Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Tuesday 1st August 2017

WHEN my little brother first hid behind the sofa because Dr. Who was on our grainy black and white TV, that program was considered to be children’s television and was broadcast at teatime on a Saturday.

From the little I have seen of the new, massively hyped version, it is still children’s television; it’s just that it is now shown later on a Saturday and is considered to be peak viewing time-fare watched by adults who are just big kids. Those kids will now have a woman time lord for the first time.

The change of gender was well publicised, though for the life of me I can’t see what all the fuss is about. The only surprise is that it hasn’t happened before now.

The BBC loves Dr. Who and it loves this kind of free publicity, but then self-love and self-promotion are two of the BBC’s greatest passions. It never tires of telling us how wonderful it is, which might be because it feels it has to compete with commercial broadcasters even though they don’t have to as everyone who watches any television on any form of receiver has to pay a tax called the licence fee for the privilege of doing so even if they never watch the BBC.

This week the BBC has added self-flagellation to self-love and self-promotion after being forced to publish the salaries of its top “stars” and, boy, the only surprise about the size of the pay-packets was that it was no surprise.

There are those of us who have long since given up regarding the British Broadcasting Corporation as “Auntie” or as the cosy “Beeb” and began to realise just how protected and bubble-wrapped from the real world it has become. That has led to it turning into a self-indulgent, cynical and, above all, arrogant organisation which in common with all publicly-funded bodies has forgotten that it is bankrolled by ordinary people, many of whom struggle to find the £147 compulsory licence fee.

Having appointed, or should that be anointed, a woman as the new Dr. Who and then spending a week crowing about it as if it was a world leader in gender equality, the BBC found itself under attack from its own female staff and many from outside the corporation for the almost total lack of females among its top hundred earners and for the huge differential in pay between men and women. No wonder it was reluctant to publish.

It is difficult to know just how serious everyone is about what appears on the face of it to be pretty serious pay discrimination, or is what we have witnessed a load of smoke and mirrors to distract us from the fact that the BBC, which is a publicly-funded service during a time of the severest public sector funding cuts and pay restraints, thinks it is acceptable to pay somebody more than two million pounds a year to talk to a radio microphone for three hours a day or to pay half a million to a chap who can read the news from a teleprompter?

We have heard some classic excuses to try and justify these salaries and to try and divert us from the truth that we are paying for hundreds of people to live high off the hog for doing very little. We have had the old defence of the overpaid that it is competition and the market which dictates the salaries of top talent and if the BBC didn’t pay people like Gary Lineker one and three quarters of a million pounds to talk about football matches we have just watched any way, they would go off to commercial television. Well, bye, bye. It’s funny how market forces apply only to the overpaid and never to nurses, teachers or bin men.

Let us have equality at the BBC. Keep the overpaid women on their current salaries and just reduce those of the obscenely paid men to match — or we could just get rid of the BBC altogether.

THIS columnist in his younger and politically active (naive) days spent 12 years as an Eden district councillor. Whooo, does that give me a feeling of smug, self-righteousness and have me checking the mail every May and November looking for the letter which must surely come from the Lord Chancellor’s office informing me of the award of an OBE for services to the community and local government?

No, it doesn’t, unless they hand out gongs for banging your head against brick walls. During my time on the council that was all that happened to any councillor who tried, and there were precious few who did try, to introduce change or suggested that it might be part of Eden Council’s remit to actively encourage new industries to come to the district or to do something to counter the loss of social housing which Thatcher’s right to buy policy was already causing.

We talked about these issues, but never made any decisions except for all the usual hands being raised to yet another motion of: “Mr. Chairman, I propose we defer this matter to allow our officers to bring a further report to a future meeting.” Goodnight Vienna.

Then it was down to really life-changing stuff — deciding whether the hanging baskets for Eden in Bloom should have lobelia in them and if so light blue or dark blue.

That was all of 15 years ago and in all that time councillors may have changed but the lack of action hasn’t -— until now. For the first time in the memory of many of us a genuine progressive force in the form of Eden Council’s commercial arm, Heart of Cumbria (HoC) Ltd., has arisen and with it the real prospect of progress and development in areas which have real meaning to ordinary people such as affordable homes and economic diversity and growth.

Yet it seems that every move HoC tries to make draws criticism and questions about the motives of those involved. There may be those who might ask why the cynic in chief is not wielding his butcher’s pen over the council in general and HoC in particular for leaping from the known into the unknown and doing it without scrutiny or democratic accountability.

There are several reasons. First, the known is the status quo and the status quo has not served Eden well for decades. The status quo is Eden at the end of Cumbria’s pecking order because the rest of the county has always considered us to be wealthy. The status quo is Cumbria at the end of the pecking order in the north west region, an afterthought from the likes of Manchester. All we ever get is crumbs from everyone else’s table.

If Eden is ever to progress and take its rightful place as the natural hub of northern England and southern Scotland, we will have to make that happen ourselves and now we have a business arm of the council, scrutinised and accountable and determined to make Eden a prosperous and socially just place. So let us do it.

This columnist is cynical, but it is about the lack of support for HoC, even from some councillors and the motives of those who seem to be afraid of new opportunities and progress. If people don’t want HoC to purchase a substantial number of houses from Persimmon to rent to those in need of homes or they don’t think that it should be negotiating with successful companies about relocating to Eden and bringing skilled, high value jobs here, then explain your reasons to the 900 people on the council’s housing waiting list and the hundreds of people on low wages and the thousands of our best and brightest who leave us at 18 never to return.

We have wasted decades watching the world and success pass us by. I could do nothing to change that and I will not criticise those with the courage to finally change Eden for the better.

If I was to offer any advice to the chairman of HoC it would be to adopt as my maxim “Eden has nothing to fear but fear itself.”

NO new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040, says Michael Gove. It must be nice to make a sweeping statement which thrills the Greens, makes the health lobby ecstatic and sends the climate change lobby into paroxysms of delight knowing that if anything goes wrong with the policy he will be long gone, from Parliament at least.

This is an urban policy which, as usual, will just make living in somewhere like rural Cumbria even more difficult.

As there appears to be no plans for a scrappage scheme we will all stop buying cars in 2030, if not before, knowing that we will get nothing for them after that as only a fool will buy a second hand petrol car knowing they will soon be obsolete. The motor industry will collapse in about 2032 about a month after some bright spark in Whitehall says we should have seen this coming, you know.