Daily Archives: 23 April 2007

Fork an Iguana for Queen and Country!

Respect is due to Hot Ginger And Dynamite’s post rant about St George’s Day.

For the record, I’d love it to be a bank holiday as we don’t have nearly enough of them compared to the continentals. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start waving a bloody flag all of a sudden, just as I don’t wear stupid bloody leprechaun hats on Paddy’s Day.

If you want to read lots of bleating and moaning about how people are being prevented from celebrating their patron saints day, go here.

Islington Labour – the shopkeeper’s friend?

Sometimes I wish the journalists who work for the Islington Tribune actually engaged critical faculties before publishing a story. This week, they have effectively republished a Labour press release calling for the District Auditor to look into the Lib Dem run council’s sale of 220 properties, mostly shops, which is being hotly contested. Many of the existing tenants are up in arms because, as the piece says, “Shopkeepers fear the new owners will charge huge rents, forcing the closure of businesses built up from scratch over many years.”

Labour’s allegations warrant some scrutiny. They are claiming that the real problem is that the council is selling the ‘family silver on the cheap’, and that the valuation they have based their plans on doesn’t accurately reflect what they could get over the next 20 years from the property if the council kept it. They claim the council could make more money by borrowing off the value of the property.

I will happily claim ignorance – I have no idea whether they are right here or not. The District Auditor certainly should pay close attention, as it should whenever any council proposes selling off part of its portfolio. But let’s be clear what Labour are, and are not, saying here. They aren’t questioning the principle that the council must get the best value out of its portfolio and that best value means, brutally, the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck. Many of the shopkeepers involved in this dispute have argued that this should not be the case and to some extent I have sympathy for that view – nevertheless, Islington Council have a clear duty to enforce the letter of the law.

But more to the point, what Labour most definitely are saying is that the best value can be achieved by raising rents.

Indeed, although the Islington Tribune has criminally failed to join the dots, they state so quite clearly:

The council’s outside independent advisor, Erinaceous, produced an options appraisal weighing up the financial benefits of retaining the portfolio against selling it off.

Cllr Greening added: “That was based on the current rental income of around £2.5 million. But I have seen a new document produced by Erinaceous, which now estimates the rental will to go up 50 per cent to £3.7 million within the next few years.

“My belief is that that, in the long term, the council will lose money. Within 30 years you will hit the break-even point – when the benefit of the sale and having the rent will be equal.

“That’s when council tax-payers will have to pay.”

In other words, the Labour supposition is based on a policy of increasing the rents by 50%.

This is slightly nonsensical because if the potential value of the assets is so high, the bids are likely to reflect that fact. They have a point only in so far as the council may need to revise its reserve price. But they are most definitely saying that regardless of whether the properties are kept by the council or sold off, the shopkeepers can expect a hike in their rent. The only real difference here is whether the shopkeepers should be given the opportunity to buy their own property, or not.

The bottom line is, this is happening all around the country, and it is happening as a direct result of national (Labour) government policy. The only thing Labour has to say to the shopkeepers affected is that the Lib Dems aren’t proposing to fleece them nearly enough.

Meanwhile, I do wish the Tribune at least occasionally attempted balance, instead of this hyperbolic nonsense (on the other hand, if it was boringly unbiased, I probably wouldn’t make a ritual out of reading it every week).

A single cluster (or even seven) does not prove a link to phone masts and cancer

The Times has an article today about how a cancer clusters have been identified around mobile phone masts. Quick! Panic!

Or don’t. I’m frankly amazed that, even taking into account the general appalling reporting of science in the UK press, that a journalist would fall for that one. The story is about seven , isolated clusters, all of which have been ‘discovered’ by anti-phone mast activists around phone masts. They don’t appear to have found a link to a specific cluster, but rather a vague linkage to “cancers, brain hemorrhages and high blood pressure”. Anyone who knows anything about statistics (and I would never claim to be an expert) knows that clustering is a fact of life.

I play a lot of board games, and thus I’m accustomed to the fact that people can roll 12s on two dice with alarming frequency. It doesn’t happen neatly once in every 36 throws. On the road my parents live on, which has around 20 houses, there were 6 instances of breast cancer in a two year period. They have no mobile phone mast nearby – a fact which causes me great inconvenience when I come to stay.

The point is, not only do statistically insignificant ‘clusters’ happen all the time, but our very existence depends on it. If the universe was uniformly spread and had no ‘clumps’ in it, there’d have been no big bang, no universes, no stars, no us. While cancer clusters can indeed suggest there is something in the environment causing it, most don’t: they are simply brutal reminders of reality.

Who is this ‘scientist’ who has co-ordinated this study? Well, Dr John Walker, it emerges, “spent 40 years in statistical research for Dunlop.” I’m afraid that isn’t reassuring. You don’t send a glorified tire number-cruncher in to do an epidemiologist’s job. The biggest nonsense is when he is quoted as saying:

“Masts should be moved away from conurbations and schools and the power turned down.”

The man is clearly as much an expert in radio communications as he is in disease control. You can’t have both. Either you move them away and ramp up the power (in which case, individual phones will have to use more power to work – right next to your ear where they would be doing more damage), or you turn the power down and have them nearer conurbations and schools. I actually quite like the latter idea, but I suspect it has a snowball in hell’s chance of finding favour with Dr Wilson and his anti-mast pals.

UPDATE: Bad Science this week is relevant here.