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Archive for the ‘Culture media and sport’ Category

Monday
Jul 16,2012

My attention has been drawn to a statement from the National Association of Retired Police Officers saying that many of their members could have been available to G4S as security staff for the Olympics but there has been no approach to their Association for help.

Eric Evans, the President of the National Association, has said:

‘ At a time when unemployment is so high and many police officers are retiring earlier than planned because of Government cut backs, it is difficult to understand how G4S have failed to recruit the required number of security staff. I am sure that many of those of our members, who have recently retired would have been glad of an opportunity to get some employment at the Olympic Games not only for the money but also to be involved in such a major ‘lifetime’ event. I am frankly very surprised that G4S have not sought our assistance in recruitment.’

He goes on to comment:

“It is however the case that we at the national office of NARPO have not at any stage been approached by G4S to assist in recruiting security staff for the Olympics and certainly have not received any memorandum from G4S this week or at any other time requesting such assistance.”

How serious were G4S to get themselves out of the mess in which they have got themselves and why haven’t the Home Office told them to use retired police officers in this way?

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.

 

Friday
Jun 29,2012

I have now seen all the plays in Shakespeare’s “Shipwreck Trilogy” at the Royal Shakespeare Company season at the Roundhouse and there is no question that the productions of “Twelfth Night” and “The Comedy of Errors” are brilliant (I was less enamoured by “The Tempest” but then the play is by no means one of my favourites anyway).

Illyria has become in this version of “Twelfth Night” a rather sleazy Latin American state (with copious total immersions taking place – avoid the first two rows in the left-hand front of the stage if you don’t want to get wet), while Ephesus – the setting for “The Comedy” – is a proto-fascist state, taking a robust line with illegal immigrants and featuring incidental water-boarding and ECT use.  Normally such devices would be a distraction from the plays but in these productions the action seems to fit perfectly into the settings contrived for them.

There are some superb individual performances: notably Jonathan Slinger’s Malvolio (his buttocks provoking waves of hysteria amongst the youthful audience in the cross-gartering scene on the day I saw it), Kirsty Bushell’s Olivia in “Twelfth Night” and Adriana in “The Comedy”, Emily Taafe’s Viola (possibly the best rendering of the part I have ever seen) and Nicholas Day’s Sir Toby. The twin Dromios (Felix Hayes and Bruce Mackinnon – who also carries off a suitably inept Sir Andrew Aguecheek) ensure that the farcical set-pieces in “The Comedy” are genuinely hilarious. There are strong supporting performances from Cecilia Noble (as Maria in “Twelfth Night” and a formidable Emilia) and from Kevin McMonagle (as Feste and a terrifying merchant in “The Comedy”).

The tragedy is that none of the performances I saw was sold out and there were plenty of empty seats: the good news therefore is that you still have a few more days to catch the season before it ends.

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 The Comedy of Errorscrane-243x317

Friday
Jun 29,2012

I have just finished reading the book by my Lords’ colleague, David Lipsey, “In the Corridors of Power“.  It is a great read: lucid and clear as you would expect from someone with his journalistic pedigree and full of crisp insightful comments on the policy issues of the last forty years with which he has engaged.

His account of working for a trade union in the 1970s and then being one of the first SpAds (long before the term was coined) is hugely enjoyable, as are his portraits of Tony Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Jim Callaghan and the other figures that he has worked with.

The book is also a must read for those who want to understand the realities of being a member of the House of Lords and the limits to what you can achieve.  It is also a concise primer on House of Lords reform, changing the voting system, the finance of social care and many other topics from the funding of the BBC to the politics of greyhound racing.

Buy it and enjoy!

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Tuesday
Jun 26,2012

My good friends at The Risk Management Group have produced “The A to Z of Safe Social Media” (a sister guide to their earlier “The A to Z of Safe Children Online”.  It is available for free download here and even contains a foreword from me!

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.
Monday
May 28,2012

Seven and a half years ago, I warned in a debate in the House of Lords about the risk to the nation’s critical national infrastructure of a concerted cyber-attack, saying:

“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences.  …

The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “

The Ministerial reply I was given at the time bordered on the complacent – even though I was assured that it wasn’t:

“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that:

“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.

Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.

Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”

Again, the official line was inclined to dismiss the likelihood of an attack …
Now comes news that a video captured by FBI agents last year and now released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security purports to show an al Qaeda leader calling on ”covert mujahidin” to launch cyber attacks against The video explicitly calls for cyber attacks against the networks of both government and life-sustaining critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, and compares vulnerabilities in U.S. critical cyber networks to the vulnerabilities in our aviation system prior to 9/11.
PHOTO: In this screenshot obtained by the FBI, an Al Qaeda video calls upon the ?covert Mujahidin? to commit ?electronic jihad?.
So – boringly – I was right (again).
The question remains are our cyber-defences going to be adequate.
Friday
May 25,2012

I have just returned from seeing “Posh” at the Duke of York’s Theatre.  I regret to say I was disappointed.  The acting is good and the play itself is quite powerful, but the reviews and write-ups had led me to expect something funnier with more pointed satire and a clearer political message.

However, don’t let me put you off – it is still worth seeing.

And it is certainly a potent reminder of the social background and early lives of those currently running the country.  The “Riot Club” is clearly based on the Bullingdon Club and you can draw your own conclusions as to who is meant to be the David Cameron or the Boris Johnson character in the play ….

Thursday
May 24,2012

It may not always be obvious, but I do try to be fair to the Government.  However, I do find that their arguments about the BSkyB bid are becoming increasingly convoluted.

To recap, after the Telegraph sting on Vince Cable the Prime Minister ruled that Cable’s comments to two undercover reporters were “totally unacceptable and inappropriate” and prejudiced his ability to act in a quasi-judicial role in determining whether to accept any Competition Commission decision that the News International takeover of BSkyB could go ahead.

The  quasi-judicial responsibility was then transferred to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and its Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt.

Now it transpires that Jeremy Hunt had sent a memo to the Prime Minister saying that the UK’s media sector “would suffer for years” if the deal was blocked.

However, the Prime Minister is now arguing that these comments did not prejudice Jeremy Hunt’s ability to act in a quasi-judicial role.

Is that because the Prime Minister knew about them?

Or is it because the personal views were ones he agreed with?

And, of course, as the Prime Minister knew when he appointed Jeremy Hunt to his quasi-judicial role that he was apparently already prejudiced, the Prime Minister too was complicit in undermining the process.

Apparently, it is “totally unacceptable and inappropriate” for a Minister acting in a quasi-judicial role to have views opposing the bid, but there is nothing wrong in knowingly appointing someone to the same quasi-judicial role if he has expressed the contrary views.

Is that clear?

Of course, if Jeremy Hunt – by behaving as unacceptably and inappropriately as Vince Cable – were forced to resign, then that would call into question the judgement of the Prime Minister who had appointed him in the first place, particularly if that same Prime Minister knew about the behaviour in question.  So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the Prime Minister thinks that Jeremy Hunt’s behaviour WAS acceptable (especially as his non-prejudicial views mirrored his own).

 

Monday
May 14,2012

I know that some of my readers may find this difficult to believe, but I think I should make it clear that I am not – nor have I ever been – a very athletic person.

Moreover, for the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that the Toby Harris who is bearing the Olympic Torch through Walkerburn on the 14th June is not me.

He is clearly a very worthy torch-bearer.  However, if any one wants to catch sight of me in a tracksuit running or jogging or even walking slowly, they will be disappointed….

However, I wish my namesake (and indeed all the other Torch-bearers) my best wishes.