Space – the next frontier, pubs closing and the price of alcohol, parliament is in recess.

It’s not all manned exploration, derring-do by lantern jawed heroes and zapping Klingons. The real-life commercial and scientific opportunities offered by the exploration and exploitation of space are very diverse and yet not widely discussed or sufficiently understood. The British commercial space sector has been growing steadily at 9% for years, three times the rate of the economy generally – it is one of our country’s major success stories. Within a decade it will have more than doubled its contribution to our GDP, from £6.5 billion to £14.2 billion by 2020.
UK space R&D takes 5% of revenue from the sector, three times the average for industry but the payback period is measured in decades.
The north east has already contributed appreciably to the sector and further developments are to be strongly encouraged. We need to get a much larger proportion of the space effort and budget into our region. This is the sort of extremely high tech future towards which we must progress as fast as we can go. We have excellent academic institutions, we have an active manufacturing sector, we have a work force, we have a major opportunity here and we should seize it.
In the same week that it is reported that 52 pubs are closing each week we have also seen the picture of the 22 year old lad who died of alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. Almost everybody enjoys a drink but it is undeniable that, for some people, alcohol seriously disrupts their lives and an increasing number are dying too. How did we get into this situation? What can we do about it?
There is a direct connection between the price of alcohol and the rate at which it is consumed. At present alcohol is as cheap as it has ever been and the problems associated with it are greater than they have ever been and worsening. Minimum prices for alcoholic drinks have been proposed but I think that that is too unimaginative an approach. I would prefer to see the price of drink be directly related to the amount of alcohol in it – so many pence per gram of alcohol. Using this approach there would be cheap and expensive beers, cheap and expensive wines, cheap and expensive alcopops – the customer would have a choice. It would be possible to have an affordable night out, a few rounds of drinks and no hangover.
Though change is occurring, another aspect of being sociable and going to the pub is that pubs are still usually heavily orientated toward the sale and consumption of alcohol. Changing the pub culture further, towards being a place where everyone can be sociable together without having to consume alcohol for preference, has much to recommend it. An environment such as that portrayed in Friends perhaps, with a bar and a lounge-like ambience – company, relaxation, food, coffee, chat and perhaps booze sometimes, rather than every time.
Other countries do the relationship with alcohol so much better than we do – but we can change, we can do better too and you don’t have to suffer cripplingly heavy alcohol taxation – unless you drink a great deal of alcohol all the time, of course. Tax on alcohol is a voluntary tax, it is completely avoidable.
For the next few weeks the activities of politicians and parliament are going to be on the backburner. All our elected representatives are away from Westminster ‘til October. This doesn’t mean that our problems will have gone away but the febrile press coverage will subside for a while. Hurrah!
The Party Conference season will then be upon us. This will be the chance for the parties to disclose their plans in preparation for the election. At present they are all, especially the Conservatives, saying very little specific about policy. When the conference season comes, see if you can spot a real, definite, cut’n’dried policy – I bet you won’t find one. Are you sure you can trust a party that does not tell you what you might be voting for? Just changing the party in power every few years is not enough, we need a wholesale change in political culture in the UK and that requires a change in representation in Westminster. A very large number of Independents would be just right, for example.

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