You can’t read this article

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Been away, attempting to turn myself a pleasing shade of pink. Wrote this for the NS before I left: on the ludicrous spectacle of commercial confidentiality for public service providers.

This dreaded phrase comes from the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which makes clear that, while the public has a perfect right to know about most of what the government does, there are certain areas in which the powers that be are within their rights to keep schtum: anything, in fact, deemed “prejudicial to the commercial interests” of somebody or other. 

The result of all this is that there is a vast range of stuff involving taxpayers’ money that taxpayers aren’t actually allowed to know. Want to see the un-redacted contracts under which outsourcing firms are running public buildings? Or what targets they need to meet to claim their rather expansive bonuses? Tough. None of your business. Bugger off.

You can read the rest here.

Jonn @NewStatesman: On lost presents and high visibility jackets

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Over at the New Statesman the other week, I attempted to answer a question for the ages: why are private delivery firms so totally f$*%ing useless?

Last summer, a friend living in Palestine wanted to send us a wedding present. She placed an order on a florist’s website, the florist gave the flowers to a private delivery firm, the delivery firm gave them to a driver, and the driver got them as far as our front door. No one was in. So he put them back in his van and took them back to the depot, where they promptly died. Three days later, after waiting in specially, I took delivery of a large and expensive box of compost. Thanks to the magic of the internet, it is now possible to send flowers in London all the way from Gaza, yet delivery companies remain flummoxed by the impenetrable barrier of a locked front door.

Earlier this year, a different delivery firm was bringing me a new phone and, not wanting to go through this rigmarole again, I asked for it to be delivered to my office. It wasn’t. At the appointed hour, the whizzy online tracking service unilaterally decided I’d rejected the delivery. That evening found me in a windswept industrial estate car park wearing a high visibility jacket, attempting to explain that the reason I didn’t have a utility bill proving I lived at the delivery address was because I don’t live in my office.

“Don’t antagonise them,” whispered the man in the queue behind me. He was clearly an old hand: he’d brought his own high-visibility jacket.

You can read the rest of it here.

Jonn @NewStatesman: Why Starbucks can’t just dump its tax bill on the rest of us

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Quick blast of festive anger: on the annoying libertarian meme I keep hearing, which says that any attempt to levy corporation taxes will just mean more expensive coffee for the rest of us.

Includes an entrepreneur calling Starbucks “bastards” in an official press releases, and the news that god has returned to Earth and is seeking corporate sponsorship. You can read the rest here.

Happy Winterval, by the way.

Old business stuff

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In which I do the business

Various thoughts on matters of high finance and low cunning.

  • Competitive advantage is under threat – why the skills shortage could knacker the economy (New Statesman, July 2006)
  • Something ventured – on the UK’s then (and, frankly, still) nascent venture capital market (TCS Daily, September 2006)
  • Private Money, Public Good – the much maligned private finance initiative actually has a few advantages (TCS Daily, June 2006)
  • That said, after fifteen years and £57 billion, we still don’t know if it works (The First Post, September 2008)
  • And that said, it’s still not going to go away. Here’s why (Liberal Conspiracy, August 2011)
  • How bad is the feline obesity crisis? – on my continuing irritation at the hypocrisy of the high-pay debate (Liberal Conspiracy, June 2010)
  • And finally, A Modest Proposal for banking regulation. It involves public executions, but I bet you anything it’d work (Liberal Conspiracy, December 2009)