Wednesday, November 01, 2006


A total of 903 NHS staff have been made redundant in the last six months due to the financial crisis in the service, ministers admitted today. Statistics show that among the compulsory job losses, 167 were clinical staff such as doctors, nurses and therapists. The remainder were managers and administrators.

The Department of Health released the figures to prove that Tory and union estimates of 20,000 job losses were too high. Health minister Andy Burnham demanded that Conservative leader David Cameron apologise for his "grossly exaggerated claims". The Tory figures included measures such as not filling vacancies and using fewer agency staff.

Last week it emerged that 95 doctors, nurses, and administration staff at Kingston Hospital could be given their redundancy notices two weeks before Christmas. Tony Blair predicted that a "few hundred" NHS workers would lose their jobs as a result of financial pressures and changes to the way healthcare is delivered.

An independent watchdog was due to report today to Parliament on the standards of healthcare in the NHS. The Healthcare Commission's annual report is based on the experiences of patients. It covers a period in which many trusts have struggled with deficits which have forced cutbacks.



Three quarters of parents think standards of discipline in schools are worsening despite repeated Government crackdowns, research shows. The Government's own polling revealed a widespread belief that pupils are becoming harder to control. In a blow to Labour almost a decade after taking office, it also showed declining public confidence in educational standards. The damning verdict came in a survey of 4,000 adults commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills.

School discipline was rated as by far the most important issue facing education - ahead of other matters like levels of funding. Just over three quarters of respondents believed that standards of behaviour in schools were getting worse. The scale of concern will embarrass ministers who have spent billions on a raft of policies aimed at restoring "respect" to classrooms ranging from parenting classes to school behaviour consultants.

The Daily Mail revealed on Saturday that more than 400 schools now have police officers stationed on site to help curb truancy and playground hooliganism.

Declining pupil behaviour is repeatedly cited by teachers choosing to leave the profession. "Over three-quarters felt that the general standards of behaviour in schools were getting worse" the report for the DfES concluded. "Around half felt that behaviour in their local schools was getting worse."

Both parents and childless respondents believed pupils' behaviour was deteriorating. A majority also thought the Government was not giving teachers enough support to tackle unruly behaviour. Even during the past year, public confidence in the education system has ebbed away, according to research by EdComs and ICM on behalf of ministers. More than half of respondents questioned in September last year thought exam results were the "best ever" but only 36 per cent agreed by June 2006. Meanwhile only 22 per cent agreed that there were "fewer poorly performing schools" by June, down from 30 per cent in September 2005. And just 25 per cent thought the quality of teaching had "never been better" by June, down from 31 per cent.

Declining numbers believe school adequately prepares children for the world of work. Only 32 per cent thought youngsters left school with a proper grip of the three Rs.

In a further blow to Tony Blair, the research found limited support for his flagship "trust schools" aimed at changing the face of the education system. Planned legislation will give businesses, faith groups, universities and other outside organisations a say in running schools but only 15 per cent of respondents declared themselves strongly in favour.

There was clear backing for the Prime Minister's drive to give parents more choice over where to send their children, "they were least in favour of involving outside organisations in the running of schools".

DfES officials acknowledged that parents were worried about standards of discipline. They said that new measures contained in proposed legislation would strengthen teachers' powers in law to assert their authority over troublesome pupils. Laws on physically restraining violent pupils will also be clarified. A spokesman said: "While Ofsted tell us that behaviour is good in most schools most of the time, this survey shows that parents are concerned about behaviour. "This is precisely why our Education Bill confirms the right to discipline so no pupil will be able to question a teacher's authority and gives teachers the legal right to restrain a pupil where they are a risk to themselves or others."



Lives will be put at risk by a controversial law which allows homeopathic medicines to make unproven scientific claims, leading doctors have warned. More than 700 medics, scientists and members of the public have signed a statement criticising a new law which they say makes a mockery out of conventional medicine. The Government's medicines safety watchdog says the change gives patients clearer information. But critics fear that giving legitimacy to pills and potions that are based on 'magic' rather than science will cost lives. One expert likened the change to categorising Smarties as a medicine, on the basis that chocolate makes you feel better.

Homeopathy, which has won the backing of Prince Charles, claims to prevent diseases such as malaria by using dilute forms of herbs, minerals and other materials that in higher concentrations could produce the symptoms of the condition. Popular treatments include arnica, a plant-based remedy used to treat cuts and bruises, and malaria nosode, anti-malaria tablets made from African swamp water, rotting plants and mosquito eggs and larvae. However, a recent study published in the Lancet suggested that the benefits of homeopathy are all in the imagination, with alternative remedies performing no better than dummy pills in clinical trials.

Until recently, homeopathic medicine manufacturers were banned from claiming new products could treat specific ailments. But regulations introduced last month by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency allow the manufacturers to make such claims, as long as they can prove the remedy is safe. Unlike conventional medicines, they do not have to show that the remedies actually work. Instead, they only have to show that the remedy has a history of being used to treat an illness.

The change has so angered the medical establishment that hundreds of doctors and scientists have signed a statement drafted by the charity Sense About Science to oppose the new labelling system. Yesterday afternoon, the House of Lords debated the issue. The critics fear that the new system could lead to life-threatening illnesses going undiagnosed, or to people binning the tablets prescribed by their GP in favour of an unproven alternative. Edzard Ernst, professor of complimentary medicine at Exeter University, said it could cost lives. "makes a mockery out of evidence- based medicine," he said. "I feel very strongly that this is a very serious mistake. If there are claims being made, there has to be evidence for them. "Constipation could be a sign of bowel cancer and if somebody that has a treatable bowel cancer goes out and buys a homeopathic medicine, they might be untreatable tomorrow. Taken to the extreme, this regulation could cost lives."

Michael Baum, professor of surgery at University College London, accused the homoepathy industry of playing on people's beliefs in magic and superstition. He said: "Homeopathy websites advocate using mistletoe to treat breast cancer. The proving for mistletoe is that it grows on the bush in a way like cancer grows in a person. It is utterly barmy." Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, said: "It is an extremely retrograde step for our medical regulator to decide a medicine can be licensed without proper evidence." Professor Adrian Newland, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said he was "deeply alarmed" by the change, which could "encourage patients to use them as an alternative to conventional treatments".

Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's Hospital in London, said those who believe homeopathic medicine work are being misled by the "placebo effect", in which any benefit comes for the patient's expectations, rather than from the treatment itself. She said: "The only plausible explanation for any objectively determined benefit of homeopathy is the placebo effect. "I assume that the regulations would therefore legitimately be extended to cover Smarties used for similar 'treatment' purposes?"

The MHRA said the new regulations, which only apply to remedies aimed at minor ailments such as headaches, stomach pains and insomnia, provide customers with more information about the range of products available. A spokesman said quality and safety were tightly controlled, adding: "The label and/or packaging must have a clear statement of the homeopathic nature of the product, with a statement instructing the patient to consult their doctor if symptoms persist." The Society of Homeopaths said its members are bound by a code of ethics designed to protect patients. Spokesman Melanie Oxley stressed that the new rules only apply to remedies bought in chemist and health food shops and used to treat minor conditions. She added: "For treatment of a serious illness, we would hope a patient would approach a registered homeopath or their doctor."



I have often wondered how the Government would react if the world was faced with apocalypse now (or at least apocalypse sooner than expected), and now I know. First, they hold a press conference at which the press aren't allowed to ask questions (those apocalypse stories can be so gloomy). Then they get the Environment Secretary to come to the Commons and say that it is absolutely vital that we do something (our future depends on it) and he'll tell us what it is as soon as he finds out himself.

David Miliband gave what became known instantly as the Hot Air statement. I have to say that, in terms of actual production of thermal air, it was impressive. We must find a way to harness this abundant natural resource.

Britain's politicians are tackling climate change by producing historic levels of gobbledegook and we must find a way to turn that into fuel. Our future depends on it, as do our cheap holidays in Majorca.

David Miliband says that what our future really depends on is his climate change Bill (details to come). "Climate change is the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity," he said. "It could cause more human and financial suffering than the two world wars and the Great Depression put together." If that won't get you out there buying energyefficient light bulbs, then nothing will. Mr Miliband is almost a mythical figure in new Labour. Many see him as a future prime minister, but then they did not see him perform yesterday. Such is the hype that, in person, Mr Miliband never fails to disappoint. He may be young, bright and lanky but he also spouts total gibberish. Yesterday, for instance, he told us that forests grow on land. It was a shock to us all.

The climate-change bureaucracy is growing exponentially. In his statement yesterday, Mr Miliband told us about a new Public Private Partnership called the Energy Technologies Institute. Then there is a new joint task force on biofuels (its acronym is REEEP, which sounds suitably grim). Plus there is another new partnership to help to fund something called the "Energy Investment Framework". The Chancellor is going to host a conference next year to "kick off the partnership". But the really big news is that there is also going to be a new committee. I believe that, in the hierarchy of bureaucracy, a committee outranks partnerships and task forces. The new carbon committee sounds very important indeed. Mr Miliband emphasised that he will make sure it is independent. He added: "We will ensure that the committee's advice is transparent, equitable and mindful of sectoral and competitiveness impacts." What does he mean? We better find out because our future depends on it.

Peter Ainsworth, the Shadow Environment Secretary, is best known for his Beethoven hair. Yesterday it frizzed in anger as he claimed that the Government was stealing all of the Tories' green ideas. Mr Miliband said that the Tories were not green at all. "They are a shower no matter how many windmills they put on their roofs," he cried, for he is very jealous of that windmill.

Chris Huhne, for the Lib Dems, then said that Labour had stolen all of his party's green ideas. Mr Huhne then accused Mr Miliband of being an out-of-tune orchestra. He said that an in-tune orchestra would have set up a powerful committee to tackle climate change. At which point Mr Miliband looked outraged and said that Mr Huhne sounded like an old record. "If tackling climate change could be solved by setting up a committee," fumed Mr Miliband, "then I think successive governments would have solved this problem quite a long time ago."

I began to wonder if Mr Miliband had just forgotten that one of his four pillars for tackling climate change was to create a new powerful committee. I do hope he remembers soon. After all, our future depends on it.



By Melanie Phillips

Not since Nostradamus penned his obscure 16th-century verses prophesying the end of the world has a publishing event had the anticipated impact of today's report by Sir Nicholas Stern, about the threat to the planet posed by man-made global warming.

If the leaks are correct, Sir Nicholas is saying that unless the world takes immediate drastic action, we are all doomed. Floods and other natural disasters caused by global warming will trigger an economic catastrophe worse than the 1929 Wall Street crash. Far from green policies putting prosperity at risk, it is only such policies, he says, that will keep our consumer societies from global economic catastrophe.

Even before his actual words were published, the political game of greener than-thou had begun in earnest. First past the post was the Environment Minister David Miliband, after a leak from his department of proposals aimed at addressing global warming which would simply end modern life as we know it.

If these were implemented, drivers would be forced off the roads by swingeing increases in taxes and fuel duties. Cheap air flights would become as distant a memory as Concorde. Household goods, from washing machines to lightbulbs, would be priced off the shelves. In other words, we would be taxed back to an earlier, less prosperous age, and those on modest incomes would be hit the hardest.

Mr Miliband was promptly fried to a carbonised crisp by Gordon Brown, doubtless for daring to steal the Treasury's own environmentally-friendly thunder. If Brown is to be the new green, the Chancellor wants to take the credit himself. Mr Miliband's greater crime, however, was surely that his outrageous proposals at least had the merit of honesty. Reducing carbon emissions must cause considerable pain to western consumer societies. But the deeper question is, for what gain?

After all, Britain accounts for a mere 2 per cent of the world's energy demand. If we garaged every car, grounded every plane and rationed families to one lightbulb apiece, it would make virtually no difference. China alone - which is opening a new power station every day - would make up our carbon emissions in 13 months. In short, whatever we do to curb our carbon emissions is all but irrelevant to the future of the planet.

Sir Nicholas is well aware of this fact. So his message is that the whole world has to co-operate in reducing carbon emissions. But the greatest flaw in his argument is that the science upon which he is basing his dire predictions is flaky.

Sir Nicholas, Mr Miliband, the Royal Society, the Government's chief scientific adviser Sir David King, and a host of other terrifically grand panjandrums all claim there is no longer any scientific debate about whether man-made global warming is happening. It's a settled fact. Argument over.

Phooey. They are all simply playing green politics. You have only to read the scientific assessments made by the ecological holy of holies itself, the International Panel on Climate Change, to see that the science that is used to support the theory actually stresses over and over again the uncertainties surrounding it, and the extreme unreliability of the computer models that produce the apocalyptic forecasts of huge rises in global temperature.

Such models bear about as much relation to reality as astrology. As the distinguished American meteorologist Professor Richard Lindzen observed last weekend, the computer modelling performed at the Hadley Centre, one of Britain's most vociferous proponents of man-made climate change, was seriously at odds with the actual warming that was taking place.

The facts are that the rise in temperature over the past century, 0.6C (plus or minus 0.2C), is unexceptional; and that clouds and water vapour are far more significant presences in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Yet this is an issue where ideology is simply driving out evidence. Sir Nicholas will apparently highlight the threat of catastrophic rises in sea level. But according to the IPCC, the seas are not rising. Although they were higher in the last century than in the previous one, it says in its Third Scientific Report: 'No significant acceleration in the rate of sea-level rise during the 20th century has been detected.'

Yet people prefer to believe the absurdities propounded by former U.S. presidential candidate Al Gore in his eco-doomsday film An Inconvenient Truth. In the film he cites, for example, the Polynesian island of Tuvalu as a place where rising sea levels forced residents to evacuate their homes. But this isn't true. Sea levels at Tuvalu actually fell during the latter half of the 20th century. An inconvenient truth indeed. But who cares about the facts when there's money to be made out of human credulity?

For the Treasury, whose speciality has been to devise ever more fiendish stealth taxes, the hysteria over climate change has presented it with a bonanza plucked from the air (literally). It doubtless thinks it can impose eye-watering new taxes by proclaiming that this is the only way to save the planet. Since Sir Nicholas is a senior Treasury official, it might be assumed that the Chancellor intends to tax modern life until the electoral pipsqueaks turn green.

But this isn't the only pound sign now flashing emerald at the Treasury. A lot of people are making a fortune out of climate change doomsday scenarios. Carbon trading, in particular, is now an enormous global business.

This is how it works. Governments set limits on carbon emissions and then permit companies to trade in the credits they stack up for meeting these targets. If companies want to emit more, they must buy more credits from companies with a carbon surplus. The aim is to give firms an incentive to reduce their carbon emissions.

The credits, however, are given for a virtual commodity - tonnes of carbon dioxide which have not been put into the atmosphere. The system can easily be abused - by setting the targets too high, or by rewarding countries such as Russia or the Ukraine where emissions have fallen because their economies are failing.

Nevertheless, this virtual market is producing vast profits. Thus the bank Morgan Stanley recently unveiled a o1.6bn investment in carbon trading; and the World Bank, where Sir Nicholas previously worked as chief economist, is heavily involved in the trade. Is it any surprise, therefore, that his report is expected to give carbon trading an enormous boost?

And the Chancellor is already there before him. In a speech delivered last April, Mr Brown said: 'Our ultimate goal must be a global carbon market,' which he saw as a driver of future economic growth. In other words, on the back of an alleged global catastrophe, Mr Brown sees an unrivalled national business opportunity. Sir Nicholas, it would appear, was brought in to make the argument for a policy that had already been decided.

This is literally making money out of thin air. Surreal, or what? Our Chancellor is taking us from economics to airconomics. The biggest business opportunity of the century may make the South Sea Bubble look like the acme of prudence.

The great satirist Jonathan Swift mocked scientists by inventing a scheme by which they made sunbeams out of cucumbers. Making money out of the air, on the back of a scientifically unproven panic, would surely defy even the powers of a Swift to invent a more preposterous fiction.



Green taxes are not the solution to a better world. Having exhausted stealth taxes, the Government is reaching for green taxes: levies on flying, driving and household appliances. The beauty of eco-taxes, from Gordon Brown's point of view, is that people won't want to be seen to be against them. Those who dispute their efficacy - including this newspaper - will be dismissed as having fallen for tendentious science, or being in the pay of the oil companies, or simply not caring about the viability of the planet. A few seconds' thought should reveal how asinine these accusations are. Surely we can take it as read that everyone is in favour of life on Earth.

The Daily Telegraph accepts that the planet is getting warmer, and that human activity is probably contributing to this. (Some scientists maintain that the change is due chiefly to the cyclical warming of the sun; but, given the stakes, we ought to err on the side of caution.) Although global warming might bring some benefits - warmer winters, wetter deserts and faster-growing plants - these are likely to be outweighed by its deleterious consequences, especially in equatorial regions.

Our objection to the Kyoto process has to do with proportionality, not objectives. For a fraction of what we are being asked to spend on compliance, we might eliminate malaria and all other water-borne diseases. In any case, Kyoto is mainly aimed at the industrialised world, when the surge in greenhouse emissions is coming from fast-developing countries such as China and India. If the United Kingdom were to eliminate its pollutants altogether, it would make almost no difference: Britain accounts for only two per cent of greenhouse gases.

Indeed, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that, for many on the Left, Kyoto is a handy way of advancing an agenda that has little to do with the environment: one that seeks always to blame the West, that is hostile to free trade, and that looks instinctively to state intervention. The trouble is that governments tend to be inefficient. There is no reason to expect the state to be any better at protecting the environment than it was at making cars or running the Millennium Dome.

It is a pity that all three main parties have bought into the idea that state regulation is the answer. Market mechanisms have proved highly effective at delivering green goals. Extending property rights to cover air and water quality, and allowing citizens to sue polluters, is a surer way of securing a clean environment than relying on government inspectors. Privatising rainforests gives owners an immediate stake in their protection. Treating endangered species as the property of those on whose land they roam encourages locals to treat them as a renewable resource.

This is not to say that green taxes are always and everywhere wrong. Where they can deliver an identifiable goal - as when Ireland introduced a small charge on supermarket bags - they have a place. But taxes should be used soberly, judiciously and reluctantly; never as a way of flaunting one's green credentials.



The latest brainwave from the original moonbat below:

One of the reasons why so little has been done to stop climate change is that everyone makes an exception for themselves. We can all agree, for example, that there are too many cars on the roads, while insisting that we cannot possibly leave ours at home. The same problem applies to businesses: the people who run them might agree that collective action urgently needs to be taken, but unfortunately their sector is just too important and its requirements too demanding. This seems to be the prevailing ethos at the moment in sport.

I don't want to be a killjoy and I recognise that many sports are considered a matter of life and death by their fans. But climate change really is a matter of life and death. However important the next fixture might seem, it doesn't compare to the drying out of sub-Saharan Africa or the flooding of some of the world's major cities. Almost all climate scientists now agree that two degrees of global warming would trigger off catastrophic climate change, with the potential to displace hundreds of millions of people. To avert it, the latest figures suggest, we need a 90 per cent cut in carbon emissions from every economic sector in the rich world by 2030. And that, I am sorry to say, includes sport.

Some sports are simply incompatible with any likely solution to the problem. The most obvious example is motor racing. There is a direct relationship between an engine's performance and the amount of greenhouse gases it produces: the faster the car, the quicker it cooks the planet. At the moment, there is no foreseeable means by which a racing car's emissions can be brought down by 90 per cent within the necessary time frame. Biodiesel currently causes more harm to people and the environment than good, as it pushes up food prices and encourages the felling of tropical forests. One day - perhaps in 20 or 30 years - racing cars might run on hydrogen or electricity. Unfortunately, that's too late: the major cuts have to be made right now.

Even sports such as football and athletics that are inherently harmless cause major environmental effects, thanks to the transport of spectators. The organisers of the Sydney Olympics did more or less all they could to make the Games as green as possible: they ran the buildings in the Olympic Village on solar power, used recycled materials and cleaned up contaminated sites. Even Greenpeace gave them a score of six out of 10. But Sydney is on the other side of the world. Just one return journey from the UK to Australia uses twice a person's sustainable emission of carbon dioxide for an entire year. Beijing is expecting

1.5 million visitors to the 2008 Games, a third of whom will come from overseas. Like most Olympic hosts, China hopes the new airport and tourist facilities it is building will attract custom for years. It is hard to think of a better formula than a global sporting event for causing maximum environmental damage.

Building these facilities also exerts a tremendous environmental cost. Because it has to be heated to 1,450oC, and because the chemical process itself releases carbon dioxide, every tonne of cement produces one tonne of climate-changing gas. Steel is even more polluting. Arsenal's recent move to the Emirates Stadium produced tens of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases. The impacts are even greater when a sport has to create an artificial environment. The exemplar is SkiDubai, a huge man-made mountain, which remains below freezing just a steel skin away from desert temperatures.

In August, the Evening Standard reported that most of the eco-features that were supposed to have made the London Olympics the 'greenest Games ever' have been quietly dropped. Instead of using 100 per cent renewable energy to power the Olympic Village, the real figure will now be more like 10 per cent.

Perhaps it's time to consider a fixed site for the Olympics and to encourage spectators to stay at home and watch international events on the telly. Perhaps we should recognise that some sports are simply too wasteful to be sustained. It is, after all, just entertainment. Can we really live with the idea that we might destroy the planet for fun?


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