Population explosion


There are going to be more Lego people than human beings by 2019 (Peter Spence, City AM).

But the surprising thing is that the mini-figures have only been around since 1978.  No offence to Lego – it feels like longer.

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Dirty cash. Mucky tablets. Filthy phones.


Money laundering – presoak!

Germs are everywhere this week.  And I mean everywhere.

Still reeling from the revelation that Britain’s new plasticky bank notes will provide a cosy home for E.Coli and MRSA bugs, the UK is again rocked to its core today by news that “smartphones and tablets now harbour thousands more germs than a TOILET SEAT” (Daily Mail’s emphasis).

After giving my iPhone a quick wipe down, I wondered: who’s behind these contamination scare stories?  And should I buy shares in a hand gel manufacturer?

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Bypassing politics won’t work

Today Sir John Armitt proposed the creation of an independent body to tackle Britain’s poor record on the planning and delivery of major infrastructure projects.

Sir John has a strong pedigree, having chaired the Olympic Delivery Authority for the 2012 Games. His National Infrastructure Commission aims to remove big strategic decisions about transport, energy or telecoms schemes from the political bear pit.

And that’s where it starts to unravel. Planning – especially where big landscape-changing projects are concerned – is inherently political. These decisions can’t be ducked or handed over to committees of the great and good. Plans need to be talked about, fought over and – in some cases – thrown out if that’s the decision people want to make. You can’t take the politics out of planning.

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What’s in a name?





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It’s not rubbish that needs more room

It's bin a while...

It’s bin a while…*

It’s easy to fall out of the habit of blogging.   Eric Pickles has enticed me back to the keyboard.

Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles wants to tackle the menace of multiplying bins on our streets.  He has called for new housing developments to include extra storage space for the clutter of wheelie bins that spill across many pavements.

Pickles has a point. These attention-grabbing bright blue, green and brown boxes look terrible: why do bins have to be such a prominent part of the visual environment?  Progress is all about hiding rubbish.  We got rid of middens, stopped people throwing crap out their windows and pushed water waste into underground sewers.  ‘In your face’ wheelie bins are a backwards step.

That said, instead of calling for more room for bins, Pickles should be pushing for more room for people.  Britain’s population now grows by 400,000 people a year.  But in the twelve months to March, only 101,920 new house builds were started in England. Fast rising prices (and rents) are making large parts of the country – the parts that drive the economy – unaffordable.  In London, houses now cost more than twelve times the average income.

In the past, I’ve written about a ‘planning panic‘ that prevents us from having a sensible debate about where we’re all going to live in our increasingly crowded islands.  This panic risks turning into paralysis: on housing, transport and energy we seem to be going nowhere.

Planning Minister Nick Boles is doing his bit (and not winning many friends for it).  It’s time his colleagues – and the Opposition – took the risk of starting a grown-up conversation about how we can find more room for people.

* some bins enhancing my front yard, yesterday

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Booming London gets new lines

More trains are coming online  – but plans for more planes are still up in the air.

Yesterday the proposed routes for Crossrail 2 went into public consultation.  This £16bn project will create fast new north-south connections through the capital.  There’s a video fly-though of the schemes here.

Because Crossrail 2 is sponsored by Transport for London, the Mayor’s office can vigorously and effectively push a project that Boris Johnson deems “quite simply essential”.

If only the same could be said of airports.  London is crying out for a bigger air hub.   But Westminster has kicked the issue into the long grass: the government’s Airports Commission is not due to report until summer 2015.

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Can you keep a secret?

Whisper whisper...

Whisper whisper…

As more of life goes digital, data security becomes a bigger and bigger issue.  We’re all learning that data is a lot more than numbers.  It’s our bank accounts, our medical records, our love letters and, in the age of the smartphone, our location.

Growing awareness of the value of data offers a golden opportunity to brands that have earned people’s trust.  A brand that has the credibility to say ‘your secrets are safe with me’ will be able to charge a premium.

So it’s mystifying to see some businesses playing fast and loose with their customers’ data.  Particularly when it’s businesses that should just know better because data is their stock-in-trade.  Last night the Bank of England branded financial information company Bloomberg ‘reprehensible’ for its snooping on customers.

At the weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that research company Ipsos Mori was offering to sell on customer data from mobile operator Everything Everywhere to the Metropolitan Police.  According to the report (£), detailed in a BBC story, “information about 27 million EE customers was on offer, including their gender, age, postcode, the websites they visited, the time of day they sent texts and their location when making calls.

Everything Everywhere responded that, while Ipsos Mori had access to data, the information had been ‘anonymised’ and could not used to identify the personal data of individual customers.  And, as the BBC Technology report goes on to state, Everything Everywhere is not alone in offering this kind of information: Vodafone and O2 are also in the game.

It’s natural that network operators should look for new ways to recoup the huge investments they make in infrastructure.  But if they do it by selling customer data any short term gains could come at the cost of customer trust.  As data privacy becomes a critical issue for customers, trust becomes the most precious asset any business can own. Once lost, it’s very hard to win back.

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