Team GB – thoughts from a small island

August 5, 2012

Team GB are currently lying fourth in the Olympic medals table, an impressive performance:

Rank Country G S B Total
1 United States 26 13 15 54
2 China 25 16 12 53
3 Great Britain & N. Ireland 14 7 8 29
4 South Korea 9 3 5 17
5 France 8 6 8 22
6 Germany 5 10 6 21
7 Italy 5 5 3 13
8 Kazakhstan 5 0 0 5
9 North Korea 4 0 1 5
10 Russian Federation 3 15 10 28

However, this isn’t a fair comparison, as it compares countries with huge populations (and so potentially more high performing athletes) with much smaller countries. If we take this top ten, and divide the total medals by the population of each country, Team GB’s performance is even more impressive:

Rank Country G S B Total Population Total per million population
1 Great Britain & N. Ireland 14 7 8 29 62,641,000 0.46
2 South Korea 9 3 5 17 49,779,000 0.34
3 France 8 6 8 22 65,436,552 0.34
4 Kazakhstan 5 0 0 5 16,558,459 0.30
5 Germany 5 10 6 21 81,726,000 0.26
6 Italy 5 5 3 13 60,626,442 0.21
7 North Korea 4 0 1 5 24,451,285 0.20
8 Russian Federation 3 15 10 28 141,930,000 0.20
9 United States 26 13 15 54 311,591,917 0.17
10 China 25 16 12 53 1,344,130,000 0.04

Go Team GB!


Better Places for Work

June 27, 2012

Since my election to Cumbria County Council, I’ve had meetings in a number of offices around Carlisle and Kendal. Many of these are in amazing old buildings, wonderful to look at (especially from the outside), but totally impractical as places of work. So I have some sympathy with the Cabinet’s decision to build a new fit-for-purpose headquarters.

This is a major programme for the Council. It’s not just about putting up a new building – it’s about transforming the way Council staff work, with a change in culture to flexible working practices such as hot-desking – “Better Places for Work” (BP4W). So it was disappointing that the last meeting of full council simply approved the nearly £18m spend as recommendation 3.1 b) among a list of other capital items (on page 347 of the agenda…).

So what was missing? At the least, I would have expected Council to be asked to approve the risk register for the programme. From my limited knowledge of the programme, there are some pretty significant risks, e.g.:

  • the programme requires a commitment to a culture shift from a workforce whose morale is poor and who report little confidence in management
  • the programme will be heavily dependent on changes to IT systems at a time when the Council doesn’t even know who will be running its IT systems next year

but these were nowhere to be found in the Council briefing.

The meeting did briefly consider a rather half-hearted amendment to approve only an initial tranche of £8m, but rejected the idea. What would have been better would have been approval of funding, but with a requirement for gateway reviews by independent members at key stages to determine whether the programme is still safe. It is vital that Cabinet and Corporate Directors are fully committed to driving the programme forward, but the history of programme management is full of examples where ‘groupthink’ sets in among a tightly-knit team and causes disasters.

Maybe there is a role for Scrutiny here.


Moving on (again)

April 11, 2012

I first started blogging on Blogger many years ago. Once I was convinced blogging was here to stay, I set up my own blogging service on a computer under the stairs at home (literally) using WordPress software. After four years of that, I decided I didn’t really want to be in the web hosting business, and moved the blog to a virtual server. Now, in a further retreat from geekiness, I’ve decided I don’t really want to be in the software maintenance business either, and have moved the lot to WordPress.com. Someone else has the hassle of making sure all the latest security fixes etc are installed, and it’s actually a lot cheaper. So it’s altogether a better deal.

Or maybe I’m just getting old :-)


The process of peace

May 21, 2011

Unless you’re well versed in Irish history, it’s hard to appreciate the significance of the Queen’s visit to Ireland that ended yesterday. The history of Britain’s occupation of Ireland goes back four centuries, with many of the familiar elements of colonial domination: the seizure of land by settlers with an alien language and religion; callous disregard – sometimes approaching genocide – of the native population, viewed by the occupiers as a lower form of humanity; mass emigration; an armed struggle with atrocities on both sides leading to partition and a two state solution; and eventual peaceful coexistence.

Palestine has been much on my mind over the past few months, and it is tempting to try and see a parallel between the situation there today and the situation in Ireland a century ago. Will we ever see Shimon Peres or one of his successors bowing his head in respectful memory of Palestinian fighters killed during the intifadas? yet that is equivalent to what the Queen did this week in Dublin.

I have a small piece of family history tied up in this. My Irish grandfather was shot dead by the Black and Tans, possibly the greatest scoundrels ever to wear a British uniform. He was completely innocent, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It would have been tempting for my grandmother, widowed with a small baby (my mother) to seek some consolation in her grief by honouring her late husband as a martyr to the cause, and pledging never to forget. Fortunately for my mother, she didn’t – she got on with her life, remarried, had another five children, and brought all six up to stay well clear of the paramilitaries and all their hangers-on. She didn’t live to see one of her grandchildren have a successful career in the Royal Ulster Constabulary – a highly dangerous career choice for a Catholic – but I suspect she would have understood.

I found Palestine full of memorials to ‘martyrs’ for the cause – everywhere from market squares to living rooms. I don’t consider my grandfather a martyr, a hero in the struggle for Irish independence. He was just an ordinary guy on his way to do another day’s work blending tea for the people of Sligo. However, I do consider my grandmother, in her own small way, a heroine in the struggle for peace. Peace in Ireland came when the heroes and heroines for peace finally overcame those seeking martyrdom and victory through the armed struggle. I trust and pray it will not be another century before the same victory happens in the Middle East. May what has happened in Ireland be a small beacon of hope for the world.


A day in the Old City

March 4, 2011

Our Palestinian guide Mohammad Barakat was waiting for us in reception at 8.30 as promised. We will be staying in this hotel for another night, with another three walkers joining us tonight and another en route on Saturday. It’s been a beautiful spring day in Jerusalem – non-stop sunshine and temperatures I guess in the low twenties.

The siren is now sounding across the city to announce the start of shabat – the sabbath day, when Jewish Jerusalem comes to a halt and Muslim Jerusalem continues regardless. On our way back to the hotel we were amazed to see a market had sprung up along the streets round the Damascus Gate. Mohammed explained that municipal inspectors don’t work on Friday afternoons, so traders take to the streets. The overflowing fruit and veg stalls were full of bargains – Israeli wholesalers wouldn’t be able to shift stocks until Monday, so the canny Palestinians scooped up the surplus and sold it in these impromptu markets.

We had spent the day weaving in and out of the various quarters of the Old City. It’s staggering to see so much history heaped up (literally) within a square kilometre or so, with each new era building on top of the last. I also can’t think of another city that has ended uo with so many foreign countries owning slices of real estate within its city walls. The most depressing sight was the recent Israeli settlers who have managed to stake a claim to property within the Muslim quarter and flaunt their presence with large Israeli flags and ugly security measures.

The Old City is a complete warren of ancient streets and buildings. Mohammed grew up within its walls and was a faultless guide to the area and a fount of knowledge on its history, both ancient and modern. As we did the rounds of the sights from the Via Dolorosa to the Wailing Wall, we learned a lot about the troubles of the city past and present. Having been brought upon Bible stories and then the Holocaust, it’s hard not to have sympathy for Jews wanting to make a home in Israel. However, once in Israel, they do seem to be doing their best to exhaust that stock of western goodwill by their treatment of their Palestinian neighbours.

Much to talk about over dinner tonight.