Saturday, April 26, 2008

Britain, Spain To Combat Illegal Immigration

Sounds like a lot of bull but maybe there is something to it

The British and Spanish governments agreed to enhance cooperation to combat illegal immigration from Africa into the European Union (EU). "Spain and the United Kingdom can work together to help the EU deal effectively with the human tragedy of illegal immigration, and we can stimulate the EU into becoming a model power and promoter of human and economic development across the globe," Britain's minister for Europe Jim Murphy said during his speech at a lunch at Spain's New Economic Forum.

According to Murphy, Britain and the other EU members can learn a lot from Spain's experience on the issue particularly in North Africa. Spain has signed deals with seven West African countries in a bid to control the flow of migrants.

Based on estimates of national statistics institute INE, the number of immigrants living in Spain soared from around half a million in 1996 to 4.5 million by the end of 2006 out of a total population of 45.12 million people.


NHS fight against MRSA going nowhere

The government's drive to combat MRSA superbug infections in NHS hospitals faltered in the final quarter of last year, figures from the Health Protection Agency revealed yesterday. The number of infections in England had fallen sharply for three years, but increased slightly from 1,080 cases between July and September to 1,087 between October and December. John Reid, the former health secretary, promised in 2004 to halve the number of MRSA infections by the end of March 2008. When Gordon Brown became prime minister in June, he made hygiene a priority for the NHS. In September, he said every ward should be deep-cleaned by the end of March.

The agency said: "Over the last year cases of MRSA bloodstream infection have been steadily falling. We would obviously like to have seen the trend continued in this quarter." To achieve Reid's target, the NHS would have to reduce the number of cases from 642 a month in 2004 to 321 a month between April and June this year. In the final quarter of last year, there were 362 a month.

Ann Keen, the health minister, said: "The MRSA target remains within reach. However, one case of avoidable infection is one too many and I am challenging the NHS to make full use of the resources at their disposal to eradicate avoidable infections."



By Dominic Lawson

When the political wind changes direction, it can leave a Prime Minister looking very silly - almost as if what mothers used to warn their children about not pulling faces was actually true. Thus Gordon Brown's last Budget, which removed the concession of a 10p in the pound tax rate for millions of the least well paid, was thought perfectly acceptable at the time, including by the vast majority of Labour MPs, who had cheered the then Chancellor in the House of Commons. Now - as its measures are just about to come into force - it is almost universally excoriated: how could Gordon have been so insensitive?

The reason for this near-180 degree shift in sentiment is not hard to find. Food prices have risen sharply since Brown's final Budget - and so, even more, has the price of heating a home. These are items which form a very significant percentage of the domestic budgets of the least well-off, so they now feel understandably furious to be faced with a government-imposed drop in take-home pay.

This bitter atmosphere lends particular piquancy to a long-arranged meeting later this week between the Business Secretary, John Hutton, and the country's six largest suppliers of energy - the so-called "fuel poverty summit". The Government is understandably concerned about further imminent increases in electricity bills, especially against the background of consumer groups such as energywatch loudly protesting that "an increase in utility bills of 25 per cent will consign another million households to fuel poverty".

Up until now, it has been possible to blame such increases in costs on the rise in the wholesale price of the main raw materials - oil and gas. Now, however, rather as in the style of Gordon Brown's tax changes, it is the Government which is becoming an active agent in the imposition of ever-higher costs on the consumer.

As part of an EU directive designed to combat climate change, Britain is committed to generating 20 per cent of its energy by 2020 through "renewables" - a tenfold increase in the current figure. Yet even the prevailing historically high prices of oil and gas provide domestic heating at between a half and a fifth of the cost of similar amounts of energy from renewables.

By chance, I spoke about this last week to the head of E.ON UK, the British arm of Europe's biggest supplier of wind power. Paul Golby explained to me that, because it was very hard to envisage much of a contribution from renewables for energy used by transport , this means that we would need to generate about 45 per cent of our domestic electricity bills from such sources - principally wind power - in order to conform with the EU directive known as the Renewables Obligation.

According to Mr Golby, meeting such a commitment will involve an increase in electricity generating costs of about 10 billion pounds per year; this is equivalent to almost 400 pounds per household - or, in the roughest terms, an increase of about 40 per cent in annual electricity bills. Try selling that to the British public; and, of course, the Government hasn't. As Mr Golby told me, with understandably diplomatic understatement: "The politicians have not been entirely honest about the cost of our renewables commitment, and so the public don't really know what's coming their way."

I told Mr Golby that I thought he was being somewhat naive if he genuinely expected any government to volunteer to the public that it was responsible for a swingeing increase in energy bills, especially if it thought it could get away with blaming the increase on anyone else - such as Mr Golby and his colleagues.

So far, the likes of E.ON - perhaps because they also stand to make what amount to large heavily-subsidised revenues from wind-power - have been very careful not to blame the Government. I forecast that this gentlemanly conduct will not last. Soon each side will be blaming the other, in a desperate attempt to avoid the full force of the public's anger.

The British public might become even more furious when it learns that one reason for the extra cost of wind power is that its inherent variability means that we will still need to retain our entire existing network of conventional power stations as back-up. That is because it is not a good idea for us to endure what happened two months ago in Texas, America's biggest wind-power producing state: a sudden drop in wind combined with a fall in temperatures led to what was described as "an electric emergency" - customers in west Texas were deprived of power for 90 minutes.

One thing is clear; the British public does need educating about this: even one of The Independent's most intelligent commentators wrote here last week that "The mini-windmill on David Cameron's new house is an economical way for an individual household to generate electricity, even contribute to the national grid". Well, that's if you consider it economical to spend thousands of pounds on a roof-top turbine that produces - even according to its supporters - no more than 1 megawatt hour per year, worth œ40 unsubsidised on the wholesale electricity market. As a contribution to reducing CO2 emissions it's about as cost-effective and meaningful as cycling to the House of Commons while having your chauffeur-driven car follow you with your briefcase, suit and black lace-up shoes.

If a serious economic downturn does hit this country, then such extravagant gestures, far from attracting praise, might begin to seem Nero-like in their irrelevance to an economy threatened by the flames of recession. Some Ipsos-Mori polling data published last week by the Financial Times showed that over the 12 months to January 2008, the proportion of those in Britain declaring "the environment" to be their biggest concern fell from almost 20 per cent to just 8 per cent.

On a more long-term sweep, it was fascinating - though perhaps not surprising - to see that concern about the environment rose and fell in direct inverse proportion to concern about the domestic economy. The headline on the FT's article was: "Greens fear voters will turn selfish in difficult times". That's one way of looking at it; but I don't think any mainstream politician will risk calling the electorate "selfish" if the public rise up against a state-imposed increase of up to 40 per cent in the cost of their domestic electricity bills.

In fact, after his taxing experience of the past few weeks, I imagine that Gordon Brown will be wondering just how to get out of the Government's commitment to do exactly that, as part of the EU Renewables Obligation. He'll be in company, of course - the company of every other European leader. The only uncertainty is whether they'll admit it - even to each other, in private.


British prison absurdity: "Prisoners are passing up opportunities to escape because they are more comfortable inside jails where there is a plentiful supply of cheap drugs, according to a prison officers' union leader. Staff morale is at rock bottom and many jails are close to anarchy because of underfunding, said Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers Association. He gave warning yesterday that the drug problem was now "out of control" and said that even prostitutes were sometimes smuggled in. Mr Travis told of one institution in Yorkshire where members of the public were climbing over the prison walls to take drugs inside. "They put up ladders to climb over the walls, but prisoners were so comfortable in the environment they were living in that none tried to climb up the ladders and escape," he said, in a reference to Everthorpe Prison in East Yorkshire."

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