Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Grit and gas.

It's interesting to wander through different articles and compare the way the same thing is being reported, by the same information provider. This evening Mrs R has been looking mostly at the BBC.

She was relieved to learn that, in contrast with Germany where there's travel chaos because of the snow, here ...
In the UK, which is suffering its worst winter for decades, Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged that gas supplies would not run out, and that road salt will get to "where it is most needed".
Apart from Mrs R having lived through worse winters in recent years, let alone decades, and Derwentwater is completely frozen for the second time in ten years, she's reassured to know there's clearly no real problem with unsalted, ungritted, roads - she must have been imagining things earlier today when she thought the big A-road near Rigby Towers was like a skating rink.

She's also pleased to hear there's no need to worry about our gas supply. It's so comforting to know that we Rigbys are guaranteed hot food all winter.

As a bit of an aside, what do some people do when they want to make things last a bit longer, to eke them out? They water them down a bit, but it doesn't seem to work too well with gas, as people living in Morthoe, Devon discovered. They were ...
... forced to spend the night without heating after water got into the main gas supply pipe in a north Devon village

Wales and West Utilities said about 400 homes have been affected at Morthoe near Woolacombe. An emergency incident room has been set up at the Ship Aground Pub in the village where electric hot plates and fan heaters are being handed out.

It looks as if might be more than one night though, because

It is not known when the gas supply will be restored.

Engineers are currently isolating the supply to the properties supplied by the main and tracing the section of gas main affected.

It's got nothing to do with Mr Brown though, he's got bigger gas issues to talk about. He tells us that :-
"We've got plenty of gas.. in our own back yard - the North Sea - and we also have access to the large reserves in Norway and Netherlands via pipelines."
The BBC goes on to say that
Almost 100 firms were forced to stop using gas this week as demand soared.
Why, Mrs Rigby wonders, would this happen if there's plenty of gas? There's no need to ration something that there's a lot of.

She's clearly not thinking straight though, because things are always reported truthfully and without any sort of political skew.

The BBC reporter tells Mrs R, and anybody else who might be looking, that
National Grid also issued two alerts - subsequently lifted - to warn of a potential shortfall in supplies.
Ah! Oops!

Now that isn't true, and Mrs R thinks it's shoddy journalism, because looking away from the BBC for just a moment, at LNG Storage on the National Grid site, Mrs R can see that it currently shows there is 6 days supply at Avonmouth, 5.9 days at Genmavis and only 3.7 days at Partington.

On the same site this page tells us that at :-
17:11 GBA National Grid has declared a GBA for Gas Day 09th January 2010.
So why doesn't the BBC article, last updated at 19:01 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010, tell the true position? (Rhetorical question, don't bother to answer.)

The other thing about the things in the article that aren't too accurate is where UK gets gas from, although it's awfully difficult to find out the facts. Looking at reports from 2006 we were told
Where does Britain get its gas from?
Offshore gas from the North and Irish seas produce the majority (up to 90%) of UK gas, but these supplies are rapidly declining. Gas is also imported from Norway and via a pipeline - the so-called interconnector - between Britain and Belgium. This pipeline links the UK to the European gas network.
Belgium and the Netherlands were, and still are, linked to the gas pipe from Russia, although it isn't shown in this BBC map, from January 2009 - which, as some people night remember, is when there was a bit of bother after Russia turned off the gas tap and made homes in some parts of Europe a bit colder.

Maybe it's Russia that holds the key to our energy security, because as recently as December 2009 the Telegraph reported that
Britain is facing an energy shortfall by 2015 over its exposure to six risky Russian gas developments, if the UK becomes much more dependent on imports from abroad, according to Ofgem.
Oops, waffling again.

Let's try to get back on track and stop worrying too much about what might happen in four years time - even though the BBC does have a wonderful article entitled What would the UK do if it snowed this much every year? Silly BBC, there's global warming or something called climate change to make sure this can never, ever, happen.

So let's look at the grit (and salt) situation. In one of the BBC articles I've already used, Mr Brown says
road salt will get to "where it is most needed".
The Mail reports
Lord Adonis ordered councils to slash gritting by a quarter in the hope of eking out supplies until next week.

With tons of imported salt not expected to arrive until later in the month, the Highways Agency has also been ordered to stop gritting motorway hard shoulders.

Lord Adonis said all councils should have enough grit to last until at least Tuesday 'provided they prioritise the distribution of salt in their area appropriately'.

So, from that little paragraph Mrs R can guess that the country is running out of salt. She thinks it could be because the Met Office didn't bother to check their frozen seaweed often enough to let them warn the country to expect snow - and do it before the end of December when all the council staff and government employees were at home enjoying their long Christmas holiday.

If the Met Office had got their forecasts right then councils would have been able to do a bit of forward planning. As it stands the country has only got what's in storage, and what can be dug out from underneath Cheshire and that's that - because what's been ordered at the last minute won't arrive at the docks until the end of the month.

Mrs R thinks it's a pity that Northamptonshire had a teeny bit of foresight, and decided that winter weather might mean they'd need a bit of salt and so ordered some to top up their stocks.

This is, again, from the BBC. I'm going to quote the whole article, mainly because there are too many bits to pick at and names to call ... and I'm rapidly running out of patience.

An order for 4,000 tonnes of road salt for Northamptonshire has been cancelled on the orders of the government.

Heather Smith, in charge of highways, said the county could face running short of grit after the government took control of national supplies.

Stocks destined for the county have been diverted to areas considered to be in greater need.

Minister for the East Barbera Follett said the government was doing what was best for everyone.

Ms Smith said she would love to tell central government Northamptonshire did not want to be part of the national scheme.

'Drifting snow'

David Sparks, from the Local Government Association, said: "Major roads will be gritted. Communications within local authorities and regions will be maintained and people will still be able to get around.

"At the moment we have done everything we can do. We are in partnership with the government and we are dealing with the problem of grit shortages."

The Met Office is forecasting heavy snow in the east of England and has issued a severe weather warning.

A spokesman said: "Outbreaks of snow starting on Saturday afternoon will become heavy and persistent during the evening and into Sunday morning.

"Seven to 12cm (3-5ins) of fresh level snow are expected widely with 10 to 20cm (4 to 9ins) locally. Drifting in the very strong winds will cause even greater accumulations."

Mrs R hopes Ms Smith doesn't need to look for another job soon.


418 said...

Ship Aground Pub = No. 10

Mrs R, you didn't define "GBA". I had to look it up, nanny!

"What would the UK do if it snowed this much every year?" You need plenty of draft excluder and insulation, preferably at the cost of your local town council (I hate to burden the council, but what they spend on keeping you warm they haven't got to spend on keeping you watched via CCTV and the rest of it).

Barbie and Dave? What kind of show is that?

Mrs R: did they really give the metric when they said "Seven to 12cm (3-5ins) of fresh level snow are expected widely with 10 to 20cm (4 to 9ins) locally. Drifting in the very strong winds will cause even greater accumulations" or is that just you helping out those who don't understand weights and measures thanks to the Metrication Board and others?

Witterings From Witney said...

Well done Mrs. R you sussed it! I was about to put a special post on my blog for you with a suggestion of what the problem could have been.

Now, to coin a phrase, you are 'cooking on gas'!

Mrs R said...

@ 418 - no the quote is 'as was' and they really did give the metric/imperial equivalents.

@ WfW - good oh, glad to see you found the comments button :)