Thursday, 31 October 2013

Satellite Offices - I've said this before...

...perhaps it's a crap idea? But I've thought about this for some time (I've written about it on here before too) and I can't think of reasons why it wouldn't work for many many types of work. And I'm sure many other people must have thought of it too because it's pretty simple and quite obvious. And some companies and organisations already do it.

It seems to me that satellite offices - by that I mean small local offices of larger companies or organisations - is a simple solution that would help with a number of problems: traffic and transport, quality of life, the environment, massive disparities in house prices and struggling local economies.

So many people drive or struggle on inadequate, unreliable and expensive public transport to the big towns and cities for work because there isn't any work where they live. And companies pay through those nose for large office spaces in the most expensive areas AND lose time and money to traffic and transport issues as well as problems with workers' childcare and ill-health. Meanwhile, businesses in small towns and villages struggle to make ends meet, with many local shops, pubs etc closing all the time.

So why, when many many jobs can be done remotely these days, do we not have more satellite offices in small towns and villages? Or for that matter, in large towns with heavy unemployment. Workers could walk to work or drive short distances, having dropped their kids off at school. Shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants would open up to serve the workers. House prices would start to even out, so those in more 'central' areas would become more affordable whilst those in less central areas or in towns/villages with inadequate transport provision would become more valuable. Quality of life would be hugely improved for spending less time in traffic.

Of course there are many jobs where it's necessary to be on-site for most of the time. But if less people are travelling to central business areas, transport would be somewhat easier. And many jobs would benefit from more localised offices, and can use web conferencing for meetings and paperless electronic fileservers that most employers should be using now anyway.

This also feeds into my uncertainty about HS2: although we desperately need a more modern rail network, HS2 will not provide that; it's not a network - it's just one line. It will make many areas even worse off, some areas even more expensive and will only serve a very thin strip of the country.

I just can't see many reasons why having more satellite offices wouldn't be hugely beneficial and I would estimate that of the people I know, more than 50% of them work in jobs that could be done from a smaller local office. Perhaps the government should be spending £50bn on this scheme instead.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The government's 'lobbying bill' will actually worsen the problem.

Lobbying - to anyone who doesn't know - is where representatives of a company or organisation representing a group of companies, have an audience with the government in some shape or form whereupon discussions are held on a topic of importance to the companies. The majority of this, of course, is done with profit in mind.

Surely this shouldn't be allowed? Well it is. Many many decisions that have been made over the last few decades have been influenced by lobbyists. Everything is up for cosy discussion with whomever has the resources to do so: policing/security, healthcare, alcohol and tobacco advertising and licensing, rail franchises, TV deals, waste, fire services - EVERYTHING.

The Lib Dems wanted a bill to control lobbying and make it more transparent. It should have fallen to Nick Clegg to oversee this but he declared a private interest because the law firm his wife works for are involved in lobbying, so it fell to his Conservative junior minister instead.

The bill as it stands, does not include direct lobbying, only third-party lobbying. So staff from Centrica, for example, could lobby to their hearts' content to help their case for fracking, whereas a group representing charities campaigning for British retailers to tighten their policies on supplier standards wouldn't be allowed to. The bill's definition of a lobbyist is so tight that it would be incredibly easy to get around. Also, it wouldn't cover staff crossing between government and private companies. At present, there are staff from a number of companies actually working in the government, on 'secondment', in advisory groups or lifted straight into new, prominent roles.

This is from The Independent online (Sunday 6th Oct 2013): "Sam Laidlaw, the chief executive at British Gas owner Centrica, whose chairman Sir Roger Carr led industry opposition to Labour’s conference announcement, is a member of David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, which briefs the Prime Minister on “critical business and economic issues facing the country”. Tara Singh, a former public affairs manager at Centrica, took up her newly created role at Number 10 this week as Mr Cameron’s personal advisor on energy and climate change."

The 'big six' energy companies have met with the Department for Energy and Climate Change 128 times since the coalition was formed. In contrast, there have been only 26 meetings with representatives of energy consumers. Surely this proves that consumers are less important to the government than the big six energy companies?!

Members of the public are allowed to lobby their MP. But doing this individually by letter or even in person, has little to no impact. This lobbying bill will prevent groups representing individuals to lobby the government. The Labour party are proposing changes to the bill which, if accepted, will fix most of the issues with it. But it will still be going on, behind closed doors, in the corridors of power, restaurants, hotels and bars across the capital (and occasionally elsewhere). Big companies have been getting closer and closer to the government for the last 20 years and as long as this goes on, the less interest the government will have in the interests of the people it is nominated by and paid to represent.