Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Hacked-off

I’m singularly hacked-off today. No, it’s not about the call I had from The Halifax Bank surveying my opinion on the quality of their customer services. Would I recommend the Halifax to a friend? Not on your life, given the record of ineptitude I’ve experienced this year.

What really annoyed me today was a minor emergency involving my aircraft. I was due to have lunch this afternoon with Peter Hayes, the VP of Government Business for Microsoft and had planned to fly to White Waltham, near Reading, to meet him.

Fly EU Jet from Manston from September 1st

About thirty seconds after taking-off from the runway, a latch on the engine inspection hatch on my front cowling, failed and the slipstream swiftly found its way underneath the cover, breaking the second latch and forcing the hatch open to twist and bank against my windscreen, which was a little unnerving as it hid my view of the world outside. After another thirty seconds or so of flight, it twisted and tore itself off the aircraft, falling into one of the fields below, as I pulled the aircraft back into the circuit to make an emergency landing.

The damage isn’t serious and the engineer has taken a look and ordered the new parts which should be with me next week but it forced the cancellation of my lunch with Microsoft and my instrument revalidation exam tomorrow.

It could have been worse I suppose. I was thinking only this weekend that with the number of hours I now have, I’m about due for something to go wrong and so if this is the worst I can expect, I’m doing well.

If Manston seems a little quiet, it's because MK airlines, the freight carriers, are moving to Ostende. In a loss to the airport's finances, MK, who appear to believe that Manston is overcharging them, are taking their business elsewhere, simple market forces. This rather seems to support what many people are saying about the local government forcing new business out of the area by being too greedy, whether this involves the harbour at Ramsgate or the Airport at Manston.

Don't believe it!

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of daft rumours flying around that EU Jet, who start their scheduled service out of Manston next week, will only last until March, because the lease on their aircraft runs out and one can’t book on their website after April. I made a quick call to their Managing Director, who told me that it was “Absolute rubbish” as the software for next summer routes hasn’t been loaded yet and the aircraft are leased from the company’s largest shareholders.

According to Managing Director, Mike Halper, "EU Jet now has over 10,000 unique visitors a day to its Website, which is more hits than Aer Lingus, Singapore Airlines, Iberia and numerous other airlines receive in the UK market."

"On the 1st September EU Jet's first four services to Amsterdam, Dublin, Nice and Girona are all in excess of 80% load factors, the first flight to Murcia on Saturday the 4th of September has 107 people booked and 67 on the return (despite it being the first inbound....). As far out as next February some of the popular ski destinations like Salzburg and Geneva have flights 80% full."

"In the next few days senior managers in every major company in Kent and Shannon will receive a letter from EUjet containing a paper aeroplane urging them to support the services from their local airports. At the same time 2million people in Manchester, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow will get an email from EUjet/Kent Tourism Alliance promoting short breaks in Kent. We have over 800 radio ads running every week in Kent, adverts in every major Kent regional newspaper and billboards in every major train station and at key roadside points. 300 taxis in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester take to the streets next week with the campaign "If you are going to Kent you should fly to Kent".

"In terms of where we are today we are considerably ahead of where we expected to be in terms of revenue and bookings, and these continue to get stronger every day."

It just goes to show that rumours are just that and as I look out of my window, I’ve just noticed one of the new EU Jet Fokker aircraft flying circuits. I’m taking my family to Nice on the 9th September with the airline, so I’ll report back on the experience, a change to have someone else doing the flying. I wonder if they go as far as White Waltham?


Monday, August 02, 2004

Carts & Horses

For real evidence of the progress of electronic government in Britain, there are times when you don’t have to look much further than your front door.

My local council, The Isle of Thanet, on what the locals call “Planet Thanet” at the Eastern edge of the known universe, has, since my last visit finally, turned its Web site from a token informational mess into a useful source of information, on-line payments and downloadable forms for the relatively low proportion of the local population that has access to the Internet. Whether they actually visit the council Website is another question but then, if they do, there’s no guarantee that the council will actually respond to any enquiries, electronic or otherwise.



Last month, according to the local paper, the Thanet Gazette, the audit commission produced a “Damning” report, “A catalogue of mistakes which included unsatisfactory customer services, a lack of investment in IT, unreliable computer systems and a failure to answer more than a quarter of a million telephone calls.”

Now, to me, this sounds rather more like a progress report for central government and in particular, the note in the report that highlights a "systems crash" in 2003, which resulted in the loss of a large amount of work. But meanwhile, back in Whitehall, the cogs of government continue to grind relentlessly with, last week, The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, releasing the draft proforma for the fourth round of the Implementing Electronic Government Statement exercise, which is a little different to its predecessor, whereas in last year's IEG3 exercise, councils were asked to report on progress against the six-part model of the local e-Organisation, in IEG4 local authorities are required to self-assess their progress towards delivering each of the ODPM's Priority Service Outcomes up to April 2006.

Roughly translated, into English, this means more statistical paperwork to add to the mountain of forms, and meanwhile, the ODPM have decided that everyone, including local councils at the edge of the known universe, could do better and to remind us all that it both exists and is very important, the ODPM has now launched an extensive research programme to assess councils' progress in eGovernment, how they are approaching this task and find out the particular barriers they face. In a separate study, all local authorities will also be contacted shortly about a forthcoming 'web audit' on activity related to environmental issues and services.

Back on Planet Thanet, the council’s Chief Executive, Richard Samuel, reportedly blames his own problems on a level of deprivation on the picturesque island, some of this being a consequence of inner-London councils “outsourcing” many of their refugee problems to the far end of the M2 motorway. With challenges like this, to tackling, eDelivery and worries over the future of public WiFi might be asking too much of a local council that is struggling to find the resources to cut the grass around my local tennis courts. However, whether it has an “E” in front of it or not, efficient communications with the customer, the general public, remains key to local government success and so I called Mr Samuel’s office, introduced myself to PA and said, “With some experience of eGovernment, having been partly to blame for kicking off the entire agenda, I might be able to help, I’m only down the road.” She politely took my details and explained that Mr Samuels was busy and that someone would call me back. That was a week ago and so I guess you can add my name to the quarter of a million lost telephone calls, leaving me to believe that for many councils, the ODPM’s ambitious dreams of universal eGovernment efficiency at local level, are at best wishful thinking or at worst, evidence of putting the cart before an unwilling horse.