George Osborne has floated a new public sector recruitment policy to be applied should the Conservatives get into power: all media advertising for government jobs will be pulled and instead a central website will be set up (at an alleged cost of £5m a year) to offer them.
Given that he could be the next-but-one Chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope that Mr Osborne is making a cynical appeal to public ignorance of recruitment markets and eBusiness costs, rather than believing this plan to be a good idea in its own right.
We’re the Tories, so let’s nationalise stuff
For starters, the £5m a year cost is a gross understatement. In the private sector, market leading online job site Monster.com spends $187m on non-marketing non-wage costs to offer 12 million jobs a year. The civil service site would offer about 1.2 million jobs a year (20%ish turnover on 5.5ish million public sector workers); even assuming Monster’s size generates no economies of scale, then this takes the cost up to $19m (£10m).
Now, given that it costs the government £40,000 a year to run a blog, and given that Monster.com’s original setup costs have been written off, do we think that the real cost will be in the £5m bracket, the £50m bracket, or the £500m bracket…?
I don’t understand, unless he is merely appealing to ignorance (or the desire to stick one to the Guardian, which currently has the highest market share for public sector recruitment), why Mr Osborne would float a policy of nationalisation that’s guaranteed to result in another public IT disaster.
Wanted: blind janitor with 1337 5k177z
In any case, there is absolutely no way the government could rely on this site for job advertising.
While Sir Humphrey may be the public stereotype of a civil servant, many public sector roles are not highly skilled. The median wage in the public sector is £488 a week, slightly above the private sector median wage. There are an awful lot of people working in the public sector on low incomes with poor literacy and IT skills (after all, how much of an IT whizz does a park-keeper need to be?), so recruiting them over the web is not going to produce a good selection of candidates.
A sizeable proportion even of better-paid people (particularly senior age groups, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, against whom the government is attempting to avoid discriminating at the moment) also do not currently use the Internet for job applications. We’ve all met senior bosses in the private and public sectors who are very good at their jobs but who rely on their secretaries to print and type their email.
Even among people who are able to use IT for basic work purposes, many may not be willing to trust the online channel for something as important as job recruitment – according to consulting group Forrester, 68% of people don’t even fully trust the web for shopping. A government website is obviously more trustworthy than dodgydavesphishingsite.com, but plenty of people are seriously paranoid about technology.
They’re doing it already, and it isn’t enough
For an obvious, concrete example of why the site wouldn’t be enough on its own, simply Google for online job application statistics, as I did earlier. Nearly all the initial hits are online recruitment pages for public sector roles. And guess what? Despite already having access to this channel, these employers recruit through other channels as well…
A list of government recruitment sites wouldn’t be a bad idea – at the moment, there is no central resource that points applicants both to the civil service careers site and to the London councils careers site, as well as all the other arms of government and quango-ery (apart from Google).
But turning this link-list into a mega-IT project in a doomed plan to annoy the Guardian would be a tiny little bit silly.
The London Astoria is one of the capital’s best-known live music venues; hundreds of groups ranging from Nirvana to the Stones have played there over the last 15 years. It’s also reportedly “under threat” from property developers in sinister allegiance with the Olympics and most recently Transport for London’s evil machinations. Indeed, it is true that if the (absolutely essential for London) Crossrail scheme goes ahead, the long-overdue rebuild of Tottenham Court Road station will require the venue’s demolition.
Let’s get one thing straight – it would not be a bad thing at all if the Astoria were demolished and replaced with another comparably sized venue. On the current site, the acoustics are rubbish, you can’t see the stage from the bar, the bits of the venue away from the main floor are too small for its capacity (after each gig, there’s an enormous queue to escape, not helped by the fact that the exit passages are too small to maintain separate queues for the cloakroom and the door), and it rains sweat. The gig experience at the Astoria is far inferior to that of other similar-sized London venues like the Brixton Academy or the Shepherds Bush Empire.
The problem is that London has too few of these mid-sized gig venues for its population (even ignoring its uncontested status as the world’s most important city for music). The amount of venue space in central London, far more convenient for gig-goers than Hammersmith or Shepherds Bush or Brixton, is particularly limited. Bands play at the Astoria even though the facilities are poxy because they have little choice, and tearing it down without replacing it would be a disaster for the London music scene.
But surely, one of the core conditions of demolition consent for such an important public amenity would be to build a music venue as part of the development on the new site, right? Sadly not – and this is where we run into the very issues that’s responsible for the shortage of live music venues in central London in the first place. Although rents are high and property developers are keen to exploit the fact that rents are high, neither of these is the critical factor that will ensure the Astoria goes unreplaced.
No, the reason the Astoria will go unreplaced is the same reason that there are no decent nightclubs in central London, why nearly all pubs (except, for some reason, ghastly chain pub-bars like Tiger Tiger) in central London shut before midnight despite the new licensing rules, and why drinkers in one of London’s finest establishments face instant expulsion if caught attempting to dance: the decision is in the hands of miserable provincial killjoys.
Central London, in the “Underground Zone 1″ sense that visitors understand and that I’m using here, is made up almost entirely of the City of London and the City of Westminster. Aside from lunchtime-and-after-work venues, the former is irrelevant for going out; Westminster accounts for the rest, including Soho, the West End, Covent Garden. It is the local council for the Astoria area, and it has an active policy of discouraging people from having fun (unless it’s in a suitably ‘artistic’ format).
The West End should be run as an entertainment area for Londoners and visitors. That is its traditional function; that is what it does best; and that is what its geographical location demands. Unfortunately, Westminster City Council has other ideas: it classes the West End as a stress area, meaning that new pubs, bars, nightclubs, venues and restaurants will generally not be approved there. As part of the planning consent for demolition of the Astoria, Westminster has stipulated that instead of a new venue, the developers must build yet another theatre (because the Astoria was classed as a theatre before it was converted into a music venue 15 years ago).
Westminster City Council is clearly the villain of this piece: it is relishing the opportunity to convert a sweaty venue where uncouth types swill beer and mosh to rock-and-roll into yet another opportunity for tweedy elders to enjoy Mr Lloyd-Webber’s latest offering. In general, it relishes the opportunity to punish people and companies that steer clear of sanitized, corporate-friendly, safe, sober, high-spending entertainment.
It’s been reported that the major cause for the delay in Airbus A380 deliveries is that the entertainment systems are enormously complicated, require millions of miles of cabling to be squeezed into the aircraft, and are completely different for different airlines so there’s a risk of serious screw-ups if staff work on two different configuration types at the same time.
This means that not only is everything taking than expected, but each airline needs to have all its planes built in series – so Emirates won’t get any planes until all of Singapore’s are finished, and Virgin won’t get any until Emirates’s are done. And this means that Airbus is having to give everyone massive compensation while losing credibility for future business.
Since Airbus is effectively French, this doesn’t matter too much: as with Alstom and every other sizeable industrial concern, the French taxpayer will pay if the business runs into serious financial trouble (yes, I know it’s supposed to be a joint venture, but if a business is even a bit French, that’s good enough for them…). However, it’s a bit of a shame to let everything go so wrong when the solution is so obvious.
Instead of installing a wired entertainment system, set up a wireless network covering the whole plane. Since laptops have wi-fi enabled by default, the plane will have already gone through detailed testing to ensure that wi-fi doesn’t interfere with the plane’s systems. Keep the power supplies from the current wire specification, and junk everything else.
Then you can put a networked computer (with a friendly operating system, obviously) at every seat, providing audio and video via a library on a networked server, plus web access. Popular choices can be stored locally to cut the strain on the network. Anyone with a laptop can connect to the wi-fi too, like on trains.
The terminals for this should cost far less than $500 a seat, or $40,000 for the whole plane – and they’re the only cost incurred under this scheme that wouldn’t be incurred anyway. Because the whole system is software-based, airlines can customise and upgrade it easily. Customers get a better experience and everyone, except Boeing, is happy.
So why aren’t they doing it? My guess is that the aviation industry is run by grizzled veterans who don’t really have a clue about this wireless malarkey. So nobody involved with the whole business, either Airbus or airlines, has even thought about going beyond the traditional ‘wires and dumb terminals’ model. If you happen to be an airline bigwig or hang out with them, do feel free to pass this one on…
Squirrels hate chilli. So if you’re planning on having a squirrel round for dinner, you might want to cancel the nut burritos. Conversely, if you’re planning on eating a squirrel, you might want to add it to a green Thai curry as a final act of indignity.
I was told this fact today by an Australian roofer, who was blocking up holes in my neighbours’ roof with wire mesh and dried chillis in the hope of ending their long-running squirrel infestation. Naturally, I make no claims for its truth.
The Bandit doesn’t, for the time being.
I’ve just had a fabulous holiday in ex-Yugoslavia; I’d recommend a trip to Croatia and Slovenia to anyone, with the possible exception of people I dislike.
The new-found prosperity in both countries is amazing, given their past of communist stagnation and civil war – even in Slovenia, albeit briefly – as is the scenery. And the mountainous railway journey from Split to Zagreb is simply fabulous, except for people who suffer from motion sickness (such as my girlfriend, who enjoyed the view rather less than I did).
Vaguely relatedly, given that Slovenia is planning to replace its currency with the Euro in January 2007, I’ve written a piece at The Sharpener using economic data to address a couple of bizarre anti-Euro myths.
Mostly, I’ve been working and having a life. However, I’ve also written a couple of articles that have gone up at The Sharpener: Defend the Lords (by electing them) and It’s morally right that people should die for my amusement. I’d rate them as worth a read, but then I would, wouldn’t I?
It’s been a bit quiet round these parts lately, largely because I haven’t been able to think of anything interesting to say. If anyone has any inspiring thoughts, feel free to leave them as a comment…
I’ve been getting some bizarrely customised-for-this-site comment spam recently. For example:
As well as the main critical mass ride there’s now a north london version.
Those Friday Thing folk said that boobah is “a bit odd”
Today is the European Day of Languages. I wonder if David Blunkett is taking part?
Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the way politicians and journalists are pronouncing place names associated with the war on Iraq.
When we moved here, Mrs Stefanou told us this was one of the nicest bits of Crouch End, while her son told us it was a great place to be because it was so easy to get to Crouch End from here
I wonder how robust this statistic is? And does this one only tell half of its own story?
You had your last chance girl. Now you will get a sound lesson in obedience and respect for your elders. Take off your clothes.
Actually, the last isn’t particularly customised-for-this-site. But you get the idea – the spambot is not only using randomly selected nonsense phrases to get past filters looking for the traditional ‘viagra ch3@p cl1ck h3re’ kind of spam, it’s picking ones that are relevant for a vaguely political, vaguely pedantic North London-y blog.
Perhaps the idea is that I’ll probably be busy, bored or drunk when I’m moderating my comments, therefore probably won’t notice that the commenter’s name is ‘cheap-prescription-drugs’ and their alleged blog URL is cheap-prescription-drugs.com, and therefore that I’ll probably let their spam through…