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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Virgin Trains and the wonderful Steven Collins

Today I was stupid enough to get off the train at Birmingham International while talking on the mobile phone.  As a result I left my coat on the train with my keys inside it.  By the time I realised it was too late.

Half an hour or so later I had just arrived at Shirestone Primary School when the receptionist came up to me and said, "Excuse me but did you leave your coat on the train from London?  I've just had a man called Steven Collins on the phone who says he's found it.  He's left his number."

As we walked to the office I wondered how on earth he had tracked me down to the school.  If I he had rung me on my mobile I would have understood... maybe I had left a business card in my coat.  But I hadn't told him my name or the organisation I work for.  I had had a brief chat with him about the best way to get to Lea Hall station (via Birmingham International or New Street) and then we had talked for a few minutes about the awarding of the West Coast rail franchise to First Group.  All I said to him was that I worked with primary schools.

We rang Steven back and I asked how he found me.  

"Oh, I rang all the primary schools near Lea Hall Station"...!

"I just wanted to tell you that your jacket and your keys are safe at the lost property office at Wolverhampton"

All the schools near Lea Hall station!  What a wonderful man.  I wonder if First Group employees will feel as positive about their jobs as Virgin Trains staff do?  Well, having travelled regularly to Bristol, I already know the answer the that one.

Not even close.

So anyway, thank-you very much Steven.  You deserve a raise.  Or at the very least to keep your current employer.

A little bit of politics.. and some project management

Last week I stumbled upon on Andreas Whittam Smith's launch of Democracy 2015, a 'movement' (in true Alice's Restaurant form) that aims to reshape our political system at the next election.  Whether it will work or not I have no idea but I admire the breadth of his ambition.

Whittam Smith's thesis rests on the assertion that we have been let down by the political class regardless of political hue.  A life in politics is essentially that - a life.  It boils down to two goals; the acquisition of power and the retention of power.  This in turn means that politicians only ever really possess one skill; that of selling themselves to the electorate.  They tend to enter political life early without many transferable skills and then try to stay for as long as possible.  Political survival is more important than actually achieving anything.

The genius is in the simplicity of Whittam Smith's solution to this problem.  If the problem is explained by the old adage that 'power corrupts', then remove the risk of addiction.  Any candidate that Democracy 2015 fields in the next election will be required to pledge to serve only one term.  So if you want a political legacy you'd better stop talking about one and get on with building one.  You only get power if you promise to give it back.

Neat isn't it?

Yesterday Brendan Barber (TUC) exhorted politicians to run the UK like we ran the olympics in  a sort of paean to central planning and investment.  I think he is right but not in the way he intended.  Public vs private investment is an old and rather tedious debate.  Most people, when they think about it can see the evils at both ends of the spectrum (namely waste and greed).  It is not central five year plans that we need, it is an emphasis on deliverables. The olympics was run as a project (timescale, deliverables, budget).  The heroes were the project managers.

Give me a project manager any day over a time serving careerist.  I think five years makes it tight for Democracy 2015 but nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.

It will be fun to see how this plays out.