Friday, December 9, 2022

Options for internet connectivity during a widespread power cut

I notice some people have to stay online during a power cut. You may be a communications professional, have some other business or family need or just be an addict. When there is an area based, demand-management power cut (see my previous article on this) mobile internet seems to be the only option as landline or fibre-broadband-types all need mains power. But some mobile masts won't work as not all masts are required to have back up power. 

To maximise your chances of staying online during a blackout you need a device that can pick up a mobile signal from a mast further away and a way to power it. Your mobile phone might well work, but running a mobile as say a family hotspot drains the battery fast.

Three options occur to me from my long experience of rural broadband and living somewhere with a flakey power supply. 

The first is a portable MiFi-type device - a pocket sized mobile router usually sold by a mobile company but there are loads on Amazon for which you provide your own Sim. These devices create a small mobile WiFi hotspot. The downside is a relatively small antenna (though perhaps bigger than a phone) which isn't amazingly sensitive to weak signals but the upside is that they are designed to be charged from a regular USB outlet so you can keep them running from a small portable power bank.

If you are wondering what Sim to buy - my hunch (and it is only that) is that in the UK the ee network should stay up the best as they provide comms to the emergency service using their 4G system so you would hope they have back up power supplies to their masts.


A second, more powerful (and expensive) option is to use a regular type of router that has a 4G modem built in and plug that into a larger power bank (picture or your car's cigarette lighter). They only need maybe 18W so you should get many hours of power. My preferred 4G Router is in the excellent TP-Link Archer range, which has several models that take a 4G sim. It looks like a regular router but you just stick a SIM in it, the router then logs on to 4G/3G and creates a wireless hotspot. The bunny ear 4G antennas are much larger than those in your phone and should pick up signals from masts further away if the one near you isn't running (this has been my experience in use). You can plug the router into a larger power banks’ 3-pin socket. In the pic above I am getting wifi with 25Mb/s up and down with a 40ms ping - perfectly usable in an emergency. You can make an Archer Router even better at picking up distant 4G signals with a simple external antenna like this. You just unscrew the bunny ears and screw the antenna leads on, then stick the antenna out of an upstairs window, you don't really need to attache the antenna to anything for infrequent use. This antenna would often add a couple of bars to the signal and even work well indoors.

There is another power supply option for some 4G routers - the models I use in the Archer range require a 12V power supply, the same voltage output by the cigarette lighter in your car. Larger power banks tend to have this sort of 12v socket. With the right adapter lead you could plug straight into that, freeing the 3-pin socket for something else - this is what I am doing with the power bank in the pic above as the power bank has a 12V socket for camping and in car gadgets. It is also more power-efficient to plug it into 12v as you skip the need for a second transformer. You need a lead though, which the manufacturer often doesn't supply. To find a 12V car plug lead for a 12V 4G router go here and find one with the same plug tip dimensions as your router requires and that can manage the current. To find the plug tip size for your device first try searching for a replacement regular power supply for the router model number - the after market power supplies usually include the size of the plug tip in their specifications.

A third internet option for some is to check if your car has wifi built in - modern models often do, though it can be a pain to set up and you might need to buy a SIM to fit in the car. Then you can drive around hunting out a signal while trying to avoid comparisons to the (profane, controversial) South Park Over Logging episode. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Planning for winter power cuts – absolutely not candles

‘The National Grid is planning for power cuts of 3-4 hours on winter days when there is a shortage of gas’ (BBC   National Grid Scenarios) . I grew up on a farm with frequent power cuts and now live somewhere with a ropey power supply (8 cuts in a week was our record). The National Grid are keen to stress that domestic power cuts are very much last resort stuff, but many friends have asked what they can do to prepare. I am struck that many have never experienced prolonged or repeated power cuts.  Here’s some basic tips, trying to keep the cost down - you are responsible of course for deciding how you might act safely on the following:




Buy electric battery powered camping lanterns that can light a room. Amazon has many – I have tested a few. As you are not camping with them you don’t need the most robust nor in fact the highest quality of LED light.  Lighting a room with a lantern works better than handheld torches, especially with a family. This one is good at about £8 even comes with batteries, light is a bit hard edged but lots of it. At £15 this was good - thumps out lots of light. This more expensive solar charging lantern (£28) is good with a nice soft light and it collapses for easy storage (but it has a lithium battery in it which is not v environmentally friendly). Think about how you will use the lantern - if your kids will only sleep with a night light, then you need a soft light lantern (this one is cute £19)  - not something too bright.  If money is no object, track down a Sofirn LT1 lantern (£80 plus).  An alternative is a head torch the basic Petzls are good - these seem better if there are just one or two of you. Small LED reading lights are v useful. Don't forget to have plenty of batteries – rechargeable are best for the environment and cheaper in the long run Eneloop and EBL are the go-to brands (not Duracell – they are rubbish). Removable rechargeable batteries are much more flexible than having a rechargeable appliance - you can just swap dead batteries out for freshly charged ones rather than waiting for the whole appliance to recharge.


Don’t buy candles or oil lamps (you will have a friend who bangs on about them). I grew up with flammable light sources and they don’t give out much light, are a pain to use and a fire hazard.




When the electricity goes off, your gas boiler will stop working. So invest in basic fleece blankets or down-like coats and some leggings. You will be stationary indoors so hiking goretex etc is of less use as you won’t be generating much body heat nor in the wind. Sleeping bags are great on the sofa. If you want to have a fire and have never done so before do get your chimney checked out in advance as older chimneys in older houses can have gas leaks which could kill people on upper floors. Only burn seasoned wood, check your local byelaws fires are illegal in many cities.. 




In some apartment buildings you might lose water pressure as the electric pump in the ground floor will be off. Have some bottled water around. Mains water should be ok in regular houses though many these days have shower pumps etc. Very modern buildings can have a lot of water pumping equipment which needs power.  If you have a gas combi boiler with no storage tank you won’t have hot water while the power is off. If you have pumped sewerage (say a pumped toilet in a basement or a basement tank that pumps up to the sewer or a home sewage plant) that might have problems. 




[I have edited this following feedback on Twitter] When the electricity goes off some modern gas cookers will stop working (they need power for the safety circuits to allow the gas through). However, some gas cookers will work if lit manually using a match or lighter. If you feel competent to do it safely you could test yours by unplugging the cooker from the electricity or (if the plug is inaccessible round the back of cooker) turning off the kitchen circuit at the fusebox. Then see if gas will flow to the hob without electric power and light it using a match. If that works keep some matches or a manual lighter in the kitchen. If blackouts are planned pre-cook and keep food warm in a food thermos (loads on Amazon £20-30).

There are of course plenty of no-heating-required meal options. But if you need to cook hot food (say for kids) then get a basic camper van gas stove and a couple of refills. This sort of cooker is stable and works well with domestic sized pans. The tiny camping stove made of titanium your nerdy mountaineering friend lusts over is less stable with a large domestic pan.  Any indoor gas cooker will need ventilation for safety so open a window while using (though if it is freezing you will lose heat).


Look for food that only needs a little heat to cook – cous cous, soy-mix type things are your best friend as your only need boiling water to start and residual heat to cook it. You don’t have to boil it for ten minutes. Look for any ‘just add water’ camping food – buying it pre-prepared is a little pricey but it can easily be imitated with bulk ingredients. Insulate the pan with a lid while boiling water and heating (makes a huge difference) and insulate the pan with a towel when it is safely off the heat for cous cous etc. 

Of course if you are planning food for kids If they didn’t like cous cous before, they’re not going to start now. Handy staples which don’t need heating include: 

  • Tinned tuna, salmon etc

  • Sweetcorn 

  • Mayonnaise (before opening - will need refrigerating afterwards)

  • Favourite spread (nutella, peanut butter etc)


You could try a BBQ but outdoors – the fumes are deadly indoors. Worth checking if a covid-era gazebo in the shed can be dragged out and used safely over the BBQ if it’s raining. If you plan to BBQ clean it now and buy fuel now (there is a shortage of the cylinders propane gas comes in - it’s hard to buy a new cylinder).


Your freezer should be ok for 4 hours, just don’t open it. A fridge might have more trouble. If it is cold weather get a plastic storage box with a clip on lid (to keep rats, foxes out) and store some perishables like milk you might need in that outdoors out of the sun.



It isn’t clear how well the mobile networks will work under a general power cut. They are not obliged to have battery backup. Plan for them to fail, but they might work – OFCOM advice here. I have written a separate blog post on internet options during a large power cut. My unsubstantiated hunch is that phones on the ee network in the UK might work best as they have to provide a service to the emergency services and their masts might have more back up power. Land lines (if you still have one) are backed up for a few hours with batteries at the exchange. If you do have one check it still works was you might not have spotted a fault as you don't use it. Make sure you tell friends and family your land line number for these occasions. Of course a wireless-walk around land line phone won’t work as the base station needs power. So go full retro with a plug in handset.  If you rely on IP or WiFi Calling for your mobile at home because the reception is bad this won’t work either (below).


A phone battery bank is good for your mobile-tablet just in case the 3G 4G etc keeps working. The Anker brand is very good for this sort of thing.  As you will be at home a chunky one which stores more power is a better option than a small one you drop in your bag to top up on the move.


Home internet via a fibre or phone line will likely die because your router needs power in the house. I don’t think phone line-based internet is obliged to have back ups power during power cuts even if you have a UPS to plug the router into.  But you never know.  Your TV etc will also stop working of course.


The BBC is planning to use FM radio during power cuts – look out a simple set from the attic or buy a cheap one that runs on batteries.


Make sure your laptop is charged in advance or use a suitable power bank. Your kids might need laptops for homework etc. Crucially, download any favourite tv shows or games onto tablets. During our power cuts the kids coped with everything except the absence of TV.

Your handheld gaming console might not work if it can’t get online to verify things or play, though they vary. 

Obviously you won't be able to charge an electric car. Take care that if the power goes off when it is plugged in you are able still to remove the power lead from the car's charging port. Otherwise you could be marooned with a car attached to a dead post. One or two car models have a camping or external power mode where they can supply 12v power for picnic or caravan electric gadgets - check your manual




Your burglar alarm may go haywire when the power drops. Or later if its battery runs out. Having the sirens going off on batteries just adds to the stress. Make sure you have the instructions for how to deal with it and the pin code if needed. And the number of any monitoring firm.  If you have bought gas or petrol fuel (see below) make sure this is stored and handled safely. If you have a fancy Ring doorbell or intercom it won’t work so think about door security. Communal remote unlocked doors (in a block say) will depend on how they are set up - sometimes they have a battery back up for safety.

If you have medical devices and refrigeration for meds needs then let your power distributer know (not your supplier who you pay bills to, it’s a different company use this link to find out which company and write it down) and they can put you on a Priority Services list and offer some help and advice. Do this well in advance.


Power options


Some will go for a temporary generator – small petrol driven ones range from a few £hundred. This must be outside – so you will need an extension lead to get to your fridge or whatever you need to keep powered. Buy also a dry box for safety when plugging extension leads in outdoors. Make sure you have enough fuel and the fuel is stored safely and get a funnel for pouring without spills. Go for a brand you have heard of Honda, Hyundai, Generac, Pramac, Briggs and Stratton etc be slightly wary of ultra cheap generic ones as safety is important.  Your neighbour might get annoyed by the noise. 


Home ‘standby’ generators are common in some parts of the world come in all shapes and sizes, even running off mains gas. But are beyond my scope here – they need professional design and install and are expensive.


There is always a solar panel or two to charge things, but power cuts are forecast in the darkest parts of the year so at our latitudes I’d be surprised if it could add anything during a power cut (as opposed to charging things slowly after a cut).


Some battery banks (often called power banks or portable power stations) come with 3-pin UK plugs. These are pricey and you need to think carefully about what you are plugging in as to how fast it will run down and its ability to output power safely – eg they won’t provide enough current to run a fan heater.  Find an electrically minded friend to help you with the maths of power storage, discharge rates v usage. 


For your IT use a laptop. All laptops are resilient to power changes. For desktops an un-interruptible Power Supply can give you a little leeway and time to shut your machine down safely if there are power fluctuations or unexpected outages. 

When the power comes back


The national grid talks about 3 hour cuts and an ‘hour to reconnect’. On reconnection the voltage might vary a bit for a while - this can sometimes cause sensitive or high power things to trip.

Reconnection can be a bit imprecise especially in rural areas but also in areas where switching everything off has caused something in the network to fail. After storm Eunice it took five days to get my rural location reconnected, we think because SSE forgot about us or we were a long way down a triage system.  If the street next door has come on and you haven’t within 30 minutes this is when it is important to have the distribution company (not the one you pay your bills to - the people who maintain the physical lines) phone number so you can tell them (use this link to find out which company and write it down). Different companies have ways of tracking power outage, but they are very flakey even when the internet is working. 


If your landline number is held by the electricity company then it can often use CLI to identify you without you having to talk to someone and then you have logged the issue. Report repeatedly as the company will be overwhelmed and their systems don’t work well under pressure (as independent investigations have found) The online reporting systems probably won’t be working as you can’t get online. The distribution company then sends a person out to fix it.


Longer power cuts


More of the above really – but if you, children or elderly relatives are getting dangerously cold then seek out local public heat facilities. Pay attention as we head into the power cut zone and plan ahead so you know where these are (as you won’t be able to use the internet with the power off). Check in with vulnerable neighbours. Your fridge contents will spoil after a while. Modern freezers will often have a series of beeps or flashing lights to tell you when the power comes back how much the temperature rose inside (check the manual) and you then make a judgement.

Do let me know if you have something useful to add in the comments (which I pre-moderate).Do bear in mind that people have very different needs depending on location, number of people living together etc. Please don’t bother telling me that candles were good enough for you in the 1970s. Also for those who have commendably installed their own power systems using solar good for you, but this isn’t the place to gloat. If you have non- Amazon links to the products above do let me know and I shall substitute when I have a minute.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Making video conferencing work better from a home office

By choice I do a lot of video conferencing.  I moved to a remote area and am on two international boards. I felt it was only polite to people on the other end that I should be as visible and audible as possible. I have spent a lot of time tweaking my home office video conferencing setup using simple, good quality kit that can be bought easily.  There's a lot of interest in getting video to work well as the COVID crisis consumes us so I thought I would share my experience. I have made some small updates since first publishing this post.

Set against the time and money cost of travel in the UK the following upgrades were good value - not the cheapest, but reliable good quality work tools.

Improve the lighting - this transforms the way your camera works, avoiding any need to upgrade that. With decent light your face is visible and you look human, rather than having a yellow cast from domestic lighting. A basic photographer's light shining from behind or alongside the screen you are looking at will illuminate your face.  The modern LED lights in the daylight frequency around 6500K are cheap, last long and don’t give off lots of heat.  This light costs £44.99 a tripod costs £19.99. For smaller desks and more portability try this tabletop light at £25.99  Also don’t sit with your back to a window, cameras can't cope with that and your face becomes invisible.

Use a cable to connect your computer to your router instead of wifi. In my experience domestic wifi isn't robust enough for video calling.  Wiring to the router transforms the stability of the call and makes your speech etc more responsive – i.e. it is easier to get into gaps in the conversation and much more natural. Video usually gets much clearer.  You can just unplug the cable after the call and go back on wifi.  Ethernet cables work up to 100m long which should cover UK houses for home workers. This 50m cable costs £9.99. Modern laptops usually need a USB-LAN adapter like this one and you just plug the other end of the cable into the router and turn wifi off on your laptop, which should then default to the cable.  If you have a locked down corporate laptop ask work IT support and accept my sympathies. The vast majority of home routers require no tweaking to do this and their wifi for the rest of your house should continue just fine.

Use a good headset that connects by USB. This transforms your speech clarity, volume and removes much background noise - by the simple fact that the mic is very close to your mouth and designed to pick up close speech.  If you are standing (say to simulate a lecture or presentation) then, again headsets work best because the mic moves with you and stays close to your mouth.  Position the mic just below your mouth to avoid heavy breathing sounds. The best I have tried is the Jabra Evolve 40 – this also has a long lead so you can move around a bit during a long call and a physical mute button. It’s a lightweight set that you forget you are wearing.  The Jabra Evolve 40 costs £64.

Persuade the meeting room end to get a modern speakerphone (and to hardwire their machine in). Then you can hear people from all around the room as the speakerphone has special microphones designed for that and a good speaker to allow you to be heard. Laptop speakers and mics are not designed for 360 or even 180 degree coverage - just for someone sitting close up in front so are rubbish in meeting rooms. This Sennheiser 20 SP ML is very good at £116 and easily portable. The Clearone Chat 160 is brilliant, but more expensive at around £300. Both of these just plug into a lap top USB port and appear as a speaker and mic in conferencing apps, they require no fancy IT skills or support. I do a lot of work with charities and often buy them a speakerphone.

Improve your internet connection if you can.  Video calls work best when there is very little lag – can you easily interject in natural small gaps in the conversation or not? A meaure of your internet connections laggy-ness is your ‘ping speed’ (or RTT - round trip time) which usually shows up in a speed test.  Broadly speaking this is a measure of the time it takes to send something from your machine to 'the internet' and back.  A ping below 20ms helps a lot with video.   Hard wiring to your router should eliminate a lot of lag due to your wifi.  If your ping is high – say >40ms when wired to the router, contact your internet service provider. Other changes to your package are too complicated to go into here (higher download speeds do not necessarily mean lower ping times) but move to fibre if you can, which tends to be more stable. If you have a friend or relative into online gaming they will likely know all about ping speeds which make a big difference to games too.

Get someone to help you with big group calls. If you are talking to 15 or more people, essentially giving a lecture or presentation then get someone in the call with you to act as your helper so you can concentrate on your presenting.  The helper/DJ/producer person should handle anything arising that isn't your presentation/talk and responses to questions. They should know how to turn off the mics of people who have the TV on in the background or are eating crisps, help people who haven't got the tech working (maybe by telephoning them in parallel) and juggle questions from participants in the text chat feature of your a conference service so you only get the ones you need. Allow five minutes at the start advertised as say a 'Technology Overture' to get everyone set up. Then you can start talking with fewer kit-based interruptions from the audience. 

Use a better video conference service. I use Zoom daily, it is excellent, you just turn it on and it works. It remains to be seen how well it works as the company grows and its network becomes loaded. Zoom is good because it doesn't require the other party to have an account, if you have one.  I also like CiscoWebex a more corporate product that I use with an Australian board and it is excellent – eerily so given the distances. Skype does ok but the interface drives me mad. Google hangouts is great when it works, but always seems quite buggy.

Which of the above you might select depends on the problem you have really.  If video conferencing works really badly for you in a home office - lagging, poor quality etc then first of all try using a cable back to the router, check the ping speed of your internet connection and switch to Zoom. But also check that the problem isn't with your video partner.

If it all works ok but the picture and sound make it all feel a bit of a trial and you wish the call would just end then improve the lighting, headphones and mic. The better the picture and sound, the longer I can endure a call.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chrissie Osborne RIP

Our wonderful mother Chrissie finally lost her 23 year fight with cancer at the weekend peacefully and free of pain in her beloved Northampton General Hospital (18 March 2017). She was a strong, intense, funny, hilarious, kind, caring, passionate, fierce, outraged and outrageous person. Often all within the same breath.
Everyone knew her as a different person, we her sons and sister knew all of them.
The stories are legion – volunteering at a hospice for ten years, at the hospital for 21, the first female judge in the Royal National Rose Society, the only farmer in Northamptonshire who routinely harvested in a bikini, being sent off from a school rugby match for abusing the referee (in the 1980s before it was fashionable), surfing down the stairs at 10 Downing Street, being crowned, for heavens sake Miss Sexy Voice of Northamptonshire by the local radio station, her brilliant Scottish Country dancing, exceptional rose growing, opening a supermarket, knitting clothing to keep the chickens warm, dogged support of Northampton Saints particularly Steven Myler, abseiling in her sixties for charity, her dedicated fly fishing, buying a herd of Belted Galloways on a whim and any number of outrageous exploits in shoots, pubs and clubs the length and breadth of the country.
Mother would bring immense compassion and humour to any encounter, lighting up the room with a wonderful sense of the absurd and an instinctive empathy.  So many people talk of the joy she brought to them. But she could also fight – she fought anything: her school, from which she was removed just before she was expelled (as she told it), the council for CPO-ing her first shop, the male hegemony that insisted she couldn’t and wouldn’t farm after our father’s tragic early death, on Women’s Hour the agrochemical industry that probably gave her cancer, the government who threatened her rural way of life, motorists on the A43, sometimes us and herself.  As I go through her papers and the press cuttings tumble out, I can see remarkably that she won many of these battles in some way or other. I learned from her to be afraid of no one and will pass to my daughters evidence of their grandmother’s campaigns.
When she was given the terminal diagnosis by her consultant –the cancer had moved to her liver by then – she said that she had better have a gin and tonic. The doc was happy with alcohol, so she did and as she had stopped eating by that point she spent the last few days subsisting in hospital on lager, that she drank through a straw.
The three pictures here cover many bases – immensely beautiful at the marriage to my father, immensely kind receiving a 10 year volunteering award and immense fun, launching the ‘Mini Metro’ having driven it through a wall at the dealers then drinking champagne in the boot (mother, centre).
The world is a much poorer, quieter place without her. Oli and I lost our father tragically early, but we had double the mother.

Chrissie Osborne formerly known as Chrissie Perrin and Christine Marriott's funeral will take place on Monday 3 April 2017 at St Botoloph's, Church Brampton with a reception afterwards.  We would welcome all whose lives she touched to join us.

William Perrin
Oliver Perrin
Vicki Marriott

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cycling in London's air

It was towards the end of the consultation for my long running chest problems that my GP pointed at my cycling helmet and asked 'Do you cycle much here in London?', 'Yes' I said, 'For about 20 years now.'  'Well' he replied 'Do you think there might be any connection between that and the asthma diagnosis we have just reached?'

I was pretty aghast - cycling has been part of my life for so long now, since a Bob Crow tube strike on the district line one summer started me riding in from Richmond - that it was almost out of set for me as a possible cause of illness.  I suddenly felt a bit like a smoker sitting in the surgery complaining about their cough while taking a drag. My GP went on say that he couldn't establish a direct causal link but it was worth factoring in.  I had acute asthma as a child, but grew out of it at puberty as one tends to do and it didn't manifest like this - a cough and subtly lower energy levels.  I wore a mask when I started in the 1990 s (an early Respro I think) but like most people gave it up after a while.

So now I am on a Clenil brown inhaler and the difference is colossal.  My benchmark daily ride on a 30kg Nihola with an increasingly heavy 3yo uphill for three miles is now maybe 30% easier than before, in a higher gear and not out of breath.  This and other radically improved benchmark rides I can practically do in my sleep suggest the asthma has been around for many years.  There is also a sudden return in energy, the lack of which I had put down to parental lack of sleep and age.  Of course it could be the mild steroids in the inhaler but I am some way short of Lance Armstrong levels.

The joys of London air.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Can #floodhack help people work together to prevent future floods? (repost)

Here’s an idea for today’s #floodhack that would help people organise to prevent future floods by lobbying the people whose actions have led to the flooding: create a web service that allows people in low lying, flood risk areas find and lobby the people on higher ground who need to change their land use patterns to stop water rushing into rivers and creating floods. This is something that government data and modern web tools can easily achieve.
At the heart of flooding is a simple, powerful micro-economic problem: the people who are farming or building on upland areas in a rapidly-draining way causing a flood problem downstream don’t bear the economic costs of their actions.   Indeed in many cases have no idea that they are part of the problem. Therefore there is no hope whatsoever of a ‘market’ solution unless this is somehow corrected – both information about what they are doing and internalising the costs to their production decision.
Here’s how it might work, ultra-simplistically.   You enter your post code and are presented with a map of the drainage basin that might affect your flooding risk.  The areas of the basin that have the wrong type of vegetation or ground use are coloured red.  Areas that are controlled, built or in most cases farmed by one operator are singled out.  You can then click to organise a group of people to meet up in that area or protest to the person/company or petition them or similar to change their land use practices. To help that person change you are given a play list of appropriate land use practices – eg plant trees instead of wheat, for instance and government support schemes to incentivise this.  The service also records who is campaigning who to prevent overlap.  And also networks together everyone who is campaigning in that drainage basin.
The aim is very much to allow people who are doing the wrong thing, even inadvertently, to meet with people this is affecting and start to feel the human impact of their actions.  And then start to push them through behaviour change.  Of course there are lots of holes in this, but the basic capability to answer the question ‘whose behaviour do we have to change to prevent flooding long term’ is invaluable however it is applied. Why not let a hack day loose on it instead of some turgid Rural Payment Agency/Environment Agency process)
What data sets would you need?
drainage basins (EA, Geological Survey and many hydrology academics)
rivers (not open as far as I know)
land ownership and leasing (land registry)
who farms which bit of land (Rural Payments Agency has this – different to who owns it)
agricultural incentive schemes (RPA again and related to people who farm which bit above)
house building and drainage rule sets/incentives (CLG – de-regulating planning and building regulations won’t help)
and you could plug in some simple organising tools like meetup or the pledgebank engine or any of the petitioning tools
Why would i suggest a tool like this?  In order to tackle long term flooding problems major changes to land use will have to come about in the catchment areas that run-off too quickly due to house building or the ‘wrong’ sort of farming.  The governance of Britain for hundreds of years has been dominated by land owners, particularly in the House of Lords. Governments historically have been poor at influencing landowners unless they pay them huge amounts of money in cumbersome and much mocked agricultural support schemes. In austerity times, there aren’t huge amounts of money and the current government is inimicable towards the CAP, with little negotiating credit in Europe.  So i am pessimistic about this or any future government’s ability to drive affordable change up on the slippery slopes of drainage basins.
The government might crack this in the end, but the vested interest lobbies are horrible and the government’s tool set and indeed I dare say their own knowledge of who to act against, is weak.
So why not short circuit the government a bit and allow people who are at risk of flooding to organise themselves and campaign direct at the people whose practices are exacerbating the flooding?

(reposted from which was having problems with it's mobile theme today)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Keogh report and accountability - cut through the crap give citizens rights to enforce against the government in court

Today’s Keogh report into avoidable deaths and mis management on a huge scale in the health system was awful.  The partisan debate in the House was particularly unedifying even by the low standards of Westminster.  But there’s something weirdly British about the situation.  The public seem almost helpless in the face of institutional and political failure.  The way the British system works citizens (more correctly ‘subjects’) lack support from the third leg of the stool in an advanced democracy – the courts, independent of the party system.

We don’t seem to have rights in law to enforce against government that let us down.  In this particular case bureaucratic failure led to deaths – the most extreme form of institutional failure.  There is notionally the corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide act 2007 that cuts through the old concept of crown immunity, allowing NHS bodies to be prosecuted.  But for arcane legal reasons the act itself doesn’t work – lawyers still struggle with identifying who was responsible within a large organisation – they have only made one case stick so far against a small business.  

An effective CMCHA could be a powerful weapon cutting across a lot of the crap talked about accountability.  The CMCHA is usually seen alongside the much lampooned Health and Safety legislation – and that too could be beefed up.  The reams of management legislation around public services could also give a limited number of rights in law to the citizen/subject/customer to enforce in the courts against the state.  Most recently, the weakening of judicial review, itself never quite the fierce beast it was talked up to be goes in the opposite direction.

A group of us in London's Kings Cross have sought action against TfL for failing to act  in a timely or effective fashion when in receipt of warnings about a dangerous junction, at which a person later died. We have gone down the corporate manslaughter route, but people keep telling us that we are wasting our time.

There’s a challenge here for all parties as they think about their 2015 manifestos – are they serious about standing up for citizens? Then give people the rights one should expect in an advanced democracy and allow them to seek redress through the courts when public bodies or corporations kill people.