Saturday, August 16, 2008

News From BOM Correspondents- 7

The days of catapults and GP home visits

Latest news and links from BOM correspondents:

Heath Robinson Spy Plane grounded

In yet another MOD procurement disaster, the £227m Phoenix spy drone has been scrapped:

"The biggest problem was landing. The surveillance pod was slung under its belly, so the spy drone had to flip on to its back to avoid damaging the equipment on landing. But too many crash-landed and bits fell off.

The answer, the technical wizards decided, was to fit an airbag on the top of the fuselage to cushion the impact after the flipover process had been completed. The solution worked but the Phoenix began to look like a Heath Robinson contraption, and its reputation as a reliable enemy gun spotter took a hammering when many of them were “lost”, either having been shot down by sharpshooters as they buzzed noisily overhead like a model airplane or having taken off and failed to come back."

Those boffins, eh? What can you do with 'em? You will recall the famous Dambusters scene (above) with Barnes Wallis using a Heath Robinson catapult to fire marbles across an old bathtub set up under his washing line (actually if you're under 40 you probably won't have seen it before because the film is now only available under the counter - its blatant anti-EuroReich attitudes, it's whitism, including unrestricted use of the N word, and its middleclassism, all place it well beyond the human rights pale).

The real problem - as ever - is unlikely to have been the boffins themselves, but crazy specs laid down by MOD. Or more fundamentally, their ridiculous insistence on buying British/European rather than just buying something that works - ie off-the-shelf US drones which work perfectly well (see all previous blogs on MOD procurement cock-ups gathered here).

(HTP Jeremy Poynton)

83% Roads Overspend

We've blogged the useless Highways Agency before (eg here). It routinely gets rock bottom scorecards from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, which recently concluded the Agency "has lost budgetary control".

Its latest fiasco involves the small matter of a £3.7bn cost over-run on its current road building programme:

"41 road projects which had been calculated to cost £4.45bn will now cost taxpayers £8.12bn – a rise of almost 83 per cent.

... one stretch of the A14 between Ellington and Fen Ditton in Cambridgeshire had risen from an estimated £490m in 2003 to £1.2bn... improvements to a stretch of the A46 between Newark and Widmerpool, in Nottinghamshire, will run to more than three times the original costing of £82m...

The Highways Agency is criticised for basing its inflation predictions on the retail price index, which tracks the prices of household items, at a time when high global demand for building materials means inflation in the construction industry is much higher."

Duhhh. How were they s'posed to know?

As we've suggested before, the HA may well be Britain's very worst quango.

Except for all the others of course.

(HTP, again, Jeremy Poynton)

NHS Walk-In Redirect

BOM readers are familiar with NHS Redirect - the phone-in service for scaring the pants off you and advising you to get to hospital immediately (eg see this blog). Apparently, those NHS Walk-In Centres - the ones Labour set up to provide a cheaper alternative to GPs and hospitals - are exactly the same.

The Ferret Fancier highlights a story from Pulse, where their senior reporter sampled one such centre. The reporter had a persistent cough so he dropped into a centre, rather than go through the hassle of making a GP appointment (cf how in the pre-NHS Dambusterworld, he wouldn't have done either - the kindly Doc would have motored over to see him).

Waste of time - the nurse checked his blood pressure and then told him she wasn't qualified to diagnose the problem anyway. Maybe it was TB. TB! He's never even considered that. He should make an appointment to see his GP asap. And try not to panic in the meantime.

What have these centres cost us? Not sure. But we do know that NHS Redirect costs us £150m pa, and according to a stinging NAO report, less than half actually saves costs elsewhere - ie it's costing us around £100m pa net extra pa (eg see this blog).

Buying Gold

We've blogged the government's £800m programme to breed a race of Olympic superathletes many times (eg here). This morning, we learn how it's less a matter of breeding superathletes, than concentrating on sports that require expensive kit:

"Take the Yngling sailing event for women - at which Great Britain won gold in 2004. Only about four crews at present compete in the UK, with fewer than 100 competitive crews on the planet. Why? Because it costs more than £20,000 to buy a decent boat. You may as well include Formula One in the Olympics. In rowing, sailing and equestrianism there were 186 medals on offer at the last Olympics. Not one was won by an athlete from a low-income nation."

And in cycling, those whizzo hi-tech bikes now cost tens of thousands, so again you can buy advantage.

There's one other point, which we've mentioned before:

"58 per cent of Great Britain's gold-medal winners at Athens in 2004 went to independent schools. In the past three Olympics 45 per cent of medal winners went to the non-state sector. Given that only 7 per cent of children attend independent schools, and assuming that sporting talent is spread evenly, this is a striking demonstration of how Olympic success is driven by wealth as well as by ability. Either way, the 93 per cent who attend state schools are chronically under-represented."

Setting on one side the fact that for forty years state schools have nixed competitive sports, the recipe for cost effective medal acquisition is now clear. Forget about spraying around £800m to all and sundry: we should use the cash solely to buy top flight kit/horses for privately educated competitors. Everyone else is on their own.

(HTP gallantloser)

PS According to C4 News, we're currently 7th in the Beijing medals table. Hurrah! Three places higher than Athens. However, on a population adjusted basis we're only 26th. And adjusted for GDP we're 43rd. But the good news is that adjusted for "human rights" we're 5th! Maybe only C4 News would have a medal table adjusted for human rights. Well no - the BBC would have too if they'd thought of it. What about a table adjusted for obesity? We'd probably be second behind only the US.

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