Tuesday, 28 July 2015


My wife and I are going on a short holiday to Stockholm tomorrow. We are going by train, which is much nicer than flying (Stockholm airport is also a long way from the centre); and are renting an AirBnB apartment. I went to Stockholm on an interrail ticket when I was 17, and haven't really been back since, so I am really looking forward to it.

So, no blogging for a week or so. Back next week.

Walter Blotscher

Monday, 27 July 2015


Lightning is a summer danger; more than 80% of all lightning strikes take place in the three summer months. In Denmark, some 4-5 people a year get hit by lightning, of which one every other year on average dies. Those who are hit, but survive, tend to have injuries to the nervous system, problems with sleep or memory loss, and increased blood pressure.

The electric shock in lightning can be up to a billion volts, and the temperature up to 30,000 degrees (five times that of the sun). It's no joke.

There are a lot of myths associated with lightning, notably that it's best to be out in the open when it happens. Metal boxes, such as cars and aeroplanes, conduct the electricity away from passengers and so are safe; as do buildings with both a roof and walls. The worst places are to stand underneath a tree or be in water; 50% of victims are in these places, compared with just 2% who are indoors.

Be warned!

Walter Blotscher

Sunday, 26 July 2015


Britain's Chris Froome won his second Tour de France, again (as in 2013) beating Nairo Quintana into second place, though this time by only a minute and twelve seconds. With no individual time trials other than the prologue, and lots of mountain finishes, the route was tailor-made for the Columbian climber. However, Froome rode away from the opposition on the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees, on a boiling hot afternoon the day after the first rest day. And although Quintana clawed back time on the last two stages in the Alps, including more than a minute on the legendary Alpe d'Huez climb, it wasn't enough to bridge the gap.

The mountain stages always get the attention in the Grand Tours. But as Quintana himself admitted, his real problem dated back to the very first stage. On a windy ride along the Dutch coast, he got caught behind a crash, his team could not bridge the gap, and he ended up losing a minute and twenty eight seconds, more than the eventual time difference. True, if that hadn't happened, then the race would have panned out differently. Nevertheless, it does illustrate once again the old saw that cycling is a team sport won by individuals.

As a fellow Brit, I should be cheering Froome on. However, there is something about him, as with other successful British sportsmen, that I just don't warm to. I wouldn't go so far as the Frenchmen who shouted in his face, or, in one instance, threw urine at him; but I certainly didn't want him to win. Perhaps it's the monotone way in which his Sky team race.

I would have much preferred Alberto Contador or last year's winner Vicenzo Nibali to win. Contador was going for the Giro-Tour double, and was the only one of the "big four" to have taken part in the earlier race. However, that was a gruelling slog against a very attacking Astana team; and although he won it, there simply wasn't enough time to recover and be competitive in the Tour against the very best. Nibali also suffered from the Giro, but in a different way. The remainder of his Astana team was definitely the second division of the squad, and was simply not strong enough to fight against Sky. Like Quintana, he missed the break on the first stage, and thereafter was always on the back foot.

Contador has already said that next year, he will concentrate exclusively on the Tour. If the other three all do the same, then we could be in for a great race.

Walter Blotscher

Saturday, 25 July 2015


One of the ways in which Australia tries to discourage refugees is to produce adverts, which tell people in no uncertain terms that if they do turn up in Australian waters without the proper papers, then they won't be allowed to land, but will instead be taken to one of their offshore processing centres on Nairu or Papua New Guinea. The not so subtle message to people smugglers and migrants themselves is "you won't succeed, so don't bother trying".

The new Danish Government would like to try a variant of this. It is convinced that people come to Denmark (as opposed to another E.U. country) because of its extensive welfare state; and has even found a website comparing welfare benefits in the different E.U. countries as "proof" that this is true. The fact that professionals in this area cast doubt on that statement is dismissed as rubbish. Integration Minister Inge Støjbjerg now plans to take out announcements in foreign newspapers, highlighting the recent tightening in the asylum and refugee laws, which were passed just before the summer holidays. After reading these, potential asylum seekers will go elsewhere.

This may go down well with certain sections of the Danish electorate. But I doubt that it will have an effect. And in the long run, it will harm Denmark's image abroad.

Walter Blotscher

Thursday, 23 July 2015


Public authorities have started outsourcing some of their operations in order to save money; and under E.U. law, if a contract is above a certain amount, then the tender process must be open to foreign companies. Yet outsourcing is not without its problems.

In the spring of 2014 the region (one of five) covering Fünen and southern Jutland issued a tender for a 10-year contract to run ambulance services, which had previously been run by the Danish company Falck. The tender was divided into four lots, covering each of the region's four main hospitals. Another Danish company won one of the tenders; the other three went to the Dutch company BIOS. Falck lost out in each case.

The region will pay roughly kr.490 million a year for the service, and will thereby save around kr.52 million a year, or roughly 10%, a saving not to be sniffed at.

The new service starts on 1 September, and here comes the problem. BIOS doesn't have, or cannot get hold of, enough Danish ambulance drivers to fulfil its contractual obligations. Its proposed solution is to employ a number of German drivers. However, not all of them speak Danish, or at least don't speak it very well. So the question becomes how well do you have to speak Danish in order to be able to carry out an important public service, which requires in part the ability to communicate in Danish?

Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, there is no clear answer to this question. People who are against BIOS say that the lack of fluent Danish speakers means that they should be barred from working. On the other hand, doctors don't have to pass a Danish test, and they need to communicate with patients at least as much as ambulance drivers.

What this episode shows is that money is not the only thing that matters, when it comes to having the private sector provide services for the public sector. Local authorities need to be careful in what is a potential minefield.

Walter Blotscher

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Danish agriculture may be a powerhouse, particularly in pig farming, but it is still covered by the thicket of rules that Danish society likes to put over everything. One rule was that only a qualified farmer could live in a farmhouse and work the land. Originally designed to prevent absentee landlords, it hampered development, since it was very difficult to get access to outside capital (either domestic or foreign). The farm had to be owned by a company, which could then issue shares to outside investors. However, there still had to be a resident farmer, and the farmer had to have a decisive voice in the running of the company. Outside investors were necessarily limited to being minority ones.

The last government realised that this was hampering development, and relaxed the rules. The new ones, which came into force on 1 January, retain the requirement for a farmer to live in the farmhouse. However, the farmer doesn't have to be the main owner; indeed, he doesn't have to own any of the farm at all, he can simply rent both the house and the land from an external investor, domestic or foreign.

Rich people from Holland, the rest of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe are already beginning to pile in. Although only six months old, the new rules are already leading to warnings of unfair competition that is making life difficult for young farmers to get on the ownership ladder. It is quite possible that there could be a backlash in future.

Walter Blotscher

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


In an age where you have a choice of lots of T.V. channels, can stream a lot of things for free, or have access to Netflix or similar for a modest fee each month, it seems odd that cinemas in Denmark are doing well. Despite a hiccup last year (when the films weren't very good), ticket sales continue their upward trend, and are on course to hit 15 million this year.

We are seeing the benefits of this trend at the local cinema, where sales are up by almost 25% over last year. which makes my life as chairman a lot easier.

Walter Blotscher