Welcome to Civilisation-Lite™

August 12, 2011

It’s all very well wanting to have nice flat roads to drive on, but, as everyone now accepts, there’s no money left to lavish on such luxuries. We’ll all just have to get used to tightening our belts, repairing our suspension more often at an average £350 a pop, and veering about crazily to avoid the deeper dips in Britain’s pitted and cratered tarmac.

In the face of enforced fiscal strictures, the Highways Agency has decided to stop being so uptight about the whole issue of holes. Current legislation requires even minor fissures to be fixed immediately. But now, starting with the West Country and going national by 2015, the HA has decreed there’s no need to infill potholes unless they’re at least 15cm across and 4cm deep.

Oddly, not everyone’s convinced that this is a good idea. With pothole-induced vehicle repairs already costing an estimated £0.5 billion per year, there have even been suggestions this could ultimately prove a false economy. The Asphalt Industry Alliance, for example, has come out strongly against the move.

The Motor Vehicle Repairers’ League, however, reluctantly concludes that Britain can no longer afford the luxury of road repairs and should take a page out of the books of countries like Borneo and Malawi where drivers are perfectly sanguine about the odd uneven road surface.

August 12, 2011

New research from Sainsburys Car Insurance suggests cash-strapped motorists are trying out all kinds of strategies for saving money. One of the most popular – and presumably most effective – has been to stop driving altogether.

The supermarketers claim that 1.3 million UK residents have “given up driving over the past 12 months because of the rising cost of motoring.” At this rate, driving will have died out altogether by the year 2038. But then we knew that already.

A further 16.5 million people (45% of drivers) claim to be driving less to keep costs down and 3.5 million have swapped their car for a more fuel-efficient model. The overall cost of running a car has increased by 1/5th over the past year, Sainsburys claim, with average fuel bills now at around £1,700 a year.

Paradoxically, those who still insist on driving, appear to be keener than ever on 4×4 vehicles. One UK motoring website this week reported a 35% increase in people searching for new 4x4s, compared with a 30% reduction in searches for super-minis.

Reflecting a widespread attempt at cake-having-and-eating-too, however, surging interest in 4x4s is focused on smaller-engined, more fuel-efficient 4x4s, like the Range Rover Ewok which averages a parsimonious 44 miles per gallon.

So with fewer people driving, and those who persist more likely to have off-road capabilities, Britain’s highways should soon be pleasingly decongested.

August 11, 2011

First the good news: Bankstone news is taking a two-week sabbatical as of next week. So we won’t be bothering your in-box with any more of this nonsense for at least a fortnight.

There’s an outside chance we might still be doing a spot of tweeting in the guise of unfit2print if you’re truly a glutton for punishment.

But before sloping off for a “summer” staycation, Bankstone News would like to recommend for your visual and auditory attention the gem that is Swede Mason’s Jeremy Clarkson Beatbox – particularly the section at 0:45 seconds – but, then again, all of it, really – apart from a slow first 17 seconds, with which we strongly suggest you bear patiently.

If you can’t watch YouTube at work (what, not even on Fridays?), send the link below to yourself somewhere where you can. The expression lol, for once, actually applies.

August 11, 2011

Motor insurers have been alarmed to learn that Bradford East MP David Ward plans to force a reduction in the unacceptably high motor insurance premiums his constituents face simply because they share the misfortune of living in Bradford East with a particularly dense concentration of crash4cash fraudmongers.

Professing disingenuous outrage at one constituent having been (mis)quoted £50k, and more plausible dissatisfaction that drivers with 30 years’ claims-free driving experience are unable to find affordable cover, Dave has frankly had enough and now intends to force insurers to charge less.

He has started a petition, which has already attracted an almost literally staggering 150 signatures. With just 98,500 more, he could even force a Parliamentary debate. Lib Dem MP for Bradford East since 2010, Ward has been the Bradford City Council member for Idle and Feckless since 1990.

He’s not in favour of high insurance premiums for young people, but did vote for increased tuition fees, suggesting he (quite realistically) considers it more important that young Bradfordians can afford to drive around the place than that they should waste years acquiring knowledge with which no future employer is ever likely to be impressed.

Potential future employers were unavailable for comment.

August 10, 2011

Car maker Ford has described the current accident management business model used by fleets as not just broken but sick, reports Fleet News this week.

Inflated costs are leading to increased insurance premiums, the motor manufacturer claimed. But fear not, Fleet Managers: a new accident management scheme offered by Fnord is “great news for customers,” according to Collision Repair Manager Paul McDermott.

Ford says fleet managers need no longer worry about “the many complex parts of the repair process such as contacting the insurance company, organising vehicle recovery and providing a courtesy car,” with all of which it will now take care after just “a single phone call.”

“By not inducing spurious personal injury claims, by not taking any fees for personal injury referrals, by supplying hire vehicles at cost plus a small admin fee, we will reduce costs to insurers,” said McDermott.

Ford is making its scheme available for both Ford and non-Ford vehicles and will profit from parts sales, provision of Ford rental vehicles, “small fees,” and ultimately, it hopes, vehicle sales.

John Lewis, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), told Fleet News: “Accident management is not a new idea.”

August 4, 2011

Never let it be said that Bankstone Director Andy Jones is a fussy man. His hosts at the recent British Insurance Awards event in London were, however, somewhat taken aback (in place of the usual ‘none’ or ‘vegetarian’ under dietary requirements) to receive the following stipulations, penned under Andy’s guidance by fellow director Dickon Tysoe:

Thank you for inviting Andy. He is delighted to accept, however, there are one or two minor dietary do’s and don’t’s that you should bear in mind.

Tomatoes, for instance, can be problematic. Specifically it’s skins and pips and things that constitute the sticking point for Andy tomatoes-wise. If you are absolutely confident that all such lumpy bits have been thoroughly broken down, in, for instance, soup, passata, or puree, you might just get away with the odd tomato here and there, but please exercise caution. Ketchup, of course, is always welcome.

There are a couple of points to note on the fish front. Andy will most certainly not eat cod, coley, whiting, halibut, hake, haddock, skate, dab, dory, sole, dover sole, lemon sole, other sole, salmon, whitebait, sardines, pilchards, herring, mackerel, kippers, smoked fish of any kind, tuna, barracuda, barramundi, barramanilo, anchovies, bass, bream, brill, dorado, cuttlefish, dogfish, monkfish, nunfish, snapper, sprat, squid or octopus, sturgeon, trout, turbot, mullet (any colour), flounder, grounder, grouper, eel, plaice, marlin, megrim, gurnard or gilthead. He is, however, partial to a fish finger sandwich with salted butter, fresh white bread, and tomato ketchup, of course.

Mr Jones will not touch clams, cockles, crab, lobster, mussels, langoustines, scampi, prawns, oysters, shrimps, scallops, whelks or winkles. He is strongly averse to anything that tastes, smells or sounds like an insult, hair style or lady bit.

Vegetables are no problem. Aside, of course, from the likes of aubergines, marrows and courgettes. Cauliflower is OK – but not with cheese sauce.  Andy hates parsnips, but loves swede and carrots. He is partial to the odd bean, so long as it is of the runner, baked or French persuasion. He gags, however, at the very mention of butter beans and has severe reservations where beans of the broad variety are concerned. Peas, asparagus, mushrooms, garlic, and shallots are all cheerfully tolerated. He will not endure onions, however, in pieces any larger than 1.2 cm – and, least of all, in the form of ‘rings’.

Andy is very fond of cabbage, the Savoy variety in particular. He is also moderately tolerant of spinach, sweetcorn, beetroot and cooked celery. Brussel sprouts might be OK, provided they have been boiled with a cross cut into the stem.  Andy requires that vegetables be served plain and not mixed. Ideally, he prefers a plate with individual compartments for different foodstuffs, such as those provided to small infants or on aeroplanes.

When it comes – as it inevitably must – to meat, lamb is Andy’s favourite – although there must be no trace of fat, veins, arteries, gristle, connective tissue, tendon, skin, bone, ligature, cartilage or unidentifiable greasy parts.

His second strongest preference would be for elk, reindeer, venison or one of those animals that carries little fat and runs around in the snow. Third would be beef (obviously with the same provisions stipulated under lamb above), followed by chicken (lean breast only), turkey (left breast only), goose (right breast only), and duck (either or indeed both breasts).

Having spent time in Africa, Andy is partial to a slice of kudu, Thompsons’ gazelle, dik dik or zebra, but appreciates that these are not always available.

He frowns on processed meats such as spam, luncheon meat, tongue, salami, haslet, brawn – and on all sausages other than the occasional hot dog and Richmond Thick Pork Sausages – so long as they feature none of those fashionable extras such as apple, herbs, black pudding, pepper, actual meat etc.

He will eat paté – so long as it includes no crunchy or chewy bits, likes olives, bread and oil, and even nuts, but does not like canapés which he construes as little bits of fancy shit on trays.

Notwithstanding his preference for a compartmentalised plate, Andy is keen on stews and hotpots, so long as they follow the guidelines above.

Andy likes most puddings, but is unlikely to eat them “because of the waistline.”

That’s pretty much it, really.

August 4, 2011

Who can honestly say they have not looked at the journey time predicted by their satnav and thought: I can do better than that? Assuming the projected time reflects a mere average driver, the average driver dreads the thought of taking longer. Because then they’d be, like, a loser! Where the satnav sees an estimate, the driver sees a challenge.

This psychological weakness may help explain why a thousand people every day overtake on blind corners in a desperate attempt to beat the box. It’s Russian Roulette without the glamour, but with the potential bonus of taking out the cheerful young family coming round the corner in the opposite direction.

Research undertaken by Sainsburys car insurance – must have taken a while – has found that “7.2 million of Britain’s 37 million drivers” admit racing their satnavs. As previously noted, 340,000 overtake on blind bends, 240,000 tailgate, and 570,000 “speed through amber traffic lights” while attempting to beat the satnav clock. All of which results in 150,000 people injured in a vain attempt to disprove the insulting prognostications of an inanimate digital device.

“We are encouraging drivers using this new driving technology not to be tempted to become GPS racers,” says Sainsbury’s man Ben Tytte.

Meanwhile new windscreen-projected dashboard displays now have the ability to show ghost-data 3D images of both an average driver and the current driver’s previous best time on any given route – making it easier for drivers to see exactly what they should resist the temptation to compete against.

August 4, 2011

People have been saying for years how lucky RSA are to have Andy Haste. Eight years in, that luck has just run out.

Initially unfancied as an insurance industry outsider, Haste was an immediate hit, fully living up to his reputation for being a turning things round type person and improving the company’s share price by 100% within his first 100 days.

There’s general agreement that RSA has been a well run ship ever since, with all going well right up to the point last year when the firm’s £5bn bid for the GI bits of Uvavu got turned down. Mongers of scurrilositude have been quick to link Haste’s departure to that rejection, the unforthcomingness of any bigger better offer, and to persistent talk of RSA’s now being a takeover target.

In reality Haste has hardly lived up to his name in the rapidity of his jumping ship. With Solvency II looming and share prices plummeting, RSA’s independence is under no immediate threat, but if quitting whilst ahead was ever a factor in AH’s deliberations, he’s achieved that with aplomb. RSA has just announced that it has finessed a first-half profit of £8m in challenging market conditions, and Haste makes an orderly handover to internal promotee Simon Lee.

Whatever he decides to do next, he’s unlikely to be short of offers.

August 3, 2011

AXA recently announced some half decent results (see proper insurance publications for details), but, in making them public, AXA UK and Ireland Group chief executive Paula Evans wasn’t so much interested in talking about the company’s 100% COR and £2bn revenues as in leading the charge against referral fees and the broader industry malaise of which they are merely the most outwardly visible manifestation.

After a cursory look around to see whether anyone was questioning the idea that UK society is drifting into a compensation culture, Evans concluded that “There seems to be no question that UK society is drifting into a compensation culture.” What will happen when the inevitable collision occurs, Evans neglects to specify, but presumably it won’t be anything good.

But how have we arrived at a situation where every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to think they are entitled to redress whenever something bad happens to them? Evans blames “an an industry of claims management firms and personal injury lawyers that has formed to profit from road traffic accidents.”

It is this sinister cadre that has been running amok, actively encouraging people to seek compensation for every minor injury they suffer. In the UK, Evans, observes ruefully, personal injury claims are spiraling. Whereas in Ireland where the toxic interventions of claims management firms are as little felt as those of native snakes, personal injury claims are less than half as prevalent as in some parts of the UK.

Throwing figures together with gay abandon, Evans notes that a 10% fall in the number of road traffic accidents over the past three years has coincided with a 46% increase in PI claims on motor insurance policies, leading us ever closer to the nightmare meltdown scenario where nobody crashes and everyone claims.

Gratifying as it clearly is to reiterate that “Axa remains the only insurer to have banned referral fees,” heartening as the Government’s apparent mindedness to outlaw RFs may, likewise, be, Evans believes “more radical steps are needed.” First up: cut PI lawyers’ £1200 fixed fees for low-value PI claims down to size, Evans suggests, observing uncontestably that “logic suggests a reduced standard fixed fee in the region of £400 would still allow personal injury lawyers to earn reasonable profits.” Which, indeed it might, assuming zero client acquisition costs.

Sensing a whiff of invalidity about a significant section of the current bumper crop of claims, Evans suggests “There needs to be a comprehensive medical evaluation of muscle damage following a typical low impact road traffic accident” to “provide the basis for better diagnosis” so that “spurious claims can be filtered out and rejected without incurring unnecessary cost.”

Implement a programme like that, and we’d soon see premiums tumbling down.


August 3, 2011

“Minibus drivers may not be starkly mad, but they have some mental health issues and they smoke a lot of cannabis,” said Dr Oluwayemi Cecilia Ogun, acting director of Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Lagos.

The latest attempt to instill some order into the Nigerian capital’s notoriously disfunctional traffic system, involves subjecting anyone caught driving the wrong way up a one-way street to a one-day psychiatric examination.

It has been suggested that anyone taking the decision to drive in Lagos must, by definition, be afflicted by some degree of insanity. But the Lagosian authorities have decided to draw a line between the benign low-degree madness that makes life possible in one of the most chaotic cities on earth, and the extreme lawless craziness that prompts rogue individuals to attempt shortcuts involving wrong-way driving.

“The legal logic is simple,” Lagos state ministry of transportation Sina Thorpe, spokesman told the Wall Street Journal: if you violate one-way rules, “you should have your head examined.”

Perhaps something similar could be attempted in the UK. The Coalition could perhaps revive Margaret Thatcher’s nascent project for distinguishing between right thinking people and enemies of the state.

Just a thought.

Read the WSJ piece in full here.

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