CAMPAIGNING FOR BETTER RAIL SERVICES IN THE WEST

On Sunday I had my first introduction to an organisation I’d read about many times in the seven years since I moved to Bristol and started using the public transport here. The organisation’s full name is Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways; admittedly a bit of a mouthful, so they tend to be known by their initials FOSBR. (well, OK, acronym, as it could be a word)

Celebration

The occasion was a celebration of progress made in several of FOSBR’s campaigns and the location was a pub near Bristol’s Temple Meads station. Being fond of trains and pubs, I found it an easy decision to attend; I also found that FOSBR has even produced a guide to pubs along the Temple Meads / Severn Beach line, called FOSBEER of course.

Serious content

Enough of the fun side of it; the content of the meeting, even though billed as a celebration, was deadly serious, i.e. the possible / probable negative impact of the recent McNulty Report. I was impressed with the presentations by three local rail union officials (RMT, TSSA and ASLEF respectively); incisive and fact-filled.

Correction; I’d assumed they’d be local union officials but in fact two of them had national status: Alex Gordon is national President of the RMT and Manuel Cortes is Assistant General Secretary of TSSA.

They also had a local councillor speaking; importantly, he represents an area in North Somerset that could be served by rail once more if passenger services are restored to the (currently freight-only) Portbury branch and it’s extended a couple of miles to Portishead.

Subsidy five times higher since privatisation

I’ve often read, (e.g in The Economist) or heard it said verbally (Richard Wilson’s recent impassioned plea on behalf of harassed British rail users on Channel 4) that the level of public subsidy of our railways was now higher than it was pre-privatisation, despite our fares being the highest in Europe. However it was not made clear in either of those sources if the comparison was inflation-adjusted.

At this meeting, though, the guy from TSSA filled in the blanks; the subsidy is now five times higher; £5 bn, compared to £1 bn at today’s prices back then. How can that be? McNulty apparently thinks that staffing levels and pay costs are a big part of it, which concerns the unions, naturally, including the possibility of DOO (driver-only operation). Maybe his brief didn’t allow him to conclude that the fragmentary and thus potentially chaotic way the railways were privatised had a big impact on costs and that should be addressed first.

Loophole?

I learned some other interesting stuff, all of which I shall check out in the interests of balance; for example that First Group will be able to exploit a loophole and avoid large subsidy repayments by giving up the Great Western rail franchise three years early.

The feeling of the meeting was summed up for me by FOSBR member Mike: “McNulty is Beeching Mk 2”.

I’ve now joined this worthwhile and effective organisation and will be blogging about rail in the West, so watch this space.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

On the McNulty Report:

http://www.togetherfortransport.org/content/what-surprises-will-mcnulty-come

On Driver-Only Operation (DOO):

http://www.scot-rail.co.uk/page/Driver+Only+Operation

On FOSBR: http://fosbr.org.uk/

INTRODUCTORY OFFER FOR KINDLE VERSION OF “BACK TO THE BLACK”

As I write, the experts are dissecting on TV the impact of the Budget just unveiled by UK Chancellor George Osborne. I don’t claim sufficient expertise to add to the acres of coverage it will already be getting. What I do know, though, is that the uncertainties in the economy have already led more and more people into debt.

As I have just uploaded my dealing-with-debt book to the kindle store, and as I feel sure that thousands of people could benefit from it, I want to ensure it gets into the hands of as many of them as possible. I don’t want the price of the book to be a barrier.

For an introductory period, therefore, the kindle version of “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is available at a launch price of £0.70 (or $0.99 plus VAT). Go to http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PLMAQM

For the sake of consistency, this promotional price also applies with immediate effect to the multi-format versions, including .pdf, that were already available in the Smashwords store (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/22886). The price adjustments in both stores are already active.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Reading eBooks on other devices

You don’t need a kindle to read kindle-format books! If that doesn’t make sense, what I mean is that if you read eBooks but don’t have a kindle, there is a neat piece of (free!) software called “kindle for PC”, enabling one to benefit from the improved readability of the kindle technology (and it really is) when reading on a PC or any other device. There is also a Mac version.

For a download link, just type “kindle reading apps” into Google.

Book links

To sample or purchase “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, go to on of the following retail sites:

kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PLMAQM

Other e-formats, including .pdf: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/22886

Note: unlike physical books, eBooks carry VAT (I don’t understand the reason for the difference). The price in dollars is thus $1.14 to include VAT, i.e. British sales tax, even if the book is bought via www.amazon.com . In sterling the £0.70 price includes VAT.

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You can follow me on Twitter: @michaelmac43, or Facebook: Michael James MacMahon.



BAD NEWS SELLS PAPERS: BUT RADIO PROGRAMMES TOO?

Please indulge me, dear reader, if I take a short canter on one of my favourite hobby-horses. We all know that the thing that best sells newspapers (after sex) is bad news. I once listened to a media consultant speaking at a conference here in Bristol, saying: “News is what somebody, somewhere, doesn’t want you to know. Everything else is advertising.”

OK, so newspapers have to be bought or the publisher will go bust. (alongside “bought”, you can now include subscribing to a website pay-wall, in the case of the Times group of papers). If we complain, as I often do, about the relentless sensationalism of which our media is so fond, the remedy is in our own hands: don’t buy that particular paper.

What really gets my goat (Why “goat”? Answers please!) is when the same policy is adopted by the BBC, which, the last time I checked, is funded by licence fees.

The thing that got me going was just a snippet and I am not even 100% sure of the motivation of the presenter in this case … but I can make an educated guess. The subject was, I think, the London Olympics.

Presenter: “what do you think of these recent rule changes?”

Interviewee: “I am sure that the people who are responsible for those rules have made the changes for a good reason, so it’s up to us to get on with it.”

Presenter: “That’s a very diplomatic answer.”

(Presenter’s thought-bubble: “Rats! No controversy? Very disappointing answer.”)

OK, the presenter’s actual response to the answer was spoken softly, in the very polite voice that particular presenter always uses for her most penetrating questions. I could be adding two and two and making 57 … but I doubt it.

WORLD BOOK NIGHT, SAT 5 MARCH

If you live in the UK you might have heard of World Book Night, when a million books are being given away by volunteers in one day. If you live elsewhere you probably won’t have heard about it; despite that “World” tag, it seems to be an exclusively UK event. (I suppose this is our answer to the Superbowl being called the “World Championship”)

Anyway, I’ve been chosen as an official “book-giver” for the event, which is on Saturday 5 March. So I’ll be giving away copies of my chosen book, “Toast” by Nigel Slater, all that day at Rainbow Cafe, Waterloo St, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4BT.

When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Looking forward to it!

Want to know more?

I can do no better than to quote the back-cover “blurb” for this brilliant book:

“Toast” is Nigel Slater’s multi-award-winning story of a childhood remembered through food. Whether relating his mother’s ritual burning of the toast, his father’s dreaded Boxing Day stew or such culinary highlights of the day as Arctic Roll and Grilled Grapefruit (then considered something of a status symbol in Wolverhampton) this remarkable memoir vividly recreates daily life in sixties suburban England.

Go to Toast | World Book Night