Tuesday, 17 December 2013

World War Two monuments buried on Grain

A couple of years ago a development company hit a sticky wicket in Gillingham. Right in the middle of their proposed construction site was a set of Dragon's teeth, put in place to slow the advance of German armoured vehicles if the Wehrmacht had landed during World War Two. This really caught my attention at the time as my Grandfather, Corperal Alfred Pullen, had been working on the defences of Gillingham and Chatham in 1940 and had more than likely put them there with his team of Sappers. They had also put the large Concrete block outside what was the Town hall in Chatham.

The Dragon Teeth were built across much of Kent and have sadly been cleared following the war. Their design to hamper the enemy also hampered civil usage of roads, fields and beaches!

They do, however, survive in areas and have now been Listed as grade II as items of special interest. One surviving group is situated on the Isle of Grain and these have been defiled recently. The Grain Group stretch for some 570 meters along the north foreshore and have been  listed because amongst all the usual models there is also exceptionally rare Caltrops as well as anti-tank pimples on Concrete sleeper grid. They are listed with number 1019955.  According to local sources (and photographs that hit the web) they have been buried under a large amount of top soil that has been dumped on the beach.

Rumour has it that the soil was put there to cover up more older refuse and waste that has been there for as long as 40 years and may be leaching out into the river.

English Heritage have been contacted about the possible damage and the covering of the World War Two and they have asked Medway Council to look into it, I understand the Environmental officers have been tasked with this process. I have also heard that Peel Ports and the LRG, who own the land and are thus responsible for the upkeep of the beach and the monuments, have also been contacted by the Council.

As the history of this nation is slowly eroded by progress and time it is important to cling on to those monuments that do bear significance are properly maintained and restored. I trust that those responsible are held to account and this area restored to the way it was swiftly.

I also trust that there are no pollutants or waste under the soil, should there be then this makes a bad situation far, far worse.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

IWM Out sources Visitor Services Department

News that the Imperial War Museum Visitor Services department has been outsourced to Shield Security has already hit the newspapers.

I have to be careful what I write as I am still an employee of the Museum and can thus face disciplinary... Until 1st April.

The Museum like many other has been forced to face up to a hefty budget cut (caused by the financial deficit) from the Treasury and the Department of Culture and Sport as well as trying to save money for costly regeneration works for the World War One centenary in July next year. Museums as a whole have to face greater and greater competition for visitor figures and with the over priced nature of visiting London and more sunny days than wet, falling visitor numbers.

The IWM has had ticket only galleries in the past and in the five years I have been here they have had varying levels of success. Ian Fleming 007 and Horrible Histories: Terrible Trenches did very very well where as Once upon a War time based on certain fictional books set during wartime failed to impact - it was interesting to note that at the same time the Evening Standard wrote at length about the falling literacy levels within young readers...

Two Years ago the Museum began its review of the Visitor Services department and looking how to do things better. One of the problems highlighted at the time was that over the five branches the roles varied massively and that contracts differed depending on length of service. It was identified that the department was too cumbersome and there were offers of voluntary redundancies and early retirement which were accepted by a few. At the beginning of this year management had to look at the possibility of outsourcing the whole department except for a small Visitor Services department who would handle Visitor Planning and tours etc. The Tender process would begin and they would look at the feasibility. That was in April.

Since then rumours have been fierce and unrelenting. Yesterday it was announced to staff that they would, as of the 1st April 2014 be working for SHIELD. My meeting was today and we have been told that under the Tuppee law that our terms and Conditions, rotas, and structures would remain the same until at least April 1st 2015. After that nothing was certain.

The PCS have not been very helpful in this. Three years ago before I resigned my post our branch chair told us that there would never be agency staff working at the Museum or Volunteers doing VSA jobs... Both have since happened.

There have also been no real fight until the last week when the when Mark Sewotka's comments were published in the  Gaurdian and the PPS website. They also told the Museum that they did not agree with the process when it was pretty much over - a position that should have been taken eight months ago.

There are mixed fillings at the moment within the staff. There is a grim acceptance by some, others are trying to be optimistic that at least nothing changes for a year and we maintain pay etc, others are angry that their loyalty is not being repaid and that this may have been the plan all along.

Comments on Facebook and other Social media say things like:
"So angry, furious... annoyed"

"When you have a brilliant, warm-hearted, dedicated team, you do not outsource them. You treat them with respect and dignity"

"Dick move, IWM. That is all."

There is belief that this will not have any bad ramifications on the Centinary as staff who know and love the subject matter gently bleed away to be replaced by contractors with little interest in the subject. This remains to be seen.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stop the Badger Cull in Medway

Many of my regular readers will know that I have been against the Cull of Badgers to combat Bovine TB within the UK.

It is a barbaric practise acting on very little evidence and is being carried out by brutal methods that are not being regulated properly. Usually someone is telephoning the sniper aiming at the badgers and measuring the amount of screams from the victim as to how much pain they are in rather than being on site. This cull has included the murder of young through direct action or by the killing of their parents.

The more costly yet effective route of Vaccination is being ignored in favour of the quick and simplistic Cull which does not cut to the route of the problem.

Now a petition is being put to Medway Council to:

We the undersigned petition the council to We, the undersigned, call on Medway Council to prohibit the culling of badgers on council-owned land and invest in vaccination programmes locally. We ask this because we believe culling to be inhumane, inefficient and unscientific.

This is a national issue which will be of direct concern to the people of Medway when DEFRA "rolls out" its culling policy in 2014. The object of the petition is to ensure that Medway's badger population is as safe as possible from slaughter and that the already available injectable badger vaccine against bTB is used in as many cases as possible. We ask this because we believe the culling policy is inhumane (DEFRA's measurement of "humaneness" is to time the screams of wounded badgers), inefficient (previous culls showed an increase in bTB because of badger movement) and unscientific (the majority of scientific opinion hold that a cull will have "no meaningful result").

Please take two minutes to sign this petition to stop the barbarism of one of Britain's favourite rural indigenous species and spread the word.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Tracey Crouch on the Mesothelioma Bill

I have written before on the problems of Asbestosis and Mesothelioma that has affected the people of Medway in particular Tracey Crouch's campaign and outspoken work on the subject.

These conditions cause severe health issues and death and Medway is one of the highest registered areas in the South behind Portsmouth and possibly Southampton (from memory - I can't find my original chart!!!). Statistics stated here show that an estimated 100,000 will die from Mesothelioma nation wide and 1.4% of all ship yard workers will contract the condition. Unknown amounts will suffer from Asbestosis.

The heavy industrial works at Chatham Dockyard and even in the Short Brother's factories building Stirling Bombers and Sunderland seaplanes meant that many of the Towns' residents who were employed at these facilities were exposed and in later life they are suffering from their employers not taking enough care. (Asbestosis was published in Medical journals in the early 1930s)

Tracey has been speaking out on this issue for sometime and rebelled over the legal aid bill and she has consistently fought for the rights of the sufferers, who have given so much to this country's war effort as well as peace time industry. On Monday she gave a speech on Mesothelioma Bill which, according to the post on Facebook says;

 This is a welcome piece of legislation that will compensate victims of this horrific and fatal disease caused only by exposure to asbestos, and one that sadly is prev...alent in the Medway Towns due to its heavy industry and shipbuilding legacy. The Bill makes it possible for sufferers who cannot trace their former employer or employer’s insurer to receive some form of payment, but there are a few shortcomings in the Bill that need to be addressed. Unfortunately I am not now on the Bill Committee but will do all I can to continue to fight for a fair outcome for victims.

I can only hope that this bill does go through relatively unmolested and that aid can be provided to those who have been exposed to this toxic substance and help those who have slipped through the holes and more importantly that money gets to those who deserve it and not soaked up by Lawyers and insurance companies.

Here's Tracey's speech (including the first question from Rochester & Strood's Mark Reckless MP) for the original link and the rest of the questions you can see it all on Hansard

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak on this issue, on which I have a great deal of knowledge from working in the insurance industry for five years before I became a Member of Parliament and from representing a constituency with very high levels of mesothelioma. Britain has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world and sadly that rate is rising. In the past five years, the south-east of England has had the highest rates of deaths from mesothelioma compared with anywhere else in the UK. Medway, with its heavy industry and dockyard history, is a particular hot spot.
Mesothelioma is a horrific disease that is contracted exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Those who are diagnosed are often dead within a year. For many years, lawyers and insurers have taken their time to settle claims through civil procedures, leaving great financial uncertainty for sufferers and their families. A great deal has been done to speed up civil claims for victims and tribute ought to be paid to the work of Senior Master Whitaker for making that happen. However, there remains a small yet significant group of people who contracted mesothelioma but could not be compensated either because of poor record keeping by their employer or their employer’s insurer, or because neither existed any more.

The Bill will help to rectify that and is therefore welcome, but it still contains shortcomings that, if Ministers, insurers and lawyers were open-minded, could be rectified at little extra cost to them. Before going into detail, I congratulate Lord Freud on his sterling efforts to introduce the Bill. From my own experience of working in the insurance industry and alongside lawyers, I know that the negotiations would have been very difficult. He deserved the praise he received from peers on both sides of the House as the Bill progressed through the other place, but it still lacks fair compensation for victims of this dreadful disease.

In my preliminary discussions with interested parties, there was consensus on one point: the Bill will give sufferers something. That is true and something might be better than nothing, but the Bill puts the something squarely in the pockets of the insurers and lawyers, and not as much as there should be in the hands of the victim. The victim is the one who turned up to work and was exposed to asbestos. The victim is the one who happened to work for a company that kept shoddy records. The victim is the one who will die through no fault of his own. The Bill has room for improvement, based on further compromise.
Their lordships debated the Bill on a set of assumptions that have been revised since it has progressed to this place. The goalposts have moved. It is a shame that what should be a simple piece of legislation has become so mired in suspicion and confusion regarding what is and is not included in the levy. When the Bill was discussed in the Lords, Lord Freud made it clear that the levy could not be more than 3% gross written premium. That was to ensure that insurers financing the scheme would not incur additional costs that would be passed on to their existing customers. At that point, the levy agreed with the insurance industry was 75% and equated to, as illustrated in the Department for Work and Pensions’ own analysis in support of the Bill, 2.79% GWP in the first four years of the scheme and 2.27% GWP in the first 10 years of the scheme.
Since the debate in the Lords, the assumptions relating to legal costs have changed. Their lordships debated a fixed legal fee of £2,000, but we are now debating a fee of £7,000. In truth, there is total confusion about who will pay the fee. As the Association of British Insurers understands it, it will be paid by claimants out of their compensation which the Government will uplift accordingly.

Not only is it unclear what precisely the fee is for, but what the other 25% is paying to administer. It would be helpful if the Government clarified who pays the legal fees. Is it the claimants out of their compensation or the insurance companies out of the administration fee? If it is the claimants, we need to be absolutely clear that when they are awarded £57,000 of compensation, £7,000 of legal fees will have to be deducted from that award.

Lawyers, insurers and the Government are, unsurprisingly, at loggerheads on the fixed fee, presumably because if it is acceptable for this scheme, why could it not be applied to civil claims? Where would it fit into the LASPO review that the Ministry of Justice is expected to complete and report on next year? At the heart of the Bill is supposed to be the fact that the victim is coming into the scheme at last resort. A lot of what is required will have already been done, so lawyers in a civil claim might not be as necessary as they would be in this scheme. Senior Master Whitaker has helped a great deal and the Department is clear that in some circumstances a medical report would be enough. The underlying point, however, is that because of the revised estimates, about which I remain sceptical, there is no room to raise the compensation limit from 75% to 80%—a much fairer level of financial recompense for victims of the disease. In his introduction, the Minister said that 75% is not the important figure and that the 3% levy is. With the greatest respect to the Minister, it is the level of compensation that is important to the victim, not what the level of GWP is to the insurance industry.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned that Medway is a hot spot for the disease. There have been 42 deaths in my constituency in the past five years—a greater number even than in her constituency, and about three times the national average. She mentioned the 3% and 75% figures. Is it not the case that the changes to which she referred will affect the sums relating to the 3% cap? If that is so, will it not be open to Ministers to show some compromise or movement in the direction that she is so ably arguing for?

Tracey Crouch: My hon. Friend is right that our constituencies are particularly affected and I am delighted to see him in his place to debate this important issue. He makes an important point. The Government have set a cap of 3% and there is no room for manoeuvre unless they are willing to stand up to the insurance industry and say that there is a firm view on both sides of the House that the 75% they have currently negotiated is not good enough. They need to agree on another figure. I believe that 80% would be appropriate as a good compromise between the 90% being called for by the lawyers—they cite the financial services compensation scheme as a useful comparator—and the 70% the insurers were originally willing to accept. Furthermore, with the previous assumptions under which their lordships debated the Bill, 80% would have been 2.98% GWP over the first four years and 2.42% over 10 years. Now, with the 3% cap, under the new legal costs associated with the scheme, there is no room for manoeuvre. I find that disappointing, unless the Minister is willing to stand up to the insurance industry and discuss this.