Friday 24 February 2012

British business, drunk or sober!

Why is it that the establishment doesn't seem to be able to tell the difference between criticising the behaviour o the big banks and being anti-business?  David Cameron's speech yesterday certainly didn't.

In fact, being pro-business and pro-enterprise ought to mean major criticisms of the dysfunctional banks, who are really failing to support productive business, and real action on monopoly power - because that is what UK business needs:

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Pressure growing for a real bank break-up

RBS seems unlikely to be in a fit state to sell off any time soon.  The very least the Treasury should do is investigate whether it might be more profitable, or more beneficial, if it was broken up to create the regional banking infrastructure the UK economy so badly needs:

Friday 17 February 2012

The bank's very own transaction tax

Paying money by mobile phone - it's a good idea, pioneered in Africa, in fact.  But we need to be careful about this, if the big banks are not going to increase their monopolistic strangehold over our payments system:

Thursday 16 February 2012

Councils supporting small business? Think again

Why is it that, despite everything, local authorities still have such contempt for small shops and local entrepreneurs?  The result is a fatal addiction to big and ineffective, rather than small and local:

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Saving Greece from the euro technocrats

How can we save the Greeks from complete economic shutdown, and keep them in the euro?  Answer: give them new kinds of mediums of exchange:

Thursday 9 February 2012

Don't let them tell you that high streets are dead

A slightly insidious campaign is going on, largely in the pages of the Financial Times, to persuade us that high streets must be allowed to die.  This is dangerous nonsense:

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Saving the Sustainable Communities Act

Only five years ago, the New Economics Foundation commissioned Ron Bailey to draft a bill to tackle Ghost Town Britain.  Now that ghost towns are seriously on the march, it is really no time to water down the Sustainable Communities Act:

Monday 6 February 2012

McKinsey still don't get it

Here I was blaming most of the corrosion of public services on management consultants McKinsey, and their fatal assembly line – and impoverished data-driven approach to human systems – what what should I find but this.

Well, actually, of course, I didn’t find it. Simon Titley sent it to me (thank you, Simon). “Many companies lose sight of what makes human beings tick,” says the article – ‘The human factor in service design’ – by three McKinsey apparachiks.

It is all a strange reflection of my book The Human Element which says that they do indeed lose sight of the human aspects, and so do public services, which is why they are so expensive to run.

The article is by John DeVine, Shyam Lal and Michael Zea and they encourage managers to ask exactly the right question: How human is our service?

But read further on and you discover the battle is not yet won.

For one thing, the authors are not really interested in understanding people. They seem far more interested in using behavioural science to avoid human traits, for example “by surprising customers with a coupon for a free product”.

Yes, big surprise. How many times has that happened to me, even today. Not enough, I can tell you. It leaves the basic power balances in place. It still leaves the managers chained to data for how customers ‘rate’ them – which, as we all know, means not very much.

Second, they fall prey to the most vacuous management jargon. “Some companies are investing in advanced analytics to understand customer interactions and channel preferences at a much more granular level”. Quite so. But does this mean they have human conversations with customers? I don’t think so.

Third, the solutions are still horribly twentieth century – analysing data and standardising the way agents ‘handle’ situations.

Precisely the opposite of what they should be doing, which is providing authentic human interactions with well-trained staff, capable of dealing with complicated requirements.

Read more in The Human Element. It’s all there!  But this is perhaps part of a bigger problem, which is the unworldly nature of so many management consultants and think-tanks, partly because they employ extremely young ideologues to carry out their work.

This is a vital new debate: see the New Think Tank blog.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Time to move our money

In one month last year, as many of 650,000 Americans moved their money out of the dysfunctional big banks and into small local banks. That is a huge amount and potentially the beginning of some kind of self-help solution to tyranny by big finance.

I’m glad to say that a similar Move Your Money campaign has been launched in the UK, though there is rather a problem about it of course. Half of all the money in the USA is in small banks. In this country – almost uniquely in the western world – we don’t have any.

Yes, there are a handful of possibilities – the Co-op, Triodos, Nationwide and a handful of surviving building societies. There is Metro of course.

Virgin Money promises a great deal but experience with Virgin Trains does not make one hopeful, especially since Virgin is a strange network of leased brand names based offshore in the Virgin Islands. That kind of thing isn’t the solution to unrooted banking, it’s the problem.

One major reason why the nation remains locked into recession is that we don’t have a range of small, regional banks able to take decisions about loans, but that is another story.

In the meantime, it makes sense to move your money where your mouth is. If you are complaining about having to pay a slither of Bob Diamond’s humungous bonus or the £500 million on bonuses earmarked for RBS staff, then there really is only one answer. Don’t.

I moved my bank account away from HSBC to the Co-op last year and it felt good. To celebrate the launch of the UK Move Your Money campaign, I’ve moved my credit card account too. Next move: extract my business account from Barclays – why should I contribute to Bob Diamond’s retirement?

Friday 3 February 2012

Why my library needs saving

Because I'm made that way, I suppose, I do kind of collect new kinds of organisations, especially if they seem to pre-figure the future.  One such is the Upper Norwood Library.

It is red brick and 111 years old (I believe Bilbo Baggins was also eleventy-one at the beginning of The Hobbit).  There are computers, but it hasn't been taken over by the boneheaded technocrats and cleared out of books altogether.  It is always lively.  But what is really interesting about it is that it is independent, run by a local board and funded jointly by the two London boroughs on either side of the building, Lambeth and Croydon.

Partly as a result of this independence, it is much loved, much used and considerably cheaper to run than the libraries surrounding it.  It is also an innovative structure of the kind that the Cabinet Office is keen on for the future of public services.

You would think then that the surrounding boroughs would be proud of their creation.  In fact, Croydon is now considering closing it down.

I ask myself sometimes, as I stare out of my bedroom window across the soulless and largely unoccupied towers that Croydon Council have given permission to, what is the matter with local government here.  Croydon has embraced the most old-fashioned, least effective means of regeneration - high rise property, surrounded by empty offices, which cast a blight on the area.  It is the Clone Town connoisseurs' clone town, the very opposite of the distinctive and thriving place it could be.

So perhaps it isn't surprising that they are considering vandalising my library.  I hope before they do that the Cabinet Office studies it, because it may provide some clues about providing library services in an era of austerity - everywhere else apart from Croydon.

I'm drawing the attention to my friends in the Cabinet Office now, before it is too late.  But, hey, let's look on the bright side.  It is possible that Croydon may decide after all to be on the side of the future.

Thursday 2 February 2012

How politics prefers symbolic gestures to action

What is it about the UK political establishment that they believe taking away Sir Fred Goodwin's kinighthood is doing anything to fix our staggeringly dysfunctional and corrosive banking system?