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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Saturday
Jul 14,2012

According to the BBC senior managers at G4S only realised “eight or nine days ago”, that they could not provide enough security guards for the London Olympics.

The BBC says that the company’s chief executive, Nick Buckles, told them that:

“problems in the recruitment and deployment process were only recently identified.  …

the company accepted it had “underestimated the task of supplying staff to the Olympics”.

“We deeply regret that… and we are deeply disappointed. It was a daunting task to supply that number of staff in a short time scale.

“I began to know it was going wrong eight or nine days ago… Basically we are recruiting a large number of people and they are all working through a process of interview, two or three different degrees of training, licensing and accreditation.

“It is only when you get closer to the Games, you realise that the number is not as high as you expect,” Mr Buckles added.”

Pardon?

This is staggering.  I remember sitting in meetings three or four YEARS ago when the problems of recruiting sufficient accredited security guards were raised.  It was foreseen then that, given the nature of the security industry, that it would be difficult to get enough suitable individuals to commit to the (comparatively short) Games period and have them trained and vetted in time.

In the intervening period I and many others raised the issue and heard reassurances that the security companies involved and in particular G4S were confident that they would have no difficulty managing the situation.

Now to be told that the senior people in G4S only woke up to the problem the week before last is staggering.

G4S is supposed to be the largest private security company in the world.

Logistics is supposed to be their business.

Quite clearly their management information systems leave a lot to be desired.

How could they have not seen this coming?  If an organisation knows that it needs, say, 1000 security guards fully trained and vetted by a certain date, if it knows how long the recruitment, training and vetting are likely to take, and if it has its world-wide and UK experience to tell them how many recruits will drop out or turn out not to be suitable, it is not a difficult or complex task to know when you need to start the process.  And that time was not eight or nine days ago.

Mr Buckles has also said that he cannot guarantee all the security staff will speak fluent English.  Now that’s a surprise too.

So what’s the slogan going to be:

“Come to the London Olympics and you’ll be bossed around in the queue to get into the venue by some ill-trained half-vetted lout but – if you are lucky and not English speaking – there is just a chance he will speak your language.”

G4S will charge Olympic organisers Locog £280m, but (are we supposed to feel sorry for them?) they say they will lose up to £50m on the contract.

 

Wednesday
Jul 11,2012

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just published a report criticising the Government for failing to take seriously the concerns that it expresses in its First Review of the Strategy.

In particular, the report points out that the Government has failed to respond adequately to the Committee’s concerns about the implications for the National Security Strategy of major shifts in US strategy, of the Eurozone crisis and the potential impact of Scottish independence.

The Joint Committee had urged the Government to press ahead with planning the next national Security Strategy, allowing sufficient time to involve academics and experts external to the Government in the process and to allow the next Comprehensive Spending Review and the Strategic Defence Review to be properly integrated in the process. The 2010 National Security Strategy was rushed and weaker as a result.

The Government has acknowledged that it is “important to start thinking about the work plan” for the next National Security Strategy “well in advance of 2015”.  However, there is no indication that any effort has been made to start drawing up plans to ensure that the next Strategy is a more candid and more explicit document that properly addresses difficult questions.

Even more disturbing is the absence from the Government of any indication that it intends to draw up the next Strategy in a way that achieves a broad national consensus on the foundations necessary to plan for our nation’s security in the longer -term.

Failure to build such a consensus will be a wasted opportunity – without such a consensus any future Strategy will not have abroad enough basis of buy-in and consent and that in turn will weaken the Strategy and also National Security itself.

 

Monday
Jul 2,2012

The Department of Health has recently announced a list of Non-Executive Members of the National Health Service Commissioning Board, the biggest quango in Europe through which most of the money going to the NHS passes.

And – in their wisdom (that’s meant to be irony) they have appointed Mr Naguib Kheraj, the current Vice Chairman of Barclays Bank plc. More significantly he was Finance Director of the Bank until 2007 – so he was in charge of the finances of the Bank when the attempted fixing of the LIBOR market was going on.

Just the sort of person we can have confidence in to oversee the running of our National Health Service.

Only this Government ……

 

Nahuib Kheraj

 Banker
Saturday
Jun 16,2012

Much as I enjoyed all the “tainted Prime Minister” stuff in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning to the Labour Party National Policy Forum,  I was struck by the enthusiasm with which he spoke about local government and the contribution being made by Labour councillors:

“Labour Birmingham.  Labour, in whom the people of Birmingham placed their trust in May.  A Labour council changing the way we do politics with a manifesto built on 12 months of conversations with the people of this city.  A Labour council improving our society with 5,000 new homes a year.  And a Labour council changing our economy by paying at least £7.20 to every city council worker.  A decent living wage.

And let us recognise the work of every Labour council making a difference in tough times.  Liverpool’s new Mayor Joe Anderson and h is council that is building 2,500 homes.  Manchester keeping open its Sure Start Centres.  And Newham, standing up for tenants against unscrupulous landlords.

Labour councils whose examples will inspire our next manifesto.  And let us applaud them for their work.”

Here at last is a recognition that Labour local government can be in the vanguard of delivering effective public services that meet the needs of their communities, that Labour local government is not something to be apologised for but is Labour’s future, and that the platform for winning future General Elections will be found at local level.

Monday
Jun 11,2012

A former senior analyst to the US Secretary for Defense has warned that:

“Chinese companies apparently have a covert capability to remotely access communications technology sold to the United States and other Western countries and could disable a country’s telecommunications infrastructure before a military engagement.”

 Writing on Friday, F Michael Maloof reported that:

“The Chinese also have the ability to exploit networks “to enable China to continue to steal technology and trade secrets,” according to the open source intelligence company Lignet, which is comprised of former U.S. intelligence analysts.

The issue centers on the Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which U.S. intelligence sources say has direct links to the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. These sources assert that Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications firms such as ZTE Corp. have “electronic backdoors” to telecommunications technology sold to the U.S. and other countries.”

This is the same Huawei that I have reported before as providing key components to this country BT network and is being investigated by the US Congress but not by any equivalent UK body.

Huawei tell me that they are much-maligned and say that they are not linked to the People’s Liberation Army, but are just a private company trying to expand their business outside China.

In the UK the Government seems to be unconcerned that increasingly large parts of the country’s critical national infrastructure are under foreign ownership or are dependent for key components on overseas suppliers (there are a series of stories in yesterday’s Sunday Times behind its paywall about Chinese or Russian interests buying into the UK energy supply industry).

It is not clear why it can be assumed that these interests are necessarily benign and the UK Government doesn’t even seem to be interested in asking the question let alone doing anything about it.

How complacent can they get?

 

Monday
Jun 11,2012

Michael Gove is to announce a new primary school curriculum.

Apparently, this will involve five-year-olds being required to learn poetry by heart and recite it aloud.  According to the Telegraph:

“Education Secretary Michael Gove will promise a new focus on the traditional virtues of spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schools later this week.

At the same time, Mr Gove will put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.

Under his plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.

The Education Secretary is said to be determined to make the teaching of English at primary school ”far more rigorous” than it is at present.  …

It will also emphasise the importance of grammar in mastering the language, setting out exactly what children should be expected to be taught in each year of their primary schooling as well as lists of words they should be able to spell.”

Whilst I am not convinced about the value of reciting poetry, nor about learning Latin and (ancient) Greek, I do think that there is much to be said for instilling the basics of language in all primary age children.

There will also be a commitment to making sure pupils have some basic skills in maths and science:

“Pupils will be expected to memorise their tables up to 12 times 12 by age nine, and be able to multiply and divide fractions by the end of primary school under a major shake-up of the national curriculum.

Using decimals and basic arithmetic are also set to be a main focus of maths lessons in the future, a move which ministers said will help to raise standards in England’s schools.

In science, primary school children will be taught about key concepts such as static electricity, the solar system and how to name and classify objects in biology.”

That too is welcome.  But does it go far enough?

Earlier this year, John Naughton argued in the Guardian that:

“Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the UK should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities.  …

We need to face up to a painful fact. It is that almost everything we have done over the last two decades in the area of ICT education in British schools has been misguided and largely futile. Instead of educating children about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products”

There are developments like Raspberry Pi that are intended to provide a cheap and accessible platform for young children to learn simple programming.
The hope is that Gove will recognise that revitalising the primary school curriculum is about equipping today’s under-11s not with the skills their grandparents and great-grandparents may have learned, but the skills that they will need to grow up in the 2020s and 2030s.  And that those skills can be the basis for the UK’s future economic growth.
Poetry has its place, but programming is the future.
Saturday
Apr 21,2012

I have been delighted to contribute a foreword to a guide produced by my good friends at The Risk Management Group for parents to help them keep their children safe online.

The guide “The A to Z of Safe Children Online” is available here.

Monday
Apr 2,2012

Youth knife crime has gone up in London by 23% in the last four years – with more than five and a half  thousand young victims in the last year and at the same time police numbers are being cut. Of course, four years ago a promise to get to grips with knife and serious youth crime was central to the election manifesto of Mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson.  The record of his four years as Mayor, however, demonstrate the shallowness of that promise and his strategy over that period has been described as “directionless” and “a shambles” by one of the experts brought in to advise on it.

It is not surprising therefore that Richard Taylor, the father of Damilola stabbed to death in Peckham twelve years ago should be so disappointed, saying earlier today:

“Knife crime is still a huge issue for London. The problem is not going. It is still there. Something must be done. … As someone who has been through it this makes me so disappointed. More and more families are suffering as a result of the negligence of the authorities. There has been a failure to address the problem properly.”

He was hopeful that the plans announced by Ken Livingstone would help with the problem, saying:

“Ken has been able to see the weaknesses of the present Mayor so he should be able to capitalise and do something about this. …  It has to be dealt with once and for all. It has to be handled with an iron fist.”

Ken Livingstone’s proposals include a plan for every one of London’s 432 state funded secondary schools to be assigned a dedicated police officer committed to tackling knife crime by providing better intelligence, increasing detection levels and building better relationships between young people and the police.

Ken Livingstone has also announced plans to back London Citizens’ ‘City Safe Havens’ scheme, which builds the power of local communities to tackle crime and the fear of crime.  The scheme works with willing local businesses and other organisations that are open to the public to make them ‘safe havens’ offering their premises as a place of safety for people who are in immediate danger.

Labour’s candidate for Mayor has promised to work to ensure that all organisations that support City Safe Havens scheme will be given a service agreement from the Metropolitan Police that would include:

•    A named officer assigned to the premises
•    Regular visits from their Safer Neighbourhood Teams
•    A panic button alarm service for emergencies

And his campaign have issued a fact sheet about Tory Mayor’s lies on knife crime.

 

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Sunday
Mar 18,2012

According to Andrew Rawnsley in today’s Observer, David Cameron has vetoed the introduction of a mansion tax so as to try and avert a defeat for Boris Johnson in May’s Mayoral elections in London:

“The Lib Dems are not going to get their mansion tax and probably knew from the start that the Tories were unlikely to be persuadable. George Osborne could see the intellectual case for taxing wealth via property and some Treasury officials were attracted to the simplicity of a tax that would be hard to avoid. The chancellor might have been willing to cut a deal with the Lib Dems, but the prime minister was not. David Cameron feared the reaction of Tory MPs and the Tory core vote, among whom are rather a lot of people living in the size of property that would attract the tax.  …  He also had a rather cruder, short-term electoral consideration that has been surprisingly overlooked in all the debate about the pros and cons of a mansion tax. Many of the homes worth £2 million or more are concentrated in London. There is an election for mayor of the capital coming up very soon. David Cameron did not want to do anything that could be said to jeopardise Boris Johnson’s chances of beating Ken Livingstone. The first thing that a defeated Boris would do would be to try to get back into the Commons, which is the last place that Mr Cameron wants to see his fellow old Etonian. A beaten Boris will be bad enough for the Tories; a martyred Boris able to blame his defeat on the prime minister and the chancellor would be much worse for them. So the mansion tax was blocked.”

 Good to know that personal intra-Party considerations trump everything else.

 

 

Sunday
Mar 18,2012

Nearly three years I posted about the threat of an electro-magnetic pulse that could permanently disable the electricity grid and most electrical systems.  I followed this up with some parliamentary questions and a further post this time last year that concluded:

“So the good news (heavy irony) is that the Government may have got round to working out what “the reasonable worst case scenario” might be.”

At the risk of coming over all I-told-you-so-ish, we now learn in today’s Observer that:

“Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.

A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.

The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office’s National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle – its solar max – raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles (such as neutrons).

More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that “high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology”.

The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of “serious damage to human welfare”.

It says: “Severe space weather can cause disruption to a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids.”

The register adds: “While storm impacts in the early- to mid-20th century appear relatively benign, dependency on technology vulnerable to space weather has pervaded most aspects of modern life, and therefore the disruptive consequences of a severe solar storm could be significant.”

The threat was placed on the register after a panel of experts, including two scientists from the Meteorological Office, produced a “reasonable worst case scenario” for ministers.”

 Only took a year, so lucky that last week’s solar flare passed off without problems.