Thursday, 14 August 2014

British politicians

Recently Mirza Dinnay has been flying to Mount Sinjar in a helicopter to help the Yazidis people who are besieged there. Unfortunately their helicopter has crashed killing the pilot and Mirza Dinnay has suffered a broken leg and is now recovering in a Kurdistan hospital. He had reported as many as 40,000 Yazidis people trapped on Mount Sinjar, but last night the Americans reported fewer than 4000 spotted on the mountain after their reconnaissance mission returned. Presumably they have found a way out which is great news.

The UK has been running regular Tornado runs over the area mapping out the location for the purpose of surveillance and presumably passing the information back to aid agencies, so when Evan Davies of the Radio 4 programme Today asked the Secretary of State for International Development minister Justine Greening if she could clarify just how many people were on the mountain to the nearest 10,000 and she refused saying it was a military operation and we don't comment on military operations, I was surprised.

Either she has not been briefed on the situation, which makes her look like an idiot to the world, or she has been briefed and is just refusing to give over the information which is required by the listeners as it is the top human interest story of today.

Why do our politicians always get it wrong?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Post Office Telecoms services

Earlier this year I ended the contract with BT for the phone & broadband as it was too expensive. I got "Home Phone" from the Post Office.

On the 24th July I agreed to take on their broadband as an extra application to the account. They sent a mail confirming the arrangement and specifying what had been said over the counter that it would take about a fortnight. They confirmed I would have use of the service on Thursday 7th August.

Another mail arrived saying that the modem had been dispatched and would arrive before the start date. This was true, the modem arrived on Saturday 2nd August. Following the instructions it worked fine. now all I needed was for them to switch on the service on the 7th.

The day arrived and no service was available.

I phoned the usual help number, got through to an support person who was kind enough to point out that it could start at any time between when I phone in and midnight. I said you mean you have no intention of supplying me with broadband until tomorrow and they agreed.

I find the pettiness egregious in the extreme as I have started paying for the service I am not going to receive for one day, does this mean that someone in the Post Office has decided this as a way to increase profits? It’s pathetic…

Tomorrow dawns and guess what? Correct, no broadband service running, I phone in again.

This time I am told that they have made an administration mistake and it will take 48 hours for a guy to press a switch and activate my broadband. You must be joking!

This is the Post Office today and how they treat their customers...

On Sunday 10th August the 48 hours has expired and once again there is no broadband service available.

I duly phone the Post Office again to ask for the service only to be told that the department dealing with my issue [which I should remind you is their issue in accounts & billing] does not work on a Sunday. I point out to the support person that I am speaking with, that broadband is usually considered a 24/7 service and I am surprised that there is no one to answer my query, which they agree and point out that my service has not started yet because of “their” billing issues and is being dealt with by a department that does not work on Sundays. Could I please phone back tomorrow [Monday] to talk to them?

Anyone curious as to how many customers the Post Office has or why they are rarely recommended?

It is Monday morning 11th August and I have just phoned Post Office Telecoms on their support number 0345 600 3210 and received a message "Unfortunately we are experiencing technical difficulties and our engineers are working on the problem, please call back later" and the line goes dead. This is the main support centre for Post Office Telecoms. Am I the only customer they have?

Tuesday 12th August, I get though to the support centre with much apologies for yesterday and their technical difficulties. After going through the usual security checks, they have the pleasure to inform my broadband service has gone live, and consequently they are now charging me for it. Well you could have knocked me down with a feather...

How interesting I say, then how come the router still shows no internet service and my browser says no DSL available?

Unfortunately I now spend the next hour going through their procedures, restart the modem, change the micro switch dongle, are you sure your computer is switched on!! This ends with them conceding there is a problem and an engineer will have to be called, it apparently takes 72 hours to call an engineer, where is he Tibet?

Wednesday 13th at noon, OpenReach engineer arrives, sits down has a cup of tea while I explain the saga, as I am telling him about the previous engineer removing the Infinity plate and replacing it with an ADSL plate he says, "So you used to use Infinity then?", yes I reply, "I am just popping over to the exchange, won't be long" he says. 20 minutes later he returns and says switch on the router and PC. I do this. Hey presto - broadband.

BT left me hooked up to Infinity and the Post Office didn't think or didn't know to make the necessary changes, [wot a bunch of twats…]

Friday, 11 July 2014

Success

This week I have seen focus being advised as a step forward in the brave new world and it reminded me of a story I read about others.

When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host at dinner, Gates' mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.” [according to The Snowball by Alice Schroeder].

I love the clarity of their answer but I am also concerned by how this can be, to quote Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” I am an advocate for focus in work, life and leadership. However, the subject has a nuance and depth that many people miss. For a start, most people think of there only being one kind of focus.

Focus as a Noun. When people speak of focus they usually mean having a single goal. It is a static thing, a thing you have. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Roger Bannister relentlessly pursuing his goal of breaking the four-minute mile, John F. Kennedy challenging NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade or, coming back to Bill Gates, a vision of a personal computer on every desk. The upside to this kind of focus is clear and compelling: you pursue a single objective and do not get distracted along the way; you build momentum as many different people aligned behind achieving this one goal.

However, there is a dark side to focus.

Focus as a Verb. Focus is not just something you have it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. Imagine if the moment you woke up this morning your eyes focused one time and then never adjusted again. You would be out of focus all day. Our eyes produce clarity through a perpetual process of adjustment.

The downside to thinking of focus as a verb only, is that it can lead to being overly reactive.

The answer is to develop and value both types of focus and that is an exercise for you this weekend  ;)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Universal Credit finished?

Is Universal Credit progressing as well as it should? On Monday Sir Bob Kerslake, who is not consistently helpful to political colleagues, dropped a bit of a bombshell during a Public Accounts Committee hearing. Discussing the Treasury and the business case for Universal Credit:

‘We should not beat about the bush: it has not been signed off.’
Labour got very excited about this, with Chris Bryant pointing out that last week Esther McVey told Rachel Reeves in a parliamentary answer that ‘the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has approved the UC Strategic Outline Business Case plans for the remainder of this Parliament’.

The DWP argues that this is wrong, and that the Treasury has ‘approved all funding to date’. Here is the full response:

‘Universal Credit is on track to roll out safely and securely against the plan set out last year – the new service now available in 24 Job Centres, and last week expanded to claims from couples. The Treasury has been fully engaged in the roll-out plan and have approved all funding to date.’

Civil servants have not always signed off on Universal Credit as a principle: indeed, one of the reasons relations grew quite so bad between ministers and the department’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, was that he saw UC as just one of the DWP’s many projects, rather than the most significant one that he must devote a large chunk of his time to. That has long since changed after aggressive Westminster briefing against Devereux.

But Kerslake’s comments show that there are still shaky foundations under the reform, which should worry those, desperate to see it survive the general election. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Cambridge quintet

Members of the "Cambridge Five" spy ring were seen by their Soviet handlers as hopeless drunks incapable of keeping secrets, newly-released files from the Mitrokhin Archive have been made publicly available for the first time. OMG this is funny.

Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, Kim Philby and Donald Maclean were recruited as Soviet spies while at Cambridge University in the 1930s.

Among the thousands of pages of documents are profiles outlining the characteristics of Britons who spied for the Soviet Union.

They include references to Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess, two of the five men recruited while studying at the University of Cambridge during the 1930s. A short passage describes Burgess as a man "constantly under the influence of alcohol". Written in Russian, it goes on to recount one occasion when Burgess drunkenly risked exposing his double identity. "Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement," translator Svetlana Lokhova explained.

Moving on to Maclean, the note describes him as "not very good at keeping secrets". It adds he was "constantly drunk" and binged on alcohol.

Oh come on, surely we were better off without this lot living in our country.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Facebook study scandal

Facebook's News Feed [the main list of status updates, messages, and photos you see when you open Facebook on your computer or phone] is not a perfect mirror of the world. But few users expect that Facebook would change their News Feed in order to manipulate their emotional state. 

In the report, the authors explained they had 'informed consent' from users because altering the information was consistent with Facebook's data use policy, which all users have to agree with to have an account. The experiment is almost certainly legal. In the company's current terms of service, Facebook users relinquish the use of their data for 'data analysis, testing, [and] research.' Is it ethical, though?

I should point out that I do not have and have never had a Facebook account, mainly because their security provisions are pathetic, however learning of the ways they treat their customer base has not endeared me to open one.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What is wrong with local government?

Local councils have been hit hard by austerity, they would have you believe, however all they do is spend less when they have less, it is not rocket science.

One aspect that needs looking into is council culture, and we can start with communications.

Communications teams are going to have to learn to let go. By that I mean the all controlling communications team will need to relax the reins in some areas and just allow staff to do their own thing, especially in social media. This is a big challenge for communications teams, but an even bigger challenge for the culture of councils as a whole. The days of strict media protocols will not disappear, but putting more trust in staff to communicate and converse themselves, with support from communications colleagues, has to happen as soon as possible.

How do people today communicate with their local council? They stroll into the town hall, or read a notice on the board outside the town hall. 

David Sparks, who will be the LGA's first Labour chairman for 10 years, said local government needed to change. He called for councils to be given more power, including the ability to keep a bigger share of rates and taxes. He said local government had to be adapted for the 21st century.

Rather than just throw money at them, why not retrain councillors in today's form of modern communications. If only council officials were able to keep in contact with voters and the unfortunate, put upon council taxpayer.