500 job losses is rather an electric shock from SSE

I FOUND it illuminating that Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) this week announced their intention to freeze energy bills, until at least January 2016.

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This news was however tinged with more than a little sadness at the announcement of the 500 redundancies which are being made. It would appear that SSE are attempting to trim more than £100 million from their cost base.

What then are we, as customers, supposed to make of this latest move? Are we to believe that the price of stable energy costs is to be the loss of hundreds of jobs?

Are the costs and profits of this industry so marginal that if prices can't go up, then jobs must go?

The company is also disposing of some £500 million of assets to reduce their overall debts. I'm no economist, but it looks to me like a company which is restructuring its debts and cutting costs in order to increase profit.

In the financial year 2012/2013 the profits of the Scottish and Southern Energy Group were some £1.4 billion, and I am sure that last year's near 10% increase in energy prices should insulate SSE from the price freeze years which may lie ahead. This will, however, be cold comfort to the thousands of customers who SSE mis-sold energy to, and lied to, about tariffs. An offence for which they were fined over £10 million.

So is SSE, in freezing prices for the next couple of years, demonstrating its corporate responsibility? Or perhaps the customers are being a little foolish in thinking that this freeze means that they really do care about us.

Could it be that market leadership, strong profits, and high share price are the true objects of their affection. Corporate responsibility or corporate self-interest.

I'll let you judge.

IN THE last few years, the UK government has signalled its intent to get tough on those claiming benefits.

In particular, those who are claiming disability benefits are being particularly targeted. The Department of Work and Pensions has introduced a system called the work capability assessment. This work is being carried out on behalf of the Government by ATOS.

The system has been beset by problems and by a huge number of complaints that the capability assessment was neither accurate nor appropriate in judging people's fitness to work. This week, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has strongly criticised the system, and has highlighted the case of one woman who had a long history of mental health problems and depression. Tragically, this woman took her own life, following a work capability assessment by ATOS which indicated that she had scored zero in the assessment, and was therefore fit to work. The financial impact of her assessment was that her allowances were to be cut from £94.25 per week to £67.50 per week.

This system therefore takes our most fragile, our most vulnerable, tests them and then cuts their benefits. Those who don't want to sleep for fear of their dreams, and don't want to wake for fear of their reality. Is this really happening in our society? A society which ignores or forgets the vulnerability of others and the compassion necessary to be human.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has made a number of recommendations to prevent such a situation occurring in future. I hope the Government listen.

I too have a recommendation: let's treat those with mental illness with a little more respect and dignity, let's try to be a little more human, and let's make sure that this tragedy is not repeated, in our name, ever again.

WHAT a truly spiffing idea. This week we learned that those jolly old chaps at the Royal and Ancient golf club of St Andrews were to be balloted upon a key decision.

After some 260 years of sexist apartheid, their 2400 members will be asked whether or not they wish to admit women to their somewhat exclusive gentleman's club.

This jolly wheeze is no doubt being embarked upon as a consequence of the huge criticism, both political and public, of their ongoing discrimination against women.

The letters sent to members this week articulate that the Committee is strongly in favour of supporting the rule change in September. The change will require a two thirds majority of their members to approve.

Like many, last year I refused to attend the British Open at Muirfield in protest at the R&A's stance against equality.

I therefore warmly welcome this proposed change to these antiquated rules and would encourage all members to vote in favour of the proposal.

In so doing, I realise that many members of the R&A still think of women in terms of them being chained to the kitchen sink and darning socks rather than having brains.

I do trust that they may soon come to understand that women are often brainer than men.


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