Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

So what will happen if Northern Ireland doesn’t accept welfare reform?

The social security system has been, up to now, fairly standard UK-wide. It wasn’t that the system was exactly the same as historically there have been different sets of laws in the mainland and in Northern Ireland. However, the laws were arranged so that the amounts paid in the various benefits were the same even when there were different computer systems making those payments.

The operational aspects of that changed about 20 years ago when the computer systems were amalgamated so that, for example, the computer system which calculates and pays your retirement pension in Belfast is exactly the same one that calculates and pays it in Birmingham. Prior to that there was a system in Northern Ireland which paid the pensions in Northern Ireland and a different system on the mainland. However, the amount calculated to be paid was the same thus the changeover was seamless.

Historically, changes in social security payments in England were always reflected in corresponding changes in payments made in Northern Ireland. This time around though the policitians in Northern Ireland haven’t, yet, reached agreement to make the necessary changes which in turn means that Northern Ireland has been subject to penalty payments corresponding, roughly, to the amount that would have been saved if they’d made those changes. Those penalty charges are starting to mount up and we’re now starting to see the start of the effects of such penalties being imposed.

First off, it’s worth noting that the budget for the social security department is usually the highest of all the departments so penalties imposed on it that need to be spread amongst the other departments hit the other departments quite hard. Secondly, the Northern Ireland executive have resolved that neither education nor health will have cuts imposed which leaves fewer departments to shoulder the cost and that cost will be quite substantial.

This week, we’ve already seen the announcement that DRD won’t have enough cash to repair all the street lights and that DOJ will be suffering a similar major cut. They are only the first to make their announcements and similar cuts will be happening in public services over the coming year if agreement on welfare reform doesn’t happen. Of course, without agreement, it’s not just this year but every year to come that will have cuts. They’ll be increasing in scale too: it wouldn’t just be “tens of thousands” of street lights that would go out this year, but rather that a similar additional number would go out each and every year thereafter.

What’s also a looming problem is that the ability to pay the benefits affected will gradually dwindle as time goes on. Despite what some of the politicians think, the computers currently making the payments will be switched off in due course or rather the ability to support them will be. In fact, the ability to support them is already diminishing as the support teams are being transferred to other duties. For a change there really is a firm end date for them to work to and unmissable deadlines are approaching very quickly indeed. Even basic training for those in the benefits offices takes time and, without agreement, that won’t be done. Changing over to the new system is something that will take time to do and the time available to do that changeover is running out.

How’s it going to look if some key deadline passes and it isn’t possible to changeover in time? How are they planning on explaining to the thousands of recipients of the affected benefits that it’s no longer possible to pay them?


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

A cheap day-trip to Ayr

After booking our day-trip to Glasgow, a promotion for a day-trip to Ayr popped up: £16 for the four of us instead of the usual “cheap-rate” of £40 (or £30 if you book in the Stenaline offices). I’ve passed through Ayr a number of times over the years but never stopped to look around so I hadn’t a clue what there was to see there but at £16 you can’t really go wrong, so we booked it.

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 was the quite nice Superfast, although with the trip taking almost 2.5 hours, it didn’t seem that fast. Food in the restaurant isn’t cheap but the prices aren’t too over the top. 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 £20, might be worth it after a tiring day though, of course, you’ll only have use of it for a couple of hours.

The two coaches should have been setting off not much after 10 with arrival in Ayr scheduled for 11.15am. However, in practice, the coaches waited around for no apparent reason so we didn’t get into Ayr until more like 11.45 which, together with an earlier than scheduled departure shortened our time there by quite a bit. The coaches are listed as dropping off at the Burns statue but actually drop off near the Stagecoach bus station. That doesn’t really make a lot of difference if you’re only walking around the town but if you want to take a side-trip it is handier to be beside the bus station.

What’s to see? It’s a fairly pretty seaside town with lots of Georgian architecture, quite a number of bridges and a reasonable number of fairly historic buildings (mostly converted to new uses). The narrow streets are quite pleasant to stroll around. On the beach there’s a large childrens’ playground (which could do with a fair bit of maintenance) with an adjoining indoor children’s entertainment centre (about £5 for two hours, depending on age, weekday/weekend/holiday).

Slightly outside the town there are:

  1. The Robert Burns museum,  which you can get to easily enough by bus. It costs about £20 for a family and seems to include quite a bit to interest for a couple of hours.
  2. The Heads of Ayr Farm Park, seems to have something for everyone and seems easy enough to get to by bus. You’d need to allow a fair chunk of the day to get best value (about £40 for a family).

Catering-wise, the town is well served with lots of decent quality but fairly cheap restaurants all around the town.

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

The Somme parade

Every year in Northern Ireland, there’s a Somme commemoration parade on the evening of the first of July.

It’s not such a major production as the parades on the 12th and, since it’s not on a public holiday, it has to be in the evening. Net effect of all that is that it’s a simple round-trip parade with none of the speeches that you get on the 12th day in the “field” and because of that it’s quite a bit shorter. That said, every year it seems to throw a number of people who aren’t expecting roads to be closed along the route with the loop format tending to strand a number of cars in the middle for 20-30 minutes.

In Belfast, the parade starts and finishes around Templemore Avenue, moving along Beersbridge Road, turning up the Bloomfield Road (with the road-works stopped for the day for the second year in a row), then on the North Road, taking a diversion along Kirkliston before heading down the Newtownards Road to the starting point.Since it’s a Somme commemoration, a number of those in the bands or lodges taking part dress in period costume.

The one earlier in the week was surprisingly short. In years gone by, it’s run for over an hour but it seemed to be more like 40 minutes this time around. That wasn’t particularly due to there being fewer bands or lodges but that they seemed much more organised this year and there were none of the regular stops due to other bands or lodges grinding to a halt. It was also a relatively late start and it was starting to get dark towards the half-way mark.

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

The Spring continental market in Belfast

Having a continental market in the grounds of Belfast city hall is a tradition started a number of years ago to liven up the city.

It’s expanded over the years and the original Christmas market has been joined by a similar production in the Spring and, I think, there’s another one or two variants at different times during the year. I say “I think” because the city hall grounds have developed over the years to the point where they host a considerable number of events of various types almost right throughout the year.

The Spring market is quite similar to the Christmas one, being mainly a varied collection of food stalls from various (not just European) spots around the world. Thus, not only do you get the various French style fast food outlets with their crepes, croque monsieurs, and the like but there’s alsor representation from Germany, Poland and even Lebanon plus I’m sure a number that I didn’t identify.

Mixed in with the food stalls are a number of rather expensive sweet outlets and an eclectic mix of gift stalls selling everything from native American wares through to several that sell handmade woodwork productions.

Anyway, it’s open from Thursday the 15th of May through to 6pm Monday the 19th of May this year.

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

End of an era in Killinchy

My grandparents on Mum’s side were from the Killinchy area originally. Although they moved to Belfast in the 1920s, they still rented a cottage just outside Balloo village, moving once or twice and by the time I was born they were in a cute little thatched cottage on the top of the first hill out of the village.

We spent from two to four months a year from the 1960s through to the early 1980s and it always felt like home. Each summer, we’d basically up sticks and move to the country. Gone was the electricity, gone was the mains water in the kitchen and gone was the indoor loo! Still, it was nice and I managed to get through an awful lot of reading there over the years.

In 1969, we paved the front and as part of that Dad put a little square of plain cement so that I could put a handprint, footprint and some details for posterity, all of which were still readable up to a year or two back. But no more, as we found out when we called by last week as a big weed has grown through the little square. The flush toilet arrived in 1974 and comes with a fetching string vest pattern all around the septic tank courtesy of the vest my Dad was wearing that day. The thatch became increasingly difficult to maintain as the thatchers are dying out and it was replaced with a corregated iron roof sometime in the 1990s I think.

It’s seen better days for sure but is doing pretty well for a cottage that was built over 150 years ago.

However, the flush toilet has now gone as the garden has been bulldozed for the construction of a new bungalow.

The cottage is still there for now, but probably not for a whole lot longer.

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