Monthly Archives: June 2009

Editor’s blog: Time to cut the £120bn NHS budget?

With the Government now in the capable hands of Peter Mandelson, the reformed Prince of Darkness, the news this morning that there will be no major review of public spending before a general election comes as no surprise. It would hardly be a vote-winner in Labour heartlands to announce that government spending is heading for a squeeze. But it’s a squeeze that is inevitable, given that next year the Government is planning to spend 4 for every 3 it takes in tax. The alternative is us all winding up in the IMF poorhouse.

There’s no doubt that this tightening is going to hurt. Just how moribund the private sector has become in parts of the UK is revealed today by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Around two out of every three pounds spent in the North East and Wales will come from the taxpayer next year. The continuing basket case that is Northern Ireland expects 69.2% of its GDP to come from government in 2010/11. No doubt there’ll be a few extra million for more Youth Workers to help explain to those Belfast charmers from last week that stoning and burning Romanian gypsies from their homes isn’t a very nice way to behave.

I’ve just interviewed David Nicholson, the CEO of the NHS
and the boss of the largest organisation in Europe by a mile; it has 1.3m employees and is the biggest spender of our money. Understandably, Nicholson acknowledges there are going to be some tough times ahead, although no Government minister has the spine to admit as much. The BMA (the doctor’s union) is already spreading panic by issuing a poll this morning saying that 77% of the public believes that cuts should be made in other government departments to protect NHS funding. They even go as far as to state that four out of ten members of Joe Public believe taxes should be increased to maintain the growth of NHS spending, which has been running at an extraordinary 11% per annum.

When it comes to a mixture of craftiness and emotional blackmail to support its members’ interests, the BMA has no equal. Not even Bob Crow or Scargill at his most strident come anywhere close. The pay deal with which it managed to blindside Patricia Hewitt, the then Health minister, was breathtaking in what it got away with – but you’ll find no talk of clawback.

It’s been said that coming in on budget for the NHS is akin to trying to land a 747 on a postage stamp. Indeed, after the overspend disaster of 2006 which claimed Nicholson’s predecessor, Nigel Crisp, the NHS has run a surplus. It’s true that there are colossal amounts of waste in less vital parts of government activity than health. But it’s also true that within an organisation that burns its way through 120bn a year, it must be possible to make savings when times turn very nasty, as they have done now. In 90 seconds of browsing NHS jobs this morning, I found a Deputy Director of Performance and Informatics for Bournemouth and Poole PCT, for which Nicholson is willing to shell out 79,000 a year. Who’d notice if this went unfilled for 18 months?

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Upstream media thinking

A few years back there was a train crash at Paddington. This meant all the trains had to terminate a few stops before Paddington, at Ealing.

The trouble was Ealing is only a little station, and they couldn’t handle all the extra traffic.

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Editor’s blog: BBC expenses just another distraction

Yesterday’s ‘revelations’ about the expense claims of senior BBC management show what a total non-story the whole thing has become. Such is the righteous, Puritanical fervour that has been whipped-up over MPs with their fingers in the till that any vaguely taxpayer-supported organisation is now fair game for what amounts to little more than a prurient sift through a stranger’s underwear drawer.

The fact is these things are private. You could argue that they are commercially sensitive. Sky isn’t going to tell you if they send Beefy Botham a case of brown ale as a thankyou if he puts in an especially tight performance commentating on the 20/20 cricket final at Lords. We may pay the licence fee, but that doesn’t automatically make it our business to get involved in the ins and outs of the Director General and the unhappiness his family must have felt when he had to bring them home from a holiday early because Russell Brand had been effing and blinding on the radio again. Of course it’s right he should be reimbursed for this.

We may pay the 120bn annual bill for the NHS but it doesn’t give us the right to question every last detail of the working practices of a neurosurgeon performing a trepanning operation – telling him or her which cost-effective drill bit to use. The NHS has its own mechanisms to do this and we take them on trust.

The reasons why it’s entirely reasonable that Mark Thompson should send Bruce Forsyth a 99.99 bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee on the occasion of the old boy’s 80th birthday are many. Firstly, this is show business and Brucie is a luvvie (‘alright, my luvvie?’) – and that’s the way showbusiness works. Performers are desperately insecure people who needs their egos constantly massaging. Look at how Spinal Tap reacted to the green room sandwiches being the wrong shape. Secondly, the old boy has worked for the BBC since about 1837 and any organisation large or small makes such gestures. It’s the way the world turns, even during recession.

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Habitat’s Tehran branch – how not to use Twitter

I’ve been watching the way that the situation in Iran has been unfolding on Twitter with a mixture of surprise and confusion for some time now.

Yes I can see the huge importance of getting first hand reports out of the country and the vital role that new media has played in the debate – although I’m not sure I agree whole heartedly with Gordon Brown’s comments that as a result, “you cannot have Rwanda again”.

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‘Who cares about self-regulation’?

The recent release of the full Digital Britain report was
incredibly important for the IAB in many ways – the fact it acknowledges the
role of self-regulation, emerging advertising models and even welcomed our
behavioural targeting Good Practice Principles.

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Editor’s blog: Ryanair’s hopeless case

Air travel is a wretched experience at the best of times. But Michael O’Leary of Ryanair is going out of his way to increase its hellishness to the point where it becomes completely intolerable. It’s six weeks to go before my Summer break to Italy and I’ve already got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach about the prospect of actually getting there. If I didn’t have three kids in tow, I’d be tempted to hitch the 1200 miles, or get me and the wife fired southwards off the white cliffs from a powerful human cannon.

This morning O’Leary announced that Ryanair is set to end baggage check-ins at airports completely. This means his customers will be forced to carry all their luggage through security and onto the tarmac in front of the aircraft, where they will be charged for performing the role of pack mule before loading into the 737’s hold. It’s claimed that such methods are common in the US for travellers flying into main hub airports and will help to reduce Ryanair’s costs by €30m. O’Leary also claims that only 30% of his passengers check in bags anyway.

Either he hasn’t thought this through, or he doesn’t care about the consequences. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning at Stansted trying to get onto a plane during July or August will know that the experience is already utterly wretched. Having to drink baby’s formula milk in front of stroppy, gloved BAA staff; suffering the appalling queues; having Italian exchange students slicing through your Achilles with their trolleys; being treated generally like a cow off to the slaughter.

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Statsaholics Anonymous

For years I’ve known about my
addiction to site stats. Watching that trend line fluctuate, hoping for an
upward curve. Now I’m willing to step forward and come clean. I’m not alone with
this affliction; the world is covered with web
statsaholics. Alisa Bowman, Jason Jaeger and Geoffrey Golden being some of the brave souls to admit their problem.

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Not Citizen Journalism… but what is Crowd Sourcing exactly? Who cares, it’s great.

I am starting to get fed up with the MPs expenses scandal, I mean who hasn’t put in a dodgy expenses claim (though I suspect a moat and a duck house are two of the most unusual… even a bunch of creatives with a Cannes Lion in mind couldn’t come up with gems like that). But one thing that has happened since the full (or at least partly full seeing as how the juiciest bits have been blacked out) list of expenses was released last week has been the Guardian launching a ‘crowd sourcing’ project asking members of the public to look over the volumes of expenses data released last week and report anything they think may be worthy of further investigation.

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Context is content

Apparently, when you’re mating rabbits, you never take the female to the male’s hutch.

If you do she feels uncomfortable, and gets uptight in the strange environment. And, when the male tries to mate, she kicks the shit out of him. But it’s different if you take the male to the female’s hutch. She’s more comfortable and relaxed in her own home, and willing to mate.

The same is true with clients. There will be somewhere where they’re more comfortable and receptive. Might be your offices, might be their offices.

It varies with clients. But find out where it is. That’s where you should present your work. Where you’re going to get the best reception.

Remember at school in Physics’ class? One of the first things they taught us was about Sulphuric acid and water. You can mix them, but only if you get it the right way round.

You should never add water to the acid. If you do, the acid tries to consume the water, which superheats, and you get an explosion.

You must only ever add the acid to water. See it isn’t just a matter of elements that will behave exactly the same wherever they’re encountered.

But that’s how we do advertising. We judge an ad in a meeting room. Laid on a table or stuck on a wall, on its own, presented to look its best. Except it will never ever appear that way.

So we’re judging the ad exactly the way we shouldn’t. We’re creating an area of calm around it. Which advert anywhere, ever had an area of calm around it?

It’s the job of the ad to break through the clutter. Yet we never judge it amongst any clutter. So we never judge if it will do the one thing it absolutely has to do.

No one judges how it will work in the centre of a commercial break in someone’s front room.

Or in a copy of The Sun on a packed rush hour tube. Or on a laptop screen when it pops up over someone’s FaceBook or YouTube page.

Everyone’s only thinking about the content, not the context. Why do you suppose Rolex don’t advertise in The News of the World? Lots of the people who read it actually buy Rolex.

Could it be that News of the World isn’t the right image? It isn’t the place they want to be seen, because the consumer won’t think it’s worth so much.

It has less exclusivity value. Because the context rubs off on the content. That’s why you only ever see Rolex advertised in upmarket, exclusive media.
So when we buy Rolex we’re buying part of that media. Part of that context. In fact the context actually determines the content.

Think about it. I went to the ICA gallery and there was a plumbed-in, working, flushing toilet on display. Everyone was standing around, looking at it and stroking their chins.
Thinking about it, working it out. Yet the identical plumbed-in, working, flushing toilet was in the Gents and Ladies lavatories downstairs.

But no one went down there to look at them. The content was identical. The only difference was context. One toilet has the function of a piece of art.

The reaction is to study it. The other toilet has the context of something unpleasant. The reaction is to get away asap. The only thing that’s changed is the context.

Maybe advertising should stop putting all our attention into judging content in a vacuum. Maybe we should only ever judge content in context. Because the ad is the context.

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Editor’s blog: Public sector pain ahead

I went to the Register Office this morning to record the birth of my latest child. I was on the doorstep at twenty to nine, we were seen at nine precisely and I was on my way by 9.15am, having signed on the dotted line. Not bad – except my daughter was born nearly a month ago, and it’s taken me this long to get a slot. Now it’s a panic to order her passport in time. (By the way, in the age of obsession about ID, I’ve seen little more ridiculous than the identification photo that babies have to have stuck inside their own passports. They all look like anonymous bewildered blobs.) Incidentally, the birth registration, which is done by the local authority, costs 3.50. Getting a passport, which is ‘outsourced’, costs 123 – the most outrageous rip-off ever. Clearly ‘efficiency’ is an expensive business.

Speaking of which, I’ve just interviewed the head of the NHS David Nicholson – the result is in July’s MT, out soon. It’s been boom time in health budgets in recent years, but thanks to the recession, the NHS gravy train is heading for a major derailment in the next few years. When you’ve got a government that is next year planning to spend 4 for every 3 it receives, something is going to have to give. Many in the private sector feel they’ve borne more than their fair share of the pain so far. They’ve endured wage freezes, redundancies and, at a business like British Airways, even been asked to work for nothing. One doesn’t see much evidence of that yet in the pubic sector where, for all the increase in costs, the Office for National Statistics reports that productivity actually fell by 3.2 per cent between 1997 and 2007. There were declines not only in health and education, but also in public order and safety.

It’s inevitable that taxes are going to have to rise steeply to pay for this deficit, and public spending will have to move in the opposite direction – although few politicians of any description have the moral courage to admit this. This is going to leave Joe Public in a seriously lousy mood. Indeed, I predict that the issue of public sector final-salary linked pensions – now a rarity in the private sector – will become a very sore point over the coming years.

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