Lifesavers or nice little earners?

June 30, 2011

What’s really been driving speed cam deployment strategy over the last two decades? Looks like we are about to find out.

The Government has ordered local authorities to publish data going back to 1990 on accident stats before and after cam-age, while the police will reveal the number and outcome of prosecutions relating to each site. All of this is due to go live later this month. Should make interesting reading.

Road safety minister Mike Pennis claimed: “If taxpayers’ money is being spent on speed cameras,” (Bankstone News strongly suspects that it is) “then it is right that information about their effectiveness is available to the public. This will help to show what impact cameras are having on road safety and also how the police are dealing with offenders.”

Presumably Mr Pennis and his associates already have some inkling as to the obvious conclusions to be drawn from all this data. Could it all be part of some pre-notified long-term anti-cam strategy?

June 24, 2011

The UK Government’s view of justice is “based on the interests of big business insurance companies, not the person in the street,” claimed Andrew Dismal of the Access to Justice Action Group this week.

As the aforementioned government published its so-called Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, pressing ahead with the Jackson 5 Review’s recommendations for reforming the civil litigation system, Dismal fumed agrammatically: “The Government do not care about the ability of ordinary people to enforce their rights.”

The son of a a Bridlington hotelier, Dismal instinctively reached for a simile drawn from the hospitality sector to help make his point. HMG’s proposed new justice system, he claimed, will be like top terror target London’s swanky Ritz hotel. “You can check out any time you like…” No, hang on. “Anyone can go there, but only if you can afford it.”

Anticipating Bankstone News’ bewilderment at the paradoxical semantics of this apparently ambiguous formulation, Dismal hastens to clarify: “Justice Ministers can [go there], senior judges can, but the average “no win, no fee” claimant cannot.”

It seems only sensible that judges and so forth should be allowed into the justice system, but it does seem a bit harsh to shut out average claimants – or to let them in for a bit, provided they observe the formal dress code, but then politely suggest they might like to leave if they’re just hanging around without coughing up £40 for tea and cucumber sandwiches or whatever.

The winners, Dismal presses on, will be fat cat insurance company shareholders, to whom the measly £5,000 to which average claimants on average or below average incomes might at best aspire would be as nothing, a mere trifle, a pitiful drop in an ocean of affluence. Fat cat shareholders, indeed, would probably not even “dignify their spit” with such a sum.

“Millionaires in the cabinet” Dismal observes bitterly, “cannot, or will not, comprehend the impact of these changes on their victims.”

Cunningly, the former Hendon MP, attempts to drive a wedge between the partners in Britain’s fragile ruling coalition: “After putting the NHS into turmoil, the coalition seems determined to do the same to the courts. We expect this from the Conservatives, but the Lib Dems ought to know better and defend access to justice, not destroy it.”

The Bill is a sledgehammer to crack a nut,” Dismal goes on. But that’s probably (almost) enough clichés for one week. Perhaps just one more.

How much does justice cost in twitter-twattering Dodgy Dave’s Old Etonian Big Society Britain?

If you have to ask…

June 24, 2011

An impressive one in four RTAs now results in a bodily injury compensation claim according to the cumbersomely named Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. This represents a very healthy improvement from the pitiful ratios of the mid-noughties, when barely one in ten accidents triggered a claim for compensation.

The  IFAs this week unveiled the findings of their working party on motor insurance claims – during which, between eating cakes and jelly, pinning tails on donkeys etc, they picked their way meticulously through vast swathes of insurers’ claims data.

The disappointing news, however, is that the upward trend in accidents per policy has begun to slow, suggesting a real danger that the past year’s 20% rise in the number of UK claims management companies may not be sustainable.

There are also concerns that the MoJ’s fast-track low-value claims-handling process may be limiting opportunities for the legal profession. The IFAWPOMIC report found that the cost of settling injury claims has not risen at all in over a year and that minor claims are being settled with worrying rapidity.


June 23, 2011

It is now barely a week before Bankstone’s valorous knightly company rides out around Yorkshire on monkey bikes to raise funds for lifesaving charity Yorkshire Air Ambulance (see countless previous stories).

This year’s event is fast taking on an oddly professional character as costumes continue to accumulate, advance donations trickle in, and Bankstone takes delivery of some highly impressive magnetic signage for flanks of the event’s fleet of support vehicles, courtesy of BLD’s estimable Cheryl “Cold Hard” Steel.

As flagged in last week’s issue, Bankstone’s own Commanding Officer Andrew Jones (cojones for short) has equipped himself with a very fetching long sleeveless top in the livery of the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem (Teutonic Knights to you and me) highly suitable attire should he decide to continue eastwards from Scarborough and invade Poland or something.

There are 15 YAA collecting buckets lined up at Bankstone HQ ready to be shaken at passers by the likes of the four comely wenches (and one Ian Scanlan) freshly volunteered by UKIM, and – also on the fundraising front – it can now be confirmed that Medieval Monkeys is one of the very first charity events in the UK to use a new (completely FOC) donate by text service, Vodaphone JustTextGiving (works with any service provider). To rid yourself of excess poundage, and help save lives across the Yorkshire region, simply text MONK88 and the number of pounds you wish to donate (select from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10) to 70070. Your donation will immediately appear on the Medieval Monkeys justgiving page (see below left).

Please email all your friends at once and insist that they donate by text to this unquestionably excellent cause. To make your email stand out, or to access other promotional material like banners and desktops, download the personalised Medieval Monkeys pack from Vodafone below here.

June 22, 2011

They say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. On the basis that you have to start somewhere, Bankstone News is prepared to give it a try. How opportune, then, that news should reach us this week that insurers may not be particularly well liked by the public at large.

ABI director Otto Thoreson has revealed that “despite the valuable role insurance plays in millions of people’s lives, the public perception of our industry is not high.” Amazingly, he is not alone in sensing this. An ABI survey of 57 insurers (a Heinz, as they say in the business) found that concerns over the industry’s poor reputation were the number one worry.

Nonplussed as to how or why the public could be falling out of love with insurers, Thoreson opted for the ever-popular move of blaming the bankers. The reputation of UK financial services firms was undoubtedly harmed by the banking crisis,” he noted. But “insurers are not banks,” he insisted stridently.

Adamant that insurance firms must tackle public antipathy head-on, Thoreson stressed that “we have a good platform to do this from.” Better even than a platform, Thoreson has formulated a plan. A plan with no fewer than 10 points to it. Normally we’d paraphrase to draw out the silly pompous bits. Hardly necessary with this though:

1) Make our communications simpler and more understandable; good simple language, not words which place a barrier between us and our customers.

2) Make our products simpler and more understandable.

3) Train our people to improve their understanding of our business and how our products and systems work so they can genuinely step into customers’ shoes.

4) Work with FOS to understand better its perspective on how we deal with our customers.

5) Work to design more equivalence and standardisation in product features which make sense.

6) Accept that TCF makes sense.

7) Work with government and regulators to better manage the flow of change. Doing this will ensure we have time to prepare and absorb it without a knock-on impact on service.

8 ) Be quicker to acknowledge when we have got something wrong and put it right – let’s only have cases in front of the FOS where we genuinely believe we are in the right.

9) Make our service relevant and accessible to the type of customer we are servicing. We should not expect them to conform to us.

10) We should start early by continuing to support developing financial capability for consumers – education in our schools, in the workplace and for those approaching retirement.

There you go: simple as that!

June 22, 2011

Want to claim on your insurance? It’s gonna cost you! That was the stark warning this week from financial research firm Defunqto, who are voicing alarm at the extent to which insurance users are falling victim to excess.

According to Defunqto, more than half of UK motor insurers have been increasing their minimum policy excess charges over the past year, and indeed excesses have been rising “alarmingly” since 2008. Back then, Defunqto claims, for example, just 25% of car insurance policies had a windscreen replacement excess of £75. Today that proportion has risen to almost 50%. Pretty shocking stuff, Bankstone News thinks you will agree.

Some commentators have suggested that comparison websites have played a role in bringing about these excessive increases by encouraging buyers to focus exclusively on finding the lowest premium price rather than linger over small print. But that could not possibly be true.

As the ABI’s Nick Sparrow has recently pointed out, higher excesses are one way of keeping premiums down. An excellent way, in fact, provided you do not intend making any claims.


June 21, 2011

Before bringing you today’s Medieval Monkeys Location Lowdown (everything you need to know about one of Yorkshire’s top historic strongholds), it may be worth reminding readers that it is now less than two weeks until Bankstone’s medievally-attired monkeybikers head out on the county’s highways raising much-needed funds for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance service.

As excitement indices continue rising towards potentially dangerous levels, Bankstone revealed this week that a very generous £250 donation from Ram’s Den Solicitors ELP (considered by many to be the leading legal firm in Kirklees and Calderdale) has brought the appeal to within £5645 of its £7,200 target – making this the perfect time for you, Dear Reader, to visit immediately, donating generously to a life-saving good cause and posting a highly amusing – and ideally mildly abusive – message of support in the process.

In other news, staff at the Bike Insurer have all passed their CBT tests (respect!) and confirmed the purchase of a second team monkey bike. Even notorious scrounger and freeloader Andy Jones of Bankstone has finally bought a monkey of his own and ordered in some proper knightly garb to complement his customary riding attire of designer jeans and dude boots.

But now, without further ado, here’s Part Five in our cut-out-and-keep commemorative guide to Yorkshire’s top ten castles for charity monkeybikers. This week it’s Bolt-on castle.

Wensleydale’s Bolt-on Castle was built during the fourteenth century by the then Lord Chancellor Sir Richard “Dick” le Scrote, whose descendants continue to own the castle to this day, though they moved out to nearby Bolt-on Hall a few centuries back complaining of draftiness.

Scrote worked fast. Just 20 years after King Richard II granted him a licence to crenelate, in 1379, Bolt-on Castle was complete. But then, rapid castle building ran in the family. Scrote’s ancestor Sir Henry FitzScrote knocked one up in Herefordshire back in the eleventh century over the course of a single weekend.

No one quite knows where Dick Scrote got the 18,000 marks it cost to build Bolt-on Castle – nor the £10,000 it cost him to buy the Kingdom of The Isle of Man for his son William “Will” Scrote (circa. £90 million in today’s money), but being Lord Chancellor is suspected to have helped in some unspecifically defined way.

An angry King Henry VIII had the castle torched in 1536 as retribution for Sir John Scrote de Scrotes 8th Baron Scrote of Bolt-on Scrote’s role in the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. But within a few years the castle had been repaired and Sir John was back in favour.

Mary Mary Queen of Scots was held at Bolt-on Castle between 1568 and 1569 and there began learning English for the first time, having previously only spoken French and Latin. She left for Staffordshire in 1569, where she spent a further 18 years perfecting her language skills before heading for London to have her head removed.

When Civil War broke out in 1652, Sir John FitzScrote de Scrote declared for the King and the resolutely quadrilateral Bolt-on Castle was beseiged by roundheads from Autumn 1644 until November 1645. Having polished off the last of his horses and domestic animals, Sir John finally surrendered. His troops were allowed to leave with colours flying. In a bitter fit of pique their commander, Colonel Cheetah cut off his own hand and threw it at the Parliamentary troops. Which probably showed them what was what!

Two years later much of the castle was demolished. But it looks alright, really, considering. Bolt-on Castle has been used as a location by films including some or all of Ivanhoe, Elizabeth, Medieval Babes, and XXX-Calibur. Bolton Castle is not to be confused with nearby village Castle Bolton.

June 21, 2011

Why are crime rates mysteriously falling in the US in the midst of an economic downturn? Simples, say economists at Amherst College, MA, alma mater of Albert II of Monaco and noted Israeli actress Daphne Aviva Rosen.

It’s all down to childhood exposure to lead in petrol – or rather the relative lack of it since the early 80s – claims Jessica Wolfpaw Reyes, quoted in a fascinating analysis piece published today on the BBC News website.

“Even low to moderate levels of exposure can lead to behavioural problems, reduced IQ, hyperactivity and juvenile delinquency,” Jess claims. “You can link the decline in lead between 1975 and 1985 to a decline in violent crime 20 years later.”

She goes on to claim that around 90% of American children in the 1970s “had blood levels that would today cause concern.” This apparently bizarre theory gains credence when you track state-level lead-reduction initiatives against local crime figures. Those states that cut lead first saw the earliest reductions in criminal activity two decades on.

An alternative explanation for falling US crime stats is that would-be hoodlums are too busy playing Grand Theft Auto to go out and commit real-life crimes.


June 21, 2011

Do sleeping policemen give you the hump? Owners of fragile or low-slung vintage and performance cars – along with the frail, incontinent, and spinally injured – will welcome the recent announcement that the Department for Transport (DfT) is to light a bonfire under the tangled skeins of red tape holding local authorities back from considering other traffic calming measures.

Traffic humps have proliferated up to now because councils have been able to erect them without seeking the DfT approval required for signs on sticks and road painting. But, that’s all about to change, according to Road Safety Minister Norman “Meaty Chunks” Baker.

From now on, councils can choose with impartiality between the various available traffic calming options available. With humps costing around £450, signposts £175, and road markings now just £45, the econometer is expected to swing back towards less suspension-damaging speed limiting measures.

Aside from damaging vehicles passing over them and causing injured persons in built-up areas to wince repeatedly in excruciating pain as they bounce their way to hospital, speed bumps are also unpopular because they: add to CO2 emissions as drivers speed up and slow down, annoy local residents by causing additional noise due to braking and acceleration, cause drivers to veer about the road unpredictably as they attempt to avoid those narrow ones, increase emergency vehicle response times by 3-5 seconds per hump, and all that kind of thing generally.

One way or another, they don’t seem very popular.

If the tide is finally turning against the blight of speed cushioning, digging them up and putting up signs could help get Britain back to work. It worked for Hitler with those autobahns! Or Big Society volunteer groups could get out at the weekend with picks and shovels and take the lo-cost DIY approach.


June 20, 2011

Want to get cheap car insurance? The answer’s surprisingly simple: build your own car out of mahogany window frames, cake tins and plumbers’ leftovers.*

That’s how Stephen Crawford of Driffield, East Yorks secured the slimmed down premium of just £88 per year for his petrol-driven scrap-built “1924 Hispano Suiza inspired” motor carriage.

The six-meter wooden-framed car, Crawford told the BBC, is “remarkably similar to a modern car, believe it or not. There are no rattles and bangs.” Three years in the making, Crawford’s head-turning new ride was put together using bits and pieces lying around on his farm.

“The throttle system is the head of a piston which is fantastic and it works beautifully,” he said. “The wing stays are made from the water pipes from the farm, but the piece de resistance was a brainwave I had when I was shopping in the supermarket and they were selling cake tins buy one get one free. They’re perfect headlamps.”

* And become a retired accountant from Yorkshire.

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