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.

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Jonn @IndyVoices: The expert problem

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An *exciting* development you may have missed: last week I made my Independent Voices debut, expounding part of my Grand Unified Theory of Why Nothing Works (or GUTWNW, for short).

The part of the GUTWNW in question is the Expert Problem. Most of the people who want to change things don’t know enough to do it; while most of the people who have that knowledge don’t want to change a thing.

You can read the thing 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.

Feeling Wonky

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A couple of bits of policy wonkery from recent months:

  • Once every few months, a report comes along explaining why the private finance initiative represents a sort of embarrassing skidmark on the national accounts, and suggests we’d better scrap it, pronto. Here’s me at Liberal Conspiracy explaining why that’s never gonna happen. (Liberal Conspiracy, August 22nd)
  • Health secretary Andrew Lansley recently promised to ban minimum waiting times in the NHS. It probably won’t make any difference (New Statesman, 15 November)

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)

Some words wot I wrote

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Freelance scribblings from summer 2010:
  • After hours lock in at the Foundry – on the occupation of a Shoreditch landmark, in protest against plans to replace it with a giant baked bean tin (Londonist, July 5th)
  • Has the tide turned on a university education? On the government’s plans for university reform (The First Post, July 7th)
  • What’s Gove really hiding? How the schools secretary mis-sold the decision to cancel the Building Schools for the Future programme (New Statesman, July 9th)
  • How bad is the feline obestity crisis? In defence of public sector fat cats (Liberal Conspiracy, June 12th)