Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

What about cruising the Norfolk Broads this year?

Anything to do with boating is never cheap but if you want a holiday experience that you’ll really remember then a cruise down a canal in your own boat is hard to beat.

A holiday on a canal boat (“barge” doesn’t really seem the correct term for the boats that you find these days) is at a totally different pace. Normal guidebooks are completely useless as they are aimed at drivers and cover a much greater chunk of the countryside than you’d be able to see at the pace of a canal boat. You’ll see all kinds of cute little villages that you’d have zoomed past without a second glance and as the canals tend to go through the older parts of towns you get to see some quite historic sections of towns that you’d never have seen before even if you were quite familiar with them.

You can do this in lots of countries but with the exchange rate being what it is why not try out a canal boat on the Norfolk Broads?

This is the type of holiday that you really need to do at least once in your life.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Where next for the United Kingdom?


Despite a very misleading campaign led by Alex, he still lost which just goes to show that there are quite a number of people who mainly feel British rather than Scottish. What would have been interesting is to have been able to analyse the breakdown of voting by age as, going by the media reports, it would appear that there was a much higher “yes” vote from the younger voters which, of course, is why Alex wanted the voting age reduced to 16.

Although the “no” vote won, what’s clear is that there are an awful lot of people in Scotland who think of themselves as more Scottish than British and their needs will have to be addressed in the years to come. The various parties have made committments to do just that by devolving a lot more power to the Scottish government in the fairly near future. What’s becoming apparent is that the Welsh and Northern Ireland governments will want similar powers granted to them as well as indeed will areas within England. That’s going to make life in the UK a whole lot more complicated in the years to come if local changes are allowed in taxation and welfare provision.

Will it, for example, move to more of a federation of local governments than a union of kingdoms? If so, how local would those local governments need to be? London seems to be aiming towards it’s own governing structure but if that’s granted, what about the other major cities?

If nothing else, it’ll certainly be an interesting period with the multiple negotiations going on. Already the Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies are holding discussions as to the way forward for them and perhaps other major regions will join in that discussion in due course.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

What about a holiday in the UK?

Much as you might think that holidays have to be abroad, that just isn’t the case at all.

For every category of holiday that you get abroad, there’s somewhere that you can do the very same thing at home.

Disneyland? No, but there’s Alton Towers. Sea and sand? There’s hundreds of miles of it right around Great Britain! Cheap family holidays? Caravan Parks have long been a fixture in the UK holiday season. They provide all the facilities that you’ve probably experienced in leisure parks abroad.

What about those caravan parks though? Put the old style image of Butlins out of your head when you think about a modern caravan park. You’ll get all the facilities that you’d expect in a “normal” holiday resort from pools to modern spas along with a nightlife that would put many places to shame. As far as the “caravan” goes, think of it as a small house because it’s in a whole different league than any caravan you’ll have seen if you’ve not considered them for a few years or have only seen those being towed along the road.

And that’s just the resort. Many of them are located a short distance from major attractions offering you an additional range of activities.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

How detached from reality are the Northern Ireland politicians?

Peter Robinson wrote an interesting summary of the situation with politics in Northern Ireland last week.

For those that don’t know, the government in Northern Ireland is a mandatory coalition that requires agreement on major issues. That agreement is proving to be impossible to get in the very central area of welfare reform which poses particular difficulties as Peter pointed out.

Welfare is a major proportion of the overall Stormont budget so any adjustments required to the welfare budget tend to involve large sums of money. Historically Northern Ireland has mirrored any changes in the welfare system on the mainland and the problem now is that they’re moving to universal credit and putting a cap on the benefits that a family can receive but Sein Fein don’t agree with that as they say that it imposes cuts on vulnerable sections of society. To an extent, they are correct if you take the assumption that people living on benefits are by definition vulnerable. However, to pay people what is in some cases considerably more than the same family could gain through working seems fundamentally wrong. Also worth noting is that average salaries in NI are lower than in the rest of the UK so it can pay people not to work.

In that the rest of the UK are cutting benefit payments, they are reducing the amount paid to NI by the amount that they estimate that welfare reform would save. As noted above, these are big numbers and without welfare reform these reductions are having knock-on effects in the public services provided by other areas of government in NI so, for instance, the reduction in payments to the Department of Regional Development means that they can’t afford to maintain all the street lights anymore.

However, a bigger problem is that the computer system which makes the payments is in England and supported by IT staff in England and both are in the process of being wound down as those benefits transfer to universal credit. In principle, the NI government could take over both but the money required to do that is quite staggering: Peter had been quoted £200-£300 million pounds per year to maintain them. They’re also quite old systems and he’s been quoted £1.6 billion to replace them. That’s a lot more than the NI based systems which preceeded them cost but going back to those systems isn’t a runner as the teams which supported them have long since dispersed. To give an idea of how different the scale is, the model of computer which ran all systems in the NI civil service just before they were moved to England was the same model as was used in England just to control the printers. Hence, natually, the IT teams were somewhat larger eg a typical benefit support team in NI was three people compared to 30 in England supporting their version of the system.

Finally, there’s the time issue. A decision to change to universal credit or to take over running the old systems needs to be made quite soon or those benefits affected will simply stop being paid and the deadline for that decision isn’t far off.

So what will they do? They can’t continue to not make a decision for sure but there doesn’t seem to be any clear way out of the impasse. Peter’s suggestion that they hand back welfare to Westminster is going to meet strong opposition from a range of parties. Westminster taking it back either voluntarily or compulsorily may not be easy to do either and also has a deadline as staff need trained and systems updated not to mention the reintegration of NI welfare.

What’s clear is that they need to make a decision and soon.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

A cheap day-trip to Glasgow

Stenaline extended their £10 return day-trips to Glasgow throughout the summer and indeed the closing date quoted is now well into November so we were able to get the day-trip with the kids last week.

As with all day-trips involving any kind of boat or plane, there’s an early start. In this case, you’ve to be there no later than 7am and, of course, allowing for parking and whatnot that really means more like 6.45am. The ship doesn’t depart ’til 7.30 but the cheap trips over the holiday period are very popular so there was quite a line to checkin and it was quite a crowded trip. Arrival in Cairnryan is a little before 10am.

The ship is the quite nice Superfast, although with the trip taking almost 2.5 hours, it doesn’t seem that fast. Food in the restaurant isn’t cheap but the prices aren’t too over the top and the portions are ample (the childrens’ ones were fine for me). It’s best to grab a seat as soon as you get on as the available seats are taken up really quickly on the more crowded crossings. There’s the usual arcade games and small cinema (aimed mainly at the kids) with a spa along with assorted treatments for the adults. They’ve a small number of suites (for up to five people) which, at £25, are worth it after a tiring day though, of course, you only have use of it for a couple of hours.

The coaches set off not much after 10 with arrival in Glasgow scheduled for noon. However, in practice, we didn’t arrive at the Buchanan Street bus station until 12.30 which means that we only got four hours in Glasgow. The bus station is quite central though getting around Glasgow takes longer than you’d expect i.e. don’t try to be too ambitious if you’re intending to use public transport to get around.

What’s to see? It’s very much a Victorian era port city so there’s a focus on things along the docks although there are a number of things dotted around the city of course. All of these are covered in sufficient detail in the What to See and Do guide although the guide covers everything and for a day-trip is just too much.

Highlights suitable for a day-trip include:

  • The Science Centre, accessible from the Cessnock stop on the underground (allow 40 minutes each way for travel as you’ve to walk to the Buchanan Street stop and have a 15 minute walk from Cessnock). Mainly aimed at 7-14 year olds; it seems to include almost all the science gimics that you’re ever heard of. Quite expensive and very overpriced for adults considering that they’re mainly just accompanying their children.
  • Glasgow Police Museum is merely one of a range of museums covering different aspects of life in the city. Choose one that you’re interested as you won’t have time to do justice to more than that.
  • And, of course, the shopping of which the Buchanan Street area is well served.

The fledgling underground covers the city but allow for long walks to and from the stations as they are none too plentiful at the moment. There’s the usual open-top bus which takes about two hours to get around the city so you can’t really use it to get from A to B on a day-trip.

Is it worth it? I have to say, “no”, basically because four hours in Glasgow just isn’t enough and especially so as you spend eight hours travelling there and back. If the time there were a couple of hours longer, it would make an enjoyable day but with only the four hours, it’s all to easy to feel that it’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of trip. So, lots of stuff to see, but ruined by being there just too little time.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.