Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wasting money deliberately? Or just plain incompetence?

Those were the two questions that popped into my head when I spotted this in The Times earlier today.

The Olympic aquatics centre (the posh name for the swimming pool complex) was originally estimated (and budgeted) at some £70 million. The current costing (errrm, no, still not actually fixed) now stands at some £214 million.

Now an additional £144 million might not seem an obscene increase in the overall governmental scheme of Olympics expenditure, but, to me, it smacks of utter incompetence in the initial estimating process. What the hell did they do? Sit around a table and pull random numbers out of a tombola?

Ah, OK, they blame the increase on VAT and inflation. "much of the disparity is explained by VAT and inflation. While venue costs estimated during the bidding process were in 2004 prices, they must be stated in 2012 prices."

So, with VAT fixed at 17.5% (or, just maybe, our gov knows that VAT will be set at a rate of 100% by 2012?), and inflation at the official government figures of just over 2.3% (not that any single one of us believes that anyway), we get a tripling in cost between 2004 and 2012? Come on, we are NOT that stupid!

And, what a surprise, the bidding contract was won and assigned to ..... deep intake of breath ..... a sole bidder! "The Olympic Delivery Authority is set to sign a construction contract with Balfour Beatty, the sole bidder."

As well as incompetence and profligacy, this smacks to me of profiteering, greed and may even be tinged with a hint of fraud. And all that money is coming out of your own back pocket one way or another to be trousered elsewhere!

Whatever happened to accountability? LOL!

Addendum: (1/2/08)
The Daily Mail appears to have identified a few 'fat cats' which just might partly explain why costs are overrunning so much.

Build it and they will come. And go. And..

Local news is, by definition, going to be focussed on local issues. But often a story can make me ponder much weighter national issues. One such was in today's Midlands Today.

Addendum - extra info attached, see below.

The BBC site has again let me down on finding more info or a link (though I have asked - LATEST - I am doing well at the moment with helpful replies for follow-up information. It's always well worth trying to locate the author and ask. In this case, the correspondent himself has kindly provided this: Report is there under the TOP STORIES link on the right hand side (I suspect this will have a finite time it's up though. The one to look at is the next under 'Possible commuter problems', though all are worthy of noting)). There's also a specific page for reports from this week's transport features), but there was a report by correspendent Robert Punt that really struck a chord.

Today, in 2008, with all else we have swirling around us, it seems national government is requiring local government to plonk several thousand new homes on some rolling green belt land.

That's bad enough. I just wonder what they plan for when the last blade of grass has been concreted over to provide 'affordable housing' to buy off 'lower-income ratepay... er.. voters' property-owning aspirations.

Thing is, if I heard right, there is also no money, and hence no alowance for any support infrastructure. Bad enough for the plight of the community that this probably includes schools, hospitals, flood systems, etc, but one thing for sure ain't there is transport.

And it's next to a motorway. So, as this valauble piece pointed out, this not so little additional collection of working stiffs will be jumping in their Fiestas each day to earn a crust.

Barking. I look forward to the bin fines to offset the carbon. Not.

Addendum 2 - 1/02

As he was nice enough to show an interest and asked, I have sent the link to this to Mr. Punt. Of course I couldn't avoid a bit of context... which sort of turned into more a rant. But it was a good one and worth sharing here:

There just seems to be no joined up thinking when it comes to environmental matters between government, LAs and, often, business. But always the consumer cops it in the end.

I get livid when I hear the latest anti-car edict issued from Westminster, slavishly (and uncritically) printed by Fleet Street (though often also broadcast by the national BBC) and endorsed by Islingonistas. Very few out here have a tube line at the end of the road. So the car is often the only option. I choose to write for Fiesta family rather than 'My other car is a Prius' Person, the former of whom have lower incomes, mortgages, kids to get to distant schools, 2 weeks tops to spend, with luck, somewhere sunny, and the chance to do one weekly shop of a Friday evening at Tescos.

There's so much more I could highlight where the onus is thrown on those least able to cope, from plastic bags to, like I infer, the latest recycling wheezes. Just how much is spent of massive ad campaigns and how much effort put into punitive legislation, when there are still no credible, coherent systems put in place for the willing consumer to actually do what is best, easily, affordably and to a decent enviROI?

Sorry, rant over. Back to trying to DO something rather than just box-ticking, narrow-agenda-serving exercises in guilt, fear, threat or nanny that so far seem to have achieved little (OK, a teensie bit more of a rant). I sincerely believe the public DO understand the issues, and DO want to help. But they need to have their situations understood better and see things shared that are designed from the ground up to help them help.

And, speaking as an ad man, all lead by end benefit and incentive bolted on to logical, persuasive communications, which seems a much more productive route to consider.

Their starter for...

I make no apology for printing this in full: Join the debate on a low-carbon economy

Note: Post event Addendum added below.

It looks like they could do with a bit of a kick-start is all.

Huge Issue. Top quality paper. One of the most significant blogs. Multimillion, if not billion NGO.

So far, no input as far as I can see. Maybe most emailed direct, as that seems to be what was asked. I am not so shy. Also, it's a shame not to see the questions posed in open forum. Leads one to suspect that those chosen might be edited for suitability first.

Post your questions for the Observer's science editor and the Carbon Trust
January 29, 2008 11:00 AM
On Thursday January 31 at 11am, will be hosting the first of three web chats exploring how Britain can create a low-carbon economy.

The Observer's science editor, Robin McKie, will be joined by the Carbon Trust's director of innovations, Mark Williamson, to discuss what is in store for low-carbon technologies in 2008 and the innovations we can expect over the coming year.

Topics for discussion include:

What technologies are being developed (photovoltaic solar cells, micro-CHP, wave and wind powers) and how are companies/scientists/engineers improving on existing technologies?

Can these technologies help the UK meet its targets?

Who needs to take the lead in implementing new technologies?

What are the most exciting developments happening in low-carbon technology?

Is 2008 the year for these technologies to really start to hit mainstream, or are we still a few years away?

You can find out more about the Carbon Trust here, and more details about the chat here.

Email your questions for Robin and Mark to and log on at 11am on Thursday to follow the debate

'Last night I was honoured to be a co-speaker and panellist at The Centre for Sustainable Design - - in a session entitled 'Resourceful Innovators', where the main topic for discussion coincidentally revolved around the level and quality of support for ideas and entrepreneurs developing low carbon solutions.

Without speaking for the College or those present, it seemed agreed that almost all focus of support was on big-ticket, high profile, hi-tech, but not necessarily that great ROI or often even enviROI+ initiatives.

Also that vast sums seem to be going into logistics, administration and comms budgets of those tasked with doling out funding, but a possibly less than healthy percentage was getting from taxpayers' pockets to those doing the most good (especially seeking to become self-sustaining without ongoing subsidy as a business model), in the most cost-effective and planetary beneficial ways.

So a couple of top-of-mind questions to pose are:

Why are there so many bodies tasked with forking out the money to help such private, and possibly highly worthy initiatives, why do so many overlap, why are they so 'big system driven' and what are the actual breakdowns involved in getting say, £100M from UK taxpayers to amounts tangibly provided to money in hand for things that might actually help their families' futures?

Just in round figures.

It's also a pity not to see more of the possible questions that may be posed in open forum here on the site as there is that option.'

However, there is is opportunity here, and you need to work with what is on offer. hence I hope this may push the right kind of buttons and may stand a better chance of being embraced:

'On a more proactive and pragmatic front, what more can be done to matchmake those with good ideas with the necessary business skills to bring these to self-sustaining, and soon profitable market. This country abounds with innovators, and by all accounts we are also well served with the service sector and business brains that know how to make money. In few cases are these two skill sets complementary within one person (save, perhaps, a Dyson or Baylis). And possibly in the area of the environment it may be further complicated by the driving forces being often at odds. Great inventions can often be driven by a desire to make money, yet more often than not they are more idealistically inspired. But one thing I have learned early on is that to have any chance of success in pushing the business case, the priority you outline is much more 'IT WILL MAKE OODLES OF DOUGH..' first, with '... and will also serve the future of this planet and those on it well' very quietly, and last, at the end. It is almost as though a desire to do right by next generations is seen as a negative in the macho universe of the Masters of the Business of Administration. A curse of denigration by Dragon. Which is a pity.

We are in a much more complex world, with many realities that need to be faced. And high amongst them is that most successes need teams of complementary talents to shape a concept, especially a new, left field one, and bring it to market. So in management, especially financial, one would have hoped for more forward thinking and indeed a desire to recognise and pleasure in seeing potential, and then building the necessary structures around it to make it happen. Not expect... or demand... a fully fledged done-deal from the off. Were it only as easy as ploughing in dosh and lighting the blue touch paper. There are people to meet, deals to be struck.... consumers to convince. Few can do that and make magic in their shed, too.

With the wealth of contacts across the board, and indeed in boards, could not more be done at official level to bridge the gap that I believe exists between those business minded creative souls that do have the talent and belief to think in terms of the next generations of products and services that can serve the environment, and the hopefully creative minded folk in business who can see potential in such ideas, and are looking for a legacy that is not just measured in pounds, pennies, Lears and Flaming Ferraris. Readers of this paper who do appreciate the environmental lead, but are not so interested in spending their money any longer on an advertised weekend trip to an Eco-lodge in the Maldives, and more on being part of a method to help mitigate the chances of the azure waters lapping higher than desirable.

So, of course, we are now in a world driven by bean counters, and hence we need them to work, and to work with them. But if more and more are counting beans and fewer and fewer making them, soon there will be no beans for anyone to live off.

Can we do more to free those who this country's unique systems and institutions still inspire to create great and unique ideas, from the all too crushing constraints of being things and personalities that they may not be best suited to deliver? Can we not seek ways to identify those areas that do have potential at an early stage, and then marry them and their creators with the now necessary skill sets to produce the business plans, P&Ls, forecasts and other instruments (though often, it seems that are mainly backside covering, and hence highly speculative 'best guesses'. It is my experience that an innovator, whilst passionate, may tend to be honest enough to say I haven't a clue' when asked to provide market forecasts for the next decade, which often does not tick the right boxes in more 'correct financial procedures concerned' cultures. Mind you. ... Dome? Wembley? Olympics? Nulclear? Some Alt. Energy schemes?) that are indeed necessary and essential to bring solid business concepts to fruition and profitable, socially serving reality?'


Well, I think it's over. Actually was a bit hard to say. Probably me being an IT-numptie, but I did not find the 'process' that easy. From the original site link (at the top/start) it was a bit of a kerfuffle getting 'registered', and then I was none too sure where I was once 'live'....

Here... or here.

So, how was it for me... you?

I'd say, at best, an 'interesting' experiment in communication at best. Though I dipped in and out that was 1 and a half hours of time, and really what Q&A result was there? Especially as to pressing enviro issues involving the lives millions of folk and billions of £.

At least some my question sets did get posed, and by the editorial taboot. Not sure I got many answers, mind. It was all very... general. And this from a chap whose title is Director of Innovation, and if you click on the link to his bio he sits amongst a bunch of other 'Directors of..' who I doubt very much are on expenses only. So still no clue as to how a £100M in funding get carved up before the public sees any money going to 'doing' vs. 'talking' or 'doling'. And I do have to note one medium that is the beneficiary of a lot of this comms largesse. But at least they allowed me to pose my question, so big up there.

Not sure how the other questioners felt, either. As I indicated, we are talking via one of the more significant online news entities, with a definite interest in things green, involving senior editors with a high official in a hugely-significant green quango... and between the options I attempted, would be hard pressed to see much more than, what, twenty involved?

Not sure what it says exactly, but it doesn't seem that encouraging, really.

I doubt I'll be investing such time or effort again on this basis in a hurry. Which considering the importance of, and sums involved in such an issue, is a worry.