NHS fatcats take pay offs – then come back for more
A series of NHS executives who quit their posts with lucrative payoffs have been re-employed on temporary contracts worth thousand of pounds a day. In one case an official given a £300,000 payoff was re-employed on daily rates of £3,400.
He was among 14 “temporary” executives on more than £1,000 a day, according to NHS accounts. Most had previously worked elsewhere in the health service. The “revolving door” of managers includes one who had to leave a previous job in disgrace after he presided over a hospital whose own doctors said some of its services were worse than the Third World.
MPs expressed concern at the scale of payments being made to senior managers. Stephen Dorrell, chairman of the Commons health select committee, said: “This is the sort of thing that gives effective management a really bad name.”
The Conservative MP said: “In a service the size of the NHS it should be possible to find managers who can step in for short term situations, rather than to end up bringing people back at such inflated rates. “My concern is that there is no drive within the health service to avoid this kind of practice.”
The use of “interim” management in the NHS was justified by several of the organisations as solving specific short-term problems while long term plans were drawn up. But many of the arrangements uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph lasted for more than a year, despite the rocketing bills.
Derek Smith received £150,000 for 44 days work in charge of Dorset County Hospital Foundation trust, according to accounts for 2010/11. The sum, which includes expenses, amounts to a daily rate of £3,400 – twice as much as a nurse takes home as a month, and five times the salary of his predecessor. The year before Mr Smith was paid £268,000 from the same trust for 97 days in charge.
While at Dorset, he proposed 200 job losses and a pay freeze, insisting the measures were “tough but necessary” and would even boost morale in the long-term.
Mr Smith became a “management consultant” after being made redundant as chief executive of Hammersmith Hospitals trust in 2007, when he is understood to have received a payout worth more than £300,000.
Four months later he took an interim job running University Hospitals of Leicester Trust, which paid more than £205,000 for six months work. Since April, he has been running Hertfordshire Community trust, on daily rates of £900.
Peter Reading spent 18 months as interim chief executive of Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation trust, and was paid £230,000 for his first 12 months in post, plus £40,000 to an agency. Dr Reading had previously received a £700,000 payoff when he took early retirement from University Hospitals of Leicester trust in 2007.
Barnsley Hospital Foundation trust paid Paul O’Connor £298,000 to be interim chief executive for nine months from June 2010; a daily rate of £1,600, before he was given the job permanently, at a salary of between £145,000 and £150,000. The year before he was forced to resign as head of Birmingham Children’s Hospital Foundation trust, two weeks before a damning report was published by the Healthcare Commission, which said the hospital was putting children’s safety at risk.
The review was triggered by a secret report by the hospital’s own consultants, who said some services were worse than those in the developing world, and that doctors had stopped reporting the dangers, because of a lack of response from managers.
Last night, Mr O’Connor said he had a track record of “turning around” healthcare organisations, adding: “I had no choice but to leave Birmingham Children’s Hospital without being able to address the serious issues raised in the report and this will always be a matter of regret.”
In most cases, the payments were not made directly to the managers, but via agencies, which were able to take a share.
Payments for Mr Smith went to Durrow consultancy, run by his wife, Ruth Harrison – a former NHS chief executive who was given a £140,000 “golden goodbye” to leave Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire after a superbug scandal in which 33 patients died, between 2003 and 2005.
Trusts said the payments – some of which included expenses – did not include national insurance or pension contributions, which are paid on top of salaries.
Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of The Patients Association said the spending was a “total waste of money” diverting funds from the frontline. “With the NHS struggling to provide comprehensive care for patients, it is absurd that such obscene amounts of money are being spent to pay off NHS managers only to re-employ them at eyewatering rates,” she said.
Janet Davies, from the Royal College of Nursing said the disclosures would come as a “kick in the teeth” for nurses and doctors, whose pay has been frozen for two years.
Britain to speed up deportation of foreigners involved in gang crime
Theresa May will seek to reinforce her hardline views on law and order this week by unveiling new anti-terror-style plans to speed up the deportation of foreign thugs involved in gangland crime.
The Home Secretary will announce proposals for immigration services and police to work together to remove those operating in British gangs as quickly as possible. She will say that a pioneering scheme in London, which boasts a ‘100 per cent’ success rate in deporting ‘highest-harm’ foreign offenders, will be rolled out across England and Wales.
The scheme is being billed as the first operation of its type in the UK outside of anti-terror operations. Under the plans, police will combine with UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff to make sure foreign gang members convicted of serious crimes in Britain – including murder and rape – are deported.
Home Office sources said: ‘We need to ensure the two forces work more closely so that when someone is caught and convicted they are removed from the country.’
The initiative is based on Operation Bite, a trial project in London between the UKBA and the Metropolitan Police. Under the operation, the most dangerous individuals involved in crimes such as murder, kidnap, shootings, stabbings, and drugs supply were ‘fast-tracked’ to the UKBA by the police.
Cases included an 18-year-old convicted of intent to supply crack cocaine, and later arrested for serious offences including attempted murder. He was detained for 14 months under immigration powers and later deported for a minimum of ten years.
Home Office sources claimed that as well as speeding up deportation of gang members, it also helped identify some who had no right to be in the UK in the first place. Operation Bite has removed nine ‘highest-harm’ offenders, officials said.
The news comes after it was disclosed more than 150 people arrested for their role in the summer’s riots were foreigners, and that 13 per cent of all those detained were gang members.
British Housing chief admits demoting Christian to protect award from gay charity
A housing association that demoted a manager for speaking out on gay marriage has admitted that it feared losing a coveted award from a gay charity.
Father-of-two Adrian Smith, 54, was found guilty of misconduct and had his salary slashed by £14,000 after saying on his private Facebook page that same-sex weddings in churches would be ‘an equality too far’.
Publicly funded Trafford Housing Trust in Greater Manchester was widely condemned for its harsh treatment of Mr Smith, with critics ranging from Tory MPs to gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
In a letter to Mr Smith after it rejected his appeal against demotion, the trust revealed its concerns over tarnishing the ‘quality mark’ it received last year from the Albert Kennedy Trust, which supports homeless young gays and lesbians.
The trust’s commercial director David Barrow said Mr Smith’s Facebook comments had distressed several colleagues and ‘had the potential to seriously undermine the Albert Kennedy Accreditation, which we were proud to receive last year’.
He told Mr Smith: ‘It is clear that your comments did have the potential to bring the trust into disrepute.’
The Albert Kennedy Trust is named after a 16-year-old who fell to his death from a car park while being attacked and its patrons include Lord Of The Rings star Sir Ian McKellen.
It launched its awards to recognise supportive housing trusts. Trafford Housing Trust said on its website that it had ‘achieved the highest score so far achieved by any organisation’.
In his letter from Mr Barrow, evangelical Christian Mr Smith was warned about preaching in church. Mr Smith, who now collects rent, was told: ‘I explained that in a private capacity this is your right. ‘If, however, you were preaching in this vicinity where you might be recognised or linked to the trust, there could potentially be an issue.’
Mr Smith is the latest in a series of Christians who have clashed with employers over their rights to express their views.
In the Commons on Thursday, Mr Smith’s demotion was described as ‘despicable’ by Peterborough Tory MP Stewart Jackson. He asked: ‘Should we be putting public money into an organisation that is, effectively, propagating state-sponsored intolerance?’
Leader of the House Sir George Young said he, too, was ‘a firm believer in freedom of speech’ and he would alert Housing Minister Grant Shapps to the case.
Gay activist Mr Tatchell said: ‘Mr Smith was not threatening or intimidating. In a democratic society, he has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong.
‘Freedom of speech should only be limited or penalised in extreme circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against others.’ Mike Smith of the Christian Institute, which is backing Adrian Smith’s legal action against the trust, said: ‘By their own admission, their fear about losing an LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual] award was a factor in their decision to penalise Adrian, a decision that has damaged his career and plunged his family towards financial hardship.
‘Sadly, they seem determined to waste more public money defending the indefensible in court.’
Trafford Housing Trust said last night: ‘We expect employees at all levels to act respectfully and adopt our ethos of valuing, respecting, supporting and treating people with dignity regardless of their age, disability, faith, gender or gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity status or race/ethnicity or sexual orientation.’
Poundland backs down on shopfloor poppy ban after customers threaten boycott
Budget retailer Poundland has been forced to review its dress code after a row erupted on Twitter and Facebook following claims that it had banned staff from wearing remembrance poppies.
In a statement on Facebook, Poundland said it was not against employees wearing a poppy, but they were not allowed to do so on the shop floor because it is not part of staff uniform.
But the company said today that it will now allow workers to ‘use their own discretion in wearing poppies’ after hundreds of customers threatened to boycott its stores.
It had been claimed on Facebook that one member of staff was sent home from work and faced losing her job after refusing to remove her poppy. But in a statement Poundland said: ‘On Friday 28th October a situation in Northern Ireland was brought to the company’s attention where a store colleague was politely asked to remove a poppy by our store manager in order to comply with company policy. ‘The store colleague decided to walk out and stated that she would return on Monday next wearing her poppy.’
The red poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day and is worn as a mark of respect to servicemen and women who have been killed or injured fighting for their country.
The claims that Poundland had banned staff from wearing them sparked the row on Twitter and the store’s Facebook page, with hundreds of people expressing outrage at the policy.
Comments included ‘disgusting’ and ‘shameful’, and some customers said they would no longer shop at the store, describing it as a ‘disgrace’. One Poundland employee, Vicky Hill, left the message: ‘I don’t think this is right. It’s a sign of respect. Everyone has the right to wear a poppy.
‘Of course, I shan’t be wearing my poppy at work simply because rules are rules, and at the end of the day I abide by them. But I am not pleased with this at all.’
Shane Brown said: ‘I’m a Poundland employee and I find this a disgrace tbh we should be allowed to wear them with pride and respect at ALL times!!!’ Poundland customer Linda Williams wrote: ‘So wrong of you! Have some respect for those who fought and died for this country.’
Poundland responded on the website yesterday saying it listens to its customers and was giving their views ‘serious consideration’.
Today, chief executive Jim McCarthy said: “We have listened to the views of customers and colleagues and have, in light of their feedback, reviewed the policy. “We have decided in the case of the poppy appeal to allow store colleagues to use their own discretion in wearing poppies. “This change in policy is consistent with recent reviews of policy made by other leading High street retailers. “We apologise for any unintended offence that has been caused.”
The 2011 Poppy Appeal was launched on Thursday and is the culmination of the Royal British Legion’s 90th anniversary year.
Television presenter David Dimbleby ignored BBC guidelines and wore his poppy on Thursday night’s edition of Question Time – 36 hours before the go-ahead from BBC bosses. David Jordan, director of editorial policy and standards, ordered that poppies should be worn on screen from 6am today until ‘23.59pm on Sunday November 13 — Remembrance Sunday.’
Last year the Armed Forces charity achieved a record-breaking total of £36million and hope to improve on this in 2011 with a fundraising goal of £40million.
The decline and fall of British Conservatism
Neil Davenport says that the Conservative Party may still live on, but its pragmatic defence of authority, tradition and autonomy are dead. There is something in what he says but the way the Canadian Tories have come back from the dead should limit pessimism
This week, UK prime minister David Cameron faced the biggest challenge to his leadership of the Conservative Party: the proposal for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. In the end, 81 Tory MPs defied a three-line whip by supporting the proposal, while others abstained in Monday night’s House of Commons vote. Pressure had been mounting on the Prime Minister as critics attacked his handling of backbenchers and his decision to have a confrontation with them over Europe. One rebel went so far as to describe it as a ‘monumental failure’.
The Commons motion was easily defeated, thanks to the votes of those Tories who observed the party whip plus Labour and Lib Dem MPs. But the large majority at Westminster against a referendum seems to be at odds with public opinion. A recent poll found that 70 per cent of people wanted to see a referendum on Britain’s EU membership – and 49 per cent would vote to withdraw from the EU, compared to only 40 per cent who would choose to stay in. Conservative voters were shown to be more eurosceptic than others, with 56 per cent saying they would vote to leave the EU. Among all voters, over a third said they would ‘definitely’ leave the EU if given the choice.
Of course, the Conservative Party has long been torn between its ideological commitment to British national sovereignty and the pragmatic needs of the UK’s economy. Eurosceptic former prime minister Margaret Thatcher lost both the UK premiership and the leadership of the Conservative Party in part because she failed to soft-pedal her eurosceptic rhetoric. The needs of UK plc won out in the end.
Cameron himself has displayed schizophrenic tendencies towards the EU, saying there should have been a popular vote on previous EU treaties; ‘it was wrong we didn’t have referendums on Maastricht and on Lisbon’, he repeated in the Commons this week. But while this internal feud has festered within the Conservative Party for over 30 years, there’s something new about why Conservatives across Britain have attached so much importance to opposing the EU.
In many ways, the EU has become a focus for a wider sense of political disorientation felt by an older generation of Conservatives. There’s an instinctive sense that, while the Conservatives are (just about) back in office, the wider political climate is no longer hospitable to conservative ideas and values. If only Britain could pull out of the EU, the thinking goes, then maybe we could see a return to conservative values dominating Britain. In truth, it would be far better to question whether Conservatism as a set of beliefs and values, rather than the Conservative Party as an organisation, will survive the twenty-first century.
Conservatism is, above all else, a belief in defending the existing social order achieved through a promotion of tradition, authority, paternalism and the organic society that attempted to legitimise existing arrangements. The organic society, the belief that society has evolved through the natural relationships between men and women, was core to conservative values, which is why conservatives were historically hostile to both feminism and gay rights. Support for the free market also has a place within Conservatism, but it’s a qualified support even from supposedly staunch free-marketeers in the past such as Thatcher and the New Right. What they liked about the free market was its connection with private property ownership and the way it provided discipline, order and personal responsibility in wider society. Nevertheless when the free market undermined existing social structures, traditional values and authority, conservatives could be equally hostile to the dynamic, disruptive drive of the free market – as many were during the 1960s (though this opposition had its roots in the failure of the market in the 1930s).
It’s also wrong to see Conservatism as a rigid and dogmatic belief system obsessed only with the past. A key source of Conservatism’s success was always knowing when to change pragmatically in order to conserve existing power structures in society. Whether it was the postwar compromise or Harold Macmillan’s proposal that multiculturalism replace imperial values in 1950, conservatives have often been skilful in knowing when to ditch out-of-date ideas. This was one of the reasons why the Conservative Party was once the most successful political party anywhere within the Western world. While many on the Left, from the Labour Party to Trotskyist organisations, tended to live forever in the shadow of 1945 even as late as the 1980s, conservatives were sensitive to genuine changes in society and seized the moment accordingly. So why does this normally flexible-but-firm belief system have so many difficulties today?
The first problem Conservatism faced is that, through the demise of working-class oppositional movements, its historical role as defenders of the status quo had become utterly redundant. As a major consequence, it also meant that the ideas by which it justified conserving the status quo – such as the family, deference, authority, holding the line, support for British nationalism – have all become empty and redundant, too. As an essentially reactive ideology, by the 1990s there was very little for Conservatism to react against and, in the process, define what it was for. The sheer exhaustion and meaninglessness of its former historic role, and the ideology that justified that, created an urgent need for new sources of morality and authority to be established throughout wider society. This is why the concepts of anti-elitist inclusion, non-judgementalism and therapeutic protection have dominated politics for the past 15 years. The demise of Conservatism has led to the complete re-organisation of the British state around ideas once associated with the cultural left.
Whereas conservative values once set the agenda that the Labour Party had to follow, particularly on race and nation, now it is conservatives who have to prove that they are reconstructed enough to be part of New Britain. A belief in the organic society, deference and authority has been replaced by the managerial society, inclusion and relativism. The old insistence on traditional family values has given way to support for civil partnerships and gay couples adopting. A Thatcherite championing of the free market, prosperity and growth has been replaced by green restraint, austerity and measuring ‘happiness’ rather than GDP. A quick glance at Cameron’s awkward ‘social conservatism’ suggests it’s not very conservative at all.
Nevertheless, the demise of Conservatism is not the euphoric victory for progressive politics that it should be. Conservatives had something in common with anyone seeking to dramatically change society – an understanding of the importance of winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of citizens through a wider ideological struggle. Conservatives recognised that politics and society are more effectively run through shared agreements, or at least seeking to strive for shared agreements, based on autonomous individuals. As a consequence, they often understood that it’s counter-productive, or at least ineffective, to run society based on passing petty laws, restricting autonomy and cranking up regulations (although admittedly the last years of the Thatcher and Major governments were heading in that direction). So although Conservatives would insist that their moral codes were the ones that were universal and absolute, most of the time they attempted to convince us of this view through words rather enforcing such ideas through regulations. The same cannot be said for the new breed of managerial politician today.
Of course, when it came to defending narrow class interests – as we’ve seen recently with the Tory shires over preserving Green Belt land – its backward attitude towards women and gay rights, its promotion of race and empire values, we should be saying ‘good riddance’ to such reactionary and oppressive ideas. Unfortunately, in the absence of a progressive alternative to current government policy, the defeat of Conservatism has ripped apart a political culture built on informal relationships and autonomous individuals. Ideas like informality, going on your instincts and a rejection of instrumentalism were key planks of Conservatism and, by default, British and Western society. Conservatives often believed in being pragmatic rather than instrumental about running society as they understood you have to be responsive to new problems and dilemmas that no end goal can account for.
In this sense, conservatives’ understanding of the relationship between the individual and society – based on consent rather than coercion – is far more nuanced and historically progressive than the policy of recent UK governments – to hack away at areas of life that were once rightly seen as private or informal, replacing personal choice with state regulation. The demise of Conservatism, unfortunately, has meant the demise of politics and the opportunity to act as political citizens, too. The withdrawal of Britain from the EU will not, as many old conservatives tend to believe, lead to a revival of Conservatism or of civil society. The problem goes much deeper than that.
Tony Blair — the Leftist fool who trusted an Arab dictator
A secret cache of Colonel Gaddafi’s chemical weapons has been found in Libya, the country’s new rulers announced yesterday.
The deadly arsenal proves the tyrant had refused to give up his weapons of mass destruction – despite promising Tony Blair he would relinquish them in the infamous ‘Deal in the Desert’.
The National Transitional Council said the chemical warheads had been secured and would be made safe by experts. A spokesman said: ‘They are from the Gaddafi era and are under guard until they can be handed over.’
To this day, Mr Blair defends his decision to embrace Gaddafi by trumpeting the idea that he forced the dictator to give up his WMD programme.
His spokesman said earlier this week: ‘Mr Blair, in office, had been responsible for getting Gaddafi to give up his chemical and nuclear weapons programme and renounce terrorism.’
Gaddafi agreed to destroy most of his weapons of mass destruction in 2003 as part of moves to bring Libya, then a pariah state, in from the cold. The agreement was sealed in 2004 when Mr Blair shook hands with Gaddafi in a tent outside Tripoli.
The disarming process was being overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but was never finished because of the outbreak of war.
It meant the dictator retained around ten tons of deadly mustard gas and other chemicals. Throughout the uprising, rebels feared vengeful Gaddafi – who warned they faced the ‘fires from Hell’ – would unleash WMD on his own people. In Misrata, panic gripped the population when forces loyal to Gaddafi were seen wearing gas masks.
Nato spy planes and satellites monitored suspected chemical weapons dumps at three separate locations, including the Rughawa site some 130 miles south of the tyrant’s birthplace Sirte.
Britain’s crazy university admission system to be rationalized
What the Brits are just getting around to doing, Australia has been doing for generations — so it’s not hard. But for lazy Brits it may be hard
Students will apply for university once they have received their A-level results in a shake-up designed to end the ‘inefficient, stressful and confusing’ admissions system.
Teenagers currently choose courses based on predicted grades even though half turn out to be wrong.
Under proposals to be published today prospective students can only apply after they have been awarded the marks necessary to secure a place at their university of choice.
No time to celebrate: Under the proposal, students will need to find a university course after they receive their exam results
It will see students sit their A-level exams in early May, 15 days earlier than at present, with results published before the end of the summer school term in early July.
Candidates will then apply, in the third week of July and accept offers by the third week of September.
University start dates, for the first year students, will be pushed back to the second week of October.
It will involve exam boards dramatically increasing the speed of their marking and universities processing applications during the summer holidays.
The changes, set to be introduced in 2016, have been recommended in the first major review of admissions in 50 years, conducted by the University and College Admissions Service(UCAS).
They are likely to be met with some resistance from Universities and exam boards, which will have to adapt fast.
And following the chaos of recent university admission rounds, with thousands of students with straight A grades failing to get a place, there are fears teething problems with the new system could jeopardise the university career of even more students.
However, Universities Minister David Willetts has signalled his support.
The overhaul comes as the current system, which has been in place since 1961, has in recent years, failed to deal with the volume of applications, which now total some 2.7million.
The review found it forces applicants to make decisions about higher education at least six months before they receive their results. In addition is it ‘complex and many applicants find it ‘hard to understand’ and clearing is ‘inefficient, stressful and confusing’.
The review also found that fewer than 10 per cent of students are applying to university with three accurate grade predictions.
And an estimated 20 per cent to 40 per cent of university applications have predicted grades which fail to meet the minimum entry requirements of the course applied for.
Almost half, 42 per cent, of applicants hold a so-called ‘insurance’ or back-up place that require them to get the same or better grades than their first choice course.
Under the proposals, the application process would be split into three windows’ to accommodate mature and overseas students and those who fail to get an offer first time round.
The first process would be open all year for students who already have their grades.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: ‘Predicted grades are never completely reliable and at the moment students are forced to narrow their options far too early in the process.’
Shale gas in Britain
Beneath swathes of the UK lie billions of pounds worth of shale gas. And now we can get to it. David Rose reports on how the recession (and wind turbines) may soon be just a bad memory
Locked within the fissures inside that rock is an immense quantity of natural gas
Locked within the fissures inside that rock is an immense quantity of natural gas – virtually pure, unadulterated methane, of a quality so high it could be pumped direct to domestic and industrial users
Here are two visions of the future.
The first one lies at the end of a muddy track in the village of Banks, a 20-minute drive from Preston, Lancashire. It consists of a derrick about 60ft high, a few temporary buildings, a generator and some specialist machinery in a fenced square compound.
Powering the derrick and the drill at its centre is an eerily quiet electric motor. Today, on the first Friday of October, the bit it turns at the end of the drill pipe lies about a mile beneath our feet, boring steadily downwards at a rate of up to 500ft a day, depending on the hardness of the strata. It’s heading for a thick deposit of carboniferous shale, a rock made from the compressed mud which lay on a prehistoric seabed more than 300 million years ago, its upper edge some 7,500ft below the dark green fields of ripening cauliflower that surround the compound.
Locked within the fissures inside that rock is an immense quantity of natural gas – virtually pure, unadulterated methane, of a quality so high it could be pumped direct to domestic and industrial users, and to electricity generating stations.
Once the drill reaches the shale, the gas is released by a process known as ‘fracking’ – hydraulic fracturing, the pumping of a mixture of water and sand to widen the fissures and keep them open. Normally, you only have to frack an area once: after that, the gas tap stays open.
‘The installation you see here is only temporary,’ says Eric Vaughan, a veteran of drilling for gas from shale in America and the chief operating officer at Cuadrilla, the firm that runs the site.
‘If we go into production, we’d have up to ten wells radiating horizontally for distances of up to six miles from the bottom of this hole – what we call a pad. The derrick would be gone. All that would be left would be a bunch of tanks and a small building at the wellhead. There’d be miles between each pad. If you were standing here, you’d be lucky to spot another one.’
Drilling through more than 8,000ft of rock at a test-drilling site in Lancashire
Drilling through more than 8,000ft of rock at a test-drilling site in Lancashire. It is no exaggeration to state that shale gas could transform the prospects for the entire British economy
Cuadrilla, an independent British company formed in 2007 whose backers include the former BP chairman Lord Browne, was awarded gas-exploration rights to a rectangular 750-square-mile licence area, running east from Fleetwood on Morecambe Bay to the Forest of Bowland, and down to a line near Southport.
According to Peter Turner, Cuadrilla’s geologist, this one shale ‘sub-basin’ contains about 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Even if only ten per cent turns out to be commercially recoverable this would still be enough to meet Britain’s gas supply needs for around 15 years. In time it may be enough to offset the rapid decline in gas from the North Sea, and to remove any need for imports.
Cuadrilla’s forecast, based on analysis at two test sites and results from earlier ‘dry’ holes made by firms which were looking for conventional oil and gas, is scientific and credible, says Nigel Smith of the British Geological Survey. But it is also only the beginning.
‘The Lancashire licence area is just one part of a shale formation of a similar type that stretches across the Pennines to Lincolnshire, north through to Yorkshire, then up to Teesside and Northumbria. It’s also found in the Scottish Midlands valley,’ says Smith.
Still more lies beneath South Wales, near Bristol, and in Somerset.
‘There’s a huge amount more, at least four times as much, offshore,’ he adds.
It is no exaggeration to state that shale gas could transform the prospects for the entire British economy – turning the country into a major energy exporter for many decades, reducing costs to consumers, and attracting new industry through abundant cheap power.
‘We don’t want any subsidies. This is a sustainable business’, says Vaughan.
Shale gas production could create thousands of jobs directly, and provide many billions in tax revenue – as it is already doing in Texas, Pennsylvania and several other states in America.
It could also fill the looming black hole in Britain’s electricity generating capacity, the result of old coal and nuclear power stations being decommissioned: burnt in modern ‘combined cycle’ plants, shale gas plants would emit only 37 per cent of the carbon dioxide produced by their coal- or oil-fired predecessors.
The drill as seen from the surrounding cauliflower field
The drill as seen from the surrounding cauliflower field. Shale gas production could create thousands of jobs directly, and provide many billions in tax revenue
One such plant is currently being built at a cost of £500 million at Hoo St Werburgh in Kent. It will produce 1,000MW, enough to power a quarter of the homes in London.
The second vision is taking shape at the end of the Thames Estuary, where the foundations are being laid for the 217 turbines of the London Array, the world’s biggest offshore wind farm.
Covering 90 square miles, this too will have the capacity to generate 1GW (one billion watts). The turbines’ construction has been priced at £2 billion, four times as much as the Kentish gas plant, although this does not include the cost – perhaps a further £500 million – of connecting them to the National Grid, via 300 miles of undersea high-voltage cables.
Without the labyrinthine system of ‘green’ taxes and Government subsidies known as the Renewables Obligation, which is already adding an estimated £100 to the cost of every British household’s electricity bill, and an average 20 per cent to the charges paid by businesses, the wind farm could never be built, because it would be hopelessly uneconomic.
As well as being more expensive, the turbines will not last nearly as long: about 20 years, half the time of the gas-fired power station.
A gas plant, moreover, will produce electricity 24 hours day; the turbines won’t. British windmills can be expected to generate power only 27 per cent of the time. That figure falls to just ten per cent in the calm conditions of a bitter Arctic high, such as that which covered the entire UK, causing record low temperatures, for several weeks last December.
However, this is the vision supported by many environmentalists and the Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. And there is a large and vociferous body of opinion that wants Lancashire’s gas to stay in the ground – forever.
So who’s right?
For an answer we need to look at what has happened in the United States. In the past five years shale gas production there has risen from one per cent to 20 per cent, while prices have fallen dramatically. Shale gas fields, among them the booming Marcellus field under Pennsylvania and New York states have brought employment, tax income and wealth, as well as reducing the need for energy imports.
Overall, the effect of the discovery of an estimated 3,000 trillion cubic feet of gas from shale is transforming the U.S. energy economy, a development with important geopolitical consequences.
The Congressional Research Service recently estimated that America now has the biggest fossil fuel reserves in the world – more than Saudi Arabia, Iraq or China. The wholesale price of gas has roughly halved, to about $6 per thousand cubic feet – against $10.5 in Britain. As recently as 2003, America was building port facilities to cope with gas imports. They may now be used to send gas from shale abroad. And the same could happen here.
An operator at the test site
An operator at the test site. Shale gas could turn the country into a major energy exporter for many decades, reducing costs to consumers, and attracting new industry through abundant cheap power
A few highly publicised incidents have caused concern among some environmental groups in the U.S., though.
‘Every method of producing energy carries risks,’ comments Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
Coal mines trap and kill workers; oil rigs blow up; nuclear plants succumb to tsunamis.
In Norway, wind farm blades have wiped out whole colonies of Europe’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle, and the giant offshore farms now planned – some of which will be 600ft high – may be still more devastating to avian life. Set against this, how do the risks of shale fracking compare?
One of the most controversial issues has been the use of chemicals in the ‘fracking fluid’, the water used to open the fissures in the shale, about a third of which will eventually flow back up the well to the surface.
Some U.S. firms have been reluctant to disclose the substances used, inviting the charge that underground aquifers and rivers may become polluted. In one notorious incident in the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Marcellus field, fracking fluid leaked into several households’ private wells.
‘But that was because the company wasn’t using proper pipe lining,’ says Chris Carney, who has lived in Dimock for most of his life and until last year represented the town and surrounding district as a Democratic member of the U.S Congress.
‘There was a row of houses along one of the local roads which had their wells polluted, so I guess they’re having to get water from somewhere else. But if it’s done right, fracking has little impact.’
In contrast to the leaky well in Dimock, Cuadrilla’s holes in Lancashire come with a thick, multiple-layer cement lining.
‘In engineering terms, you could say that’s overkill,’ says Cuadrilla’s Eric Vaughan.
A recent study by Duke University shows that in wells built to a similar standard, no leaks of water or gas have taken place.
As for the additive to the fracking fluid, Vaughan says, ‘We use only one chemical – 0.4 gallons per 1,000 gallons of water of polyacrylamide, a substance which makes water less sticky’.
Classed officially as a ‘non-hazardous chemical’, this is also used in drinking-water treatment plants and soft contact lenses. But in Lancashire, he insists, the fluid will not leak. The local drinking water aquifers lie more than 7,000ft above the level where fracking would take place.