Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Standing charges are a rip off

I received my energy bill for August to September yesterday. The gas charge caught my attention. The standing charge cost me £8.04 and the actual amount of gas used cost me £8.88. In other words, the standing charge was nearly as much as the gas used.  Compared to most people our gas bill is low because we make sure we use as little as possible. Our house is heated by our wood fired stove and short showers are taken instead of baths. We have made every effort to bring down the amount of gas be use and the financial benefit is seen in lower gas bills. But we can do nothing to reduce the standing charge. 

This daily charge to be connected to the gas and electricity grid, regardless of how much energy someone uses, falls most heavily as a burden on lower income households. As it is a fixed charge, it does not reward those who go out of their way to save energy. So, not only does it clobber the poorest the most, it also discourages energy efficiency and damages the environment.

Personally, I feel standing charges are a rip off. The energy suppliers should at least offer a payment system that does not charge just to be connected to the grid while a compensating increase in the unit price of energy could offset the scrapping of standing charges. A reasonable price to pay to help the poorest and protect the environment.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Growing tall


Some years ago I bought a small Christmas tree in a pot. It was 50cm high and had a full, intact root system. After the festivities were over, we put the potted tree outside in the garden and watched it grow. After we repotted it, we watched it grow yet further. It was about 1.5m high when we planted it at Marley Hill community centre. As you can see, it is now flourishing and is continuing to grow. There will come a point soon when a cherry picker will be needed to put the Christmas fairy on the top!

The weight of a baby elephant


I donated 20 cans of baked beans to Sunniside Church's collection for Gateshead foodbank on Sunday. They told me that they had collected food equivalent to the weight of a baby elephant! So well done Sunniside Church and their interesting comparison of weights!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Is this a rerun of 1992?

Those of us who are old enough to have lived through the UK's crashing out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992 (yes it really was 30 years ago!) may find some similarities with the events of the last week. The Tories, in one single move, shredded their reputation for economic competence. It took them nearly a generation to recover from the collapse of their key economic policy of membership of the ERM. Despite the improvements in the economy that undoubtedly took place, the Tories were not able to recover and reap the rewards. Instead, they went down to their worst electoral defeat in nearly two centuries, ushering in a 13 year period of New Labour rule under Blair and then Brown.

So, are we living through a rerun of the events of 30 years ago? Does the disaster of the mini budget and the financial markets' response to it mean that the Tories have again shredded their economic credibility? Like shooting an asteroid, it will take some time before we know if the path down which events pass has changed but I can't help feeling I'm reliving the early 1990s.

It could, of course, be a rerun of the 1980s when the Thatcher government was right down in the polls and we all dreamt of Maggie going down to defeat on polling day, only for us to wake up to reality when the Conservatives were re-elected with massive majorities.

Time will tell......

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Chase Park back at planning

A planning application to demolish the historic stables at Chase Park, Whickham and build 4 executive homes on the site comes to planning committee tomorrow. The issue is controversial anyway without attempts by the local Labour Party to claim that the site is not in Chase Park! It is actually in the heart of the park. Indeed, Labour run Gateshead Council are selling the site and are flogging off the busiest entrance to the park to provide road access to the upmarket development. 78 objections have been received and I believe one letter of support. I will be at the meeting tomorrow to watch proceedings.

Photo above - the main entrance to the park which Labour in Gateshead are wanting to sell.

Labour's changing position on PR

Yesterday, the Labour conference voted to replace first past the post with proportional representation in general elections. Those of us who have argued for decades that this constitutional reform is one of the keys to creating a modern representative democracy should not get too excited. The Labour leadership under Starmer have indicated they won't back the introduction of PR, regardless of the conference vote. This is at least an improvement on what has gone before. Last year Labour members voted at conference for PR only to have their hopes crushed by union block votes which lined up behind the Tory-benefitting FPTP system. What has changed since is the mood in some of the big unions which are now coming out in favour of reform. Despite this, Starmer is not taking on the mantle of reformer.

Monday, September 26, 2022

My energy bill

I got a letter from my energy supplier last week. I opened it when it arrived and when I saw it was about the new energy prices I will be paying from October, I simply put it to one side and forgot about it until today. So when I read it this morning, I was surprised to learn that my estimated bill was only going up £180 a year for both gas and electricity. And once the £400 from the energy support scheme is paid, I will actually be paying less than we were before the price rises earlier this year. Our monthly dual fuel bills from October to March will be less than £40.

We generate most of our electricity from our solar panels and any surplus goes onto a battery that can often keep us going through much of the night. We heat our house from a wood burning stove the fuel for which we gather on our farm. The gas and electricity we buy in is back up.

Being as sustainable as possible on fuel is part our our plan to be as self-sufficient as possible. We aren't fully there yet, hence the need to be on grid for gas and electricity but we are getting closer to the goal of full self-sufficiency. A by-product of pursuing this course of action is that my cost of living is much lower than that of most other people. My self-sufficiency lifestyle is often sneered at by Labour opponents but what I've shown is that it is possible to live in a way that reduces our impact on the environment and slashes living costs.

If I am able to achieve this, just about anyone can. But it does rather throw into the spotlight the way the government's energy support system operates. The fact I will be paying for the next six months less for what energy I need to buy in than I was before the cost of living crisis started suggests the support is poorly targeted and not going to those who most need it. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

eFocus no. 172

Our latest eFocus for the Whickham area was published last night. Issues covered include:

  • Charles proclaimed King in Gateshead;
  • Dunston Hill School to be replaced by housing;
  • Harvest tin can challenge in Sunniside;
  • Chase Park fair;
  • Sunniside Leek Show
  • Book sale at Whickham Library;
  • Warm spaces;
  • Long to reign over us;
  • Budgies in Swalwell;
  • Can you sponsor a Christmas tree?

You can read eFocus on this link.

Chase Park fair


Chase Park fair was held today. I went along around midday and chatted to lots of people. I couldn't stay long however. I had my ward Focus newsletter to finish writing!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Long to reign over us - 2010-22

This post covers the key events from 2010 to 2022 which I included in my presentation on the 70 years of HM The Queen's reign to the Sunniside History Society earlier this month.


General election is held in which for the first time there were leader debates

Election result – Conservatives are 20 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament.

Coalition government is formed with David Cameron as Prime MInister and NIck Clegg as deputy Prime minister

Gordon Brown steps down as Labour leader, succeeded by Ed Miliband (beating his brother David in the contest)

Austerity is underway

The engagement of Prince William and Catherine Middleton is announced


Prince William and Catherine Middleton are married in Westminster Abbey

Queen Elizabeth II become the 2nd longest reigning British monarch

Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to Ireland, the first by a reigning monarch to Dublin since 1911 

The cheque guarantee card – which ensures some cheques are honoured even if the account holder does not have sufficient funds in their account – was withdrawn after operating for over 40 years

Rioting in various cities throughout the UK


The year it rained constantly, and Gateshead suffered Thunder Thursday

THE nation celebrates the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

Government debt rises to £1 trillion

London hosts the Olympics and opening ceremony includes the film of the Queen and James Bond jumping from a helicopter

Allegations about Jimmy Saville are published by ITV


Margaret Thatcher dies

Same sex marriage is legalised

Prince George is born

Sewage workers remove a fifteen ton bus-sized "fatberg" – thought to be Britain's largest – from a sewer beneath London

Wartime computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing, who had been chemically castrated in 1952 following his conviction for homosexuality, is given a posthumous royal pardon 


Winter storms sweep away the main rail line through  Devon

Scottish referendum – the majority vote to stay in UK

11 November – the last ceramic poppy is laid at the Tower of London and joins the 888,245 flowers commemorating the armistace and centenary of World War 1


Gary Glitter is sentenced to 16 years in prison for child sex abuse

Last of UK government debt from WW1 is repaid

In March inflation fell to zero percent in February, the lowest level since records began

Male precedent in order of succession to the throne is ended

Conservatives win the general election, putting an end to the coalition government with the Lib Dems

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg resign as party leaders to be replaced by Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron respectively

The Prince of Wales begins his official four-day tour of the Republic of Ireland having a controversial meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams 

Cashless payments now exceed the use of notes and coins


Elizabeth II marks her 90th birthday.

UK votes in the referendum to leave the EU

Cameron resigns as Prime Minister and is replaced by Theresa May


Article 50 implemented - this is the start of the legal process to withdraw from the EU

Buckingham Palace announces that the Duke of Edinburgh is to step down from carrying out royal engagements in the autumn

Snap election results in the Conservatives losing their majority but stay in office with support from DUP

Solar, wind and nuclear power each provide more electricity than gas and coal combined for the first time in the UK


The UK's largest toy retailer, Toys "R" Us, goes into administration 

One of the UK's biggest electronics retailers, Maplin, goes into administration

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury

The wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle takes place 

British retailer Marks & Spencer confirms the closure of 100 stores


Repeated attempts to get Brexit legislation through Parliament all failed.

Theresa May resigns and is replaced as PM by Boris Johnson

Johnson calls a general election in December and wins with the biggest Conservative majority since 1987.

Jeremy Corbyn resigns and is replaced by Kier Starmer in April the following year

Travel company Thomas Cook collapses


Boris Johnson's EU withdrawal deal completes its passage through parliament

British AIrways suspend all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect, due to the ongoing COVID - 19 outbreak in China

30 January 1st cases of covid in UK

600 flood warnings are in place in UK in February, This month is the wettest February in the UK since records began in 1862 with an average of 209.1mm of rainfall

FTSE plunges 8% as fears of pandemic grow

Football matches cancelled because of the pandemic

All elections are cancelled

23 March UK-wide lockdown begins 

29 March Prince Charles tests positive for COVID-19

Queen Elizabeth broadcasts to the UK and the wider Commonwealth


Covid vaccine becomes available for everyone in UK

Many events continue to be cancelled

Buckingham Palace announces the death of Prince Philip

The final Debenhams store is closed


Most covid restrictions are removed by the spring

The nation celebrates Platinum Jubilee though Prince Charles now fronts many of the events

The Queen stars alongside Paddington Bear in a short film to celebrate the Jubilee

2 days after appointing Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister, the Queen passes away at Balmoral bringing to an end the longest reign by any monarch in Britain


Long to reign over us - 2000s

This post covers the key events in the 2000s which I included in my presentation on the 70 years of HM The Queen's reign to the Sunniside History Society earlier this month.


The Millennium Bug failed to happen

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother celebrates her 100th birthday

David Copeland is found guilty of causing the three nail bomb attacks in London last year. He is sentenced to life imprisonment and the trial judge recommends that he should serve at least thirty years before being considered for parole


Foot and Mouth disease outbreak occurs

Tony Blair leads Labour to 2nd landslide general election win. William Hague resigns as Conservative Leader and is replaced by Iain Duncan Smith

On 13th September The Queen orders the Changing of the Guard ceremony to be paused for a two-minute silence, followed by the playing of the American national anthem in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks two days earlier in the USA

UK takes part in the invasion of Afghanistan


Princess Margaret dies

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother dies aged 101

The Queen's Golden Jubilee is celebrated across the country 


UK takes part in invasion of Iraq after claims of weapons of mass destruction in the country.

President Vladimir Putin becomes the first Russian head of state to make a state visit to Britain since Tsar Alexander II in 1874

Iain Duncan Smith resigns as Conservative leader, replaced by Michael Howard


The government announces plans to prohibit smoking in most enclosed public places (including workplaces) within the next three years 

150 UK citizens are among thousands killed by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami 


Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles

Labour under Blair win a 3rd election in a row but with majority cut to 66

Michael Howard resigns as Conservative leader and is replaced by David Cameron

Terror attacks take place on the London Underground


Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 80th birthday

The BBC announces that Grandstand, its flagship sports TV programme, will be phased out within the next year after nearly 50 years on air

Home Secretary John Reid attacks the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown for being 'presumptuous' and 'disloyal' for openly campaigning to replace Tony Blair as Prime Minister

The British government pays off the Anglo-American loan made in 1946


Tony Blair resigns as Labour leader, replaced by Gordon Brown who becomes PM

London announced as venue for the 2012 Olympics

smoking ban came into effect in all enclosed public places in England

Northern Rock bank obtains an emergency loan from the Bank of England 

Gordon Brown confirms that there will be no early General Election, prompting the media to call him 'Bottler Brown'

Final switching off of the analogue signal for UK terrestrial tv


Northern Rock bank was nationalised by the government at the start of the financial crisis

The inquest into the death of Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, hears that there is "not a shred of evidence" that The Duke of Edinburgh or MI6 ordered her death

Boris Johnson defeated Ken Livingstone in the election for London Mayor

Economy contracts as the financial crisis expands

The government announced a bank rescue package worth some £500 billion as a response to the financial crisis 

Woolworths announced their 807 UK stores will close

MFI closed all 111 of its stores


Lloyds completes takeover of HBOS which was later found to have made a loss of £11 billion in 2008

Share price of RBS collapses 67% in one day. The company then had to be nationalised

MP expenses scandal breaks

Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest onshore wind farm in Europe, officially opens in Scotland

November was the wettest month on record with average rainfall of 21cm