Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kevin Sampson's Extra Time

All football fans have their own culture, their own stock of stories and their own memories. These drip through Kevin Sampson's Extra Time - A Season in the Life of a Football Fan, which has been lurking in my reading pile and I've just finished. His club is Liverpool.

First up, it's entertaining, honest, funny and really well written. You'd expect that from Kevin Sampson and I'm on record of liking the cut of his jib.

We've been reminded this week how much Hillsborough is etched on the psyche of Liverpool's loyal core of fans.
But reading a book that details the experiences of a group of fans through 1997 and 1998, I was struck by how little Hillsborough seems to feature in their thoughts and pub discussions. It was written 9 years after the tragedy and merits only a few scant paragraphs during the trip to watch the Reds at Sheffield Wednesday, where home supporters are wearing novelty hats produced by The Sun newspaper. On that observation the anger bursts through. The sense of injustice grows, then Jack Straw says there are no further grounds for an enquiry. But then no more. It simmers, one imagines, rather than boils over. I guess grief does that.

That we're only gripping the importance of justice now, 16 years later, is staggering.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Manchester's next generation of leaders

Leaders Lunch
We had a Downtown Leaders Lunch today. It’s part of a series of lunches where we ask leaders from the city to speak - that’s why there’s no apostrophe, my grammar pedant friends.
The speaker was billed as Sir Howard Bernstein, the chief executive of the city council, but he was unwell. He sent Sara Tomkins instead. Once I’d got over the disappointment and concern over Howard, I must admit I was really quite pleased. Not that Howard was ill - but that we can expose another civic leader to the very people who are drawn to the magnetism of Howard.
I wish I had a pound for every time I get told that Manchester would be lost without Sir Howard and Sir Richard Leese, the council leader. The theory goes that there is a talent vacuum beyond the two knights, and that their eventual retirement will expose a chasm. In a sense they are a remarkable double act, but I have hopefully seen enough to recognise that there’s something else going on.
It’s actually one of the mightiest forces of their leadership that they lead from the front. But also that they lead and inspire the small army of policy creators, delivery teams and political campaigners.
Sara is one of those. As the assistant chief executive for communications, customer and IT, her brief covers some crucial aspects of the council’s work. She spoke about the leadership of the local authority today - how a municipal culture of hard pragmatic politics (and Politics) encourages younger executives and officers to take risks and be innovative.
She also didn’t shy away from issuing a few challenges - property developers and planners need to think much, much more about the kind of digital infrastructure their buildings need. She also faced up to some tough questions over broadband vouchers, disruption caused by the Second City Crossing and traffic congestion.
I think everyone at the Grill on New York Street this lunchtime will have enjoyed what she had to say - they will have also left a little more confident that there are a generation of articulate younger leaders around with the right levels of intelligence and pragmatism to lead the city in the future.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Blue tape is strangling small business

This is an Audioboo of a blog I did on "blue tape" the rules, restrictions and bureaucracy that businesses put on other businesses.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Northern Rail franchise extended – why this may be good news, but probably won’t be

Happy commuters, pic stolen from Northern Rail's website
I am no fan of the shoddy service offered to commuters in the North of England by Northern Rail. The joint venture between Serco and Abellio has brought nothing to the experience or helped economic development in the region. But change is going to come – the clock is now ticking down towards the next franchise period, just as this one has been extended for a couple more years. Hopefully the terms of the next deal will look very different indeed – a longer period and the benefits of the Northern Hub investment.

The Rail North plan envisages a larger franchise integrated with the local transport authorities of Greater Manchester and  beyond – that should have the benefits of integrated ticketing, electrification, better rolling stock and more services – in short, a service fit for purpose. 

It is surprising how little political traction this has. It remains a bold move - an important devolutionary step. Longer term it could also lead to franchises being run by a consortium of local transport authorities. 

I do find it laughable that the Rail Minister Stephen Hammond has set Northern Rail short term targets for improved customer satisfaction. The first thing the management should do is measure peak time punctuality separately from the empty rattlers ambling along on time during the afternoon. Then they should massively rethink the brutal approach to ticket checking at most stations by their G4S bouncers – it is humiliating, unfriendly and intimidating.  But they will argue it catches fare dodgers effectively. I believe it is counter-productive.

I also worry when I read the managing director of Northern Rail, Alex Hynes, saying efficiency and service are his priorities and those dreaded words – “more with less”.

The Department for Transport must also insist there is no further running down of trains to the South as First TranspennineExpress have had to give trains to Chiltern. I have noticed more and more trains are made up of just two carriages in the evenings. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it has to stop.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Do you trust the press? and how far should they be tamed?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The problem with the Co-op

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Straight White Male by John Niven

This is John Niven's best book and marks his real maturity as a writer. The strength of Kill Your Friends was the laugh out loud portrayal of the horrors of the music industry, building on that as a backdrop for a story about busking it and depraved ambition.

This goes further. You still root for a flawed central character - Kennedy Marr a self-centred and hedonistic writer who turns to English academia. But while Stelfox in Kill Your Friends is utterly beyond redemption and without a shred of a scruple, Marr never particularly does harm. Success comes relatively easy to him, even though he runs away from his responsibilities and is led by his urges.

But the skill of the book is to change pace and mood - to remain consistent to the character and how he thinks through his crises, but it is also incredibly tender in its final third when he tells stories of his family and of death and how Kennedy confronts the misery of his own recklessness. It's a delight at times and I genuinely couldn't put it down. John Niven is definitely one of my favourite writers at the moment.