Thursday, 26 April 2012

Why have cost effective and locally sourced, when branded and expensive will do?

During a visit to Bracknell one lunch hour, I noticed a number of council employees wearing new fleece tops.  I also spotted that they had the embroidered logo of BFBC on one side, and the brand 'Sprayway' on the other.

Inevitably, that made me wonder why the council had chosen a rather expensive brand, rather than something more generic and not as expensive, so I submitted a FoI request, which you can see below.

The response is rather vague on how much has been spent on them in total, so I did a bit more investigating.  The closest fleece top I can find in the Sprayway range comes in at about £100, so if you take a little off for bulk purchase, and then add a bit on for the logo to be embroidered, I'd estimate around £80 per top was paid by the council.

I also buy fleece tops for my employees, and they cost around £25 each, including embroidery.  I purchase them from a local supplier too, who is very responsive when I need changes or different colours etc.  They also pay their business rates to BFBC.

So the question must be asked - why have more cost effective and locally sourced, when branded and expensive will do?!  Or perhaps the more pressing question is, why is the taxpayer clothing the council employees in times of austerity...

Page 1 of the FoI request
Page 2

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tesco's car parking - or a lesson in alienating your customers...

My local Tesco's store put up signs about six months ago, warning customers that if they were to park there for more than 3 hours, they agree to pay a £70 fine.  This is monitored and managed by a CCTV camera network in the car park, and run by a private firm, not Tesco's directly.

Let's get that into context.  The store in question is nowhere near a train station, a major shopping area, a town centre with a lack of parking, or a sports venue that requires extra parking.  Not once, in the eight odd years I've seen it, have I found the car park full with no spaces available, other than the mad rush on a christmas eve, which we all expect.

The store is, however, on the same development as a number of essential public services and other shops, such as the local library, two doctors surgeries, a hairdressers, the local parish council office, an estate agency and a dry cleaners.

This means that a member of the public, parking to access some of these services, have a maximum of 3 hours to complete their visit, else they face the fine.... Or do they?

It's worth noting, there is no private parking firm that has the authority to impose a penalty on a driver - only the local council and/or the police have that power.  They can write to the DVLA and get your details and write to you, they can make demands of you, they can even pass the fine off to a debt collection agency to collect on their behalf, but it is very simple to overcome - just ignore it!  And don't just take my word for it, Martin Lewis of the website, agrees.  As of the date of this post, no-one has ever been taken to court for the non-payment of a private parking fine.  Why?  Because the contract is called an 'adhesion' contract, and is unenforceable.  The parking management companies know this, but they use threatening and intimidating letters and notices to bully people into paying up, while Tesco's takes their cut, and blames the parking company when customers get upset at being 'fined'.  Every little helps, eh?!

What really gets my goat, though, is the threats, the demands, the intimidation - of customers!  Why would I want to spend my hard earned cash in a supermarket that threatens me before I've got through the door?  Why would I want to support an enterprise that decides, arbitrarily, to restrict peoples access to their public services?  Why would I want to shop somewhere that has this level of contempt for their customers?  Answers on a postcard!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Council cone-tractors

A bit of 'elf and safety muppetry today.  

The first pic shows Bracknell Forest council workers cutting the grass on a roundabout.  Note they have put a ring of cones around the roundabout, as though someone driving straight onto the roundabout in a car and presenting a danger would be prevented by a small plastic traffic cone.  In fact, maybe a FoI request is needed to see how many accidents and fatalities are caused each year by drivers mounting roundabouts and doing some mowing down of their own!

Then contrast that with the second and third pictures of a team painting white lines on the road leading up to the same roundabout.  This time the guy is wondering about in the traffic, with a propane gas cylinder and a naked flame, and not a cone in sight.  Surely the latter is more dangerous, yet no driver warnings required?  Either somebody isn't following the rules, or the council are just looking for more ways to waste time and money...

Cone-sider the dangers of mowing grass!
...and in with the traffic
Explosive gas, no cones...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Vodafone - success story

This is a bit of an older tale, but it might be useful for others so I'll post it anyway.

A few years back, I had a problem after moving to Vodafone, in that they had me on the wrong tariff and did little to correct the problem, even though it was costing me hundreds of pounds every month.  Nothing, that is, until I sent this email to the executive board and everyone I could find with an email address on their various websites.

Result - a refund of £2,500, a new 12 month contract with free data and texts, and a personal account manager to correct any future issues.  I had three calls by 8 am the morning after sending it from the customer services director, the PA to the CEO and the marketing director!

More subway madness

Those idiots at my local council really do take the biscuit for stupidity.  I had a bit of a pop at them a while ago for spending £16,635 painting a subway wall, while at the same time cutting public services for the elderly and in need, and I was, as is normal, given the brush off by the man in charge, Steve Loudoun.  Details on the complaint and FoI request can be found on the Bracknell Blog.

More recently, the council have had complaints about another nearby subway that, when it rains, becomes impassable unless you're wearing wellies (great that it looks nice, shame it can't be used!), so they sent out a team to fix the drainage, and this is what they came up with.

You can see from the first pic, the drain itself is a good three inches higher than the surrounding footpath.  I'm no plumber, but I do know if the plughole on my bath was up where the taps are, not much water would drain away.

They then returned, and added a layer of tarmac around the drain, as though that would fix the issue.  All that happens is the rainwater collects inside the subway, and has to reach a depth of three inches before it starts being drained away (the second pic was taken after a short shower - it becomes flooded in a deluge).

Raised drain, chocolate fireguard
Slap some tarmac down, job done - not!

When I made the original complaint about the painted subway, Bracknell News asked for a comment from the council, and the elected member responsible, Mary Ballin, said “I have full faith in Steve and his team to get the best possible value for money”, so there's another example of bullsh*t to cover up incompetence again - thanks Mary!

So how long do we go on funding these buffoons?  How long will it take before they figure out that leeching money from the public and then wasting it in royal style like this isn't going to last forever?

UPDATE - here's the subway after one of the recent sharp showers.  You can see from the unbroken reflection, the water is wall to wall, making the subway impassable.

Even more worrying, I saw some people today walking across four lanes of traffic and jumping over the railings in the middle of the road, simply because the subway was flooded and that was the only alternative (other than a walk to the next roundabout and back, perhaps half a km) - so now lives are being put at risk because of the councils incompetence.

Is it any wonder we're favourites in the Olympic rowing?!

Banks breaking their own security rules!

How many times are we told by the banks that we shouldn't give any of our details to someone who calls us?  And then they go and call us and ask us to pass security checks - how stupid are these people?!!

Have a listen to these short clips, just for fun!  Clip 1  Clip 2

Barclays contactless cards

I was interested to see the recent C4 documentary on the lack of security built into the new Barclays contactless cards.

When I was first sent a contactless card, I did question the security on it with the bank, and I was given the usual 'we cover you for fraud so don't worry' excuse.  I also have concerns over the security on the chip and PIN system, but I'll post that separately as I'm still investigating that.

However, after the documentary, I decided I didn't want my bank details broadcast around me without any encryption, so I called the bank and asked them if I could get a new card issued, without the contactless technology.  Have a listen to what Alex, the customer service team leader, says to try and overcome my concerns - he agrees that he saw fraud take place on the documentary, and then insists the technology is safe in the same breath - what a moron!  I also find it interesting that the regular customer service agents get panicky when they are told the call is being recorded - something to hide perhaps?!

I think this is a fine example of a corporate borg regurgitating what he's been told by his masters without thinking about it, and it highlights the contempt and disregard Barclays have for their customers.

Fortunately, the web saves the day again - I found this guide to disabling the antenna that transmits the details to thieves, so get busy with a knife and stay safe.

Enough is enough!

So you think you are valued when handing over your hard earned cash? Think again! More and more, government officials and big companies are taking advantage of you and I. Want proof? Think about each of the following, and ask yourself - in whose interest is it?

  • Massive cuts to public services while bailing out the banks to the tune of billions
  • Insurance costs rising by way more than inflation, you’re told it’s because more claims are being made, and yet the insurer announces record profits
  • Talk of limiting bankers bonuses, yet record bonuses paid anyway 
  • 335 MPs caught claiming dodgy expenses, yet only 5 prosecuted 
  • Business leaders making redundancies while awarding themselves record salaries 
  • Big payouts for failure, such as Sharon Shoesmith (Baby P) and Fred Goodwin (RBS) 
  • The Police regularly lying to cover up their own failures or brutality 
  • Courts sentencing minor offences harshly, while letting off those in positions of authority when they are found to be criminals and committing much more serious offences 
  • Successive governments borrowing more than they could afford to win votes, then expecting the public to clear up the mess they leave behind 
  • Bankers who manipulate markets to earn themselves a tidy profit, at the expense of the individual investor or sometimes the taxpayer
  • Energy bills going through the roof, while the energy company announces record profits 
  • Companies hiding behind automated telephone systems to avoid accountability 
  • Lack of security on personal data held by companies, and their disregard for the impact on customers when hacked
I hope to use this blog to highlight examples of these as I find them.  I come well armed!  I have a range of tech gadgets that I plan to use to record calls, video those responsible, and where possible, share any communications on this blog.  Of course, your own experiences are also welcome - just type me an email with what you'd like to post, and if it looks good, I'll share it with all!

The more I look under the bonnet and ask polite but probing questions of those in 'authority', the more I find that the government is run by incompetent, money grabbing thieves.  There has to come a time when we all simply, collectively and loudly say the magic word - NO!

As for corporations, I seem to have a knack of complaining to force them to acknowledge their failings, and this is often accompanied by a compensation payment - in the last 3 years, I have made around £7,000 from LloydsTSB, Barclays and Vodafone to name a few.  Again, I'll happily share the letters, emails and calls with these organisations, in the hope that you feel happy to do the same.  Just imagine if we were all complaining all the time - customer service would soon improve for all of us!

One last note - as a tech, I am fully aware of the dangers of publishing personal information on the web, so much of what you'll find will be anonymised, or 'redacted'.  This isn't a reflection of any ill intent or underhandness on my part, I just prefer to keep my personal business, well,  personal!