the last host country, hasn’t covered itself in glory recently but at the time the choice was made Putin wasn’t making too many waves. Qatar hasn’t invaded anyone but it appears to be a fairly objectionable place if you happen to be female, gay, in any way opposed to the regime or not a Qatari.

Our World in Data puts it in the relegation zone with regards to both civil liberties (18 out of 60) and civil rights (0.23 out of 1). Human Rights Watch suggests that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar “with no human rights due diligence and no set conditions about protections for migrant workers who would be needed to construct the massive infrastructure. FIFA also failed to examine the human rights concerns for journalists, or systemic discrimination that women, LGBT people, and others face there.” According to this report from a Danish TV crew, the repression has started already.

The deaths resulting from the construction process are rather harder to assess, the estimates of these ranging as they do from three to about 16,000, depending on whom you believe. This article in Le Monde picks through some of the problems in calculating such figures. I also don’t know how many people have been killed working on HS2 nor were in building or upgrading stadiums for previous World Cups. However, it’s unlikely that the construction conditions there were as extreme. So hot are the mid-day temperatures that work was officially banned between 11.30 and 3pm, though this was “infrequently enforced.”

The heat has caused another problem, which involved moving the World Cup to November. Temperatures there then are in the late 20s ºC rather then the scorching 40º+ in the traditional June/July slot. Having a World Cup in the middle of the season for the majority of the participants is just wrong.

Then there are the stadiums. The country previously had one big one, which has been refurbished; another seven have been added. These have a combined capacity of 360,000 people. This is enough to accommodate  all the 313,000 Qatari population of the country (the other 85% are ex-pats) and the entire population of Newbury. What are they going to do with all of these afterwards? There are various suggestions as to how these can, in whole or in part, be re-purposed. Better still, though, would have been to have awarded the tournament to a country or even a region where the game actually gets played.

Egypt, for example, already has 13 stadiums with a capacity of over 25,000, many of which might benefit from being upgraded. This is a country which has appeared in 10 African Cup of Nations finals, winning seven, and whose club teams  have appeared in 26 African Champions League (CAF) finals, winning 16. To pick another example, Nigeria already has 11 stadiums and has won the ACN three times while its clubs have appeared in seven CAF finals, winning two. Similar cases could be made for Cameroon and Ghana.

Players from these four countries alone would make up a team that could beat any other historical XI on its day. How many world-class players can you ever get from a country with 313,000 people and 2.7m migrants? Even Sepp Blatter, under whose capricious rule at FIFA this highly questionable decision was taken, has since admitted that awarding the World Cup to Qatar was the wrong call. One wonders if anyone still feels it was the right one.

There were also claims that the event would be carbon-neutral. Back in 2010 this might not have tested too high in FIFA’s decision-making (one wonders what did: that’s still under investigation) but it’s hard to find any evidence too support this now. This article in Wired, while admitting that some ingenious solutions to the cooling problems have been developed, suggests that overall the tournament will be carbon-intensive.

Finally, one turns to the all important question of the price of beer. £12 a pint? You’re having a laugh. Seems not. God know what the cost of bottle of cold Chardonnay will be…

So, the situation seems to be as follows. We have what is, by western standards, a reactionary, misogynistic and intolerant country with an inhospitable climate and a tiny population constructing a whole lot of carbon-intensive stadiums which it won’t need again to host a the world’s largest sporting event involving a game which the country doesn’t now and probably never will play to a high standard and which anyone attending will have to pay £12 for a drink. On the other side of the coin, Qatar has (perhaps) achieved a reputational advantage and senior people at FIFA have (allegedly) feathered their nests. Guilty as charged, I reckon. I won’t be watching.

• None the less, I’ll offer my predictions. Brazil will beat France in the final and Spain and Germany will be the losing semi-finalists. England will be out in the quarters, as we normally are. Place your bets accordingly now…

• The 2022 Autumn Statement week was delivered by the Chancellor on 17 November. Perhaps in an effort to avoid any possible risk of spooking the markets again, a good deal of the provisions were leaked in advance: so, although the news was not great, there at least weren’t the massive jitters that followed the disastrous statement in September, the price of which we are still paying. 

Many thanks to Butler Toll Financial Advisors for sending me the initial reaction to the Autumn Statement from Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. As his views are likely to be a lot more insightful than any I could come up with, I’m happy to publish this verbatim.

“Jeremy Hunt’s first fiscal event as Chancellor was a sombre affair. Surging global energy prices have made the UK a poorer country. The result is an OBR forecast that the next two years will see the biggest fall in household incomes in generations. The swing over a couple of months from Kwasi Kwarteng’s fiscal loosening to a big fiscal tightening is a belated recognition of some harsh fiscal realities. The sharp and sustained increase in how much we now expect to spend on debt interest, in particular, has forced difficult decisions elsewhere. At around £100 billion a year by the end of the forecast period, spending on debt interest will be higher than spending on any single public service bar the NHS.

“The Chancellor has felt obliged to relax his fiscal mandate. He is no longer looking to balance the current budget at all and has pushed out to five years the point at which he says he wants debt to be falling as a fraction of national income. Even so, he has had to announce a package of tax rises and spending cuts amounting to around £50 billion (about 2% of GDP)  to meet his new mandate. And even with that, we’re still set to be borrowing 2.4% of GDP, or £69 billion, at the end of the forecast. A return to Osborne-era targets of an overall budget surplus this is not.

“The fiscal tightening is heavily back-loaded, with the vast bulk spending cuts in particular pencilled in for after April 2025. Given the profound uncertainty around the outlook, and the potential economic and social costs of an unnecessarily large up-front fiscal tightening, this is probably the right choice, on balance. But delaying all of the difficult decisions until after the next general election does cast doubt on the credibility of these plans. The tight spending plans post-2025, in particular, may stretch credulity.

The Chancellor will be hoping that his clear commitment to fiscal responsibility and the independence of the Bank of England, his full involvement of the Office for Budget Responsibility, and his less pugilistic approach to economic policy-making will be enough to restore the UK’s tattered international reputation. Let’s hope so.”

• I had  look last week about the crisis in American democracy. Now the dust is settling after the US mid-terms, this proposition seems increasingly hard to refute given that 40% of the population believe, according to a Newsweek article just days before the polls, that the 2020 election was fraudulent. This is pretty much the same percentage that The Guardian reported in January 2022.

The main problem is, perhaps, Donald Trump who has the capacity to nurture and articulate grievances on an Himalayan scale. Is his time over? His picks seems to have done poorly in the elections. As this summary article in the New York Times asks, “is losing really a bigger sin for Republicans than harassing women, blackmailing foreign leaders, or seeking to remain in power by calling forth an angry mob to attack Congress?” it’s a good question. Over to you, America.

Dominic Raab is the latest minister to be in the dock accused of bullying. I’ve never worked for the man and have never met him, but I imagine that the shelf-life of a government minister is so short that they have to use every weapon in their armoury to get their legacy assured against the Sir Humphreys in whatever department they happen to have been given. Nor do I have any idea if the idea of bullying as most of us would understand it has any relevance to what is regarded as normal in Westminster.

The PM said he knew nothing about any formal complaints before appointing him. Is bullying at this level a crime? Churchill was doubtless a bully. So was Hitler. So, does the end justify the means when big things are at stake? Does your salary and status make a difference to how much you’re expected to take? Civil servants who rise to this level must surely expect robust opinions directed at them. Or is it just a case of another over-promoted Oxford graduate trying to get their own way?

• I have a very sore shoulder at present that, oddly, isn’t made worse by things like swimming or digging but hurts like hell when I’m lying down. Now, listen to this. Last night, I was tossing and turning at about 5am and one of our three cats came in after a night of dissipation. Normally this one will just curl up at the foot of the bed. This, time, however, it did something unprecedented, lying down across my shoulder and purring loudly; which was wonderful. Did it know I needed help? Seems so. Anyway, the shoulder is much better today, thanks for asking…

Across the area

• News from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your district, county or borough council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

Parking the volunteers

Earlier this week, I was told that volunteers assisting at the vaccination centre at The Hub in Hungerford (and I presume everywhere else in the district) were being left out of pocket as a result of needing to pay to park their cars. I recall that this issue also cropped up last year. It was also suggested to me that some local authorities took a different view. I therefore decided to take my question right to the top and sent an email to WBC leader Lynne Doherty to ask what the situation was. I received a very prompt response which I reproduce in fill below.

“The vaccination programme is being run by the NHS and funded by the government, rather than by WBC as the local authority. This includes the funding for volunteer-providing organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Royal Voluntary Service, who are funded to provide training, equipment, and paying any out-of-pocket expenses volunteers may incur.

“I am aware that some local authorities have made arrangements for voluntary organisations to ‘bulk buy’ a number of spaces or permits for their volunteers to then use – which saves the volunteer from paying for parking and claiming it back – though I am not aware of WBC being approached to set this up. I am sure it is something that could be looked into if they were wanting to do that. [See below for contact details.]

“WBC does not receive any funding to support the vaccination programme so it would be up to the budget-holder for paying volunteer expenses to make a decision about how best to do this. I would be happy to put them in touch with our Parking Team if they wanted to discuss further. [See below for contact details.]

“I am not sure of the exact process for volunteers to claim back their expenses, as this will vary depending on the organisation they are volunteering with, but I am sure their Line Manager or Team Leader would be able to answer those specific questions. Information for SJA and RVS volunteers can be found online as follows: SJA’s FAQs; RVS’s FAQs; and RVS’s Policy.

“A vast amount of people volunteer across WB for lots of different good causes and my point has always been that each individual organisation can then refund volunteer expenses. WBC is not in a financial position to do so.”

If any voluntary organisation wishes to discuss a “bulk-buy” system or any other variation of parking arrangements, they should contact Ian Martinez, Principal Parking Officer, Environment Department Parking Office, Market Street, Newbury Berkshire RG14 5LD, email ian.martinez@westberks.gov.uk , tel 01635 503726

Other news

• West Berkshire Council held its first Rural Business Forum in Shaw House, Newbury. The aim of the event was to bring rural businesses in West Berkshire together and discuss the challenges and opportunities that could be explored with the council; including development, environment and rural community prosperity.

• All bus services in West Berkshire will be free all day on seven days days in November and December – click here for details.

• West Berkshire Council’s annual Giving Tree campaign to support victims of domestic abuse and their families over Christmas is now open to receive donations. Click here for details.

Click here for a summary of how West Berkshire Council feels it’s doing on its journey towards carbon neutrality. Other points of view exist about this and I shall try to bring you some of these next week. One point that seems quite pertinent is that whereas the original climate emergency referred to initiative for West Berkshire as a whole, the ambitions no0w seem more to be focused on the Council’s own carbon footprint. Tat said, there have certainly been some good local initiatives, some done by individuals and voluntary groups and others (like the proposed solar farm near Mortimer) by WBC.

• The new weekly food-waste collection system has started in West Berkshire (which receive a communal bin store collection will need to wait until 28 Novemeber). You can click here to see a separate post we’ve done on the subject; and click here to see WBC’s recent newsletter about this. As well as being environmentally beneficial, financially advantageous and legislatively compliant, the scheme may also reduce food waste by confronting us with the consequences of what we throw away.

• West Berkshire Council has announced an initiative to help those who have tins of unused paint at home left over for from DIY projects. It will shortly be introducing “a new community paint re-use service at the Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) at Newbury and Padworth. Community Repaint allows residents to drop off left over paint at either of our HWRCs in the usual way. Staff at the HWRC will assess the paint and see if it is in a good enough condition to be re-used.” Click here for more information.

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in Berkshire.

Click here for the latest museums newsletter from WBC.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animals of the week is this lost dog which decided to hand itself in to Loughborough Police Station. One thing struck me about the video: as the dog discovered, you can get into Loughborough Police Station but you can’t get out again – a bit like Hotel California, in that but probably no other respect.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of land access, fuel projects, e-scooters and the metric system.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• Lordy, here we are at the Song of the Week. High time for some more Steely Dan. This is, like so many of their songs, worth considering just for the brilliance of the lyrics, which would work as an excellent summary of a proposed movie. Then you add the music and, oh my word, the quality of the playing, which is pretty much six stars out of five. And then, if that’s not enough, you have two of the most exquisite guitar solos ever recorded, with by Larry Carlton. Listening to this masterpiece provides some reassurance that western civilisation hasn’t been a complete waste of time. So, click here for Kid Charlemagne.

• So now let’s turn to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I’ve previously referred to you a collection of David Mitchell’s best bits on QI and this week it’s the turn of his wife, Victoria Coren. As well as being very funny she’s also a seriously good poker player, with several big-money competition wins to her name. Wonderfully amusing as these two are, even if they were combined (which they are in a way, as they have a daughter), I doubt the result would exceed the rib-popping mirth that her father, the late Alan Coren, was able to provide. Quite possibly the best ever humorous writer in English.

• Which only leaves the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Who are the only four players to have scored in two men’s World Cup Finals? Last week’s question was: What is the only country in the world with a non-quadrilateral flag? The answer is Nepal, whose flag has five sides. Good to see someone showing a bit of originality.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area please click on the appropriate link

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