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News Comment 

 a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

National Statistics figures released in the last week indicate that the economy of the UK is slowing slightly. Although the figures for the whole year show growth of 3% and are up .7% on 1999, in the last quarter of 2000 the growth was substantially slower than for the rest of the year. Economists had expected this last quarterís figures to be downwardly distorted by bad weather, seasonal factors and weaker oil and gas output, but a slowdown in the service sector does point to a significant reduction in the growth of the underlying economy. Experts believe this is not bad news: with inflation running at 2% which is comfortably below the target level of 2.5%, increases in activity for both retailing and wholesaling sectors, 34 months consecutive growth of the British economy, and forecasts of continued growth at a level of between 2.25% and 2.75% for 2001, much confidence remains throughout industry. Indications are that the Bank of England is likely to cut interests rates in February by at least .25%, and some analysts think a .5% cut is possible.

Other news that stood out in the last week was an odd mix of tragedy and humour. The horrific earthquake in the north-west Indian state of Gujarat yesterday (Friday) leaving at least two thousand people dead and thousands more injured and homeless has, for many, once again highlighted just how fragile our existence is. It is hard, perhaps, for most of us in the UK to comprehend the scale of such a disaster, or to fully appreciate just how quickly and completely large sections of our civilisation can be wiped out by a relatively minor global event. It does, (or should?), make our worries about our economy and stockmarkets seem a little frivolous.

While politicians are starting to prepare battle lines for the next General Election, Peter Mandelson has once again, it appears, been extremely unfortunate. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, undoubtedly an able politician and praised by many for his work in furthering the peace process in the province, has for the second time in his career issued a resignation speech indicating he is leaving government "for doing nothing wrong". A personal tragedy for Mr Mandelson, no doubt, and a loss to Tony Blairís government which may be unfortunate for him so close to a General Election, but a delight for the media and a treasure trove of material for humorists and news commentators. Politicians of other parties, surprisingly perhaps, have not been as scathing about Mr Mandelson as might have been expected. Conservative David Mellor, himself no stranger to indiscretions forcing resignation from government, when asked whether he "took pleasure in seeing Peter Mandelsonís resignation" merely replied "I get my pleasure in other ways...". Although, Mr Mellorís seriousness (and sanity?) might have been questioned when in the same interview he described interviewer Clive Anderson as being a person "of testosterone-stacked virility". Of course he is.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has found himself in the middle of a storm over his plans to reduce the number of pigeons in Trafalgar Square. The birds, which are undoubtedly an attraction to tourists and some would say as important a "landmark" as Nelsonís Column, the Lions or the fountains, have been fed for years by countless tourists who have been able to purchase pigeon food from a small stall in the square. Now, we hear, Mr Livingstone has revoked the licence to run this stall. Pictured in newspapers with pigeons perched on head and shoulders, the former stallholder reportedly commented, "Pigeons donít s**t on their friends. Thatís something Ken Livingstone should learn."

Video footage of a demolition team at work in Dublin this week to blow up a large building, revealed the strength of Irish construction. Despite a huge explosion and clouds of dust, the building did little more than settle a bit and sag in the middle. It was, perhaps, somewhat insensitive of a news commentator to suggest that surely they could find someone in Ireland who was capable of blowing things up properly.......

One of the most bizarre stories of the week concerns two nurses who face disciplinary action because they allegedly squeezed spots on the face of a patient while he was unconscious. The story failed to explain why the nurses had chosen to do this, but took pains to stress that it had happened at a private hospital. No doubt such services would be beyond the scope of the NHS.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, George W Bush has started to settle into his new job in Washington. Outgoing President Bill Clinton took the trouble to publicly thank his supporters and employees, and had particular praise for his staff at The White House. "You gave me the ride of my life", he said.

Finally, I would welcome nominations for the most unpleasant, difficult or just generally obstructive organisation of the week. Just e-mail any nominations, with full reasons, to If we receive a reasonable number, we will publish any particularly interesting candidates and select a monthly winner to receive a Simply Info Certificate of Disrespect. My personal nomination this week goes to Wealden District Council, or more specifically to the Council Rates Department. This eminent body of men and women have successfully lost my rates payment for two consecutive months, and far from apologising for their error have seen fit to serve me with a summons for non-payment. How helpful of them.

27th January 2001                        


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