Archive | UK RSS feed for this section

Local councils request guarantees for Icelandic investments

9 Oct

The Times has published a list of local councils which may lose money invested in the Icelandic banking system. I notice my own local authority is among them – is yours?

What are your thoughts about the situation? Are you concerned about possible rises in council tax and/or loss of services. Would you support a government rescue package? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Story of Thanet’s Water

10 Sep

Thanet. It’s in Kent which itself is just south of London. Here in this sleepy and largely mismanaged corner of the UK a storm is brewing.

Something called the China Gateway is being proposed. Allegedly the local district council (TDC) are invested in it as are county council (KCC) but it is a privately run venture backed with borrowed money to convert farm land into a warehouse site for Chinese companies.

The two big players are EKO LLP which is a project funded and run by the County and District councils and CGP the private firm that will make most of the money. This has raised more questions than answers and local bloggers are wondering if the authorities are able to keep interests separate. More interesting the company was established only to obtain the Thanet site (and one other) and obtain planning permission on it. If the planning permission fails the company goes bust.

But this build were it to go ahead will bring little or no work to the area. Nor will it bring inward investment from the building work and yet there is strong favour at all official levels. Meanwhile the pubic have an altogether different view.

The proposals involve turning 175 acres of countryside into a huge warehousing development for Chinese electronics on Manston business park.

To start with this project will be housed on top of the islands drinking water. People are upset about this. All the same the project leaders are trying their hardest to not spend money to protect the water supply.

There is a suggestion of increased flooding risk which itself threatens the water supply for the 130,000 people that live there.

A criminal investigation is under way because lost documents that turned up in a TESCO carrier bag show that councillors may have lied bout funding for trips to China. (Indeed other scrutiny suggest other minor misdeeds in this case indicating people not being honest). Word is that local newspapers refused to touch a story that hurt their biggest paying advertiser (the local council). So poor was the local paper’s handling of the story that it led to an Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group in London declaring journalism dead in Thanet but for a few blogs in quite earthy language on his blog.

Planning information is still being withheld although public opion is yet to deicide if this is incompetence or deliberate corruption. Vital reports seem to be missing. This is from a local planning committee that is no stranger to suggestions of misdeeds.

The planning application is going to go before the entire District Council by the slim difference of one person’s vote on the planning committee.

The roads can not handle the traffic: China Gateway has over 4,000 car parking spaces and 566 HGV parking spaces so they obviously expect considerable extra traffic, the airport has capacity for 400,000 tonnes of freight and 1,000,000 passengers per year, they will have to invent a new word gridlock doesn’t get anywhere near it. says Local Businessman, Michael Child.

The local search engine Thanet Finder has set up a special page on it’s blog portal to track the topic of the China Gateway.

Local environmental groups are worried The Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is against plans for a large industrial estate at Manston, which it believes will eventually expand and encroach on the countryside. says Kent News. Indeed many think it may already be too late after the hugely disruptive “Thanet Earth” project slipped though almost unnoticed only to start causing harm that was somehow not reported anywhere before.

Even Private Eye had a pop at our council over the Tesco Carrier bag mess. Yet despite all signs of back handers and misdeeds (not least of which is the failing to inform the public properly about planning) things continue apace.

Unsurprisingly it was a bit cramped in the hall when a local film maker Christine Tongue called a public meeting on the subject. Even non bloggers are getting a word in and that word is largely “no thanks”.

Planning stories like this happen every day in every part of the world. Many go unnoticed by the press and when the press do notice they often say nothing because they don’t want to offend the biggest source of money. What will scare you is that just 30% of the people voted in the last election and the suggestion sit that the current power in Thanet was put there by just 18% of the people or 23,500 people which is about the size one would expect for the political party’s paid up membership (and their friends and family).

The budget in Thanet is in and it shows that even if those on benefits are treated most roughly the council will have a hard time covering the over spend. The truth is that the local council is not skilled enough to run the area – councillors from other councils point at Thanet’s council and laugh. Yet even in more able districts of the UK the story is similar – businesses and authorities silently getting on with developments that any right minded local would oppose.

So what’s the answer?

The story of the Tesco carrier bag was broken because a blogger was handed what the paper’s refused to touch. Even the Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group in London suggests in his blog that the blog format is the only way forward. Informed and insightful local blogging could be the only power on earth able to slow down the damage the current system is doing. It costs nothing but a little time to blog and you area needs you.

Please note I blog about Thanet but much of my information is sourced from other blogs and news sites and is only as accurate as my sources. I add this now because one or two of Thanet’s rich types have got a bit trigger happy with the legal team, as it were.

There is no unlimited

20 May

Lots of UK ISPs offer ADSL (Broadband) packages that have an “unlimited bandwidth” option but this is nowhere near realisticly unlimited. As I have mentioned in “iPlayer and BitTorrent: The truth about so-called unlimited broadband” you are likely to get the same throughput (bandwidth) as a cheaper “limited” package but with a decreased quality to stretch it out over the month. New technologies are exposing this “unlimited” bandwidth and showing us that simply is not there.

“The Ofcom Consumer Panel has called on regulators to pull their fingers out and demand that ISPs are more honest with us about the limitations of broadband.

“The group wants a new mandatory code of practice to force providers to qualify their dodgy ‘up to’ speed claims, which accompany virtually all broadband marketing. The slowdown effects of contention, distance from the exchange, and network status should be made clear, it argues.”

Your “up to” 8 Meg line might run effectively at 4 Meg, or maybe only 64 Kbps and this is within the product description. That “up to” is a way of ISPs promising you everything but then not having to give you anything. If you try to complain that the speed is not as advertised they will tell you that your speed is reliant on the conditions of the cable and your distance from the exchange. What they do not tell you is that if they are unable to provide what they offered you will need a damn good solicitor to sue them for breach of contract because the terms and conditions say that whatever they offer you get whatever you get. Sorry.

The full truth is even more shady. You have no actual way of knowing how fast an effective speed (after network errors, throttles, shaping, resets, delays and network lag are taken into account) you get. Your ISP can choke the effective speed down to save the budgeted bandwidth for business users (who pay better).

In “The truth about so-called unlimited broadband” I examined how the BBC had braught this issue to a head:

If you live in the UK you will be sure to be aware that the BBC (known fondly as Aunty) has launched it’s own peer-to-peer media player. The BBC’s iPlayer uses software called Kontiki (similar to BitTorrent) which also powers “Sky Anytime” and “4od”. This enables the BBC to off set the massive requirements of distributing it’s “free” media by having the consumers take part in providing the stream.

Kontiki is basically a peer-to-peer system and so like BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer programs it sends lots of data accross the network.

Plusnet, according to Bob Pullen from plusnet (see my blog post for more on that), tells me that plusnet do not offer an unlimited package and that they use a “quality of service” system to give priority to things like Aunty’s iPlayer while thier site says peer-to-peer traffic is down at the bottom of the priority list. Take from that what you will.

ISPs have to transmit the packets through their networks and they do not really like it. The issue here is that the previous monopoly (BT) charge ISPs in a bizzar way. When ISPs get connected to the BT network the only cost to BT is the man power and connection equipment. Once it is set up it is effectively cost free but for the ISP the cost is just starting as they are charged for every packet of data that passes through that connection.

This increase in bandwidth usage is not so sudden and should have been easily predictable by the ISPs but they have been caught with their pants down. What they should have been doing is investing heavily in scalable solutions so that as the demand increased so could they. Woops no – they are worried that if you use what you paid for they will go bust.

What ISPs see as an answer is called “traffic shaping” – they throttle the bandwidth so that the connection speed might be 7.5 Mbps but your effective speed is sometimes likely to be more like 0.4 Mbps. When it comes to peer-to-peer they get even more aggressive and attempt to block your use of such services (such as peer-to-peer services iPlayer or BitTorrent) using a range of techniques that can include data fraud and spying. Some ISPs may actually “spy” on every packet of data you transmit through their network and when they see peer-to-peer packets they inject extra data into the steam as it passes through which is a “reset signal” that disconnects you from peers.

This inspection is not so different to automated wiretapping and definitely threatens your privacy. This may or maynot be against the law but this has never been tested. One answer is to use an encrypted connection whenever you can but not all sites have https support and not all peer-to-peer clients support it but as the ISPs get more aggressive in not giving you what they promise so to the users are getting smarter.

This is not an issue that is going to go away and without strong calls for increased transparency over the methods used to “shape traffic” ISPs will do whatever they like. Where does this leave us?

Well… it leaves us asking more questions and seeing few answers. I’m going to quiz Bob as he has stepped up to join in so keep an eye on me here and else where as the answers start to arrive (or fail to).

Why I Must Learn French

16 May

I am thinking that I must learn to speak french. I don’t just mean “Bonjour” and a spattering of phrases I’m talking chattering away in french as if there was nothing to it.

I feel I must because I want the option to get the hell out of the UK when it completes it’s transformation into a nazi state.

They can fingerprint me and record personal data about me if I commit a crime but not otherwise. I do not see a good reason to hand over every form of data about me to a group that can not even keep my name and address a secret.

Let me tell you about that.

When I wrote “Open Letter to The British Government Regarding the Loss of Sensitive Personal Information on every household with a child under 16 years old.” it was with the hope that I would be able to show just how badly the govenment does not understand IT.

I pointed to a free peace of technology that would allow me to store whatever I felt on a hard drive tot he point that all of MI5 with the help of the CIA, the FBI or any number of 1337 script kiddies would never be able to break into with plausible deniability to it’s existence in the first place. I officially have no encrypted volumes and I do not store notes in them.

Meanwhile as regular power users are able to store our data so safely that even if you steal our computers you will find nothing at all the Government idea of secure is text based password. Even vista has disk encryption as standard (if you switch it on).

So let’s talk about your password protect file that I (in theory) have on my theoretical hard drive.

A dictionary attack will open most files inside six minutes – that’s just enough time to fix a cup of coffee. Failing that if I know what some of the locked text says (or if I can see the encrypted password) a rainbow table attack will break most very quickly.

Let’s talk password locks for a moment. Not all password protected files are unreadable it is just that the software asks you to give the password. All I need to know is the file format (or a good guess at it) and I’ll have half the content out of the file while you were scratching your head.

Let me remind you that a dedicated attacker with access to criminal “botnets” (used by many kinds of “cyber criminal” for activities such as blackmail, spamming, Distributed Denial of Service attacks or “brute force” password attempts) or other large co-operative systems might be able to make the work of years in to the work of a few days. With access to a modern Mainframe computer this can be done many times quicker still.

So while the UK govenment does not even understand how to make safe use of passwords I know how to make my files unfindable forever – forget trying to break in – you have to find it first.

No let us talk network security. Most networks are secured using passwords. All I need to break in is (a) to guess your password, (b) trick the password out of you, (c) steal the password using a virus, keylogger or other malware or (d) use “smart” brute force methods to systematically guess a password. If I don’t fancy any of that lot I can look for an exposed computer that is not up to date and exploit it or I could get a job (I have no criminal record) or pay someone else to get a job working inside or I couldblackmail a junior worker, line manager or similar. Frankly there are more ways into a govenment network than there are people working on that network.

If I’m good I might even set up some back doors to the system and document all flaws for next time.

There is no way that a system so badly set up that disks are sent in the post with nothing more than a human generated password to “lock them” is secure. I would bet money that there are right now over one hundred ways into every file the government keeps.

So when they indicate that they want to keep track of enough data that someone with half my skills could get at and then use to pretend to be me I know it is time to give up my citizenship and move out.

Don’t even get me started on the privacy and human rights side of the debate…

Because I am poor I am denied justice.

27 Jun

What follows is a draft letter written after I experienced no less than three distinct and illegal breaches of my human rights in one day. I have spoken about this more here

Because I am poor I am denied justice.

My local council has an issue with corruption regardless of if it admits it or not. One of our elected councillors is currently investigating the distinct possibility that a member of the council has been using his position to make life impossible for my family. This is almost certainly the same person as the anonymous cyberstalker who has been harassing me with far to much intimate knowledge of myself and my family with gaps of knowledge consistent with the data held by the council.

As a result of this persons actions I have been denied benefits all year. The councillor investigating is the first representative for my ward (there are three seats) to ever bother to acknowledge correspondence. In short no one is interested and there is no funding to seek legal redress. I am at the mercy of the every whim of those that abuse the system from without and within.

There is just one department within the council that collects rent arrears and council tax. Somehow this department was able to write to me and arrange payments for my rent but unable to communicate with me regarding any council tax owed. So that at the end of the first half of the year they had failed to send many of us a bill at all.

The first I know is when the only councillor from my ward ever give me the time of day told me I would be summoned for non payment and there was nothing he could do about it.

Sure enough I was sent a final demand and a summons that same month. The summons was issued 24 days before the date of the letter of the demand. The law requires 28 days notice as a minimum before action can be taken.

I felt sure that should I present my case on the day that I would not have costs awarded against me and that “normal” progression of paying such tax would commence.

I reckoned without the 2 and a half hour delay and I reckoned without the fact that many of the other people summoned to court 2 that day had very similar stories. Thanet District Council was breaking the law.

The bench did not seem at all impressed that I was in the court room at all and as I started to read my prepared statement the “head” whatever he might be titled sighed. The statement which outlined the details of my case covers a single side of A4. I was stopped from reading it and told to summarise and sit down.

The council representative who did not even get my address right reiterated his claims and the bench award costs against me. I objected and was told in no uncertain terms that “the council is in good standing” with a tone that said “and you are not”. This despite the identical nature of so many respondents claims.

So, you see, regardless of the law of this land I was guilty unless I could prove my innocence.

To my understanding no one left that court without costs being awarded against them and the debt (in my case just under £1000) to be paid within one month. Failure to pay will see what little we posses taken from us by a court system that would not even listen to the evidence against the council. The same council that is rated poorly and, as I have experience first hand, harbours shocking abuse of power.

There is no legal aid to fight cases involving benefits or local authorities and so this will go unaddressed unless I can obtain help. But from where does my help come from?

I am poor. I live in an area of exceptional poverty in a county with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the UK. Who in their right mind would care that these abuses of human rights took place in this corner of our country? Who is there to speak up about the lack of protection we poor are given.

We are the abused of Thanet, the ignored of Kent and the unheard of England.

We are desperate.

Help us.

The Stealthy Erosion of our Civil Liberties

3 May

Writing for the Comment is Free section of the Guardian, Henry Porter discusses the current UK government’s track record on civil liberties – or, more accurately, the apparent removal of many of our freedoms by stealth.

I feel quite strongly about this subject, and have written about it in the past. I’m not a great believer in conspiracy theories, and I don’t spend my time fretting that the government is out to get me, but, this gradual erosion of basic rights and liberties – which go back centuries in some cases – is deeply worrying. Maybe, this government are telling the truth and are only doing these things because they believe they will protect the people of this country. Maybe, they would never dream of using these powers for any malign purpose, but that doesn’t mean a future, less ethical government would behave in the same wa.

We are in danger of losing freedoms our forebears fought long and hard for, and sadly, a large number of people seem to be prepared to let this happen. Some, are simply unaware of the situation, others feel it’s all for the greater good. ‘If you have nothing to hide . . .’ they say. To them I ask this: If you have nothing to hide, why do you have curtains at your windows? Why don’t you tell every Tom, Dick and Harry your PIN? Why don’t you discuss your entire medical history with the queue at the bus stop? Is it possibly because some things are private?

The issue isn’t whether anyone has anything to hide. It’s a simple matter of living free from state monitoring and interference. Or, to put it another way: When you get up in the morning you put on clean knickers/pants, you wouldn’t expect your mother to come around to your house to check you had. If she did you would feel very silly, and rather offended. Surely, she should trust you as a grown adult to put clean underwear on in the morning? Well, yes she should, and the government should trust us all to behave like responsible citizens too! The money spent on badly designed and intrusive schemes would be better spent on more police officers to enforce the laws we already have.

In my previous post I quoted Shami Chakrabarti, I’ll repost the quote here because I think it is pertinent.

“If you throw live frogs into a pan of boiling water, they will sensibly jump out and save themselves. If you put them in a pan of cold water and gently apply heat until the water boils they will lie in the pan and boil to death. It’s like that.” – Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty

If, like me, you would rather not go down the boiled frog route, try the following links:

Are the UK and the EU the "new communist threat"?

21 Apr

Are the UK and the EU the “new communist threat”?

this story (published here) was due to be published here too however a slight mishap of forgotten username slowed this down (so the story is three days old now).

A story in quotes.

Vladimir Bukovksy, the 63-year old former Soviet dissident, fears that the European Union is on its way to becoming another Soviet Union. In a speech he delivered in Brussels last week Mr Bukovsky called the EU a “monster” that must be destroyed, the sooner the better, before it develops into a fullfledged totalitarian state.
Former Soviet Dissident Warns For EU Dictatorship

Here is an excerpt from that self same article:

PB: But all these countries that joined the European Union did so voluntarily.

VB: No, they did not. Look at Denmark which voted against the Maastricht treaty twice. Look at Ireland [which voted against the Nice treaty]. Look at many other countries, they are under enormous pressure. It is almost blackmail. Switzerland was forced to vote five times in a referendum. All five times they have rejected it, but who knows what will happen the sixth time, the seventh time. It is always the same thing. It is a trick for idiots. The people have to vote in referendums until the people vote the way that is wanted. Then they have to stop voting. Why stop? Let us continue voting. The European Union is what Americans would call a shotgun marriage.
Former Soviet Dissident Warns For EU Dictatorship

But it’s not just the EU that is heading that way – the UK is doing it all by herself.

…they arrest a woman for reciting the names of British troops killed in Iraq in an otherwise peaceful protest near the Cenotaph. Maya Evans, who had fallen foul of a clause in the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act, was duly convicted last week, given a conditional discharge and left with a criminal record.
advertisement.
telegraph.co.uk on actions of the police

But that’s not all.

Then, an author taking part in a broadcast discussion about gay adoptions was telephoned by a policewoman and informed that her name had been noted following a complaint that she had made a “homophobic” remark on air.
telegraph.co.uk on actions of the police

If that were all you could laugh but: EU aims to criminalise Holocaust denial. So now if I were to make sick jokes about the Nazi’s and the Jews I’m for the chop, but if I make sick jokes about the USSR I am fine. Furthermore if I incite hated about minorities I am doomed but if I do so about large enough groups I am theoretically safe.

Under this law Muslim (or other minority) extremists could potentially stir up war against the west but western extremists may not retaliate.

Sound fair to me – NOT!

Laws that make denying or trivialising the Holocaust a criminal offence punishable by jail sentences will be introduced across the European Union, according to a proposal expecting to win backing from ministers Thursday.

Offenders will face up to three years in jail under the proposed legislation, which will also apply to inciting violence against ethnic, religious or national groups.
EU aims to criminalise Holocaust denial

Is anyone else wondering if any other country might be a safe place to live?

I’m frightened enough to want to expatriate away as soon as I can.

More analysis of the story.

However as reported by the BBC the new law (passed today) has “stopped short of a blanket ban on Holocaust denial“.

However, trends being what they are, where will it end? Where could a family go to be safe?