Any Questions?

I hate it when someone lectures me and finishes by asking if I understand.there is a relationship implied in that question and I do not like it.

So, it was a very depressing experience listening to Radio 4 this evening. There was a tone of righteous condescension which I felt was misplaced. The main culprit was the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan. I find it disappointing that people who lack the honour to offer their resignation should be so quick to tell us that students are cheats, that exam predictions are inflated and so on. This is a form of politics that has no respect at all for the voter.

It is also worth noting that Dominic Cummings, yes he of the trip to Barnard castle, was working in the education department with Michael Gove and therefore partly responsible for the foul approach. It is worth listening to the general tone of condesension that pervades the rose garden defence.

I am shocked that Boris should trust this man so much. I wonder if he talks down to Boris as much as he clearly talks down to everyone else?

I think this approach of talking down, doing down, condescending- is something that is running across society.

I was defrauded recently. I was cut off and still am cut off from accessing my bank, and no emails save to the CEO seem to get through at all. It took me a week to get the bank to pick up the phone and answer me and it was another week before anyone from the fraud department contacted me.

I have asked to interview the leader of the HSBC bank in the UK. I fear this is an institution in turmoil that has not prepared well for a crisis like COVID, and I would like to help. The length of time it takes to answer the telephone speaks volumes- I have routinely waited over 2 hours and then had the call disconnected. This is not customer service- it is chaos. The man in overall charge is called Noel Quinn and the UK head is Iain Stuart. I will report back here when and if this happens.

Meanwhile, when I was telephoned yesterday by an agent from the fraud department, his manner was unbelieveably unhelpful (I have his name: always get the name and write it down).  When I asked specific questions about the changes in legislation regarding fraud, he retreated into a sort of bluster and ended up quitting the call in a huff (and I thought I was the theatrical one).

So, let me explain about fraud in UK banks: I am not much the wiser, of course, but I think there is an organisation called the “APP Scams steering Group” and they, in turn, have come up with something called “CRM”. Essentially, this is there to investigate fraud. I am not sure how it differs from what existed before but it came into effect on 28th May 2019 and came under the admin of the LSB a couple of months’ later. In contrast to what I was told by the agent, some banks certainly interpret it as offering a full refund to victims and others do not. HSBC seems to be among hose who do not. The relevant line from the legislation seems to be here:

“Importantly, any customer of a Payment Service Provider which is signed up to the Code can expect to be reimbursed where they were not to blame for the success of a scam. A customer can be either a consumer, micro-enterprise or charity, as defined in the Code.”

It is very confusing- deliberately so?

The LSB appointed an advisory board which is chaired by Ruth Evans and consists of what are called industry officials and consumers- I am not sure whether the “consumers” are therefore bank customers or bank officials. Again, the information is deliberately vague but it all sounds grand and well-meaning. In the right hands, it probably is.

What this means in practice, though, is that the banks can sound very grand about what they are doing and, as in my case, when pressed for an answer, can fudge to the point of confusion because nobody really knows what was intended.

It is the same approach by the Government and Ofqual. Referring to Acronyms is a way to avoid explaining what you are talking about just as the double negative or the passive voice distances a rogue from any any direct access to the truth.

It is time to call out for some transparency – or should that be opacity? Surely we want something we can see: Solid facts anyway, something we can understand and something we can evaluate without an agent taking a grand-standing position above us and effectively saying, as Roger Taylor did the other day to the millions of students who felt aggrieved by the OFQUAL algorithm, that they “did not understand it”. Their problem, in other words (or rather in what his words must have meant- there is no other way to interpret them) was not the students were victims of an injustice, or a miscalculation but that they were stupid.

This seems to be the routine tone of people in authority at the end of the phone who have to take responsibility for a mess they have either created or inherited. Be it Virginmedia, HSBC, Sky, OfQUAL, or the Government – the line seems to be the same, that we are incapable of understanding them. That we are too stupid. We are after all, just the customer or just the public- in the case of the Government, we are just the voters.

Here is my point to Anita on the BBC 4 edition of ANY ANSWERS today:

So many important stories

There is so much to write about at the moment and yet the newspapers are focused on the most astonishing rubbish while the real issues are cast aside barely touched.

This morning, there was a debate about Boris on holiday and almost every channel in the UK managed to present the piece with a bias that was quite astonishing. While I am equally disappointed in Boris, he is not the story today and this nonsensical quipping takes the pressure off the real issue which must still be Gavin Williamson and his weasel determination to cling on.

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Outside the UK, Alexei Navalny appears to have been poisoned. That would be news enough and scary for everyone else but it gets much worse: a medical plane to take him for superior and probably life-saving treatment in Germany is unable to do its job as police and armed guards keep Navalny away from his family and effectively imprisoned in an under-equipped hospital in Omsk in Siberia. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Meanwhile, I had a chat with Steve Brookstein who was the first to win X factor last night and later I checked him out on youtube. I was flabberghasted at the nastiness of Sharon Osbourne and will certainly look at her differently from now on. Steve’s story is painful as was Rich Hatch’s (Rich was the first winner of the American Reality show “Survivor” and I have spent the last 12 weeks watching that show episoed by episode and then podcasting about it.). I begin to fear that the whole Reality tv phenomenon, which is certainly likely to continue because it is cheap to make, is shot through with a sort of nastiness that I cannot ever and will not condone.

I think the sniping about Boris on holiday belongs to the same genre. We should really remember the advice in the Disney film, BAMBI- “If you’ve not got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

 

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Open letter to university heads

Dame Nemat Shafik

The director

London School of Economics

Houghton street

London

WC2A 2AE

 

14th August 2020

 

Dear Director,

 

I am writing with some urgency in the wake of the disastrous A level results and the horrendous bias against students who come from non-selective schools that may have had a blip in recent academic performance and have, therefore, had their grades knocked back.

I hope, this year, that you will follow the example of Worcester College and take on those students who were predicted grades that would meet your requirements and whose teachers were confident they could be expected, in ordinary circumstances, to achieve them.

I look forward to hearing from you personally, in due course, and to celebrating the fact that the LSE, another great academic body with a bold history is ready to challenge a mighty injustice.

Now is not the time to wait and see what the Government will do. You will be judged by your actions and the lead you give in the next few days.

I would like to think that you are on the right side of history.

I am available to help in any way I can.

With best wishes and great respect,

 

Sincerely,

 

Professor TIM WILSON

 

Changing our bureaucracy

Sometimes we forget that we are no longer an island. John Donne might be pleased by that. I am not.

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When we check the foreign press, we find stories emerging there that should make us very anxious indeed about what is going on here, because what we are told here is not, it seems, what is actually happening. We need to worry too, and perhaps more importantly about the way these mis-truths are affecting our international reputation.

We are getting into trouble. The bullying and lying that has crept into our bureaucracy  in Britain does not work in an international crisis and is going to leave us with egg on our faces.

Already, it is evident that what the Government proposes is rarely implemented in full by our bureaucrats- banks are unable to process loans, insurance companies are refusing to pay up and so on. This is going on while, at the same time, a wave of goodwill is sweeping the country. Odd how one particular group is unable to change.

This morning, evidence is appearing in Turkey that what is being peddled by the government is not quite correct. It is true we dispatched a military plane to collect goods from Turkey and it is true that the said A400M in now on the tarmac in Istanbul and has been there since monday afternoon. It is also true that there is an export ban on PPE goods leaving Turkey. Robert Jenrick (the Housing minister) said a shipment of PPE was due on Sunday. Gavin Williamson (the education minister) said that the shipment from Turkey would come, he hoped, on Monday. What was not said, however, was that the shipment was not formally ordered and paperwork submitted until Sunday. This is madness.

The RAF transport planes have been on standby at Brize Norton for days waiting for the go-ahead to pick up 84 tonnes of urgently needed medical clothing and equipment, including the 400,000 gowns made by Turkish suppliers.

With a series of deadlines set by UK ministers missed, the British government has blamed its Turkish counterpart for causing the delays.

But after one cabinet minister said the government had hoped the three planes would be able to take off on Monday afternoon, British sources admitted that the Turkish authorities had not confirmed the supplies were ready to be picked up.

It would be just about acceptable if that was as far as it went. But the potential for international offence goes further – It is shameless that we accepted a free gift of PPE from Turkey only a week ago on 12th April (with next to no news coverage of the shipment in the British media) and that now we are pouring blame on Turkey for what are, in fact, our own failings. The news yesterday was dominated by stories that suggested there was a fault “on the Turkish side”. Quite true, but it was of our own making. Indeed, the Guardian ran a story saying quite clearly that the RAF plane that is now on the tarmac in Istanbul was sent to put “pressure on Ankara”.

This is how the Guardian reported what another minister said:

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the BBC on Monday morning that the delays were down to “challenges at the Turkish end” but appeared to suggest the issue was about to be resolved. He said: “I don’t want to start making more and more promises, but I understand that flight will take off this afternoon and those [gowns] will be delivered.”

We have got into a habit of using tenses in a woolly way. “I have done something” often means “I will do it (eventually or maybe)”. This has become the standard of bureaucratic action. It has worked well enough for mobile phones and for banking. Indeed, when the customer complains, the whole thing can be turned round and the customer can be made to feel that it was their failing. This is, of course, what we have tried to do here. It is shameful.

It can only cause more delay and international resentment.

We have got into the habit of apportioning blame rather than taking action. Look, for instance at this paragraph from the Guardian:

Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail… said the health secretary, Matt Hancock, may have to consider his position if he was not able to secure the necessary PPE. She said the situation could not continue, and that health professionals would be quite right to decline to put themselves in danger.

It seems to be in response to pressure on the Health secretary that the government announced the shipment from Turkey. Unite is right to be concerned about risk to its workers and right to raise the issue with the Heath secretary. But the answer is not to spin the story. The answer is to sort it out. We are locked into a spin cycle and we seem unable to get out of this.

We need to re-programme the way our country works.

And as for this PPE issue: we cannot pass the buck here- Our fault. Our failing and our bureaucrats.