June 2011

UK readers will have noticed a juror in England has been in trouble for exchanging messages on Facebook with a defendant in a criminal trial.

Hot on the heels of this news comes a timely piece from BBC journalist Marie Jackson – Facebook: Five things to avoid.

Her list includes

  • Don’t make friends with people you shouldn’t
  • Don’t moan about your boss/customers/constituents
  • Don’t upload dodgy photos
  • Don’t enjoy your sick leave too much
  • Don’t spill secrets.

Quite a proportion of her examples involve the public sector one way or another – not only the criminal trial mentioned above but a prison officer, politicians of all main UK parties, the head of MI6, and members of the armed forces.

Of course, indiscretion is nothing new.  I remember in my youth being gently chided by the director of the local authority department I worked in for some unkind reference to management in a union newsletter I edited, forgetting that senior managers were members of the same union.  Indeed they might share my concerns and it didn’t help if I implied they had the leadership qualities of Genghis Khan.  It was all the more embarrassing because in truth they didn’t and I had meant to sound off about some national pay issue.

I hope I learnt from that episode.  Unfortunately, the forum for learning from indiscretions these days is not a cosy one-to-one with an older and wiser colleague but the worldwide exposure of the web, enhanced by instant media interest.


Personalisation and performance are two of the great mantras of public service in this our 21st century.

How are we to measure the service provided to their customers and the overall performance of our great publicly funded cultural institutions?  They receive significant sums of our money and it is important that they relate to us as we wish to be related to.

Take three examples and the public funding they’re received this financial year, 2011/12 (according to the Arts Council for England and Department of Culture, Media and Sport web sites).

  • The National Gallery – which is receiving £26,744,000
  • The Royal Opera House –receiving £26,342,464
  • The Royal National Theatre – receiving £18,285,780.

If, and why shouldn’t you since you pay for them, you want to register online to buy tickets or receive information from them your account can be personalised.

The National Theatre asks you if you wish to be addressed as

  • Mr
  • Mrs
  • Miss
  • Ms.

The National Gallery, obviously a slightly more academic institution, offers

  • Mr
  • Mrs
  • Miss
  • Ms
  • Dr.

The Royal Opera House invites you to select one of the following (deep breath)

  •  Mr
  • Mrs
  • Ms
  • Advocate
  • Ambassador
  • Baron
  • Baroness
  • Brigadier
  • Canon Captain
  • Chancellor
  • Chief
  • Col
  • Comdre
  • Commodore
  • Councillor
  • Count
  • Countess
  • Dame
  • Dr
  • Duke of
  • Earl of
  • Father
  • General
  • Group Captain
  • HRH the Duchess of
  • HRH the Duke of
  • HRH The Princess
  • HE Mr
  • HE Senora
  • HE The French Ambassador M
  • His Highness
  • His Hon
  • His Hon Judge
  • Hon
  • Hon Ambassador
  • Hon Dr
  • Hon Ldy
  • Hon Mrs
  • HRH
  • HRH Sultan Shah
  • HRH The
  • HRH Prince
  • HRH Princess
  • HSH Princess
  • HSH The Prince
  • Judge
  • King
  • Lady
  • Lord
  • Lord and Lady
  • Lord Justice
  • Lt Crd
  • Lt Col
  • Madam
  • Madame
  • Maj
  • Maj Gen
  • Major
  • Marchessa
  • Marchesa
  • Marchioness
  • Marchioness of
  • Marquess
  • Marquess of
  • Marquis
  • Marquise
  • Master
  • Mr and Mrs
  • Mr and the Hon Mrs
  • President
  • Prince
  • Princess
  • Princessin
  • Prof
  • Prof Emeritus
  • Prof Dame
  • Professor
  • Queen
  • Rabbi
  • Representative
  • Rev Canon
  • Rev Dr
  • Rev Mgr
  • Rev Preb
  • Reverend
  • Reverend Father
  • Right Rev
  • Rt Hon
  • Rt Hon Baroness
  • Rt Hon Lord
  • Rt Hon Sir
  • Rt Hon The Earl
  • Rt Hon The Viscount
  • Senator
  • Sir
  • Sister
  • Sultan
  • The Baroness
  • The Countess
  • The Countess of
  • The Dowager Marchioness of
  • The Duchess
  • The Duke
  • The Duke of
  • The Earl of
  • The Hon
  • The Hon Mr
  • The Hon Mrs
  • The Hon Ms
  • The Hon Sir
  • The Lady
  • The Lord
  • The Marchioness of
  • The Princess
  • The Reverend
  • The Rt Hon
  • The Rt Hon Lord
  • The Rt Hon Sir
  • The Rt Hon the Lord
  • The Rt Hon the Viscount
  • The Rt Hon Viscount
  • The Venerable
  • The Very Rev Dr
  • Very Reverend
  • Viscondessa
  • Viscount
  • Viscount and Viscountess
  • Viscountess
  • W Baron
  • W/Cdr.

Since all publicly funded bodies are under pressure to  (a) personalise their service to their customers and (b) demonstrate value for money it is clear that the Royal Opera House is the most effective of the three organisations on the basis of the common sense performance indicator of cost of public subsidy per personalised title offered to subscribers

  • Royal Opera House – cost of public subsidy £202,634 per title offered
  • Royal National Theatre – cost of public subsidy £4,571,445 per title offered
  • National Gallery – cost of public subsidy £5,348,800 per title offered.

It all goes to show that opera has finally cast off the false charges of elitism unfairly levelled against it.  If they could only add some more options to their list – Admiral, Lord High Admiral, Holy Father, Warrant Officer, Shop Steward? –they could improve their performance even further.

Or have I missed the point somehow?

I was alerted to this nonsense in a Tweet I received the other day from someone whose name I didn’t make a note of.   Thank you anonymous Twitterer.

The FIFA crisis or “crisis-what-is-a-crisis?” has gone quiet now Sepp Blatter has been re-elected to the post of president by acclamation, and to the accompaniment of triumphal music (a presentational hint there to UK election returning officers?).

Amidst the too-many words written about this tedious charade a quote from former Scottish Football Association president John McBeth sank almost without trace

To me, football is a sport, a game…I’ve always said to them [Fifa committee members], if you look after the game money will follow, if you look after money you will kill the game. Unfortunately they’ve been looking after money for too long.

These words are eerily familiar to something one of my lesser known heroes of improvement, Czech shoe maker Tomas Bata, said in the 1930s

Do not pursue money. He who pursues money will never achieve it. Serve! If you serve as best you can, you will not be able to escape money.

These prescient words came to mind as I joined a Twitter exchange today on what the purpose for a public sector web site should be (I’m @rogerlwhite if you ask).

The consensus of the participants batting those addictive little 140-character messages back and forth was that the main purpose of a web site should always be to meet the needs of users.

If you can get over the bit about money that’s exactly the sentiment that Tomas Bata in the 1930s and John McBeth a week or so ago were articulating.  It applies no less to the delivery of public service than the making of shoes or a professional sport.

I might as well ‘fess up to it straight away – the two letters below, one a complaint, the other the response – have appeared in many places on the web.  But my joy in revisiting them does not diminish.  They speak for themselves.

The complaint

The response

If you’ve seen them before, apologies.  If you haven’t, be assured they are genuine.  And haven’t we all, just occasionally, wanted to reply to a complainant in similar fashion?

Bang on cue after the loaded and simple truths of think tank Policy Exchange’s report on public sector pay

public sector pay is higher and continued to grow faster than private sector pay during 2010

comes more objective and up to date evidence for what I’ve always claimed

the cycles [of pay in the two sectors] don’t move in the same direction at the same time

Not for the first time the evidence comes from the authoritative work of IDS (formerly Income Data Services) who earn their living charting trends in remuneration throughout the economy.  So they have to get it right and are not beholden to any partisan view of matters economic or political.

Their latest analysis of pay settlements across the UK economy states

A clear gap has emerged between the level of pay awards in the public and private sectors…The median pay award for the private sector in the three months to the end of April is 3 per cent, while in the public sector it is zero

This is in stark contrast to the Policy Exchange’s claims.  Let’s hope that if either of these organisation’s work has an influence on public policy it’s the more objective analysis of IDS.