Author Archives: Tony Baldwinson

The will of the people is to be half out, half in – but how many of us will honestly say so?

There are lots of articles on Brexit today, one year before the leaving date. But most of them blame half the UK population for voting “the wrong way.”

They will say how the other half were stupid, manipulated, ignorant, angry, complacent, and so on. Followed by, “if only they had realised …” the lie about £350million a week to the NHS, the manipulation of Facebook and Twitter, the conspiracy of big business, the false promises, and so on.

I disagree. Two years on, we need to start an honest conversation with people we don’t happen to agree with. It doesn’t have to be long, technical or detailed.

My summary is:

1. The people voted half in, half out. And after all we have learnt since polling day, this sentiment has not changed much at all. Another referendum would also be half in, half out.

2. We need to respect every vote, not just the votes of people who agreed with us. Until we do so, the divisions across the UK will continue to fester: urban and rural, richer and poorer, younger and older, north and south.

3. So, we need to become a half member of the EU, like the people of Norway agreed years ago. We can call it associate membership, which as in any club gives us lower subscriptions and less involvement.

4. And we need to take this honest, inclusive and healing communities approach into the negotiations. So, if the negotiations fail the fall-back isn’t a catastrophic No Deal, the fall-back is a Norway cut snd paste.

5. So, from now on our politicians should negotiate amendments to a Norway cut and paste – maybe less about reindeer programmes say, and more about tweaking financial services, world trade and free movement. Which is actually still quite a hard set of asks.

Half in and half out.

In French, moitié, moitié.

In English, pragmatism.

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Lies, damned lies, and economics

“A groundbreaking report published today by economists reveals that the crisps industry in Britain is worth £2.7 billion to the economy, supporting 350,000 jobs directly and a further 1.2 million jobs indirectly, exporting 4 million tonnes a year throughout the world, and featuring in many Michelin star restaurants. Fred Scroggins, Minister for Savoury Foods, said today, ‘I am delighted that Britain leads the world in crisps, securing jobs and growth for our nation and providing a bright career for many generations to come.’ The Director of the Crisps Growth Sector Hub said, ….”

Is this made up? At one level, obviously yes.

But at another level we can recognise it as a somewhat tired template for so many lobbying reports. And this can create a weariness with economics generally in the public. Some fancy person with a laptop and spreadsheet can easily justify these numbers with their patent methodology.

An interesting take on this approach is written by a group of student economists, some now graduated, who queried this received wisdom especially when their university courses still made no reference to the economic crash from 2007-08 onwards. Business as usual is no longer sustainable, they said, and these old-style econometrics were past their sell-by date. To be fair, a minority of tutors agreed with these students, but the weight of the past is still proving hard to shift.

The book is called Econocracy – worth a read – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/09/the-econocracy-review-joe-earle-cahal-moran-zach-ward-perkins

What happens when we get to peak digital?

“There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

The current emphasis in analysing the creative industries is to focus on digital tech. For the near-future timescale this is fine, as there are still innovations yet to be fully utlised – exploited – such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and robotics, and driverless vehicles.

However, digital tech will not be the key driver of change for ever. In the 1600s the new printing presses were revolutionary to culture and to national power across Europe. As was steam power in the late 1700s. Oil was the economic sin qua non of the 1900s. And for the early 2000s we have digital tech.

So, looking ahead beyond the near-future we need to begin to discuss what peak digital might seem like, and what creativity might do to create it and what it might do in response to it.

In exploring this point, we need to understand that creativity in not limited to being the content, such as new music sequences or film, within a digital tech channel. Creativity will apply to the channel itself as well. And channels are designed as much by ambient culture as by R&D effort in engineering labs. Consider the channel of television. The linear broadcast model of television is accessed less and less frequently especially by younger people; which is not about how up-to-date the technology is (answer is, very), but about the wider cultural attractions around on demand viewing.

Thinking further back, we can also consider the channel of pamphlets. In their day, printed pamphlets were a key driver in social and political change. They sat alongside newspapers, speeches at public meetings and rallies, and demonstrations. The technology to produce pamphlets has probably never been easier to use, yet as a type of channel its use today is almost zero.

One analysis of these changes in channels over time is to focus on convenience – it is more convenient to choose when to watch a TV programme; it is more convenient to email a pdf file than to print and then distribute a pamphlet. Which is true as far as it goes. Another analysis is to focus on the cost to a business, such as it being cheaper to send a digital movie file to a machine than to courrier reels of film to a person.

Sometimes these forces reinforce each other, sometimes they are in tension such as reducing business costs by passing some business tasks back to the customer.
So as with print, steam and oil, there will be a lasting role for digital, but creativity beyond the near-future will come from today’s early-career researchers and their peers in the wider community. In this scenario, it is the creative culture (or not) of that wider community that will influence such development and growth, thus being a place specific factor.

Manchester was a creative city long before digital tech arrived, from the new politics of universal suffrage, international trade and anti-slavery in the 1800s, through the suffragettes and Rochdale co-ops, first trades union congress, the largest LGBT+ public demonstration in the UK in the 1980s, to a city which re-invented modern urban living entwined with popular youth culture. If any city was wanted as an exemplar of the Prof Richard Florida thesis that diversity, tolerance and progressive politics enables creativity which in turn enables growth, Manchester would be such a case study.

So, if any place is likely to make sense first of what peak digital entails then there are strong historic reasons to suggest that Manchester is a strong contender for that role, not least because the Manchester culture is comfortable with change and with looking forward.

Many would agree with the proposition that sustainable living is our unsolved challenge, and as climate change advances globally along with resource shortages and increasing pollution, the time remaining to create solutions is rapidly diminishing. Crucially, fundamental changes must take place within the lifespans of younger people now living to avoid catastrophic rather than incremental damage. Digital tech has a role to play here, for example when overcoming distances without the need to travel, but it requires a huge supply of mined and quarried rocks to be processed for their rare metals and then has a manufacturing footprint so it isn’t without its own detriment.

One possibility is that peak digital is just a point at which we start to use less all round, to walk with a lighter tread. Who knows? But as a possibility it feels better to me than waiting for the next new shiny thing to save us from our perenial desire for ever-more new shiny things.

On the Oxfam issue, it is the same as Baby P and Sharon Shoesmith

On the Oxfam issue, it is the same as Baby P and Sharon Shoesmith:

1. Issue catches fire in the media.
2. Government ministers run for cover, pass the blame.
3. A resignation is demanded, regardless of natural justice.
4. It has to be a leftie woman to appease the Daily Mail cabal.

It is yet another medieval bloodlust, not a forensic analysis of the crime, where a woman must be paraded and humiliated to cleanse the village.

I suspect the issue to be dealt with here was the exploitation of vulnerable women by a group of powerful and unaccountable men in a context of a colonialist world.

But that doesn’t fit the headline that has already been written before the facts arrive. So just throw some more wood on the bonfire and find a woman to be sacrificed.

Not a man in sight.

Is the UK govt using an algorithm to process deportations?

We read more and more about crass deportations of people by the government, people who are perfectly entitled to stay and live in the UK.

My guess is that some policy wonk in the Home Office commissioned an algorithm from an IT supplier, kept secret under a false cover of claiming national security, which here really means their own job security.

So, first make a database by taking the National Insurance database from DWP. Get HMRC to obligingly add current addresses to these names. Then access the Home Office database of UK full passport holders and protect from deportation anyone with a full current passport. Now cross the road to the General Records Office and also protect from deportation anyone with a UK birth certificate.

What’s left? Well, according to this warped thinking, many thousands of illegal immigrants. So they send them a scary letter, followed by a visit from the contractors with handcuffs.

This dirty process ignores annoying legal nuances such as evidence, made easier because people cannot get Legal Aid. Anyway, down that rabbit hole that is current Home Office logic, if they are not illegal they should fill in an 80-page form and pay the government hundreds of pounds to allow them to continue living here for a while longer, even though they already have this legal right.

Finally, if parliament was doing its job better, this sort of oppressive bureaucracy would be stopped in its tracks.

The culture “back then” was different, wasn’t it?

When older men are caught committing sexual harassment these days, one of the typical excuses which is trotted out is, “you need to understand that I grew up in the 60s – 70s – 80s and it was a different culture then.”
But was it so different then?
In the 80s I was a member a men’s community workers’ anti-sexism group. Our group was concerned with what men could do to support women’s demands for change in a sexist world. We did practical things like running creches at conferences as well as meeting and talking. This was before the modern days of CRB and DBS checks, but we knew enough to make sure that children were protected by making sure no-one had one-to-one access to children, everything was in the open.
I don’t make this point to win prizes, the point is that even in the 80s men made choices and many men made the right choice. So abusers blaming “the culture of the time” is simply their desperate attempt to avoid taking responsibility.

ERDF – the hourly rate processes need to be simplified, and in good Blue Peter fashion, here’s a better system we made earlier

I have written recently with the suggestion that in ERDF processes it would be clearer to talk about staff having “shared duties” between an ERDF project and other projects, rather than saying they are “part-time” on the project. Not least because they could be really part-time.

And we should remind ourselves, staff with shared duties are required to complete a timesheet which splits their hours worked each day between their project tasks and their other tasks.

A few years ago the method used for claims was to calculate an hourly rate for each person with shared duties, based in their contracted hours and pay, and then to apply this to the project hours worked each month. Let’s call this system one.

However, a problem was said to exist with a few individuals, usually those spending over 85% of their time on project duties and in a few busiest months. In these circumstances, hourly rate multiplied by the hours worked could be more than the person was actually paid that month. It would average out with other months where holidays were taken, but that apparently wasn’t good enough as an answer.

And so, we now have a prior twelve month ‘census’ or data collection process for payroll finances and a national formula which ignores individual contracted hours and lengths of permitted holidays, all requiring hours of desk work to be undertaken for each individual by applicants, and further hours of work for the officials to check in absolute detail for compliance. Let’s call this system two.

But, we are told, the advantage of using this highly laborious method – system two – makes it permissible to accept the anomaly of hourly rate times hours exceeding the actual paid amount in the busiest months, because a fair rate has been exhaustively calculated.

But, if it permissible to claim above the monthly salary in a busy month, balanced out in other months, in the second system, why can’t we just revert to the first system and accept the same anomaly while using system one instead?

No twelve-month census. No national formula.

Some may say that system two stops people playing with the formula to calculate too high an hourly rate. But system one has the same safeguard because the calculations equally had to be agreed with officials in advance. If some applicants were blatantly playing the system, just tell them no. The financial principle of requiring calculations to be true and fair sums it up nicely.

We should return to the relative sanity of system one.