Third Postal Directive

It’s almost like someone’s been reading this blog, letter in the Telegraph:

SIR – You report (December 24) that the sale of the Royal Mail may signify the end of daily deliveries at a flat price. In a separate article on the same day, George Osborne, the Chancellor, commendably urges that Britain should pull back from the EU. The two are directly related: the EU’s Third Postal Directive will threaten the Royal Mail by removing its protection for letters under 50g.
EU directives have already brought the Royal Mail to its knees. Norway, which is out of the EU in a “pulled back” position, is refusing to implement this directive under its European Economic Area (EEA) agreement. We could do the same if we rejoined the European Free Trade Area we created in 1960 and also signed up to the EEA Agreement.
However, we are in a strong position to negotiate an agreement, which refuses to implement many other of the EU’s laws. I commend that course of action.

David Campbell Bannerman MEP (Con)

Advertisements

The Marshalling Of Pro EU Forces Continues Apace

Autonomous Mind picks up on an “outrageous lie” by Andrew Gilligan in the Telegragh in defence of our membership of the EU, and in the same paper we have further evidence of the Telegraph setting out the pro-EU case with another scaremongering story:

Senior banking and business figures spoken to by The Sunday Telegraph have revealed growing disquiet at Government plans for a referendum where one option could be an exit from the EU.
One senior banking executive said: “The whole issue has the potential to be very destabilising for the City.

And so on and so forth, cue lots of reasons why we shouldn’t leave. But further down the piece we get this rather confusing gem on why the Norway solution is not appropriate:

“Britain can never become a Switzerland or Norway,” the executive said, referring to arguments that the UK could have a trade agreement with the EU similar to those two countries.
“They are very small by comparison and have completely different economies.”

But the UK does have the same trade agreement as Norway already, by virtue of the fact we are both in the Single Market – Norway by being a member of the EEA only. So what’s he saying? Because Norway is small and has a different economy then the Single Market which is appropriate for them is not for us? In effect arguing for our complete exit. Such is the desperation to keep us in the arguements seem to be getting less coherent.

But what it does reveal is the amount of significant groundwork being prepared to keep us in even though a referendum is still likely to be years away yet. If the eurosceptic movement, and Ukip, doesn’t up its game quickly then we are going to lose, and lose heavily.

40 Years

In his last column of the year, Booker of the Sunday Telegraph has a cracker of an article, well worth reading in full, combining the themes of climate change and the EU noting that 2012 was the year that these long held beliefs are beginning to collapse.

Tuesday will mark the 40th anniversary of our membership of the EU (EEC as it was known then) “the maddest political experiment in history” where there will be much coverage, some of which has already started. As Booker alludes to, fighting such comprehensive belief systems has been a lonely and frustrating business. Oppose the EU, and you are called “xenophobic”, “a nutter”, or “Little Englander”. Question climate science and the insults consist of “climate-change denier”, “anti-science”, a “flat earther”. But all that has changed:

For many of the major stories which have long been followed by this column, 2012 has been the year when long-dominant belief systems and fondly held illusions have been conspicuously falling apart, portending a time of agonising reappraisal when familiar certainties give way to greater realism and painful rethinking.

On Tuesday, for instance, much coverage will be given to the 40th anniversary of the day in 1973 when Britain finally junked “1,000 years of history” – in the famous words of Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell – and threw in her lot with the attempt to create an all-powerful super-government over the nations of Europe. (Gaitskell had shrewdly predicted, in his speech back in 1962, what the Common Market, as it was then known, was intended eventually to become.)
It is 20 years since this column began regularly reporting on the damage that our membership of the European Union (as it was then about to become, under the Maastricht Treaty) was starting to inflict on our national life. In those days, to question our membership was to be dismissed by all right-thinking people as a crank, a nutter, a xenophobe who could not be taken seriously. When at the start of 1992, I first began reporting horror stories about the tidal wave of new regulations hitting so many British businesses with the approach of the Single Market, along with the destruction of our fishing industry and much of our agriculture, we were still locked into that forerunner of the single currency, the ERM (almost unanimously supported, it is salutary to recall, by every political party and right across the media).

Forty years on from our entry into “Europe”, as we see “the project” plunge deeper into the misery and chaos it has brought on itself by its even more hubristic desire to give the EU its own currency, British attitudes to our membership have changed beyond recognition.

Reality has kicked in, which Booker notes must inevitably be painful and bewildering, for those that hung to such beliefs for so long

Priorities Eh?

L/Bdr Parkinson, 27, lost both his legs and suffered brain damage in a Taliban bomb blast in 2006.
After a gruelling rehabilitation process he has learned to walk on two prosthetic legs and has devoted himself to raising money for military charities.
Diane Dernie, his mother, said the honour left her son “absolutely over the moon”. She said he was only informed yesterday morning.

Conversely:

Former Strictly Come Dancing judge Miss Phillips will receive a CBE. She said: ‘I am very pleasantly surprised but mostly absolutely thrilled and delighted to receive such a wonderful honour.’

Also receiving a CBE is artist Miss Emin, who made her name with controversial pieces such as a tent decorated with the names of all of her lovers.

The 49-year-old first courted notoriety in 1997 when she appeared on a live TV discussion about the Turner Prize drunk and swearing.

The same year she exhibited ‘Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’ a tent appliquéd with names at Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition and then was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999 with her My Bed installation.

It divided critics, but made her one of the most famous, and well-paid, living artists in the UK.

In descending order of seniority of honours (my emphasis):

  • Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)
  • Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE)
     
  • Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)
  • Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
       
  • Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)

It speaks for itself.

Openingly Lying Europe

I’ve noted before on this blog, just over a week ago in fact, that Mats Perssen of Open Europe was deliberately, or at least appearing to confuse the EU, EFTA and the EEA to get in his favourite argument of ‘government by fax’.

Witterings from Witney has picked up on another example, and it truly is mind boggling in its inaccuracy. Writing in the Guardian, Mats Perssen assesses the options if we left the EU, naturally he disagrees with all of them primarily because of the so-called government by fax, however following the Switzerland model he writes:

It could potentially work, but because the Swiss option is so complicated – subject to a cobweb of bilateral agreements – it would be extremely tricky. In that two-year framework Britain has under the Lisbon treaty’s leaving clause, Britain would basically have no influence over EU laws but would be subject to all of them.

What on earth has the final sentence regarding the Lisbon Treaty exit clause got to do with following the Swiss model thereafter? It is true under Article 50 (4) we are suspended from participation in EU institutions during the 2 year hiatus and we are still subject to EU laws (which we can ignore because by the time any breach reached the ECJ we would be long gone. We’ve managed to drag Prisoners’ votes out for 7 years at least). But this has no bearing whatsoever on how we trade with the EU once we leave. So either the Director of a European Think Tank is really that stupid or the sentence was added deliberately to confuse.

What is clear is our relationship with the European Union is set to change dramatically in the next decade, likely in the form of a referendum and the Europhile movement are already marshalling their forces. One of those is going to be Open Europe, held up as the token Eurosceptic voice, its purpose is to be anything but. Witterings quite rightly says:

It is important to make the point and in this instance to repeat it, namely that were a referendum to be called, the ‘No’ campaign cannot – and must not – be left in the control of people like Mats Persson and Open Europe

They come pretending to be our friends. To quote the film Goodfellas; “Murderers come with smiles”.

118 707

My blog title refers to BT’s ‘no frills’ directory inquiries service, and I’ll come onto the significance of this later in the post.

Ten years ago, 192 (and 153 for international) was the only, and easy to remember, telephone number used to provide a directory inquiries service. Originally free, it did eventually cost 40p a call, yet it provided a simple, quick and efficient service – manned by staff who largely were familiar with the quirks of the many idiosyncratic place names in this country born out of our rich history and heritage.

In 2003, however, that was all to change. 192 was abolished on 24 August 2003 and the service opened up to competition. According to Ofcom at the time the reason was (in answer to question 17):

This is why we have decided to create better value and choice for you by introducing the new range of 6-digit numbers for DQ services, each starting with 118. All DQ service providers can compete on equal terms.

Ah the ‘better service and choice’ argument, but the real clue for the change is given further on in the answer:

Several other countries have already successfully introduced similar changes to their DQ markets.

We have chosen numbers starting with 118 because other countries in Europe will increasingly be using these numbers for their DQ services. 

What is left unsaid, and was at the time, the reason for the change was EU Directive 2002/77/EC, specifically article 5:

Member States shall ensure that all exclusive and/or special rights with regard to the establishment and provision of directory services on their territory, including both the publication of directories and directory enquiry services, are abolished.

As a result of complying with EU law, what then followed resembled a farce in the UK by Ofcom – the governing body – who quite frankly didn’t have a clue. Naturally prices went up and were on the whole confusing, standards plummeted and most of the original copious services faded away as inevitably BT, and obviously 118 118, cornered the market. Not only that, but in order to comply, a coach and horses had to be driven through previous legislation which resulted in the Communications Act 2003.

Ofcom have clear laid out categories within their telephone numbering plan. For example; Freephone (0800), Local rate (0845), National rate (0870) and Premium rate (090). The problem is that national rate has an upper limit of 10p per minute. This meant that for directory inquiries companies they could not make work a service that would be cost effective – it would be an unworkable business model. As a consequence it was obvious in 2002 that 118 numbers would have to fall into the Premium rate category, allowing companies to charge a phone call rate that recoups their costs at the very least.

So Ofcom, eager to comply with EU law, hit on another problem, by forcing 118 numbers to come under the Premium rate category meant being part of the one area of telephone services that is heavily regulated (a reason why many chatline services advertised in national papers are national 0870 numbers because the rules are far more relaxed).

Applying for a Premium rate number in 2002 meant having a 75 page booklet (ICSTIS 10th edition – now known as PhonepayPlus) of ‘do’s and don’ts’, as well as legal responsibilities, thrown at you. These conditions at the time for most premium rate numbers included:

  • Not allowed to be put on hold
  • A maximum cost for the phone call was set – for example 6.2 (a) (Pay for Product Services) [product must not cost] more than £20.00 or (d) terminate by forced release.
  • Premium rate callers must be over 18, for example 5.6.2 (a) Service providers must ensure that operators use reasonable endeavors to prevent persons under 18 years of age from taking part…
  • Children’s services had a category of its own and under 6.1.2 (b) the service should only be used with the agreement of the person responsible for paying the telephone bill…or as another example, 6.1.4 (a) Children’s services must cost no more than £3.00.
  • There’s a maximum price per minute, a maximum which varied service to service – but was set ultimately at £1.50 per minute.
  • Advising you at the beginning of the call how long the call was likely to last and how much it ws to cost for example 6.6.2 (b) include an introductory message, giving the likely total cost of the call…

The rules were, and are endless, but in order to deregulate the directory inquires service they were circumnavigated by Section 120 of Communications Act 2003, which gave Ofcom the power to regulate the Premium rate industry but crucially it did not apply to all Premium rate services (my emphasis) thus letting 118 numbers off the hook:

120  Conditions regulating premium rate services(1)OFCOM shall have the power, for the purpose of regulating the provision, content, promotion and marketing of premium rate services, to set conditions under this section that bind the persons to whom they are applied.

(2)Conditions under this section may be applied either-

(a)generally to every person who provides a premium rate service;

 Ofcom could therefore ride roughshod over existing regulation:

In a classic example of understatement, it cited the example of one man who was charged £350 for a 118 call and connection from a landline in 2009: “Consumer has said that he is upset with the lack of information given by directory enquiries as they didn’t advise him of what the connection costs would be and the charge to call them.”

Thus 118 numbers were given the freedom to put people on hold – by necessity of volume of calls at any given moment – and charged more the fixed rate per minute, plus no upper limit because that would mean cutting off a phone call with your gran (for example) after exceeding the limit when being put through.

There was also another problem which affected businesses, which was rarely reported. The ability of 118 services to put callers through to a number of their choice, which not only incurred a significant cost but more importantly it posed a telephony security risk.

At the time of the change, one part of my previous job was being a PBX installer and programmer. For those unfamiliar, a PBX is a private branch exchange – a telephone exchange installed in big companies or hotels -one that allows many extensions numbers to be used in one building as an example. (Technology has now moved on and with VOIP (Voice over IP) – the technology behind Skype – the traditional PBX has largely been made redundant, but I digress).

Typically to save businesses money, premium rate and national rate numbers would be barred on such a system. Yet by dialing 118, it allowed company employees to bypass barred numbers by being put through via a 118 service. They could ring up and ask for the number or service in question, costing the company a lot of money in the process.

The reason I mention this is because part of my job involved conducting a cost/benefit analysis of the new 118 services – initially due the incompetence of Ofcom a hugely frustrating process. Ultimately though this actually proved to be dead easy because very few 118 numbers at the time provided the PBX security that was required – i.e a bog standard service. I lost count of the number of 18 year old Account Managers (who I knew I wouldn’t see in 6 months time) trying to sell me their product’s services  – bells and whistles – that I didn’t want and were anyway against company policy.

And that leads me onto 118707 – the title of my blog post. Though the number is not well advertised, 118707 is the BT service designed for businesses mainly for the reasons listed above. In short it’s the old 192 service in disguise. Dialing it is like going back in time.

But such is progress courtesy of the European Union…