DHL announced in November that it had been appointed alongside QSL to manage the supply and distribution of food products and packaging for more than 850 KFC outlets in the UK. DHL said it would manage the physical warehouse and distribution service. KFC added it had specifically chosen the pair for their reputation of “innovation in logistics” across other industries.
The innovation is apparently “not delivering any chickens”. You’ve got to admit it, that’s a major innovation in chicken logistics. Anyway, enough with the laughs. Here are two really important pieces by the BBC’s Chris Cook – on the fate of fire research in Britain and some of the consequences.
Astonishingly, it turns out that the fire regulations of 1988 were heavily influenced by the tobacco lobby. Is there anything evil they didn’t get up to? (Well….actually the story of who sponsored Jimmy Savile’s cigars is considerably stranger than I was expecting and eventually down to communists with an assist from the royals.)It gets worse, too – the same guy who they hyped as their friendly fireman front ended up chairing a lobby for fire retardant companies, who wanted essentially what the tobacco people wanted.
This is terrible, but if you just read that you’d miss something really important. They were only able to get what they wanted because structured, expert pushback against them was removed. For that we have to go to Sky News, of all outlets.
…the Government has relied on fire safety advice from a group which also makes money from the plastics industry.
BRE, formerly the national Building Research Establishment, was privatised in 1997 and made to pay its way, with the plastics industry providing a significant revenue stream. In 2005, following the 1999 Garnock Court fire, BRE helped the Government to manage the risk from plastic insulation and cladding by creating a fire test called BS 8414.
Twelve years later it remains the only facility in the western hemisphere capable of conducting the test. Although BRE won’t say how much it has earned from BS 8414, its biggest plastic insulation client told us privately that BRE is currently being paid up to a million pounds a year.
The upshot of this is that although the incidence of fire has fallen quite dramatically, fires are much worse when they happen. Also, it’s important to see the problem from a systems perspective. In the second link, Cook points out that fires now tend to get worse faster, challenging the assumptions on which the fire brigade’s response times are based.
A really grand tour d’horizon would say this was something like a structural tendency of neoliberal capitalism to go short of volatility, but this is crude argument by aesthetics. It’s more likely that the policy simply doesn’t work, as the decline in fires is caused by the decline in smoking. Now let’s do a focus-pull onto something apparently different.
Here’s Nigel Lawson standing up in the Lords to say that he never agreed with PFI and thinks we should seriously consider abandoning it. It’s always possible that the guy from the Global Warming Policy Foundation is bullshitting us. If he means it, though, what should we make of this?
I think Lawson is expressing the important difference between Thatcherism and Majorism. The radicalism of John Major’s premiership is vastly underrated (also, the man is waaay more interesting than anyone gives him credit for). Thatcher’s privatisations concerned firms whose shares the government had acquired, sometimes less than a decade earlier in the case of BAE or the shipbuilders although 70-odd years earlier in the case of BT. The big exception to this was Right to Buy, which involved assets that the state itself had created.
Major’s privatisations, contractorisations, and trading funds carried this into the functioning of government itself. One of the least discussed and most significant elements of this was the closure or sale of great swaths of the state scientific apparatus, like the BRE. Tony Blair’s government was just as much at fault on this one, but as with PFI, it was Major’s government that invented it. In trying to “steer, not row”, they threw away the compass. Michael Heseltine promised to intervene before breakfast, dinner, and tea, but his colleagues got rid of the instruments. I think this is actually worse.
The lesson I am trying to pick out from the Grenfell story is that if you don’t do your own sums, someone else will do them for you and you might not like the answers – and you will only find out the hard way.