30 December 2010

Living longer and funding education

BBC Breakfast are running two stories this morning, as separate and distinct stories, which appear to be linked. I emailed in a comment. Unfortunately as my comment ran rather long I doubt they will read it out, I'm reproducing it here.

You appear not to have noticed but two of the stories you're running this morning seem to be linked. The stories are that more people are going to live to 100 and the comparison between students of the baby boomer generation who had free university education and the current (and last) generation who have had to pay.

SAGA say that older people need to work to supplement their income, this of course removes jobs that younger people could have taken up. Your interviewee on free education enjoyed by baby boomers says that had 40% of her generation gone to university they may have had to pay for their education. If older people are to work longer then something must be done with the younger people who cannot then find work. Investing in education (vocational as well as academic) is an excellent way to keep them off the job market longer, maybe change from a working life of 15 to 65 to one of 25 to 75. This would also address the skills shortage we have had in this country since the 1980s and reduce our reliance on skilled migrant workers, or maybe balance the migrants coming in with our own citizens migrating overseas where their particular skills are needed.

We seem to have a choice. Either subsidise young people to stay in education longer and off the job market or subsidise older people to leave the job market and enjoy 30+ years of retirement. I suspect the former would be better for the long term economy. Alternatively we all move to part-time/job-share working and all take a hit over our entire careers.

17 December 2010

Just had a thought about dealing with road tax evasion and uninsured/unMOTed drivers/cars

My manager was just talking about how in sonme continental countries the tax, MOT and insurance certificates are a single document and you can't MOT your car until it's taxed and insured. She suggested that we should implement that here.

It gave me an idea!

Currently in the UK you cannot tax your car until you have an MOT and insurance. If, therefore, you don't tax your car you can get away with no MOT or insurance. My idea is to turn the tax disc into a 2 part document. Retain the current paper disc but add a smart card. Compel all petrol retailers to attach a reader for the card to their pumps (maybe offer grants and/or loans to smaller retailers, in particular in areas where there is restricted availability of petrol retailers). If the card is not inserted the pump will not dispense fuel. The card would store the date the next MOT is due, which garage did the last MOT, the date the insurance is due for renewal, who the insurance is with and type of fuel the car takes (so if you pick up the wrong nozzle the pump can warn you and not dispense fuel until you pick up the correct nozzle or acknowledge the message), maybe reg number, make and model of the car. It could also store when you filled up, how much fuel you had and how much it cost, some retailers may want to offer a service to print off your fuel use for you. If the tax, MOT or Insurance is more than a month overdue the pump either won't dispense fuel or will only dispense a small quantity. I am not suggesting that any central database be kept linking cards to petrol purchases so 'Database State' whiners don't need to get all het up.

The result of this would be that if you don't have a current MOT and insurance you can't buy fuel, or can only buy a small amount. Essentially it's enforcing the rule that if you want to drive you have to do so legally.

The main hole I can see is that people may use the card for one car with another so they might have one car which is taxed, insured and MOTed and use the card to fill up one that isn't and whilst the card may show that the car is insured it doesn't guarantee that the person currently driving it is insured. A smaller hole is that some retailers may use the card as a way to gather marketing information and to make offers, "Hey, you're insurance is up for renewal. Would you like us to get you a quote?" Even that could be an advantage as insurers (and quote websites such as confused.com &c)could put vending machines in petrol stations and other locations to allow people to buy or upgrade their insurance by inserting their card and just tapping in relevant details such as the type of insurance needed and who will need to be insured.

14 December 2010

Directly elected mayor for Birmingham?

It seems that Birmingham is to get a referendum on whether to have an elected mayor. A number of people have expressed interest in the role, including Yardley MP John Hemming.

I like the idea of a directly elected mayor. A major weakness of the current structure (leader of the council being the leader of the ruling party) is that whilst I might like a party or the local candidate and vote on that basis I might not like the leader of the party. The impact of my vote is dictated by an unelected party machine. A directly elected mayor gives me the opportunity to vote for the person I want to lead the council, including an independent if that's what I want.

Whilst many of those who expressed and interest in the role are existing party politicians, John Hemming stated that he would only run as a nominee of his party and not as an independent, a directly elected mayor gives us the opportunity to vote for an independent. We can vote for the person who we believe will deliver what we want, not someone beholden to a party machine and vested corporate interests.

9 December 2010

Student Protests - Again

Just emailed this to BBC Breakfast:

Much as it was suggested that motorists remember which petrol stations inflated their prices now and not shop there in the future, hopefully students (and those who now will not have the opportunity to become students) will remember the actions of the Tory and Lib Dem parties now in their future voting behaviour. Politicians are there to serve us, the voters, unfortunately they will only do that if they know they will be held to account for their actions.

I do think that a lot of the problems with the political system in recent years are that voters have tended to take a very short term view and failed to hold politicians to account for their actions and/or have gotten wrapped up in some short term single issue and allowed unsound ideologies to dominate the political debate leading to a party who are destructive to the opportunities and rights of the majority of people to become dominant.

7 December 2010

Is your journey necessary?

Each time there's a heavy snowfall we're told to only travel if it's really necessary to do so. Thing is, for most of us the journey we're most likely to make is too work. How many of us have a manager who will accept "There was lots of snow and ice, the roads were blocked so I can't make it in." as a reason to not attend work?

There was a letter in yesterday's Metro newspaper from someone who lived in the French Pyrenees, where heavy snowfall is common. Apparently there if people think there's to much snow to make it to work they just go back to bed and wait till the next day when the snow ploughs will have been round and cleared all the roads.

6 December 2010

Student protests

John Hemming MP (LibDem, Yardley) was on BBC Radio WM this lunch time as his office had been invaded by by a group of students. He wasn't there but did sound very unhappy at them being there, complaining they were disrupting the work of his office. He made reference to someone having been arrested in Saudi(was this the Imaam who had been arrest by the Saudi religious police then released when Radio WM publicised the situation or someone else?) and to a couple who were destitute as they had received no benefits.

3 December 2010

Empty grit bin

The grit bin round the corner from my house is empty, again. I jusrt reported this via Fix My Street:
The grit bin on Tomey road (near corner with Albion road) is empty again. It was about half full on Sunday evening so has emptied in the past 4 days.

Earlier this year Cllr Daphne Gaved told me that as the council don't grit side roads and pavements but do provide grit it is the duty of residents to grit their road. Obviously if there's not grit we can't do this.

Please refill the grit bin. Also please advise the process of requesting a grit bin be placed on Gough Road(preferably on the corner with Medley road).


Probably won't do any good but at least when the local Lib Dem councilors (Daphne, mentioned above, is one of three Lib Dem councilors in this ward, the local MP (John Hemming) is also a Lib Dem and the council is a Con-Dem coalition) come campaigning and I point out the lack of grit preventing us from gritting our road and pavements I can also point out that when the bin was emptied I requested it be refilled.

I have been treating the pavement outside my house with salt, hence my house (and my neighbours' due to my salt being carried on people's shoes) are the only ones clear of snow in front.

31 October 2010

Just emailed this to Sunday Morning live relating to their item claiming prisons don't work.

Based on people I know who have been in prison I think that they don't work but that it's a problem of implementation rather than something inherent. I do also think that too many criminals who don't get sent to prison for minor offenses which set a pattern that later escalates to more serious crime by which time it's too late.

I believe that prison should be a place of both punishment and rehabilitation. First punishment then rehabilitation, to try to do both at the same time is insanity. The first time some one is sent to prison a little punishment followed by a lot of rehabilitation, subsequently more punishment and less (proportionately) rehabilitation. The punishment should be such that it provokes a real fear of returning to prison and the rehabilitation should look to find and address the factors that lead the person to crime.

Where possible first time offenders should be housed separately from repeat or long term offenders. This would reduce the opportunities for someone who maybe just 'fall in with a bad crowd' to fall in with a worse one by meeting people with established connections to the criminal infrastructure.

There is over crowding in prisons, fortunately there is a fairly simple solution to this. Build more prisons, but be smart about where they are built. There are many small islands in the North Sea and North Atlantic that used to be occupied crofter subsistence farmers but were abandoned in the 19th and 20th centuries when crofting became uneconomic and people left for the mainland. These would be ideal sites for prisons for the punishment phase of a sentence. Due to the remoteness and hostile climate a prison, in particular one built to a Panopticon design, would need less staff than a traditional design built in a city. The hostile but livable climate (remember, people lived there for centuries quite well) provides both an extra element to the punishment directly and would allow opportunities for the prisoners to be put to work growing some of the food required so reducing costs further (less food to ship in) and improving security (someone tired from working in the fields is unlikely to have the energy to cause trouble). It may also inculcate the idea of working for reward and lay the ground work for the rehabilitation phase that follows. The location may cause problems for visiting, but then this is the punishment phase and isolation from past associations may both enhance the punishment and disrupt links to factors that put the prisoner in the position of committing crimes.

Moving prisoners to remote island prisons for the punishment phase would free up spaces in more traditional prisons in towns and cities for the rehabilitation phase.

Not PC, but true.

11 July 2010

Consuming news content in a paywalled world

In today's Observer David Mitchell published an Op-Ed piece about Murdoch's decision to charge for access to the Time website. A number of the comments discussed the idea of paying for professional content on the web. I was moved to post the below:

I think the 'paywall' on a single provider is a wrong turn. About 20 years ago sci-fi author Harry Harrison and robotics/AI researcher Marvin Minsky suggested something I think is much more likely in their book "The Turing Option". The book is an Industrial Espionage/action/thriller story but quite early in the book they talk about a way we can consume news.

What they describe is that rather than buying a newspaper or magazine you subscribe to a service that scours the various media out there on the net (bear in mind that this was written well before the web really came about, the 'Internet' was basically USENET, email and FTP). You would tell the service the sort of things you are interested, this would be geographical areas, your work, films you like, books you like, sports you're interested, teams you follow &c. It would then identify the sorts of articles you'd be interested in and present them to you. It would also track which articles you actually read, which you re-read, which you saved for future reference &c then use this information to fine tune it's selections in future. It may also factor in things like reputation of the uthor and who else reads them. Over time, probably quite quickly, the articles presented to you would get closer and closer to what you want to read. You would pay the service a regular fixed subscription and they in turn would pay the content providers based on items used.

Given developments of the web such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Digg &c, I suspect that the service would also offer you the option to blog/tweet/post/comment about the article you just read then use that to refine future choices. It may even analyse your comments to judge how strong your interest is, did you just post the link with maybe a short "interesting article." comment or did you write an essay analysing the article, referencing other articles and including quotes? Some analysis of who you read may also be done, if you always read David Mitchell's articles on some subjects you're interested in then maybe you might be interested in his articles on a subject you're not usually that interested in.

We're already seeing some of this in Google Alerts and Amazon Recommendations. Google Alerts falls short due to the fact that it relies on you to create the search string, there's no analysis going on, it's just giving you the top few results if you ran this search now that are new since since the last time it sent the results to you. The results improve over time but due to the general improvement of the Google search algorithm rather than your individual choices. Amazon falls down on two things, one minor and one major. The minor one is that simply their analysis isn't up to it yet because their data volume is too small. They're just looking at what books/DVDs/CDs you've bought, which may include ones you bought as presents so they're what your great aunt Gladys is interested in not you, and most people don't buy enough to generate a meaningful data set, although you can improve the recommendations immensely by when you look at the recommendations page actually clicking the "I've already got this" or "Not interested" buttons. The major cause of failure is more fundamental and cannot be solved with technology, it's run by the marketing department and they want to sell you stuff. Because they want to sell you stuff and the cost of a bad recommendation is the same as no recommendation (you don't buy the product), they will use the most tenuous of links to make a recommendation. With a subscription service you are making multiple choices each day as to what to read and what not, and then add in things like twitter and digg to re-enforce the choices (maybe even have a "Not Interested" button), so a sizable data set will quickly build up. As it is a subscription model there is no incentive to make bad recommendations, if you read an article you're not interested in they don't make any extra money and it may cost them more as they now have to pay the content provider. If they make a lot of bad recommendations then you may leave them and go to a different service. Their business model, their profits, rely on you choosing to read a small number of articles you are very interested in every day so you'll keep paying your subscription but they won't have to pay the content providers too much.

This would also help the small content providers, who cannot afford to set up a micropayments system, as they can just license their content to the subscription services and get the aggregated payments.

I do think that something like that, where you don't pay the content provider directly but pay the aggregator who the licenses the material from the content provider, is a distinct possibility. Something like the iPad/Tablet-PC is probably the ideal platform and set top devices coupled to a 'reusable ePaper' printer would be good, but smart phones and more traditional PC/Laptop platforms would also work well.

13 June 2010

Tories cut free school lunches for children from low income families

Michael Gove, Education Secretary, as decided to abolish free school meals for children from low income families. This means that those on the lowest incomes could face an annual bill equivalent to at least 2 weeks' income, per child.

I do wonder what schools are supposed to with those children (in particular those too young to understand why they cannot have a school dinner like their classmates) at lunchtime or when those children are too distracted by hunger in the afternoon to study? What about those schools in low income areas where a significant proportion of the pupils receive free school meals? Perhaps the school will have to close up their kitchen because it's not economical to run for such a small number of diners?

Free school meals for children of low income or destitute families started in the 1880s and became universal in 1944. I had them in the 1980s, without them lunch would have been nothing or just a packet of supermarket own brand crisps because we couldn't afford anything more.

I think we've got a strong chance, based on the Tory-LibDem alliance's actions so far, of a double dip recession and wouldn't completely rule out a bloody revolution.

I am reminded of something Andrew Marr said in his series "History of Modern Britain". He was talking about the impact of the Thatcher government of the early 1980s and raised the point that "Britain used to be a country proud that you didn't see beggars in the street, now you saw them everywhere."

12 June 2010

Performance Development Reviews

It's Performance Development Review (PDR) season at work. A lot of people have been complaining about our PDR system, largely because it is so time consuming and complex. The form itself is 20-30 A4 pages (depending how verbose you are in completing the sections) and takes several hours to complete. There's also a quite complex link to pay. Much of the complexity links to the fact that pay is centrally controlled. This got me to thinking about PDR systems, how they relate to pay and how the whole thing could be simplified. I'm assuming a total green field and the only restrictions are what is legal and achievable.

I should possibly say at this point that my job is busines analysis which is largely about redesigning and implementing business processes, and IT systems to support them.

First off the PDR form and how it is used. The form itself I see as being 2 pages, or rather two sides, of A4. It could even be set up as two tabs in a spreadsheet. If individuals want to attach extra sheets of narrative or detail that's up to them. Typically the only people who will see a form will be the person it refers to, their manager and their manager's manager. HR may, in response to a complaint or query or as part of a random or scheduled spot check/oversight, also see them but would not usually get involved.

Side one of the form has at the top the basic identity information of whose PDR it is (the direct), who their manager is and the relevant dates. Immediately below that are three boxes for objectives for the coming year, each person having one to three objectives for the year. I realize that that might seem like an incredibly small number but objectives should be broad and quite high level and, as Drucker said, a person can only concentrate on one thing at a time, may be two. If you come up with more than three goals then you're probably trying to stretch your direct report too thin, some of the goals are 'nice to haves' rather than 'important/essential' or some of the goals can be combined because you've gone too detailed and/or prescriptive. Next section is a box for detailing what development the direct should have over the coming year with an indication of how it will be delivered. Finally, three signature boxes. One each for the direct, the manager and the manager's manager agreeing the goals and development. The reason for bringing in the manager's manager is both as a check (is the manager setting the bar too low or too high, are they agreeing unreasonable development, do they seem to be favouring some directs over others or are they setting objectives that don't serve the organisation's goals) and because they should have a broader view, as they probably manage more teams, so can spot common trends and synergies.

Side 2 is virtually identical to side 1, although you'd probably lose the top section of who it's for and their manager's details. Now, instead of talking about what the direct will achieve and do you're talking about what the direct has achieved and done then giving a score. The sign off box is agreeing the score. Exactly what scoring system to use depends on local preferences but I'd suggest either a 1 to 5 (1= objective not achieved or achieved well below expected standard, 5 = objective achieved well above expected standard and 3 = objective achieved to expected standard or not achieved for reasons outside the directs control) or Red/Amber/Green (mapping to 1, 3 and 5 in the 1 to 5 scoring system, maybe add other colour for the "not achieved for reasons outside the directs control" situation). I do think the "not achieved for reasons outside the directs control" situation should be addressed. Reviews tend to be an annual thing and a year is a long time, things change. It could be that an objective that was very important last year became unimportant. Maybe a goal depended on something else, or someone else, which fell through. A couple of classic examples are: The direct had an objective of achieving a certification that required them to attend a course but cuts to the training budget meant they were unable to attend that course; In a consultancy organisation the direct had a goal of being fee earning for a certain proportion of the year but changes in the market meant that their particular skill set was needed less so they had to spend time retraining and fell short of their goal.

A lot of people talk, and write, about SMART objectives. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebased. Mark and Mike over on Manager Tools recommend just looking at M and T in their podcast on setting annual goals, I won't rehash the rationale here but I do recommend everyone listen to that podcast (and their other podcasts), a lot of my thinking that has lead me to this post has been influenced by their podcasts. Whilst I agree with the arguments for MT goals my experience tells me that the A needs to be added back in (so it's a MAT objective), too often an over confident direct or over ambitious manager will put in a goal that simply isn't achievable. The check is needed. The objectives should, of course, serve the objectives of the team. Usually a good objective will be something that can be stated in one or two short sentences. For example "Be fee earning for at least 75% of year.", "Generate an average of at least 10 sales leads each month. Convert at least one sales lead a month into a sale.", "At least 60% 'Good', 'Very Good' or 'Excellent' rating on customer satisfaction survey by end of year.", "Issue an average of 50 or more parking fixed penalty notices per day, to be measured fortnightly. No more than 5% successfully appealed.", "Gain PRINCE2 Practitioner certification within 3 months" &c. You'll notice that every one of those has something that can be measured (mostly a number but in one case it's a yes/no, you either do or don't get the certification) and a time scale. The direct has something clear to aim for and knows when it's due, they can also measure their progress towards their goal. At the end of the year the manager has something objective to measure the direct against, there is some wriggle room for humanity and taking account of circumstance of course.

But what do you do where there isn't a clear measure? This is addressed in the Manager Tools cast on goals, listen out for the story of "John and the Gate Guards". In summary, if you can't measure the outcome itself find a proxy. Two of the example objectives I mentioned above actually use proxies. The first is fairly obvious, "At least 60% 'Good', 'Very Good' or 'Excellent' rating on customer satisfaction survey by end of year.", what our objective here is is to have satisfied customers but satisfaction can't really be measured directly, there's no meter you attach to your customer that will tell you if they're satisfied or not. What you can do is survey your customers and get them to tell you how satisfied they feel. Whilst for an individual customer this might not be a good objective measure (some people are never satisfied, or maybe have unrealistic expectations, whilst others are too polite to say when they're not) by collating the results of many surveys you can get a meaningful average while the outliers cancel each other out (although you should probably still talk to them to address individual complaints and find out what went particularly well). The second is less obvious, it is "Issue an average of 50 or more parking fixed penalty notices per day, to be measured fortnightly. No more than 5% successfully appealed.", more specifically the second part. It's easy to measure how many fixed penalty notices ware issued in a day, just count the stubs. What you cannot measure is if they were legitimately issued or if the direct just stuck them on 100 random cars then spent the rest of the day in the pub. What you can measure is how many were appealed and how many of those appeals were upheld, this is a proxy for the legitimacy of the issuance.

Once you have the scores obviously you want to do something with them, usually pay progression or regression. Many employers, especially in times of recession, try to centralise control on pay levels. Big mistake. The main things this achieves is putting an administrative overhead on the centre, slows the performance management process and removes a big chunk of the responsibility to manage from managers. Control on an individual's pay should rest with their manager, with oversight by their manager's manager and a right of appeal to the centre.

This can be achieved by assigning each manager a budget for their directs' pay and make them responsible for assigning it appropriately within the law and procedures of the company. They can then incentivise good performance and correct poor performance through pay (although other methods should be exhausted first). If someone leaves their team this also provides them with the choice of refilling the post at the same rate of pay, filling it at a different rate of pay or deleting the post and using the money saved to increase the pay of the remaining staff in recognition of the extra work they're doing. There would have to be a way for managers to bid for a budget increase, more senior managers to claw back excess and directs to appeal any reduction in pay before it happens.

9 June 2010

Just emailed BBC Breakfast News this comment on their interview about public sector cuts this year:

One of your interviewees (I didn't catch her name) made a misleading statement. The government are not cutting £6bn this year, that was what they cut just before Whitsun. Total cuts this year are £60bn. The last cuts were just a taster.

Personally I agree with the other interviewee, now is a very very bad time for large cuts. Large cuts now are a recipe for disaster and a double dip recession. Small cuts are possible but we shouldn't be looking at large cuts this side of 2012. I'd look at cutting the JNC grades (very senior managers, mostly £100k+) in local government and equivalent in other bodies.

Interestingly, my suggestion of cutting senior managers is what Stephen Hughes (Chief Exec of Birmingham City Council) is apparently considering.

I also like the 'Total Place' proposal of the last government. Rationalise and link up public sector systems and bring them under a single management structure so the UK can leverage economies of scale to the greatest extent. Even something as simple as a single payroll system for the whole of the UK public sector would save incredible amounts and make enforcing equal pay legislation a breeze.

8 June 2010

Degradation of the 37 bus service

Just sent this to my local councillors:
Dear David Willis, Daphne Gaved and David Osborne,

I wish to express my concerns at recent changes in the number 37 bus service which runs along the Warwick and Stratford roads connecting Solihull and Birmingham centres. I am a frequent user of this service as I cannot drive and work in Birmingham City Centre. Additionally to get to most other areas (e.g. most of my immediate family live in or near to Sheldon) I have to take the 37 to either Solihull or Birmingham centre and catch a connecting service. For this reason I have a bus pass which I purchase via monthly direct debit.

Up until last year the vast majority of buses on this route (and virtually all at peak times) were run by Travel West Midlands (TWM), owned and operated by National Express. This was good as my bus pass can only be used on TWM. Over the past year more and more non-TWM buses ("Touchwood Connect" appears to be be the most common offender) and a commensurate reduction in TWM buses. I cannot use my pass on these buses. Whilst the service still runs frequently (they advertise every 1-7 minutes, 3-15 would be more accurate) I often have to wait 20 minutes or more for a bus on which I can use my pass on. This is less than ideal for getting to work.

I am frequently left with a choice of waiting for a bus I can use my pass on (so extending my commute), paying fare for a journey I've already paid for in my bus pass or considering upgrading to a much more expensive card hat is accepted on non-TWM buses and train/Metro services (which I very rarely need to use).

This reduction in service and utility of my pass makes the recently announced 10% price hike even more galling.

I have noted that other services do not seem to have seen similar changes. I also note that yourselves and John Hemming MP recently campaigned for the re-instating of a service covering some of the more affluent parts of Yardley, the 40/41 service.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Booth

Be interesting to see what if any response I get, given that Daphne at least knows I'm a Labour party member (it came up when she was stood on my doorstep one time).

17 May 2010

Power corrupts

I can't shake the feeling that the LibDem party have sold their principles for a sniff of power? I suspect a sniff is all they will get. Maybe it's time to dust off the old 'Whig' nickname?

Recently a number of commentators have been going on about how the last Labour government have left the country £3bn in debt (actually it's more that bailing out the banks has left us in debt). Yesterday 'Blighty' ran "Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain" back to back, carting the 60 years from the end of World War Two to the early 21st Century. Something that became obvious seeing the episodes back to back like that is there there's a pattern. Each Tory government builds up a massive debt, coupled to a damaged industrial base, that the succeeding Labour government has to repay and rebuild. The Macmillan government left the country the equivalent of £11tn in debt for the Wilson government to repay.

10 May 2010

Tories won't offer Electoral reform

Andrew Pierce of the Tory PR departmentDaily Mail just said on BBC Breakfast that there is no way the Tories will offer real electoral reform. "Turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas", he said.

Personally I'd like to see a Lab-Lib-Others coalition (this 'Progressive Rainbow Alliance' people have been talking about) with three goals:

  • Get a process in place to get us out of this recession centered around improving productivity rather than cutting services.

  • Introduce electoral reform, I favour a form of Single Transferable Vote.

  • Call another election to be held within 18 months under the new system, so giving plenty of notice to parties and public and allowing plenty of time for people to learn how the new system works.

I do have two concerns about most of the Proportional Representation systems I've heard discussed. Firstly you vote for a party rather than an individual and you may find that you don't have an MP dedicated to your own area, someone that you can hold to account if they fail to deliver on their promises. Secondly (but linked to the first) any system based around party lists tends to favour party grandees and apparatchiks over radicals (this already happens to a degree with safe seats) and make individual MPs less likely to go against the party machine in defense or favour of their constituency.

Maybe something could be worked out with dividing the country into 10-12 regions of approximately equal population and the same number of seats. Require each party to set a list for each region with candidates appearing on one and only one list.

8 May 2010

Tell Nick what you think

Just called the Lib Dems on 0207 222 7999 to express my concerns at a potential coalition with the Tories. Got voice mail but was cut off mid-message.

I really do think that a coalition with the Tories right now would be an awful thing for the country.

It has recently been reported that Cameron may try to get around tradition and constitutional law to basically suspend the democratic process have himself declared ruler. Someone tried that before, it lead to one of the bloodiest wars this country has ever fought and the original perpetrator having his head cut off.

A funny thing happened in the queue at the polling station

My local polling station is at the school just around the corner, Golden Hillock school. I tend to vote in the morning (before the party stooges get organised so I don't get them following me into the polling booth, OK that only happened once but that was once too often). Usually it's just me and the people manning the polling station. This time there were a couple of women ahead of me so I waited. My wait was extended somewhat by one of the staff arguing with one of the voters, telling her that she could not vote for the party she wanted to vote for and must vote for another party.

I then picked up my ballot paper and voted for the candidates I wanted to vote for and left.

BTW, the reason the women in the polling station couldn't vote for the party she wanted to vote for was she wanted to vote for 'Respect' and they weren't standing. There are a lot of reasons not to vote for 'Respect' but that's probably the solidest.

14 February 2010

Lib dem visitation

Had a visit from the local Lib Dems today (Daphne Gaved, Jim Willis and someone who appeared to be one of their heavies). They were trying to convince me to vote for them. I raised my concerns about the failure to grit in the recent freeze, the cuts to council staff pay and the staff and service cuts planned for the near future. Well, I tried to. They seemed more interested in attacking Labour and Ms Gaved seemed at one point trying to imply that the failure to grit was somehow my fault.

We also got into a discussion about John Hemming MP. Their description of him was very different from my impression from each of the three occasions I've met him and from reading his blog.

12 February 2010

Saving the economy

Today's FT had an interesting opinion piece from Martin Wolf. The thrust of the piece was how what the UK could do with right now is a hung parliament. That's something I think I could live with so long as it was Labour as the largest minority in coalition with independents and small parties. Mr Wolf seems to favour a Labour/Lib-Dem coalition.

More interesting is his assertion that what is needed to boost the economy is for the private sector to start spending more. Now, how are we going to achieve this, when we have this national deficit to clear (although, as Mr Wolf points out, we're more than servicing our debt by a long chalk so we're not in a bad state by any measure so our credit rating is still very good)? The first and most obvious thing that occurred to me is for the public sector to look at what services it can provide to the private on a fee basis then use the money raised to reduce tax to fund other, socially necessary/desirable, services.

The private sector already receives many services from the pubic sector such as defense of trade, waste disposal, legal protection of contracts, transport network &c. These are not the sort of things that lend them selves to a directly charged, fee based, service for the same reason that those who suggest that individuals should be able to opt out of tax by declining to use publicly provided services, if you're in the country you cannot avoid using the services it provides. The sorts of services that the public sector could provide to the private, directly charging a fee, are exactly the sorts of services that tend to get outsourced. Things like IT datacentre and network provision. If the public sector as a whole got together the economies of scale would be astronomical Additionally the marginal cost of supporting private sector users on top of the existing public sector would be minuscule. Add to this that the public sector already has many people well skilled in dealing with large and complex environments and you have a prime opportunity for a software as a managed service provision.

7 February 2010

Checklist for accessibility of polling stations

SCOPE have published a checklist for what you need to have a polling station accessible to people with disabilities:


I think my local polling station (Golden Hillock Road School) fails on pretty much every criteria.

6 February 2010

Cameron to freeze publicsector pay for those on over £18k?

I heard last night that apparently one of the things David Cameron has promised to do if elected is to freeze the pay of all public sector workers on £18k or more a year. This is presumably because it was nurses, doctors, refuse collectors, care assistants, neighbourhood advisors &c who caused the recession we're currently coming out of. Meanwhile the bankers and city traders who provide vital public services and keep the country running finally get the pay rises and bonuses they so richly deserve.

24 January 2010

Peition to keep Cadbury's a British brand

Apparently there is a motion tabled by some Birmingham MPs to keep the Cadbury and Bourneville brands British. Some people have created an online petition in support of this motion, sign here.

There's also a Facebook group which is rather more forthright.