National politics

Train fares rose 47% in last 9 years of Labour

Today Labour is doing its annual train fares campaign.

There are a couple of things to say. First their number is wrong. Second it was much worse under Labour.

The 36% number comes from the union GMB. Their calculation is wrong. It is a theoreitcal calculation of what all rail fares would be if all train fares rose by the regulated fares cap. Of course most regulated fares go up by the regulated fares cap but unregulated fares do not and the actual increase for each rail user is different.

The rail regulator, the Office for Rail and Road, tries to capture this by weighting price rises by what rail companies actually sell. The all tickets line at the bottom of ORR’s table 1.81 “Index showing average change in price of rail fares by regulated and unregulated tickets” shows the average change in price of all rail fares as sold, see here.

Their all tickets index stood at 120.1 in 2001. Nine years later in 2010 it stood at 176.5, a 47.0% rise in 9 years. So under the last 9 years of New Labour fares rose by 47.0%. This was driven by their setting the regulated fares cap at RPI+1 from 2004 to 2010.

The ORR all tickets index stood at 227.8 last year. If you inflate that by a theoretical 3.1% (as GMB has done every year for 9 years) you get 33.1% not GMB’s 36%. Under recent Conservative led governments the regulated fares cap rose by RPI+1 for three years 2011-2013 as they had done under Labour. The last six rises have been set at RPI only so a cumulative 6.15% above RPI has been taken off fares compared to New Labour’s track record.

Fares should rise. CPI would be a much fairer yardstick. This will take some hard talking to the rail unions whose large pay increases in recent years have kept pushing up rail costs. Labour pretends it could keep fares low, look after its union chums and not spend £ billions extra subsidising the railways. Who do they think they are kidding?

National politics

The average worker works 32 hours and has done since pretty much all of this century

You might think with all the talk of zero hours contracts and the gig economy that work patterns were changing very fast in the 21st century. They are not. One of the constants in our economy is that we work 30 odd hours a week on average and have done for the last 25 years.

Every quarter the ONS goes out and interviews 40,000 households for the Labour Force Survey. This is a huge and expensive exercise. They ask five questions about actual hours worked over the last week ending the Sunday before the interview. The questions cover hours worked in main job and second job and both paid and unpaid overtime. I have listed the five questions from the actual survey below:

TOTAC1: Thinking now about the seven days ending Sunday the …, how many hours did you actually work in your (main) job/business – please exclude meal breaks?

ACTHR: Thinking now about the seven days ending Sunday the …, how many hours did you actually work in your (main) job/business – please exclude meal breaks and overtime?

ACTPOT: How many hours paid overtime did you actually work in the week ending Sunday the …?

ACTUOT: How many hours unpaid overtime did you actually work in the week ending Sunday the …?

ACTHR2: How many hours did you actually work in the week ending Sunday the [Ref Date] in your second job in total, including any paid or unpaid overtime – please exclude meal breaks?

All the answers to these question get smushed up into one little dataset called “LFS: Avg actual weekly hours of work: UK: All workers in main & 2nd job: SA”. To explain: this dataset is part of the Labour Force Survey and it records answers from all workers, full time and part time, about their actual working hours in the previous week. Hours from their first and second job and including overtime both paid and unpaid.

The results are incredibly steady through 25 years. From 1992 to 2001 this number was constant at 33 hours. Then it dropped to 32 for the last 16 years.

National politics

Why did Labour darling need to lie about suicide?

A lady called Jessie Joe Jacobs became the darling of the Labour party conference on Tuesday with a passionate speech on how young women and the North East have been affected by a Conservative government.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn approvingly tweeted out a clip of her speech on Tuesday night.

Suicide is a terrible thing and not something to discuss lightly. Any rate above zero is too high a rate. There is much to take issue with in the clip but her use of suicide statistics was very misleading.  Misleading to the extent of lying really.

She said:

The suicide figures are very well understood national statistics of the highest quality based on recorded deaths.  The latest version, “Suicides in the UK: 2017 registrations” was only published this month giving figures for 2017.  These figures go back to 1981.

This chart gives female suicide rates broken down by age in terms of rate per 100,000 population.

The bottom line on this chart is women and girls in the age range 10-29.  As you can see the line is pretty flat around 3 deaths per 100,000 per annum.  In recent years this group has seen lower suicide rates than in the 90s.  This group is the least suicidal group of women although older women saw big improvements in the 80s that have broadly stopped. Men are very much worse.

Jacobs’ highest point claim is just wrong.  In 2017 the rate was 3.2 per 100,000.  In 2016 3.4 – I guess this is her highest point, she was happy to ignore the latest data it seems.  The highest point in these statistics were the New Labour years of 1998 and 2000 when the rates hit 3.9 per 100,000.  They were over 3.4 11 times in this series.  So her first claim is nonsense and New Labour presided over the worst numbers in 1998 and 2000.

Her doubling in 10 years is something of a stretch too.  The New Labour low was 2.2 in 2007.  Only slightly better than the Coalition low of 2.3 in 2013.  After 2007 rates climbed again to 3.0 in 2010 and 3.3 in 2011.  The worst recent Conservative number was 3.4 in 2016.  So a 55% increase in the 9 years from 2007 to 2016.  Hardly doubling and ignoring the fact that most of the deterioration had already happened before Labour left power.

Maybe someone persuaded Ms Jacobs that she should spice up her speech with some killer facts.  If so she was badly advised.

Ms Jacobs seems to be an estimable person in many ways with a track record of starting a charity to help young women and working as a trade unionist.  Did she know she was being actively misleading or was she merely parroting someone else’s lines?

National politics

Happy birthday Harry Leslie Smith – an unreliable witness to history

I am a great admirer of Harry Leslie Smith’s (HLS) generation, not least because my Dad is just less than a year older than him and spent the war fighting the Japanese in Burma as an artilleryman with the 17th Indian Division.

I do not usually see tweets from HLS because the Twitter minders than run his account on behalf of his publisher have blocked me. I suspect it is because I have more than once called out HLS for being an unreliable witness to history.

It was Jeremy Corbyn’s tweet this morning that pushed birthday greetings and some video of HLS into my consciousness. The first few moments of the video set up HLS’s big claim.

I was born in 1923 in Barnsley. Back then there was no social health care.

I don’t wish to be unkind to an otherwise admirable man on his birthday but this is false and if HLS has any knowledge of Barnsley he must know this to be false. Note that HLS does not claim that “social” health care was patchy or inadequate.  He says there was none. None has a very specific meaning and HLS’s claim is nonsense.  At the time there were five hospitals in Barnsley and they were all “social” in as much as none of them were private enterprises. Four were local authority run and one was a charity hospital.

The NHS is a great boon to our nation but it was built on the considerable infrastructure that was already in place, indeed no substantial hospital building was done until the 1960s, and a culture of extensive provision of not-for-profit healthcare that was already in existence.

I already knew that there were a number of hospitals in Barnsley in 1923 but today I was finally goaded into documenting the five that I have found:

Beckett Hospital, Church Lane, Barnsley

According this National Archives catalogue description:

The charitable institution originally known as the Beckett Dispensary was founded by trust deed dated 28 August 1862 by John Staniforth Beckett, whose endowment of £5,000 was to provide free medical and surgical assistance to Barnsley inhabitants too poor to afford it. No-one was eligible whose family earned over 18s. a week, unless the family numbered more than six; nor was any servant, apprentice or person in receipt of parish relief eligible.

By c.1940 the hospital (known locally as ‘the miners’ hospital’) dealt principally with surgical emergencies and provided 154 beds. Surgeons from Sheffield visited weekly.

Recommendations in the mid 1950s had urged that a new hospital (later known as Barnsley District General Hospital), to be developed on the St Helen Hospital site, should provide orthopaedic, out-patient and casualty departments, and that the Beckett Hospital should be used mainly for the chronic sick, possibly with psychiatric treatment units. When eventually completed, the new hospital was effectively a merger between the facilities formerly provided by the Beckett Hospital and the St Helen Hospital. Services in the original Beckett Hospital buildings were scaled down further and the hospital closed on 13 August 1977; the buildings were demolished two years later.

So the Beckett was a charity hospital that dated back to 1862 and was taken over by the NHS in 1948 and then disposed of but not until the 1970s when Barnsley Hospital was built.

Kendray Hospital, Doncaster Road, Barnsley

According this National Archives catalogue description:

Kendray Fever Hospital opened in 1890. Following an outbreak of smallpox in 1887, the next year Mrs Ann Alderson, daughter of Francis Kendray, had donated £4,000 to buy a site for an infectious diseases hospital for Barnsley. The foundation stone was ceremoniously laid in March 1889 and on 27 February 1890 the hospital, in Stairfoot, was formally handed over to the town of Barnsley. It was later known as Kendray Isolation Hospital.

After the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, the Hospital from c. 1950 began to cater for geriatric patients and the bed complement increased to 144 in 1958 to provide accommodation for the chronic sick. In 1965 the treatment of infectious diseases was discontinued (those cases being taken on by Barnsley District General Hospital) as it became a hospital solely for geriatric patients with the addition, from 1974, of the mentally ill.

In 1981 Barnsley Area Health Authority approved a scheme to prioritise provision of facilities at the hospital for long-term and elderly mental illness. In the 1982 redevelopment, four wards were provided for these cases and upon their completion the old Lambert and Children& apos;s Ward (Isolation Block) and the Round Block (originally for smallpox cases) were demolished. Kendray Hospital is now (2006) the centre of Mental Health Services for the Older Person in Barnsley.

The Kendray Hospital is an active NHS site to this day. The site provided by a charity donation and sustained by the town, was nationalised in 1948.

Lundwood Hospital, Lund Lane Barnsley

According this National Archives catalogue description (scroll down to the end):

Lundwood Hospital was also originally run by Barnsley Corporation. It opened early in 1900 as a smallpox hospital. When it passed to the Ministry of Health in 1948 it ceased to be used as an isolation hospital and instead focused on geriatric care. It was closed on 30 September 1974, after remaining patients had been transferred to Mount Vernon Hospital, and was demolished in 1977.

This piece from the Yorkshire Post talks about the hospital’s role treating small pox in 1947. So this hospital was likely in use for this purpose continuously and would have been functioning in 1923 when HLS was born. The reference to “Cudworth’s public vaccinator” underlines the fact that there were extensive public campaigns before the NHS.

Because of concerns about small pox the hospital was torched as a part of the demolition process in 1977.

So here was a municipal hospital nationalised in 1948.

Mount Vernon Hospital, Mount Vernon Road, Barnsley

According this National Archives catalogue description:

The hospital was officially opened as a sanatorium on 18 May 1915 in the house that had been the home of Samuel and Fanny Cooper.

In 1945 it was described as a poor quality sanatorium unit providing ‘an old type ward block and some chalets’ to accommodate 53 patients. The administrative quarters were in an old mansion. In 1960/61 certain old buildings were demolished and the site redeveloped to accommodate 90 chronic sick mainly geriatric patients. The first patients were admitted to the new premises on 15 October 1961; the official opening, performed by the Princess Royal, took place on on 22 November 1961.

New wards were opened in 1974 and patients from Lundwood and Kendray Hospitals were transferred there in September 1974. Barnsley Health Authority approved the closure of two wards in the hospital in March 2002.

So this site was a TB sanatorium before the war and it passed from the local council to the NHS in 1948.  Now the NHS intends to sell the land.

St Helen’s Hospital, Gawber Road, Barnsley

According to this National Archives catalogue description:

St Helen Hospital (later the site of Barnsley District General Hospital – from 2005 known as Barnsley Hospital -) has its origin in the infirmary wards of Barnsley workhouse. Barnsley Poor Law Union was formed in early 1850 but the town workhouse in St Mary’s Place remained in use until new, purpose-built premises, designed by Yorkshire architects Henry Lockwood and William Mawson, were built in 1852 in Gawber Road. Additions to the infirmary accommodation were made in 1875 but it was not until 1883 that a large, detached pavilion-plan infirmary was completed, following proposals first mooted in 1868. Management was in the hands of the Board of Guardians until 1930.

Following the Local Government Act of 1929 and the subsequent abolition of the poor law administration in 1930, the infirmary wards passed to the Public Assistance Committee of West Riding County Council, and were then appropriated for use as the town’s hospital. It was known as Barnsley Municipal Hospital (on occasion Barnsley Municipal Institution) until 1935. The new name of St Helen Hospital (or St Helen’s Hospital) was introduced from that date. In the 1940s the hospital was largely used for the chronic sick, but some major surgery was undertaken as were maternity work and acute and general medical work. The accommodation was spacious, and there was room for further development on the site.

So here we have a municipal hospital that started off life as a workhouse infirmary but was turned into a “large, detached pavilion-plan infirmary” in 1883.  The site later became the modern Barnsley Hospital.  But it wasn’t until the 1970s, some 30 odd years after the formation of the NHS, that the NHS decided that the health infrastructure, already in place at the time of HLS’s birth should be replaced by a modern district general hospital.


I am sure people will follow the links I have provided and respond to me pointing out the inadequacies of these five hospitals. All I would say is that the current Barnsley Hospital was put up in the 1970s, some 30 years after the advent of the NHS. Either the provision in Barnsley was awful and the NHS took 30 years to re-provide it or it was quite respectable, and was quite respectable when HLS was born.

Has no-one from Barnsley ever spelled out for HLS the rich heritage of pre-war health provision that Barnsley enjoyed? Or does HLS simply prefer his narrative of half remembered family stories to the facts?

National politics

The Labour MP going after the Grenfell inquiry judge has some questions of her own to answer

It seems new Kensington MP, Emma Dent Coad, is one of the pack of Labour politicians going after Sir Martin Moore-Bick who has been asked to lead the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster.

I find it strange that Dent Coad’s past involvement with the company that runs Kensington and Chelsea’s council housing stock does not get mentioned in her numerous media interviews. The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) is responsible for the management of the borough’s housing stock – including Grenfell Tower. KCTMO is constituted as a limited company registered as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation at Companies House (company number 03048135). Dent Coad was a full director of the company from 2008-2012 with all the legal responsibilities that implies.

The powers and responsibilites of the KCTMO directors are laid out in its Articles of Association. The relevant sections are reproduced below:

Their responsibilities are to see that the company is run properly and extend to being able to hire and fire senior staff.

You would think that if KCTMO was so broken when Dent Coad stopped being a director in 2012 she might have blown the whistle on it in a systematic and peristent way. I have searched for evidence of Dent Coad having written or being quoted in relation to fire safety in North Kensington and it is hard to find very much.

For instance, on her own blog Dent Coad has written 125 pieces over eight years 2000-2007. Only once did she obliquely mention fire safety in relation to people breaking into to fire escapes in properties run by a housing association called Catalyst.

I will be very interested to learn of Emma Dent Coad’s record of raising fire safety issues before the Grenfell tragedy. She has rightly been vocal since but she has been presented as if she has no history. Although Dent Coad is a new MP she has been a councillor in North Kensington for 11 years so she should be able to point to a record of raising fire safety issues before now.

National politics

The Royal College of Surgeons is an unreliable witness

I don’t blog so much nowadays – trying to get on with the rest of my life. But, a story I heard on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning piqued my interest. A 24% increase in dental extractions in young children according to Shocking if true!

The BBC website story was headlined:

  • Baby teeth removals ‘up 24% in a decade’

Where did it come from?

It turns out to be one those public affairs generated, producer interested, made up stories – this time from the Royal College of Surgeons. The headline on their press release is eye catching and simply spits in the eye of scientific rigour:

  • Shocking 24% increase in tooth extractions performed on children aged 0-4 in last decade

You can see the BBC website’s headline was essentially a cut down version of the one they were spoon fed in the RCS press release swallowing their 24% number and adding the word baby for effect.

The number is entirely bogus. The press release itself admits the relevant population increased 16% so the overall extraction rate is only up 7% by my maths. The BBC website story fails to mention the context of the rising population and is essentially fake news with a bit of sugar propaganda attached.

Although the Radio 4 news headlines kept referring to the 24% number the 16% rise in population was only mentioned once or twice in the whole Today programme. No-one on Today managed to do the maths and tell people the real rate rise of 7%.

The Telegraph put the story on its front page today but managed to put the 16% relevant population increase on its front page too along with a much more measured headline:

  • Rise in removals of rotting milk teeth fuelled by children’s sugary diet

The RCS talked about a decade in their press release but only included 9 years rise – you need 11 year’s worth of data to be able to talk about a decade after your base year.

Both the RCS and BBC are proving unreliable here. The Telegraph much better.

National politics

The EU’s poor record on free trade agreements

I quite often listen to James O’Brien on LBC. He can be quite entertaining in spite of his reflex leftism. This morning I heard O’Brien roasting some bloke on Brexit and talking about the EU having 50 free trade agreements (FTAs). He compared it unfavourably with the UK which starts off with none. He quoted Full Fact approvingly (as I would typically).


He did rather immolate the chap he was talking to and made no attempt to be even handed. On close inspection the EU’s list of FTAs doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and I think Full Fact could have done a better job of dissecting the EU’s record on FTAs. First off only 34 of the FTAs are in force. For instance, the long delayed Canadian deal has to wait until March this year for provisional application. Trading books give us a heads up on strategize trading.

Looking down the list four FTAs are with bits of the UK – Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey and the Sovereign bases on Cyprus. I think we can replicate those!

Nine of the EU’s FTAs are with bits of EFTA and funny old bits of the EU itself which are all in the customs union: Andorra, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino and Switzerland and the EU’s own Overseas Countries and Territories.

Six FTAs are with relatively tiny Balkan states (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia).

Only seven of the EU’s currently in force FTAs are with large (top 50 by GDP according IMF 2016 data) non-EU/EFTA countries. They are South Korea (11th), Mexico (15th), Turkey (18th), Egypt (33rd), Israel (35th), South Africa (41st) and Chile (45th). Indeed if you add in the five other top 50 non-EU/EFTA countries in various stages of ratification (Canada (10th), Nigeria (26th), Singapore (40th), Colombia (42nd) and Vietnam (48th)) you get 12 countries with a combined GDP of 9% of global GDP.

It is instructive to see where the EU have no trade deals. The list is long:

USA (1st and 25% of global GDP)
China (2nd and 15% of global GDP)
Japan (3rd and 6% of global GDP)
India (7th and 3% of global GDP)
Brazil (9th and 2% of global GDP).

Indeed the EU has no FTA with, and no immediate prospect of achieving one with, some 20 of the 50 largest countries by GDP, which represent 38% of global GDP.

The UK only has to do deals with the EU (23% of global GDP) and the USA (25% of global GDP) to tie up half of the world’s trade. Doing a deal with the EU should be straightforward as we accept the EU’s acquis and there seems to be political support for a deal from the USA.

It is worth considering that free trade with the USA has been a core economic interest for the UK for the length of its 44 year membership of the EC/EU. The fact that there has been no deal demonstrates how lowly British strategic interests are in the priorities of the EU. Consider too that one of the vaunted “Four Freedoms”, a free market in services, another core, strategic economic interest of the UK has not been completed either after 44 years.

There is a n upsurge in people going out to train to trade on foreign exchange, it would seem that we are better off out and those bigging up the EU’s record in pushing forward free trade are ignoring how thin the EU’s record is.

National politics

Labour pushed up rail fares much faster than now

For the last couple of days Labour and its fellow travellers in ostensibly neutral campaign groups such as Campaign for Better Transport have been complaining loudly about rail fare rises in line with longstanding government policy. In particular Labour is trying to nail on this 27% fare rises under the Tories number.


I was wondering where this came from and how Labour did when it was in charge.

You can get the basic data at the Office of Rail and Road NRT Data Portal.

The “All tickets” index at the bottom of the sheet has moved from 176.5 in January 2010 to 218.7 in January 2016. They have inflated the 218.7 value by 2.3% (the widely quoted inflation figure for this year). This gets you to 27% in seven years 2010 to 2017. So at least Labour have used a transparent, straightforward and reasonable way of getting to their number.

How did Labour perform when it was in government? In 2003 the “All tickets” index was at 126.2. Seven year later in 2010 it was at 176.5. This gives a 40% increase in the same length of time. So Labour was much worse. Funny how they think that nationalisation under the least competent leader they have had post war is going to make things better.

All recent governments have tried to push the burden of rail costs onto passengers which, in my view, is fair enough. All recent governments have used RPI rather than CPI which is harsh. The policy has been in place since 2004. From 2004 to 2013 the limit on regulated fares was RPI+1. For the last four years the limit has been RPI. Inflation is what it is but one reason the Conservatives have outperformed Labour is that they took 4.06% out of the rise by their own choice.

We don’t hear Sadiq Khan (who was a Labour transport minister in 2009 and 2010 when Labour were asking more from commuters than the Conservatives are now) apologising for his role is Labour’s rinsing of rail commuters.

National politics

Shameless Khan was putting fares up higher when he was a minister

Shameless Labour mayoral candidate has got Labour party members hassling commuters this morning with this leaflet.

Labour fare rise leaflet

They are complaining about fare rises that increased by RPI+1 from 2004 to 2013, a Labour policy to shift the burden of paying for rail fares from the state to passengers that continued for three years under the Coalition. In the last three years the rises have only been RPI so much lower than they were under Labour.

Of course Sadiq Khan was a Labour transport minister in 2009 and 2010 when Labour were asking more from commuters than the Conservatives are now. The guy is totally shameless.

National politics

UN foundation myth

I thought that Hilary Benn’s speech tonight was bang on. But, on one small detail he was wrong.

Too often Labour types try to lay claim to every positive element of the post war settlement. I have written on this before. In particular Benn said:

It was a Labour government that helped to found the UN at the end of the 2nd World War.

It was not.

The Charter of the United Nations was signed at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in San Francisco, on 26 June 1945. The election that ushered in a Labour government took place on 5 July 1945. A facsimile of the charter is here.

You might reasionably suggest that the signing of the UN Charter was an achievement of the wartime coalition government. It might be churlish of me to point out that the coalition was dissolved on the 23rd May and the UN Charter was signed by a caretaker Conservative administration.