Rail bosses are being chided this week, as MPs say that they’ve ‘lost their grip’ on the various projects on the network. They’re causing delays, overspending and generally, everyone’s worse off as a result, thanks to their actions.
Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Meg Hillier said: “Network Rail has lost its grip on managing large infrastructure projects. The result is a two-fold blow to taxpayers: delays in the delivery of promised improvements, and a vastly bigger bill for delivering them.”
The PAC report has raised grave concerns about rail investment in the UK, and they want a review of the industry’s regulator. One thing that got their dander up, was the spiralling costs of the electrification of the Great Western railway line between London and South Wales. Initially, that was going to cost £1.6bn, but in 12 months, it has increased to £2.8bn. The report referred to this as “staggering and unacceptable”.
The report also said that there’s ”far too much uncertainty” over electrification of the Midland Mainline from Sheffield to Bedford, and the Manchester-York Transpennine line. Who would’ve ever predicted this would have happened, eh?
The committee have stated that the rail network’s 2014-19 investment programme could never have been delivered within agreed budgets, and that the role of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is now being questioned, and that the Department for Transport should consider the regulators future.
Hiller continued: ”It is alarming that in planning work intended to support these plans, its judgement should be so flawed. Our inquiry has found that the agreed work could never have been delivered within the agreed budget and time frame.”
“Yet Network Rail, the Department for Transport and the regulator – the Office of Rail and Road – signed up to the plans anyway. Passengers and the public are paying a heavy price and we must question whether the ORR is fit for purpose.”
How much do you think Christmas dinner costs to make for eight people? £40? £50? In fact figures from the Good Housekeeping Institute reckons all eleven essential ingredients of Christmas fare can be obtained for as little as £20.26.
That means that this year’s grub is almost five percent cheaper than last year’s. However, the savings may be eaten into by the additional cost of shoe leather, as the bottom price quoted above involves shopping around in a number of different supermarkets in order to secure the lowest prices. For example, you’d need to get your bird from Lidl, where a turkey weighing between 2.8 and four kilograms costs you £8.99. Morrisons are cheapest for your Maris Piper potatoes and your carrots and Sainsbury’s had the best deal on mince pies. Stuffing can be purchased from a number of retailers for just 30p but you need to go to your local co-op if you’d rather not spend a fortune on sprouts- two 450g bags will set you back just 98p.
But what if you really can’t be bothered to visit all those different stores, or if there isn’t a full selection of them near you? Fortunately the cheapest one-stop shop isn’t too much more at a still-reasonable £24.81 from Iceland. Unsurprisingly perhaps the most expensive place to do all your shopping is Waitrose, where the shop cost £47.84, which still isn’t too bad when you consider how much you spend on everything else. In fact, Tesco came in at second cheapest at £25.77, with the German discounters languishing mid-table. Sainsburys is the dearest of the main supermarkets at £34.14, before the large jump up to M&S and Waitrose.
Good Housekeeping’s consumer director, Caroline Bloor, said: “Thanks to low inflation and fierce competition between the supermarkets, budget conscious consumers will find plenty of festive food bargains this Christmas.
“While there’s a big variation in price on key items like Christmas pud and turkey, you can get the basics, like carrots and parsnips, pretty cheaply at most.”
All prices are subject to change.
Women – do you find it hard to make your mind up? Do you wonder where men get all their music from? Do you wish someone could help you and that little brain of yours? You might be thinking “Shut up, you patronising swine – I can cope perfectly well without you patting me on the head, thank you very much! Cheeky shit.”
This chat is all thanks to Jimmy Iovine, who works for Apple since they bought Beats Music, who was on television being asked about streaming music. He said: “Streaming’s a technology… what this is is a music streaming service. What is does is… sort of gives you 30 million songs, and it serves them up to you and makes it easy to find music.”
“So I always knew that women find it very difficult at times – some women – to find music. And this helps makes it easier with playlists, curated by real people. They’re not made by algorithms alone – they’re made by algorithms but with a human touch.”
There’s a new advert, aimed at women, and Iovine was asked about his concept for it: “I just thought of a problem: girls are sitting around talking about boys, right? Or complaining about boys! When they’re heartbroken or whatever… they need music for that, right? It’s hard to find the right music. Not everyone has, you know, the right list… or knows a DJ.”
Of course, in the scheme of things, Iovine’s comments are fantastically unimportant, but really, you’d think that somewhere in his brain, he’d perhaps consider that women are every bit as nerdy about music as men are. Likewise, there’s men and women who couldn’t give two hoots about music at all.
Either way, this is the latest bad press that Apple have got in the past 12 months – something they can’t seem to avoid lately. They’ve been sued over the WiFi Assistant, had issues with everything crashing after an update, confessed that some of their phones are worse than others, annoyed loads of people with Apple Music’s auto-renewal, and of course, made a man go on a hilarious rant. The response from Apple customers on social media has been, shall we say, on the venomous side.
He’s since apologised about his remarks, but Apple need to get shipshape and, while they’re at it, stop executive patronising their customers.
Chief executive Moya Greene said: “We have delivered a resilient performance in the first half, demonstrating our ability to respond to a competitive trading environment. We delivered parcel volume and revenue growth in the UK, which continues to be a challenging market. Addressed letter volume decline was at the better end of our forecast range.”
“We are driving through a range of product innovations and service improvements at pace, as well as targeting new areas of growth and enhancing our offering.”
Such as? Well, the Royal Mail are purchasing same day-delivery firm eCourier, which means they can take on Argos and Amazon, who have been lording it up with their same-day services. Whether eCourier will continue to trade under their own name, or be rebranded and incorporated into the Royal Mail, remains to be seen.
Royal Mail won’t say how much they bought eCourier for, but did say that the “financial terms of the transaction were not material in the context of the group as a whole”.
The report about the complete mess at HBOS has indeed, shoved a load of blame at the feet of the bank’s former board, calling for formal investigations. In short, the investigation has called for another investigation.
The huge report (400 thrilling pages) was published, looking at banning orders against former chairman Lord Stevenson, and former chief executives Andy Hornby and James Crosby. Other people who used to be at HBOS like Mike Ellis, current chairman of Skipton building society, Colin Matthew from the international division, and Lindsay Mackay who ran the treasury, have also been named.
“Ultimately responsibility for the failure of HBOS rests with its board,” said the report. It also points a finger at the former heads of the now-defunct Financial Services Authority. The boardroom at HBOS has been described as lacking in banking nous, and creating a culture that wanted growth at all costs. The FSA meanwhile, have been described as making mistakes, and having an investigation that was too narrow, with particular emphasis on their decision to only investigate one former HBOS executive, Peter Cummings.
Cummings who was banned and fined £500,000 back in 2012, but the report says there were clear indications that others should’ve been looked at.
“It is my view appropriate that the FCA and/or the PRA should now take the opportunity to give proper consideration to the investigation of individuals other than Mr Cummings and thereby do that which their predecessor failed to do. There is plainly a public interest in the FCA and/or the PRA giving proper consideration as to whether to investigate any other former members of HBOS’s senior management in the light of the failure of this systemically important bank,” said Andrew Green QC, who did the FSA review.
The report quotes Clive Adamson, who used to be the FSA director of enforcement, saying that “the people most culpable were let off.”
Green continued: “It appears that because enforcement could not be certain of winning disciplinary proceedings against Mr Hornby, the decision was taken not to investigate him. This was a misguided approach in that placed excessive weight on a view of the prospects of success formed at such an early stage.”
The report says: “The FSA’s approach was too trusting of firms’ management and insufficiently challenging. The FSA executives management, led by chief executive John Tiner, designed (and failed to redesign) this deficient approach to supervision. Further the oversight of the executive by the FSA board, led by the chairman Sir Callum McCarthy, was insufficient.” It added that the regulators at the time were guilty of only employing a “light touch” when it came to controlling the City.
Regulators will now conduct their own review into whether enforcement action on the strength of this report, with decisions being made on that “as early as possible next year”.
The ugly scrapping between BT and Sky continues this week, with a decision by Ofcom to ditch a load of rules, which would normally force Sky to provide channels Sky Sports 1 and 2, to rivals at a controlled price.
Ofcom have said that the Wholesale Must Offer obligation (WMO) isn’t necessary any longer, as Sky had demonstrated that it was willing enough to offer their sports channels to their competitors on commercial terms.
The regulator added that Sky’s introduction of NowTV, and BT’s buying of football rights, shows that the market is more competitive than when the rules were initially brought in, so the end of WMO could see BT customers unable to watch Sky Sports 1 and 2.
This is far from over though, as BT are looking at their legal options after the decision from Ofcom. A spokesperson called this move “very disappointing”, adding: “We will consider our legal options in the light of this decision and, in the meantime, continue to offer our customers access to Sky Sports 1 and 2.”
“Ofcom has said it is important for pay-TV retailers to have access to key Sky content to be able to compete effectively in this market, and that they want consumers to have access to these channels. We therefore expect Sky to behave appropriately so that we can continue to offer our customers access.”
“We still believe that effective remedies are essential to address the failure of competition in the Pay TV market, in which we estimate Sky has had around 75pc share of retail subscription revenues for more than 10 years.”
This row has been going on for years now, with claim and counterclaim being batted back and forth over deals on sports channels. Sky argue that BT have basically refused to let BT Sport to be included in a Sky subscription, while BT has claimed that Sky has been undermining competition in sports rights by exploiting their dominance.
As it stands, BT will now have to have commercial negotiations with Sky without WMO, and seeing as this is so petty and longstanding, Sky may price out BT, leaving their customers without the goods.
New figures from the fire brigade are showing that the problem is indeed a common one. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) told the Press Association that it has attended 71 Zafira fires (this figure doesn’t include arson attacks) since 2013. When you compare that to a mere 38 in the previous four years, you can see the problem.
Vauxhall are writing to 220,000 Zafira B owners, and asking them to get their cars looked at, so they can see what’s going on with the car’s heating and ventilation system.
Sue Freemantle, who is heading up the online campaign regarding these, said: “I think it’s shocking – just last month alone, from what I have on my record, we’ve got 21 car fires.” She thinks that the cars should be taken off the road while tests are undertaken, and in addition to that, she’s said that she believes Vauxhall are withholding information: “I think they’re hiding something. They’re not telling us everything.”
London Fire Brigade’s director of operations, Dave Brown, said: “If you smell smoke or burning coming from your car while you’re driving it, you should pull over as soon as you can in a safe place, get everyone out of the vehicle and always stay a safe distance away.”
“Then call the fire brigade and never go back to the vehicle while you’re waiting. If you are concerned that your vehicle is affected by the recall then contact your manufacturer immediately.”
What to do?
Vauxhall are recalling a number of vehicles. If you’re worried that your vehicle is affected, and no-one has got in touch with you yet, Vauxhall have images of what to look for. They will inspect your vehicle free of charge, but sadly, there’s long waits. Find your nearest dealer by clicking here, and contact them accordingly.
If you own one of the vehicles affected, you can also contact the Vauxhall Recall helpline on 0800 026 0034 and you can email them at email@example.com
Oh really? They’re introducing proposals for a ‘cashback’ incentive for the test, which would see you putting a deposit down, which is returned to you if you pass. Great news, provided they don’t make it impossible to pass your test.
What happens if you end up taking multiple tests? Either way, the government are certain that this is all going to make sure that learner drivers are, in their words, “better prepared for taking their test and driving independently”, “less likely to have an accident in the months following the test”, and that learners are only going to take “their test when they are ready and confident of passing”.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We want to make learning to drive safer and more affordable. This change will give those who pass first time some money back and provide an incentive for learners to be more prepared before they take their test. These common sense proposals mean that all learner drivers can feel the benefit.”
The RAC are on board too, with director Steve Gooding saying: “We support measures that will encourage learner drivers to get the experience they need to pass their test first time with flying colours, rather than barely scraping through or failing and having to repeat the process a few months down the road at yet more expense.”
There’s going to be reviews on all fees for services provided by motoring agencies, as well as a shake-up of when driving test times can happen, as well as offering a range of venues of people wanting to take a test.
The government say that they want your views on all this, so if you want to chuck your two pence’s worth at them, have a look here.
Here’s a video to watch
And so, to Lucy Burnford who bought a car, which ended up having a catalogue of problems, which then saw her coming up with something to help other drivers from having the same problems as her.
She’s come up with Automyze, which is being referred to as an online ‘personal assistant for your car’. The AA liked the idea so much that they snapped it up. The idea is that the MOT history of a car is more important than the service history. Instead of knowing what necessary work has been done on a vehicle, instead, you can find out all the maintenance work it has had.
Lucy says: “I developed the idea but not from a tech or auto background but I, and everyone I spoke to, thought it had legs. A full service history is basically a book with a couple of stamps – it does not tell you if the car has had bigger bits of maintenance done. I asked the guy selling my car and he said it had all been done but you have to take someone’s word for it. You can buy service books from eBay and sell them on yourself.”
And so, wanting all the documents for a car in one place, she hit on an idea: “I really wanted to create a digital hub and a portal where you could see if the car has had any major things go wrong and been serviced correctly.”
Lucy and her team came up with Motoriety, which eventually became Automyze. Drivers set up an account, and then you can call up information on MOT, tax, vehicle servicing, repairs, insurance, and all that stuff. Within the next 12 months, it is predicted that there’ll be half a million cars registered on the service.
Even though this is a joint venture with The AA, you don’t have to be a member to use it. If you want to have a look at it, click here.
Yes we know it’s only November, but the last posting dates for Christmas will soon be upon us with some of them coming early in December (see below)- UK cards need to be posted by Saturday 19th (for second class) or Monday 21st for first class. And those are the dates for airmail (now catchily and informatively known as “International Standard” mail)- some surface mail last posting dates were as far back as September. So it’s not too early to be thinking about your Christmas cards and whether you go for charity cards or nice cards.
The pay off with Christmas cards is normally that they are funny/beautiful/cute or that they are charity cards- you can’t have your cake and eat it, even at Christmas. But if you are going to go for the charity cards at least you can relax knowing your money is going to a good cause right? Right?
Well, that depends. Depends on how much cash you think the charity is going to get from your card purchase. Our friends over at Which!!! have even investigated this matter for us and found that some retailers donate as little as 7% of profits from charity Christmas cards to good causes, meaning some charities only get around 10p per pack.
Top of the stingy stakes is the Co-op, who give just 10p from its £1.50 cards to food poverty charity FareShare. This is the equivalent of just 7% per pack. Lidl aren’t much better, with the equivalent of 8% (10p) of the £1.19 pack price going to child cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
The full list of donation amounts is found in the table below, and donations range from 100% for the WH Smith Children in Need cards, before dropping sharply to 25% from the next best donator, the ever-impressive Aldi. WH Smith appears three times as it has a number of different cards and donations.
You may also have spotted some notable exceptions from the list. Asda says that it is not selling charity Christmas cards this year and while Morrisons is selling cards for Sue Ryder, they will donate £50,000 to the charity regardless of how many packs are sold. Tesco is also selling a range of charity cards but will donate a total of £300,000 to Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation.
Of course, given the age of social media you could instead buy no cards and just post a cheesy video of you and your family pretending to be hyperactive elves on your page, donating the would-have-spent cash to charity instead. Or, if you must send a card, why not buy direct from the charity website as this will usually guarantee a greater proportion going to the actual charity- some sites, like the Parkinsons site promise 100% of profits will be received from the sale of cards.
Or, you could go totally Bah Humbug and do nothing at all. It’s not like you have any friends anyway…
Anyway, for mince pies devotees, you might be wondering which ones are the best to eat. The answer, clearly, is all of them – cheap, grotty mince pies are every bit as satisfying as the well-made ones in a I Hate Myself And I Can’t Stop Eating Them kinda way.
For the discerning chewer, Which!!! have got some experts to taste a load and judge which are the top of the pile.
The best, in their eyes, is the Harrods Classic Mince Pies With Brandy range, but they’re £8.95 for six, so you’d demand greatness from them. However, the best buy, according to Which!!!, are the £1.15 for six efforts from Lidl, called the Snowy Lodge Luxury Mince Pies. Terrible name, but they’ve apparently got ‘beautifully crisp’ pastry, and the insides aren’t too shabby either. Also getting a nod were Waitrose’s Christmas Shortcrust Mince Pies (they’re alcohol free if that’s your thing).
Which!!! gathered their blind taste panel to test the following mince pies:
Aldi Specially Selected Mince Pies
Asda Extra Special Luxury Mince Pies
Fortnum & Mason Six Traditional Mince Pies
Greggs Sweet Mince Pies (£1.50 for six, or available individually
Harrods Classic Mince Pies With Brandy
Iceland Luxury 6 Mince Pies
Lidl Snowy Lodge Luxury Mince Pies
Morrisons M Signature All Butter Deep Fill Mince Pies
M&S Christmas Star Mince Pies
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference All Butter Mince Pies
Spar 6 Luxury Mince Pies
Tesco finest Mince Pies
The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Mince Pies
Waitrose Christmas Shortcrust Mince Pies
If you’re after gluten free mince pies, Which!!! have also weighed them up too, and you can see their results here.
Sky are looking at taking on Netflix, Apple and Amazon, as they release a new set-top box and “best of the web” streaming service called SkyQ. The broadcaster reckon this is biggest product innovation since the Sky+ box. Big talk.
The service will kick off next year, and will let you watch shows on up to five different screens and, it’ll also have five times the amount of storage capacity than their current box. And what’s this ‘best of the web’ nonsense about? Well, you can get YouTube, Vevo, Facebook and stuff from Condé Nast (who are the publishers behind Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, and Wired).
In addition to all that, this new thing will also have new remote control with a touchpad, which sounds pretty fancy. It’ll allow you to swipe and scroll, just like the Apple TV thing and you’ll be able save recordings from your set-top box onto a tablet, so you’ll be able to watch them anywhere you like.
“Think of Sky Q as something that is beyond a box,” said Stephen van Rooyen, from Sky. “It is an eco-system of products. The important thing is it allows you to consume programmes in and out of the home across more screens than ever before. It is about more than just TV content, we are bringing the best of the web to the big screen.”
There’s no news on price as yet, you’ll be finding that out in early 2016.
With the UK’s populace getting really bored of shops throwing confusing offers, preferring to shop at places that just keep things cheap, Asda have finally caught wind of the mood, and have confirmed that they’re looking at their Price Guarantee loyalty scheme, and now it is officially “under review”.
Before anyone gets too excited, Asda may well be keeping the scheme and simply look at reviewing the terms, and looking at the way they market it to customers. However, in that review, they may also decide to ditch it altogether.
As well as a general malaise toward these things, another issue that Asda will be mindful of, is how their Price Guarantee has been challenged by rivals in the past, which resulted in the Advertising Standards Authority banning an advert which promoted it.
Either way, while Asda’s Price Guarantee asks their customers to compare the cost of comparable groceries, and then work out whether the total cost is 10% cheaper at Asda or not, resulting in a voucher that you can spend at Asda, people have been drawn to Lidl and Aldi, where things are just cheaper than everywhere else. No messing.
Of course, Morrisons recently ditched a similar scheme, which could well sway Asda who, in a review called ‘Project Renewal’, vowed to get themselves back to a “simpler way of doing business” in order to “deliver market leading value in a way customers will notice”.
Chief executive Andy Clark said: “Increasing our focus on the core business means strengthening some areas while pausing activity in others which will allow us to sharpen our customer offer and continue to improve operational efficiency. I’m confident that by reinforcing our offer we can further extend our price advantage over major competitors and close the gap against the limited assortment discounters – not only on price, but across range, service and quality.”
All the shops and food-retailers get in the Christmas spirit with some special products. You’re not experiencing the yule period properly unless you’ve burned your insides with a Greggs ‘Festive Bake’.
Well, Tesco are getting in on the action with something that is… well… mystifying. That’s not to say we won’t try it. You can get, in the Meal Deal, a cherry and chocolate sandwich.
Are chocolate and cherry sandwiches a proper Christmas thing that completely passed Bitterwallet by?
Either way, you can get the sarnie, which is billed as a chocolate and cherry marscapone on cinnamon bread affair. Sounds like pudding, rather than a main.
It’ll cost you £1.80, and it’ll sit alongside the usual turkey, pork and apple and whatnot sandwiches, as usual. Go on. Buy one and review it for us.
[image c/o of Nic Soapdish]