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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

An end to political arguments?

Well, probably not but I've found a very useful document for some of those arguments down the pub (or more often these days, on Facebook). It works like this:

  • Person A wants the government to spend more money on something
  • Person B says we can't afford it
  • Person C says of course we can - tax the rich/cut benefits/etc.
Trouble is, even if Person A knows exactly how much money s/he wants spending, no one knows whether the bill will in fact be covered by what Person C proposes.

Well, I found an answer. It's a government document and I'd be the first to agree that "Direct effects of illustrative tax changes" is not the snappiest title - but stay with me!

The short version is just two pages long and shows just how much money you could raise by adding 1p to the major tax rates - around £4 billion for a penny on standard rate income tax for example.

You want to spend around £800 million? Easy - raise Corporation Tax by 1%. Even better, that will yield twice as much by the end of the decade.

For the unabridged and Excel versions of this fascinating document go here

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

"I'm a pay and go customer"

Recently I was in "Savers" and although I don't even look like a bloke who'd be interested in a special offer on lipstick they just had to ask.

Today I was in Boots and in a hurry. There was a substantial queue.

Them: Do you have Boots card?
Me: No
Them (brightly): Would you like a Boots card?
Me: I'm a pay and go customer!

I should have deployed it earlier really.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

On Nottingham Hill

It's near Cheltenham - nowhere near Nottingham and famous for a very large hill fort
View NW to Bredon Hill

I liked the pattern of the tracks

View NE to Alderton Hill

In the background is “Showlands”, a “Winter Quarters” for travelling show people. After a fight lasting around 15 years, they finally got planning permission. Foreground is Gotherington

Autumn colour starting in Gotherington

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Effective Complaining

I recently took a government department through all four of its complaints levels and on to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman - where I won! So I'm now an expert complainer? Not really but I learned some things on the way that don't appear in some guides.

  1. Complaint procedures are something most organisations have to have. This doesn't mean that many staff believe in them or see them a source of valuable feedback. There are some exceptions where a complaint receives rapid and fair attention from senior staff.
  2. It is more common for the process to be one of "attrition". The complaint will be dealt with slowly, by people who lack the time, inclination or ability to be efficient. The process is then so frustrating  for complainants that nearly all of them give up.
  3. Recognise that the real agenda of some organisations has customer satisfaction very low down. Don't expect that to be admitted. To take a topical and extreme example, the Greek banks are currently shut. That's because customer satisfaction is less important than going bust.
  4. Although a lot of complaints are triggered by "soft" factors such as rudeness this is often hard to prove although where recording exists it's a lot easier. A much easier "win" comes from procedural errors backed up by documentary evidence, EG a policy/law/guideline  plus a letter that shows something else going on.
  5. However, an early complaint about rudeness may be effective - especially if the member of staff has several existing complaints on the subject.  It puts you on the radar as someone who will complain and if you have further dealings with that organisation you may get better services.
  6. A complaint about procedural issues to an astute organisation is likely to provoke a question about what they have really done to upset you and they might address that properly. In some cases, they'll just assume you are ill!
  7. A possible outcome from a procedural complaint is that at some stage it will be decided they did get things wrong but it did you no harm. EG, in part of my case it was eventually admitted that the Jobcentre compelling me to go to a particular course was "incorrect" but because staff considered the course was beneficial there was no injustice. The real complaint (which I did make) was that the course was extremely poor - but I couldn't prove that.
  8. Get the amount of paperwork right. Some people submit huge piles of every possible document whether relevant or not. On the other hand a mistake I made was to not submit enough. I thought it was OK to give Internet links to relevant policies and that relevant documents from my file would be accessed by the Ombudsman. This was not the case, the Ombudsman relied on the DWP to provide this information which they did wrongly. It was only when I discovered this and provided the correct/missing information that things got on the correct track.
Was it worth it? Yes in some ways:
  1. One of the mistakes the Jobcentre made was over the rights of benefit claimants who are volunteering with charities. That's my world and I know how often they make this mistake. The Ombudsman has "recommended" they issue a reminder to staff. 
  2.  I am aware of many informal complaints about a particular member of staff and they will have been extensively investigated during my complaint and found to have made errors. Maybe effective action will have been taken.
  3. I am not planning to be a customer of the Jobcentre again but if it ever happens I think the balance of power will be better positioned.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

This is a walk though area only

Went to a dance recently held at a school. In the corridor there were A-boards with a curious sign:

A further sign explained that that the corridor wasn't to be used as a social area. Now, I could understand the need for a prohibition like this in a narrow corridor that was getting blocked but this one was about 20 feet wide and hardly anyone was there. I even wondered if the signs were intended for use elsewhere and were misplaced but this wasn't so - this second very poor photo (I only had a very basic camera phone with me) shows a sign that includes an image of the relevant corridor:

It does seem to me to be a bit over the top on social control. Turning to Google, I found an Australian school that has a similar idea in its canteen

Monday, 27 April 2015

Digital Literacy

At the office we recently sent out a load of emails inviting people to a promotional event for a newish charity service. There was a brightly coloured PDF attached with a clickable link leading to an Eventbrite signup page.

About 10% of the successful sign ups came via people emailing me to say they couldn't get the system to work and could I sort if out for them? I just went to Eventbrite and put in their details.

The "audience" for this was people in Local Government, charities and businesses of all sizes. They could all receive and reply to email but for a significant proportion going one step further was a problem.

I'm still not sure where the failure was. Were their systems set up wrong? Or was clicking on an invitation in the place where it said to click too much?

This Internet thing really doesn't work for everyone.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Glass Cellar: Some Data

It's quite easy to find information about the "Glass Ceiling" - the idea that high-paying jobs have very few women in them.

Much less well known is the "Glass Cellar" - where men are disproportionately represented amongst prisoners, unemployed, dangerous jobs, low paid jobs and other undesirable situations. While I was looking for something else, I stumbled on some data about the "cellar"

This shows GDP and earnings for men and women during the recent UK recession and that male earnings declined more and recovered less well than women's.

A possible cause both of the ceiling and the cellar could be that men are on a riskier playing field than women. This still leaves open the question of why men are on the risky (and possibly rewarding) playing field. Does the way they act put them on the "risky" field - or does "society" push them there?