Well I don’t want to turn this blog into a mouthpiece for the Royal Parks but I couldn’t wait to step into Bushy Park to experience the recent St Jude storm. Oh I know that sounds irresponsible and reckless but there’s a lot of tree-less space to stand in and watch the action unfold. Continue Reading
We are lucky enough to live right across the road from Bushy Park in SW London with fabulous views of this truly glorious parkland. As well as the lovely lakes teeming with huge carp and the stunning chestnut trees, the park is famous for its deer which roam freely and we can watch them grazing for hour on end from our balcony. It’s like having our own personal Highlands panorama right here in Teddington. I love it.
Ah that’s what I’ve been looking for, an image of a pothole roughly shaped like the Isle of Wight. Research out today, published by Britannia Rescue, claims that there is now one damn pothole for every mile of British road – that’s around 200,000 holes covering an estimated total area of almost 300 sq miles of damaged roadway. And you’ve probably guessed that this is roughly equivalent to the area of the Isle of Wight. But you’d be wrong; incredibly it’s an area twice the size of the IoW! That’s one hell of a hole sitting off the Hamble.
And the problem is getting worse as anyone who drives the roads regularly will know. Based on separate figures released under the Freedom of Information Act almost 1 in 10 of we poor motorists have suffered tyre, wheel and suspension damage or worse in the last 12 months, an increase of 79% from 2011/12. That has resulted in nearly 33,000 claims for compensation causing Local Authorities to fork out £2.5m to claimants in the last year alone. Given that the average cost of a temporary fix for a pothole is £50 that amount of compensation could have been used instead to repair 50,000 holes or a quarter of the whole problem. Is it just me (and I’m speaking as someone who has had to replace yet another tyre in the last week) or are our priorities a bit out of kilter here?
Did you realise that only around 10% of our annual road tax payments get allocated to maintaining and repairing road surfaces? But what really hacks me off is that I have paid enough in car parking charges in the last 12 months to the traffic nazis within Richmond Borough Council to pay for 4 potholes to be repaired and have I noticed any work on this taking place? Nah. But, as readers to my Pasta Paulie blog will know, they have dug up and repaired virtually the same bit of roadway outside our apartment 4 times to make good repairs carried out by the utilities companies in the same period.
You know what I would do? I’d make use of a secure and willing proportion of the UK’s prison population, which totals around 100,000 people, and forms one of the most under-utilised manpower resources, to be employed by the Local Authorities (under close supervision of course) to do this work. All costs would be covered by the Local Authorities and the involved prisoners could earn privileges or reasonable earnings or reduced sentences for performing a valued contribution back to society.
There are manpower resources and revenues available without bothering the exchequer to sort this problem and yet it continues to be a growing blight on our landscape and infrastructure. It makes you wonder how on earth we led the Industrial revolution, produced geniuses like Newton, Shakespeare, Turner and Brunel, established the greatest Empire the world has ever seen…and yet we can’t fix some holes in the road. Sigh.
For any fan of English football the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia was bitterly disappointing especially after the incredible success of the London Games proved how great we are at putting on truly spectacular sporting events. But looking at it objectively you could see the validity in the decision; Russia is a powerful state and a real football nation which has never hosted a major footballing event previously. And the Russian Government were determinedly behind the Bid right from the start unlike our bandwagonners. However the simultaneous decision to award the 2022 event to Qatar, a searingly hot desert state with a lousy human rights record and absolutely no football infrastructure nor tradition of playing the game, instantly seemed like the most blind, stupid and downright morally bankrupt decision of all the crazy pronouncements from the universally-derided FIFA organisation and its tin pot leader Sepp ‘the Mad Hatter’ Blatter.
Watching Blatter and his cohorts squirming towards a re-thought solution of converting the World Cup into a winter event to counter the impossibly hot summer conditions in Qatar, is as grotesque as it is laughable. And that’s what FIFA have become, a laughing stock. There is a way for the organisation to find redemption I believe and that is to admit it made a serious mistake and re-run the process with full transparency. The respected sports journalist David Conn agrees it seems and has argued a superb case for a re-run in today’s Guardian, which is repeated below in full. Great words.
Football’s world governing body, Fifa, seems to believe it can maintain credibility in the World Cup vote taken three years ago with only one minor adjustment; holding the sport’s greatest tournament in Qatar in the winter of 2022, not the summer. Sadly Thursday’s meeting of the executive committee to agree that, and ask all of football – and other sports – to accommodate the change, is just another episode of self-delusion which, under the president, Sepp Blatter, Fifa manages to make farcical and monstrous at the same time.
This issue is more than just seasonal; the vote has no credibility. It should be rerun according to a new, decent, professional process befitting the love people have for the game and its greatest sporting occasion.
We know more now than we did at the time about Fifa and the Exco members who gathered in Zurich in December 2010 to hear the final earnest submissions from bidding countries. The BBC’s Panorama, broadcast just before the vote, presented allegations by the journalist and long-term Fifa scourge Andrew Jennings that three senior Fifa Exco members, Ricardo Teixeira (of Brazil), Nicolás Leoz (Paraguay) and Issa Hayatou (Cameroon), had pocketed bribes from the marketing company ISL. That story has since been proven to be true by court documents in Zug, Switzerland, which Fifa and Blatter knew about all along. Fifa’s own ethics committee confirmed in April that Teixeira, Leoz and the long-term former president João Havelange were paid bribes. Hayatou was, in December 2011, reprimanded for receiving money by the International Olympic Committee, of which he was also a member.
Jack Warner, of Trinidad & Tobago, and Chuck Blazer, his New York-based erstwhile general secretary at the Concacaf football federation, were found by a detailed Concacaf investigation in April to have committed fraud and misappropriated football money. Warner has resigned from football for life, while Blazer is under Fifa investigation for allegedly embezzling $21m while at Concacaf.
Mohamed bin Hammam, from Qatar, at the time the challenger to Blatter’s presidency, was found by the court of arbitration for sport last year to “more likely than not” have brought cash to two meetings in May 2011 which was then handed to Fifa delegates.
Blatter will say he has implemented a process of reform since 2010, and to give the president credit, progress has been made, but that in itself makes the point: when the World Cup vote was taken, Fifa was unreformed. It was prey to and riddled with corruption. Blatter was found to have known about the bribes ISL paid, but he has sailed away from that, because receiving a bribe was not a crime according to Swiss law at the time.
Before Panorama was broadcast, the Football Association’s bid attacked it, writing to Warner, Blazer, Bin Hammam, Leoz, Teixeira and the others to say they felt, “as a member of the football family, solidarity with you”. After the programme, the bid smeared Panorama as “an embarrassment to the BBC”.
That response and the schmoozing of Fifa remains an embarrassment to the FA. It spent £18m of English football’s money and persuaded 12 local councils, now suffering swingeing government cuts and struggling to keep their swimming pools open, to spend £250,000 of public money each on the campaign to woo Fifa.
The FA presented its bid, alongside those other countries pleading for the World Cup, but then the Exco men, with no explanation required, sent 2018 to Russia and 2022 to tiny, rich Qatar, which has none of the 12 stadiums required, in the desert at the hottest time of the year. To a country with a well-documented record of exploitation of migrant construction workers they awarded the world’s biggest building project.
Blatter has since sniped that the English media’s focus on Fifa corruption came because England did not win. That is more self-delusion. The corruption has been proven.
Professor Mark Pieth of Basel University, called in by Blatter to recommend how to fumigate Fifa, concluded in his first report that the World Cup bidding process had been open to “corruption risk and conflict of interest concerns”.
Russia and Qatar deny doing anything improper, but corruption does not have to be proven; the process, and Fifa at the time, were hopelessly invalid. Pieth argues his reforms, introducing new compliance procedures and decent new people on the Exco, are making a difference. He says some objective criteria are being worked on for deciding the venue for a World Cup, to avoid wasting so much money on bids ultimately decided by undeclared motivations.
Transparency, accountability, honesty, integrity: Fifa claims it is reordering itself to ensure these qualities prevail, over the gleaming Swiss swamp it was before. So, when the reforms are complete, they should run a decent vote for 2018 and 2022, and if appropriate according to proper criteria, Russia and Qatar can make their cases again.