Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A classic fudge worthy of the finest confectioners

The long awaited review into car parking charges in the East Riding has been published. You may guess from the title of this post I am far from impressed.

Traders in Beverley have been complaining high parking charges are damaging their businesses. If you want to park in Saturday Market, the minimum fee is 80p which gives you 30 minutes. So if you just want to go to the bank and then get on your way, you have to pay 80p, even though you may only need to be in the parking space for 10 minutes.

If you have ever tried parking in Tesco on a Saturday morning, you will know you have to get there before 9.00 am, otherwise you will find yourself driving around the car park desperately looking for a space. The reason for this is you can park free for 3 hours at Tesco. Park in one of the council run car parks for 3 hours and you will be charged £3.

So what has the review panel done to help those who trade in Beverley? Virtually nothing. The proposals are for a reduction in charges in Butcher Row and North Bar Within. It will hardly make a difference.

Moving on from Beverley, car parks in places like Anlaby and Cottingham will not see any charges introduced until at least 2012. The official reason is because of the recession. I’m sure the impending council elections next year had no bearing on this decision!

Car parking will always be a thorny issue. No-one wants to pay, and the last thing we want to see is parking problems developing in side roads causing residents problems, but surely with some imagination the members of the review panel could have thought up something better.

If you allow free parking all day, there is every chance many people will stay there all day. If you give free parking for a set period, this will encourage shoppers to go about their business, move on, and free up a space for others.

Another way is to introduce a nominal charge of, for example, 20p an hour to cover the costs of parking machines and attendants. This would also help free up spaces so others can use them.

The review panel has failed to make important decisions. We know East Riding of Yorkshire Council will introduce charges in all car parks, but not until 2012 at the earliest, but I can imagine we will have yet another round of arguments then, no doubt wasting more taxpayers’ money in the process. These councillors were charged with making recommendations and used up council resources in roadshows, issuing and processing questionnaires, and endless meetings. The result is hardly anything has changed this side of 2012. A poor show all round.

UPDATE: I gave my views on air to Peter Levy on BBC Radio Humberside on Friday 26 February. It is available on iPlayer until Thursday 4 March. Click here to listen. It is 50 minutes 45 seconds in.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Check out the new-look website

The main Taxpayers’ Alliance website has been given a makeover and the result is a great looking site, colourful, attractive and easy to navigate. Be sure to take a look.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Audit Commission is forcing fortnightly bin collections

One of the many problems with Quangos is they constantly come up with wheezes to justify their existence. Many chief executives know they may be for the chop if the Conservatives win the next election, so they find new and inventive ways of keeping themselves in work. The Audit Commission is a prime example of a Quango determined to remain in the public eye.

Last year it published a new system of rating councils by either giving them red  or green flags. It told us little, but it made the Audit Commission look like it was doing something to improve the standards of local government. Now it is interfering once again in decisions we should be making locally.

Hull City Council rolled out a new recycling system about six months ago. It made it easier to recycle by scheduling collection dates on the same day as existing refuge collections and increased the amount of waste products that can be collected from your home. What it did not do is impose mandatory fortnightly bin collections for non-recyclable waste. This was sensible. Personally, I put out my black, non-recyclable waste bin about once a month and my recyclable waste bin is full every fortnight. I will be perfectly happy to have fortnightly collections, as will the majority of my neighbours, judging by the frequency they put out their bins for collection. If we do move to fortnightly collections it will be as a result of council taxpayers wanting it; not because it has been imposed.

The Audit Commission however are trying to impose fortnightly collections on councils regardless of local, public opinion. Not only is this wrong, as it stinks of the big brother state imposing its will on the rest of us, it also puts another nail in the coffin of local democracy. What’s the point of voting in local elections if the representatives you elect have their hands tied behind their backs at every turn?

If anyone needed a reason of why there needs to be a bonfire of the Quangos and their powers diminished, this is yet another example. The Audit Commission is not interested in what’s best for the taxpayer. It is only interested in gaining more power for itself.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Humberside Police Authority propose a 2.5% rise in council tax precept

Not the news I was wanting to hear. Click HERE for a report in the Yorkshire Post, which includes a quote from me.

Monday, 15 February 2010

NHS Smoking Advert - Update

Last week, I wrote about a bullying advertisement from the NHS published in the Hull Daily Mail. I have been doing some digging since then, and informed sources are almost certain this advert was placed from a central source; not NHS Hull, although I will file a Freedom of Information request if necessary to be 100% certain.

I will keep you up-to-date as soon as I have more news.

MPs fail to pay for their cheap food and booze

One of the perks of being an MP is cheap food and drink. Okay, many companies offer a subsidised canteen, but I don’t see them offering their employees gin and tonics at knock-down prices.

If I was lucky enough to have this perk, I would happily pay-up when I received the bill; wouldn’t you? It seems though 329 MPs want to avoid paying anything at all. Those MPs have run-up a collective bill of £138,046 and being such ‘honourable’ members they don’t want us to know about it. To read more, click HERE.

One can only hope the next batch of MPs will be nothing like their predecessors. The current batch give pigs a bad name. 

Friday, 12 February 2010

Council tax in the East Riding

For coverage from the Yorkshire Post, click HERE. It contains a quote from me.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

East Riding of Yorkshire Council increases council tax by 1.5%

From the Hull Daily Mail:

Households in the East Riding are set to face an increase of at least 1.5 per cent in their council tax bills from April.

The increase in the authority's element of the council tax was agreed at a meeting in Beverley this afternoon.

It means the average Band D household will pay an extra £17 for council services, bringing the bill up to £1,212.

The final amount will be fixed once the police and fire authorities have agreed their precepts.

East Riding Council leader Councillor Stephen Parnaby said the ruling Conservative group had decided against implementing a three per cent tax increase, as recommended by senior officers because of the impact of the recession.

He said: "There is no doubt the economic downturn has affected everyone in some form or other and I believe a very modest increase, together with planning for the future throughout the year, is in everyone's best interests."

Cllr Parnaby said the council would use money from its reserves to subsidise the 1.5 per cent increase and ruled out any prospect of redundancies at the authority.

The planned increase was due to be 3%, and the council has only managed to limit the size of the increase by dipping into its reserves. If the council had taken my advice and the advice of some of its councillors, it would have looked at reducing the number of senior managers it employs and the pay packets they receive. This is one way Hull City Council has managed not to increase its share of the council tax.

Cllr Parnaby may think 1.5% is a ‘very modest increase’, but tell that to those who are experiencing pay cuts, or at best no pay increases at all.  Tell that to those with struggling businesses. ERYC definitely could and should do better.

Some answers on the use of biometrics

The following is an article by Andrew Clymer, senior identity management security expert (more than 8 years with Cisco Systems). It answers many questions I have been asked about the use of biometrics in schools, pubs and shops.

Do Biometrics have a role for school registration?


Biometrics is very much still in its infancy, still not a publicly accepted technology. The country as a whole is divided on its use with particular reference to their role with national identity cards. This paper outlines my key objections for the use of this technology for the purposes of school registration. Which are:- Children from a young age see giving up their finger print as a natural day to day occurrence without understanding the potential consequences.I would query the effectiveness of this new system, on accuracy and timely delivery of attendance records in the event of a school emergency evacuation. No system can guaranteed the security of information against future technology. Attempting to protect life time relevant information is extremely tricky and potentially costly. There is a great possibility that within ten years time the present Chip and Pin will be replaced by perhaps Chip and Print. Our thumbprint becomes the pin, but unlike the pin it can’t be changed it’s with you for life.

My Credentials

I’ve worked in the computing security field for the last eight years, working for the likes of Cisco Systems as a Lead Architect for their network access control solution, protecting 99% of the fortune one hundred companies from network attack. This has given me the opportunity to work with the likes of Visa, Fidelity, and Meryl-lynch to implement security systems that are both secure and workable.

The Case

One of the key benefits I get by sending my children to school, is they learn social interaction and key life skills such as discipline and responsibility. Everyday they take responsibility of their snack money, remembering their PE kits, home work etc such learning is key to later life. The patterns of activity we develop during your early years clearly set the tone for how we evolve and behave in later life. By encouraging our children on a daily basis to give out their thumbprints leads them to think this is a natural activity. Who else will they give their biometrics too, without consulting their parents and asking questions like why, and what will it be used for?

As a parent I make decisions for my child on a daily basis some will affect their lives for the next few minutes others will potentially affect the rest of their lives. A decision to allow my child’s biometric information to be taken is a life long decision; they after all can’t change it. Technology advances in leaps and bounds it is impossible to imagine all future possibilities and thus when making a decision that has implications far into the future you can’t make them based on what can be achieved with today’s technology. For me it comes down to the whether the benefit outweighs the implications.

When replacing any existing system it is often easier to see how a new system fixes the short comings in the existing system, but often its the case that any new system also comes with its own set of weaknesses some of which were not immediately evident.

For instance with proposed system, each child is expected to place their thumbprint on the machine daily. There is no carrot to make them do this, and equally there is no guarantee that the scanner will read the print. Scanners fail to read prints when they are dirty or that the child themselves has perhaps damaged their thumb print via a scratch or other abrasion. So such a system needs a backup strategy, the one currently being proposed is that the Admin staff at some point will print the role call and then confirm by visiting each non fully attended class room that the print out is in fact an accurate record. What’s interesting here is when is registration deemed over ?

This then leads to the question how long will the overall registration process will now take. Currently each teacher takes his/her own register, this is happening in parallel. The proposed

backstop is a largely a sequential process. This obviously means it will take longer to provide full clarity of who is present in school. Not a problem for issuing attendance certificates at the end of term, but perhaps a big deal for emergency evacuation.

Issues that will effect this time are

· Admin staff busy dealing with another task

· Printer jams, or out of toner/paper

· Computer crashes

· Power loss in the building

· Network failure

· Scanner fails in classroom

These risks are in stark contrast to the traditional method, where the risk is limited to a pen not working…

So an evacuation at the start of the day might not provide clarity of who is in the building. Whilst in the existing system it may be possible for one teacher not to provide clarity it is hard to see a scenario where all teachers do not have complete clarity. This is the key facet behind the success of any fault tolerant solution, distribution. The system being proposed is heavily centralisation and thus opens the possibility for single point of failure, something that is avoided in all critical systems.

The school has a legal obligation for duty of care; it therefore seems right that any new system is as robust as any previous systems. It is highly possible that in less than ten years time Chip and Pin will be replaced by perhaps Chip and thumbprint. We will see the use biometrics to protect the things we most need to protect. Like all forms of password protection we are encouraged to keep this information private, in fact we are told to destroy any paper copies. Obviously banks keep this information in some form in order to validate our identity at the point of transaction, this information as you can imagine needs to be kept extremely securely. However we all know that what ever measures are taken this information can still be potentially hacked or stolen, a banks database is too much of a temptation to a would be hacker. In the case of a compromise in security the bank has to spend a lot of money issuing new cards and pins, but the problem can be fixed. Now imagine the case where the burden of proof is your thumb print, hmmm not an easy thing to change…..

Now imagine that hackers did not have to crack a banks computer they could hack small businesses, local library or even a schools computer and obtain information such as

“Name” , “DOB” , “Thumb print” , Parents names , perhaps in some cases even Mothers maiden name….

Whilst some of this information is already stored on a schools computer, there is some valid

justification to why it is kept. In fact the Data protection act requires organizations to only keep

information that is deemed necessary, other information can be removed on the request of the individual or guardian in question.

Currently there is little to no reason to hack a schools computer, but in the future the trade of

biometric information may be as common as spam or mailing lists today.

Identity theft is on the increase only recently credit reference agencies are selling services to inform you when a credit check is made against you, thus alerting you to the possibility that perhaps it is being made not from you but by a person impersonating your identity. Information about a person’s identity is seen to be highly valuable, especially in the wrong hands.

Now bio companies will tell you that the print is not stored as an image, and that’s true. However the data that is stored is sufficient to compare it against a print received when the child registers every morning. The information is therefore sufficient to determine what the print looks like, and thus is not beyond the bounds of possibility for some one to extract the key factors used to identify the print. From this information it is possible to produce a gelatin based print to lay over a persons existing print. Hackers have already demonstrated they can make a home made print, using basic household technology, (not so Mission Impossible…)

They will then tell you that it’s still ok because it’s encrypted with a 128bit key, and that will take millions of years to crack. Again to some degree this is true, but all it really means is that if you were to try every key combination it would take that long. Hackers don’t approach the problem in this way, for example the German Enigma machine used in World War II boasted similar levels of security but what they failed to consider was the fact that the number of keys to try could be greatly reduced once you have some understanding of what is being encrypted and how it is being used, this then provides a means to greatly reduce the number of keys to try. Another way in is the fact at some point in time the information that is encrypted becomes unencrypted in order to perform the finger print match, it is therefore possible to extract the data at that point.

IBM is currently investing heavily in trying to secure biometric information for this very reason; they know it is just a matter of time before it is broken. The term “matter of time” is important, as sometimes is the case by the time the information has been hacked it is possibly redundant or easily made redundant by changing E.g. a PIN, but in the case of biometrics they are with you for life.

I therefore feel that there is an element of risk storing thumbprints on a school computer. Again consider the risk/benefit, from a parent perspective I see no benefit. My child is registered in school, he and she has been registered in school for the last 2-4 years perfectly satisfactory so Im not getting anything extra, for exposing my child’s identity to some level of risk

Whilst this paper only scratches the surface of the issues behind biometrics in schools for registration, I hope it raises enough concerns to come to the conclusion that their role should be rejected, since they create a whole host of new risks and problems with no obvious parental gain. In fact when considering how much it would cost to build a fully fault tolerant solution it may cost the school a substantial amount of capital investment.

For me the take away thought has to be does the benefit justify the risk, to date I have not seen any substantial evidence to suggest that to be true. I would also think it would be reasonable to know that other solutions have been explored.

Do you feel alienated?

This is a copy of an advertisement printed in yesterday’s Hull Daily Mail, paid for by the NHS.

IF YOU are somebody who regularly lights up a cigarette, you may feel   alienated.

It is habit that may cause you to be shunned or avoided by friends, family and colleagues and leave you feeling left-out. The smoking ban has made you change your ways, while everybody else has been unaffected and free to enjoy their social lives as before.

A new Government strategy called A Smokefree Future has been published and it could lead to a ban of cigarettes in vending machines and increase the number of smoke-free areas to include doorways, adding to your sense of  seclusion.

It is just the latest development in a long line of initiatives that make you feel like you are being harshly treated and that everybody is against you.

But there's one thing you must ask yourself: Are you really the victim? Consider  the issue from a non-smoker's point of view. When they enter a bar, restaurant or even a hospital, there may be a smoker standing in the doorway, meaning the non-smoker has to walk through a cloud of noxious smoke to enter.
And when you throw your your cigarette ends out of car window do you stop to consider pedestrians, cyclists or even a person in a convertible car?

Cigarette ends also litter the streets - about 40 per cent of litter is tobacco related - which doesn't give a good impression to visitors to the city and each cigarette butt takes about 12 years to decompose, so smoking is not environmentally-friendly either.

There is also the criminality issue that surrounds smoking. That cheap packet of fags you purchased illegally could be a part of a world-wide illicit cigarette trade that brings misery to people around the world. And the knock-on effect brings crime into Hull.

With two sides to every story, it is perhaps time to stop alienating yourself and  start to protect the people and city around you.

It’s not too late to act and switch sides. If you want to quit smoking, free support is available with your local NHS Stop Smoking Service.

Research shows people are four times more likely to quit smoking with support from the  service than willpower alone and it offers a method of quitting to suit you.

For more details, free phone 0800 915 5959; visit www.readytostop or text QUIT to 81800.

Smokers know smoking is bad for their health. They also know it is more addictive than heroin. Would heroin addicts be insulted in the same way? It will also not succeed in its aim of getting people to quit. If someone spoke to me like that, it would make me more likely to light-up a cigarette. Yet the NHS adopts this appalling Big Brother stance and wastes taxpayers’ cash in the process.

Next time you hear of someone denied life enhancing drugs on cost grounds, remember this advert. The person who wrote it should hang their head in shame; and get fired too.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Bridlington Off-Licence introduces fingerprint scanners

The improper use of biometrics is a little known, but very worrying growth industry. When organisations such as Microsoft and Cisco are concerned, we should all be.

An off-licence in Bridlington has installed a fingerprint scanning machine to ascertain the age of customers who wish to purchase alcohol and cigarettes. First you go in, with either your passport or driving licence to verify your age. Then, if you want to, you can have your thumbprint taken and stored on the shop’s database.

Any hacker who knows what they are doing (and unfortunately there are too many of them around) will be able to steal this information. Your collar may be felt by the police for a crime you didn’t commit, simply because someone has your thumbprint on their computer which they can reproduce and leave at the scene of a crime.

Couple this with the fact a criminal will also have sensitive personal information about you, the scope for fraud is immense. All of these risks to stop a 17 year-old from buying a can of lager. It’s simply not worth it.

I have recorded an interview which will be broadcast on BBC Look North tonight explaining some of the dangers. My advise to anyone thinking of handing over their biometric details voluntarily is: DON’T! Use your passport instead. It is a recognised form of identification and it displays the minimum amount of personal information about you.

I will keep you all updated on this story when there are more developments.

UPDATE:  Here is the full report on BBC Look North, ending with an interview from Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch.