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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Oct 28,2011

What would the people in your office do if a couple of people looking the part turned up at your office door saying that they were there to do a fire inspection?  Or said they were more or less any other branch of officialdom flashing ID and saying they needed to do an inspection?

Here is a salutory warning:

“Let’s say I am posing as a fire inspector. The first thing I will have besides my badge and uniform is a walkie-talkie, like all firemen. Outside, we’ll have our car guy. The guy that sits in the car, and basically his job in the beginning is to send chatter through to our walkie-talkies. We will have a recording of all that chatter you’ll hear on walkie-talkies. He sits in the car and plays it and sends it through to our walkie-talkies.

We walk into the facility and make sure that all the chatter is coming loudly into to the walkie-talkies as soon as we walk in their door so that we are immediately the center of attention. When I walk in, I want everyone to know that I mean business. My walkie-talkie is loud and everyone looks over as I apologize and turn it down.

I show the person at the front desk my badge. They’ll say “Hi, how’s it going?” I’ll say “Good, I’m here to do a fire inspection.” They say “Great” and assign someone to us, like a teller. It’s generally someone who’s nice. I’ll start talking with them, flirting with them, or whatever it takes. We’ll start walking around.

While I’m talking with the person who has been assigned to us, my partner knows his job is to immediately wander away from us. So, my partner will immediately walk off. In most cases our escort will say “Can you come back here? I need to keep you guys together.” We say “Sure, sorry.” But really that means nothing to us. All it means is that we keep doing it until she gives up. My partner will wander off two or three times more times and get warned until she finally stops and gives up. She just thinks he’s a fireman and thinks “Let’s just let him do what he needs to do.”

At that point, my partner’s job is to start stealing everything he can steal and start putting it in his bag. And he also has to get under the desks of any employee he can find and start installing these little keyboard loggers. I stay with the person who is escorting me and my whole job now is keeping them entertained. I keep walking around rooms, giving them advice on keeping their facility fire safe, even though I really have no idea what I’m talking about. I make stuff up and probably give the worst advice ever. I’ll pull out cords and say “This looks a little bit dangerous.” I’ll comment on space heaters. I’m completely winging it.”

You can see how it might happen.  Read on here …..

Oct 25,2011

The first day of Committee stage consideration of the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill is taking place in the House of Lords today. 

To no-one’s surprise the LibDems again demonstrated that they are happy to place their loyalty to the Coalition with the Tories above the future of the National Health Service. 

They voted en masse to reject a Labour amendment which would have reaffirmed the basic principles of the NHS as the first clause of the Bill.

The amendment was to begin the Bill by stating:

Principles of the Health Service in England

(1) Any person or body performing functions or exercising powers under this Act in relation to the Health Service in England must have regard to the principles and values outlined in the NHS Constitution.

(2) Any person or body performing functions or exercising powers under this Act in relation to the Health Service in England, or providing services as part of the Health Service in England, must provide quality, equity, integration and accountability, not the market.

(3) The primacy of patient care shall not be compromised by any structural or financial re-organisation of the Health Service in England.

(4) There must be transparency and openness wherever taxpayers’ money is being spent, and all accountable individuals and bodies should abide by the Nolan principles.

(5) “The Nolan principles” means the seven general principles of public life set out in the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850).

(6) Schedule (Principles of the Health Service in England) has effect.”

The amendment was rejected by 212 votes to 244.

59 Liberal Democrats voted against the amendment with only one (Baroness Tonge) in favour.*

So can someone just remind me – after all the fuss about how the LibDems were going to fight for the NHS – when did they decide that it wasn’t necessary to require providers of health and social care to provide “quality, equity,  integration and accountability”, when did they decide that it doesn’t matter if the primacy of patient care is compromised by structural or financial re-organisation, and when did they decide that the Nolan principles of public life weren’t necessary for those responsible for the provision of the NHS?


*  The full figures were as follows: in favour of the amendment – 172 Labour Peers, 37 Crossbenchers and others, two Bishops and one LibDem; against the amendment – 147 Tory Peers, 38 Crossbenchers and others, and 59 LibDems.

Oct 13,2011

Earlier today I chaired a fascinating seminar for patient groups and professional organisations which discussed healthcare acquired infections (HCAIs) and, in particular, what needs to be done to better prevent such infections in community (rather than hospital) settings.

As the meeting continued, I was struck by the surprising number of parallels that exist between what needs to be done to cut the risk of such infections and what needs to be done to improve information security.

For example, there were those a few years ago who thought the situation with HCAIs in hospital was so bad that nothing effective could be done.  They have been proved wrong by the success of the initiatives taken over the last five or six years to reduce dramatically the incidence of MRSA and C Difficile in hospitals (80% and 60% reductions respectively). Likewise there are those who throw up their hands in horror about the current tide of cyber security problems and seem to believe that our systems will always be irredeemably compromised.  Hopefully, they will also be proved wrong in a few years time.

The response to HCAIs was in the past seen as better and stronger technical solutions (i.e. ever more powerful antibiotics) and, whilst such solutions remain necessary for those who are infected, the sharp reductions have been achieved by other means – largely through achieving major changes in behaviour amongst staff and patients (i.e. better and more effective hand-washing, greater emphasis on cleanliness etc).  This is mirrored by the increasing recognition that social engineering and behavioural change is an enormously important component of better cyber security and information assurance.

Similarly, without being too Cameron-esque about it, we all have to be in this together. Everyone has to play their part.  Thus, patients and their visitors need to understand the importance of washing their hands with alcohol gel and remembering to do it.  In the same way, individual computer users need to adopt precautions to prevent their systems being compromised.  At the same time, product manufacturers must play their part in making their products less vulnerable to infection (e.g. catheter or commode design can be used to make HCAIs less likely, just as computer software and hardware can have security built in).

Likewise, you cannot help but notice that meetings, whether about HCAIs or addressing cyber security, always conclude that more public education is needed and that the message needs to start at primary school ….

Well, I thought they were interesting parallels ….

Oct 7,2011

Talking to your local newspaper is clearly the way members of the Coalition Government have of dissenting from the Number Ten approved line.

First, we had Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, putting the boot in to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and her Human Rights Act deportation cat story.

But now Lynne Featherstone, a (very) junior Minister in the Home Office, has followed suit in an article for her local paper, saying:

In the Blue Corner, Theresa May (my Home Office boss) launched an attack on the Human Rights Act on the morning of the Conservative conference in the Sunday Telegraph saying that saying she “personally” would like to see it go because of the problems it caused for the Home Office. …

As for the Human Rights Act – there are times when people cynically, lazily or ignorantly quote it in a way that completely perverts its intention (and doesn’t stand up if put to the test in court). In that respect it is very similar to the Data Protection Act – often also called in aid as the supposed justification for bizarre decisions in a way that fuels shock media stories but really says far more about the ignorance of those quoting it than about what it actually says.”

So we now know what she thinks of her Home Office boss and what she said about the Human Rights Act and the cat and the deportation story.

And she goes on to assert that changes to the Human Rights Act are:

just not going to happen”.

My contacts in the Home Office tell me that the Home Secretary “gives a pretty good bollocking”.  Lynne Featherstone has already been the recipient of at least one when Theresa May told her to tone down what she said in her blog.

I would love to be a fly on the wall at Monday’s Ministerial meeting in the Home Office when the Home Secretary has a few words with her LibDem Parliamentary Under Secretary who called her cynical, lazy and ignorant.

Aug 11,2011

The House of Lords sat today and the Leader of the House (Lord Strathclyde) repeated a statement made in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister on the riots over the last week.  The Prime Minister’s speech was carefully tailored with soundbites for the televison news, but it was notable for what it missed out or skated around.

The Prime Minister stressed how important it had been to flood London with extra police officers.  However, there was no mention of the fact that the Government is cutting the police budget by 20 per cent, that police numbers have already fallen by 4,600 since the General Election, and are set to fall even further (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary estimates that there will be over 16,200 fewer officers by 2015).  When in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde suggested that these cuts would “not affect the police’s ability to get policemen on the streets” he was greeted by a chorus of disbelief (or “Oh!” as Hansard puts it) on all sides.

The Prime Minister praised the role of CCTV in catching those responsible for the violence and looting.  However, he didn’t mention that as part of the Coalition agreement the Government was now putting large bureaucratic hurdles in the way of local councils installing CCTV to reduce crime.

The Prime Minister talked of a robust approach to tackling gang violence, but he failed to mention that in opposition the Conservatives had voted against measures to extend the powers to obtain injunctions to stem such gang-related violence and Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, who was then Shadow Home Secretary, had described the use of injunctions as a “legally dubious gimmick”.

The statement was light on substance and where what sounded like practical measures were mentioned they often seemed to mean very little in practice.  For example, the Prime Minister said that the Government would be supporting local communities affected and that “the Bellwin scheme to support local authorities will be operational”.  This, of course, only means that local councils get some support from central government when additional – approved – spending for a specific cause exceeds two per cent of their annual expenditure.  This is a very high hurdle indeed – and even then the help only extends to the spending over the two per cent threshhold.

When I got my chance to ask a question, this is what I said:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and a former leader of Haringey Council, where I spent about 12 years of my life trying to secure the sustainable regeneration of the area of Tottenham. One of the tragedies of what has happened in the past few days is that the stigma of an area of riot has again fallen on that community, and that the efforts built up over many years are now being undermined, with businesses no longer being able to survive.

Do the Government believe that the Bellwin formula will be a sufficient response to ensure the reconstruction that will be needed? This will be of communities after the damage that has been done, and must also tackle underlying problems. Will they review the resources being made available to local government for regeneration in such areas? Will they also review the way in which the Riot (Damages) Act operates? If it would drain funds from police forces to compensate people who have been hit and damaged by the riots, that would be extremely damaging to the sustaining of police numbers in future. Finally, what advice was taken from the police service about the decision that water cannon should be made available on the mainland? It is used usually for the dispersal of large crowds, but the problem in this case was caused by small groups of people acting opportunistically.”

The point about the Riot (Damages) Act is important because it means that compensation to individuals or businesses adversely affected by a riot has to be paid from the police budget – so budgets already cut as a result of Government policy will be drained further to pay compensation.

And then there was the Prime Minister’s soundbite about water cannon.  Water cannon have been used in Northern Ireland – not without controversy – but their effectiveness is in dispersing large hostile crowds.  The problems that there have been with looters in London and other cities have been with small opportunistic groups.  They are already dispersed.  Water cannon would not help deal with such small fast-moving groups.

This – like the soundbite about authorising the use of plastic bullets or baton rounds – seems to be more about pandering to excitable back-bench Tory MPs rather than addressing the serious issues that affect our cities.

Am I surprised?

Well, no ….

Aug 9,2011

The violent scenes in London in the last few days have been appalling and shocking.  There can be no excuse for the violence and vandalism.  In some cases, this will force the closure of the small businesses that have been targetted.  And the stigma and blight that will fall on some areas of the capital will make it even more difficult for local councils trying to strengthen and build sustainable local economies in the most deprived areas of our city.

The immediate task is, of course, to restore order to our streets.  And as part of this, the Metropolitan Police has started to put on line photographs of those suspected of being involved in some of the disorder and looting.  These hooligans need to be brought to justice.  So, do you know any of these people?

West Norwood




Aug 8,2011

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Aug 7,2011

The news in the last seventy-two hours takes me back to the 1985:  the Broadwater Farm disturbances and the events that led up to them.  In October 1985, the death of Mrs Jarrett during a police search of her home was followed by a demonstration outside Tottenham Police Station which in turn was followed by violence on the Broadwater Farm estate, during which PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death.

My immediate response on hearing of the shooting dead by police of Mark Duggan, who at that stage had not been named, was to warn of a “potentially lively community reaction”.  And anyone who remembers vividly as I do the night of 6th October 1985 would have seen yesterday’s demonstration outside the Police Station as a likely trigger for attacks on the police and even for rioting.

There are, of course, many parallels with 26 years ago, but also many differences.  In 1985 police-community relations were appalling – even before the riot.  They are nothing like as bad now, but nonetheless could no doubt be better.  Unemployment in Tottenham is not as bad as it was in 1985, but is still the highest in London and the eighth worst rate in the UK.  Tottenham continues to be a vibrant community with much strength in its diversity, but there is still a sense of hopelessness amongst many young people. 

What is depressing is that having spent twelve years of my life as Council Leader trying to kickstart regeneration in Tottenham and Wood Green the need for sustainable economic development remains as acute as it did in the late 1980s.

The irresponsible violence and looting last night can never be acceptable or condoned , but one of its consequences is that many of the businesses affected will have been destroyed by what has happened and others will be damaged by the blight and stigma that may now fall on the area. 

The most important immediate task is to lessen the tension and to address the rumours that are swirling about the death of Mark Duggan.   The Independent Police Complaints Commission could make a big contribution to this.  One of the problems with this sort of dreadful incident is that often the investigation is shrouded in total secrecy and in the absence of hard information unsubstantiated stories or even malicious misinformation spread like wildfire – this is particularly so now in the age of Twitter.  I understand that the IPCC are shortly due to make some sort of public statement.  I hope they will be as open as possible and commit to providing regular briefings about the state of their investigation.  As soon as they are able to confirm or otherwise, for example, whether a non-police weapon was at the scene or not and whether it was fired or not, the better it will be.

The next urgent task is to get Tottenham and Wood Green functioning again.  The police will obviously have an important job to do in sifting through the debris for evidence (indeed, it still needs to be conclusively established that nobody burnt to death in the fires that swept through buildings).  However, I hope this can be done as quickly as possible so that the clear-up can begin and those businesses that are able to can start to function again.  Haringey Council will no doubt put in significant resources to enable this clean-up to happen but I hope that the Government will undertake to underwrite this work given that the Council is still having to implement swingeing budget reductions as a result of cuts in Government grants.

There will also need to be a review of what lessons need to be learned about the police response to the developing disturbances last night.  Many people in Tottenham and Wood Green felt undefended despite the bravery of the police and fire officers deployed.  Should there have been better intelligence about what was likely to happen?  Should more efforts have been made to monitor the traffic on social media sites?  Indeed, what is a proportionate and appropriate level of such monitoring?  I am sure colleagues on the Metropolitan Police Authority will want to pursue these issues in detail (it is not quite clear who will do this once the Police Authority is abolished once the Government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill gets Royal Assent in September or October).

Finally, some of the underlying causes of what happened need to be addressed.  What is to be done about escalating gun violence in  London (particularly if police resources are to be reduced as part of Government policy)?  When is Tottenham going to see the regeneration it deserves and how are young people in Haringey going to be supported to achieve their true potential?

Jul 16,2011

It must be a sign of age but I find myself hugely taken with the editorial in today’s Daily Telegraph.

It is strong stuff:

“The chief executive of a newspaper company resigns after allegations that her colleagues have hacked into the phone accounts of murder victims and their families; a Prime Minister moralises noisily in Parliament, trying to distract attention from the fact that he has been spending family holidays with this disgraced CEO, and that he appointed as his director of communications a man who employed those The chief executive of a newspaper company resigns after allegations that her colleagues have hacked into the phone accounts of murder victims and their families; a Prime Minister moralises noisily in Parliament, trying to distract attention from the fact that he has been spending family holidays with this disgraced CEO, and that he appointed as his director of communications a man who employed those phone hackers; meanwhile, the country’s most senior police officer is forced to admit that he, too, engaged someone implicated in the scandal – a ruthless and abrasive tabloid journalist from the same newspaper company – as his personal adviser.”

And it goes on:

“Our senior policemen, too, were determined not to miss out on the hospitality of Murdoch employees. Between September 2006 and June 2009, Sir Paul Stephenson, now the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, had seven dinners with Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News of the World at the time hacking is alleged to have gone on. They must have been agreeable occasions, for in October 2009 Mr Wallis was engaged as Sir Paul’s personal adviser – an appointment the Commissioner failed to acknowledge publicly until he was forced to this week. Mr Wallis also advised John Yates, the police officer previously in charge of the Met’s investigation into phone hacking. Even in Palermo, this would raise eyebrows.”

Senior figures have now left News International.  Where else?

Jun 22,2011

Sophos’s NakedSecurity site tells the cautionary tale of the company chief executive and the slighted IT administrator who took his revenge:

“Imagine you’re giving a presentation to the board of directors at your company. You have your PowerPoint slides all ready, you’re projecting onto a 64 inch screen… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, what would you do if your carefully composed presentation was replaced on the big screen by images of a naked woman? My guess is that you wouldn’t know where to put your laser pointer..

52-year-old Walter Powell used to be an IT manager at Baltimore Substance Abuse System Inc, until he was fired in 2009. Clearly someone who believed that revenge should be served red hot, Powell used his computer knowledge to hack into his former employer’s systems from his home and install keylogging software to steal passwords.

On one occasion, Powell took remote control of his former CEO’s PowerPoint presentation to the board of directors, and projected pornographic images on the 64 inch TV.

Press release about Walter Powell's sentencing

According to media reports, Judge M. Brooke Murdock gave Powell a two year suspended sentence, and ordered him to 100 hours of community service and three years’ probation.”

Interestingly, I read this on my way home from hearing a presentation from the CEO of a very large corporation who had described in passing the processes (that even he described as draconian) his company follows in monitoring the activites of employees who hand in their notice,  which includes checking what company files they access and download, reviewing their outgoing email traffic and monitoring memory stick usage. Once caught, twice shy?