While this is obviously bad news for the people involved, is it good or bad compared to the industry as a whole?
The tenor of the story implies it is bad news.
But then the details of the story don’t quite back that up.
Firstly, the 440 figure is the total of four years worth of data collected by the GBM union from local authorities via freedom of information requests. The figure for the last complete year, 2017-2018, was 149.
Is this number high? Well, Amazon says it has 25,000 people employed in the UK and the Health and Safety Executive says the average non-fatal accident rate in the warehousing and transportation support industries category in 2016-2017 was 1,577 per 100,000 workers.
Assuming the rate has stayed about the same the following year, for Amazon to have had an average accident rate it would have recorded 394 accidents. So on these data you could say Amazon is a substantially better than average performer on accidents.
The BBC story quotes the GMB saying : “the actual numbers were probably higher, because some local authorities were unable to provide details of incident reports.”
That may well be so, but frankly they could be double and it still would not be much of a story.
Today the IPCC came out with its sternest warning yet about the dangers the world faces if global warming isn’t held to 1.5degC.
The thing is, we already know how Governments can do this. They tax the things they want less of and incentivise the things they want more of. This is simple and it works.
Take electric cars. If you want sales to grow fast bring in an effective incentive scheme. Norway leads the field on this. Its electric car policy saw a huge increase in the sales of electric cars. In 2015 22% of new car sales were electric and this is expected to grow to 30% in 2020. This was achieved through low road tax, VAT exemption, free parking for EVs and access to bus lanes, for example.
Or alternative energy.
Solar energy went from virtually nothing to 3% of the UK’s total energy generation between 2010 and 2017, driven by reducing costs for photovoltaics but mainly by Government incentives in the form of the Feed In Tariff.
Government actions matter. Concerned about the rising cost the Government changed the policy in 2016 with the result that solar installations plummeted by 74% year on year in March 2016. Solar will continue to grow because the economics are getting better, but more slowly that it would have otherwise.
Governments all have a balancing act to perform, trading off the immediate needs of the electorate, without whom they will not remain in power, and the longer-term needs of the country.
To encourage the growth of more environmentally-friendly transport options – cycling, walking, public transport, electric cars – raising fuel taxes is a sensible policy. And yet petrol prices are a sensitive issue with the public so we have not had a rise in duty for nine years.
The best hope of avoiding the short term trap is the law. The Climate Change Act of 2008 was a great example of this – in effect the Government willingly making a rod for its own back.
This law obligates the Government to reduce CO2 emissions to at least 80% below the 1990 baseline. This allows citizens and environmental groups to hold the Government’s feed to the fire if they don’t live up to this challenge. This doesn’t eliminate the short term decisions which will have a potential long-term detrimental effect, but it does make it far more likely that course correction is forthcoming.
It will be interesting to see what this month’s budget tells us about the balancing act.
Many years ago when my boys were young teenagers we used to have to take them off every Saturday to play Warhammer, the strategy game you play in person with others with characters you bought and lovingly painted yourself. It became a big obsession with both of them, rivalling even Pokemon and I got to know Games Workshop well.
I spoke to colleagues at work and unless they also had boys of a similar age they were oblivious to the whole phenomenon.
These Warhammer characters were not cheap and the rules of game were so obtuse that it was amazing so many teenage boys became so hooked (or maybe not, knowing teenage boys).
Anyway, I figured this was an interesting business model so I bought a few shares. Today the company was featured in The Economist as the best performing stock in the FTSE 250.
I may have had to wait 15 years, but I can really pick a stock – this one has risen by over 526%.
Interesting talk this lunchtime at the RSA from Don Carter about his new book Remaking Post-Industrial Cities, which looks at 10 cities in the US and Europe and charts their decline and recovery.
Carter looks at the history of the cities in three phases:
The industrial powerhouse phase, from 1865 to 1945
Renaissance, from 1946 to 1985
Re-invention from 1986 to 2015
He argues that there are clear parallels between all the cities he has studied and that lessons can be drawn.
First up, turning cities around in the post-industrial period takes time and determination. It is important to realise the the scale is large – metropolitan and long-term. This means, a strong vision of what kind of city is being built it critical. And it means strong leadership and being prepared to take risks. Often it has involved very significant investment, such as the Olympics in Barcelona, but these grand plays aren’t enough on their own, as they can fail.
The successful cases have all developed diversified economies, have strengthened the central city and have invested in culture, heritage and quality of life.
The over-riding impression at the end though, underlined by perceptive questions from the audience, was that while the city may recover, many of the people who made their lives there often don’t and that tectonic societal upheavals, such as the election of Trump, or Brexit, or populism in Italy, may the cost.
Maybe we can look back on the cities themselves in 20 years with satisfaction that they recovered so well, but what happened to the broader society in the meantime is quite another question.
Don Carter is an architect, urban designer and developer of international renown. He is currently Director of Urban Design and Regional Engagement at the Remaking Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University.
The outcome of the SEC investigation into Elon Musk’s wayward tweet on taking Tesla private could turn out to be either very good, or very bad.
The requirement by the SEC that Musk and Tesla each pay $20m in fines is trivial for both. The instruction to hire an independent chairman to oversee Musk is the crucial condition.
Tech company founders have often found themselves in need of outside experience to lead once their enterprises reach a certain size . Those who can make the product, seldom have the characteristics or experience to morph into successful managers of much larger enterprises.
The best example of this working well was Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to hire Eric Schmidt to front up their rapidly growing company in 1998. It was the persistence of their VC backers which led them to find Schmidt eventually and the arrangement worked like a dream.
However, there are several reasons why a similar successful outcome may be harder for Musk to pull off, and these are two of the major ones:
The SEC has given Tesla 45 days for Musk to resign the chairman’s role, not a lot of time for such a tricky and sensitive search, especially so since it is unlikely Musk has spent any time thinking about what wants or needs from such a relationship.
Musk has a towering self-belief which seems to cover just about every walk of life – extra-terrestrial colonisation, combatting climate change, rescuing children from flooded underground tunnels. It is perhaps unlikely that he recognises the possible benefits which would accrue from a wiser corporate head, experienced in the ways of public companies.
It would be very good for the world if a Schmidt-like outcome occurred. Whether it can or not remains to be seen.
Great summary today at the RSA of climate change from Environment Agency head Sir James Bevan. He was concise and chilling on the enormity of the challenge of climate change and the catastrophic consequences of failure to act decisively.
Sadly, but predictably, he was less impressive in his assessment of the progress being made in Britain and around the world. As a political appointee it would be naive to expect him to point out the inconsistencies between the current Government’s language and its actions – support for fracking, removal of support for on-shore wind, reduction in financial incentives for solar energy, tax breaks for oil and gas, freeze on petrol tax etc, etc.
“If we don’t get it right Britain will be neither, green, nor pleasant, nor even have much land”
He says governments have to tread carefully because of their electorates, but that hardly covers it. Still, the fact that he is laying out the challenge so starkly (“if we don’t get it right Britain will be neither, green, nor pleasant, nor even have much land”) is a surely good thing.
There is something very disturbing about the modern habit of making instant judgements about everything, simple or complex. This has been blamed on the 24-hour news cycle which is said to force quicker and quicker stories out for fear that a particular news outlet is going to look slow. It has also been blamed on the rise of social media which has encouraged us all to believe that our voice has a right to be heard and that our opinions are as valid as anyone’s. It has also been blamed on short, modern attention spans.
Whatever the cause, the net effect of all this is quite seriously bad, in my view. Of course it is a good thing that we are not all meekly waiting to be told what to think by those in power, elected or otherwise. In the past this mental attitude of deference has lead to some terrible iniquities, the details of which come out on a regular basis (think sex scandals involving children’s homes or Churches of one denomination or another, or the horror stories coming out thanks to the #MeToo campaign, even now touching China, it seems.
But there is a downside, too. Take yesterday’s news that there was a terrorist attack on the House of Parliament. We don’t know much about Salih Khater, the driver of the car which crossed lanes in front of Parliament and injured three cyclists and pedestrians before crashing into the barriers. Yesterday he was a terrorist. Today, the police say they haven’t found anything to link him to terrorism and it seems his motives (or reasons, as it could be he or the car malfunctioned for all we know) are a mystery as yet.
So yesterday it was a daring terror attack, today we are not quite sure, tomorrow or probably sometime later we will find out the truth.
What effect does this have, though? It feeds the impression that we are living in dangerous times, that we are under attack from people who would harm us. And the initial conclusions are, I suspect, seldom reset.
In this sound-bite and tweet-driven world there is little room for complexity or subtlety. So far we have reaped the benefits of transparency and ease of publication but at the cost of polarisation and populism. Consider the reaction to the dreadful collapse of the motorway bridge in Genoa which is being blamed by Italy’s senior politicians on privatisation, corruption and the EU before any investigation has even begun. How could you possibly draw a conclusion like that so quickly? The answer is you can’t, but that doesn’t really work in a rapid-fire world.
We have yet to work out how to restore some balance and reason in this new environment. But we really should be trying harder.
This photo illustrates a common theme – that modern audiences of anything spend too much time taking pictures of events they are attending rather than looking at them with their own eyes.
You hear the criticism levelled by musicians and sportsmen and women as well as by commentators.
I think we shouldn’t judge too harshly. This trend speaks to a deeper human need – to make our mark on the world, to record the fact that we were here.
These are hand stencils believed to have been created 39,000 years ago found in a cave in Spain – the earliest examples known to exist. This unknown cave dweller is making his or her mark on the world, very much as having a photo of an epic event you attended on your own phone is. The difference may not as great as we would like to believe.
Apple’s acquisition of Texture looks like a pretty shrewd move against the back-drop of “fake news” and worries about social media network enabled “bubbles”. Whether the company can turn Texture, which offers monthly subscriptions for unlimited content for hundreds of participating media, into a text version of iTunes remains to be seen. But having Apple, which does not have advertising as its principal business model, pushing quality paid-for content is an interesting and healthy development.
It’s not hard to see the effects of post-industrialisation in Britain. Today’s Observer carried a vivid account of its effects in Ebbw Vale, a once-thriving steel town.
And there are some sensible suggestions about how to deal with the aftermath, as well as the next wave of de-employment which will soon be upon us, brought about by the increasing use of robots and AI. As the article quotes:
“Automation is a risk to many occupations across Wales and the UK,” says Professor Julie Lydon, chair of Universities Wales who recently wrote an article entitled The Robots are Coming.
The key to avoiding a repeat of the devastation caused when the mines and factories shut is investment in skills, according to Lydon.”
So his solution, common to many, is to “focus on developing skills which are with you for life, and make you more adaptable and employable through your career.” This is easier said than done. He says it will mean “building on existing collaboration between universities, employers and colleges, and finding new ways to provide these skills, such as through degree apprenticeships.” This is all good stuff, and the right thing to be doing now, slightly ahead of the automation drive to come. But as automation pushes further and deeper into the economy, it won’t be enough.
This approach doesn’t address the longer-term. It’s hard to see many jobs which won’t be capable of automation in the future. And if we continue simply to focus on “jobs” as if this is a synonym for a fulfilled life, we will be attempting to solve the short-term problem while leaving the much larger challenge completely unaddressed.
We need to start teaching our children to develop meaningful lives with or without “jobs”, or we may find ourselves slipping into a world where we try to out-compete automation at any cost in a quest to hang onto the “jobs”, a losing battle and one which will cost dear.