Voting with your wallet

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been ranting to enough people over glasses (numerous) of wine recently that it was bound to turn up eventually in my blog. The subject being my general and growing unease with corporate entities who engage in tax avoidance shenanigans. It riles me even more when the same people use “The consumer gets a better price” as an excuse. (Sure, you get cheap books but your kid’s school now can’t afford books – see the problem here?)

Image source & copyright: Guardian.co.uk

Obligatory Guardian sourced image (note the Guardian are owned by an offshore based trust so they are certainly not getting off scott free)

I’ve had pretty heated discussions about politics with many friends/ colleagues/ family over the years, and I must state now that my general views trend towards redistributionism, especially for unearned income, but this is not the aim of this post. There are endless discussions to be had around inheritance/equality of opportunity and the like, and I’ll leave those for another time. This blog is more about the feeling that corporate entities, especially, if they benefit from the market that a population provides (including a stable political system in which to do business; transport infrastructure to get their staff and customers to their locations; police and safety institutions that keep their money, customers and staff safe; and an education system that provides them with qualified staff) they should be contributing fairly to the taxes that fund that crucial infrastructure. I am far from thinking that making money is evil in of itself, and I’m plenty happy for companies to live or die by their levels of competitiveness/product range/R&D etc. I am much less comfortable when the reason they can undercut others’ prices is because they’re swerving payments that other operators have to pay by law.

I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me, but there is a growing movement across the UK in particular to shame both public figures and multinational companies into facing the results of their actions. Starbucks, Amazon and Google are well known companies that have been used as poster boys for how not to act (and how not to brief your senior executives for questions with an MP). There is also troubling evidence for these companies that consumers are not happy about their actions.

The Mission: Ethical Shopping

ethical shoppingThe fury that some companies create is often dismissed as “the politics of envy” and I’m sure there are some people for whom resentment of people richer than them has an ugly core of jealousy – but there is a very real issue of equality – not of money, but equality of tax treatment, at the heart of this issue, which definitely makes my hackles rise. The government should definitely be sorting it out, as it’s a farce that multi-jurisdictional entities are able to avoid payments that smaller companies cannot avoid, but until they do, I’m on my own personal mission to positively discriminate where possible towards those of whose actions I approve.

It’s not going to be possible to totally change my purchasing (and hey, I work in advertising, that well known ethical sector) but if I can  make a few key changes then I’ll be happier that I’m making a difference, even if small.

Task 1) Change bank account.

A few years ago I changed my personal account to Smile, the internet offshoot of the Co-operative Bank, and have been really happy with them, so my next step was to move our joint account also. As I do with everything, I tried to do it all online at first but because Jules wasn’t around at the same time and with joint accounts you need both people there,it became a bit of a chore and it was easier to register with the Co-operative Bank themselves and receive the application details by post, which made the process take a few more days (and sacrificed a few trees needlessly ;).

Once that had been done, they contacted our previous bank (Barclays) and all the direct debits were moved over seamlessly. We were given a temporary £1,000 overdraft in case there was a mismatch of bills/salary payments during the crossover period (which there was so it came in handy).

All in all, pretty easy and I now have the added smugness of knowing that my finances aren’t contributing to dictators or weapons supply.

Ease – 2 out of 5, (5 being the most difficult)

tree hugging

Tree hugging of course

Task 2) Green energy

I have been a typical “switcher” with my energy supply over the last few years – changing my supplier every year or so, following the cheap deals and trying to save money above all else. There has always been an element of greenery poking through the decision process – I’ll often pay a little bit more to get a greener tariff, for instance, but the majority of energy has always been from traditional sources reflecting the average UK supply – natural gas, coal fired power stations etc.

I decided this time to put my money where my mouth is and go for the largest green element to energy supply that I could find, which turned out to be 100% of electricity with Ovo Energy, although gas is still mostly North Sea supplied as right now we can’t yet use cow farts in the national gas network :). The good thing is that my bills still appear to be the same, but I’m benefiting from the smug factor again.

Next up – food, books, xmas presents…..

Two notes:

For anyone interested, there’s some great research in Ethical Consumer Magazine between providers in various sectors  and you can choose the issues you care about – eco, green, veggie, tax etc, so that the recommendations fit your needs. )

Apology that the book lover link is linking to Amazon. You don’t have to buy from there, in fact I positively encourage you to go to your local independent bookshop instead.

Business Is Personal

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Slightly out of my usual ranty character on this blog, I’m publishing a piece I wrote for the Brandrepublic Career Blog which is going to be published in the next couple of weeks. I thought I’d cover it here too because it’s concerning my fundamentals about doing business – and indeed building relationships in all sorts of spheres, in which I think it’s crucial that you are true to yourself and the other people, and live out your beliefs.

Last month’s Online Adspend figures from the IAB give us some data to prove what we all know within the digital industry – not only is digital now the single largest part of all advertising spend (28% over TVs 26% of all advertising spending) but it continues to grow at a recession-defying pace.

With the advertising market overall predicted to grow by around 3% in 2012 (source), digital advertising jauntily grew by 12.6% year on year in the first half of 2012, with paid search maintaining its place as both the largest portion of this (59%) and the fastest growing (15.9% year on year).

This of course is great news for those of us in this industry – our jobs are relatively secure in a world where many other sectors are shedding staff in droves. What these figures don’t tell of course is the underlying story of staff churn and salary inflation created by these figures.

Having worked in digital since 1999, and agencies since 2005 I’ve been a grateful career benefactor of digital supply and demand, and also seen the impact of these issues first hand as manager of digital and search agency teams.

When I joined MediaCom to run the UK paid search department in 2011 I inherited a team of 38 people that had been churning at a rate of over 75% for the last two years.  The reasons were many but not unfamiliar – a great training ground created a bank of very employable staff, who were approached weekly by recruitment consultants/other agencies and offered hugely tempting salaries – which are easy to afford if you don’t have to fund the costs of training or unproductivity for new and management staff during the training process.

Add this to the youth of the agency sector and the fact that most graduates start with a huge debt burden, and it’s not surprising we have the perfect storm for huge staff churn, with all its negative effects on team morale, consistency in client work and time spent recruiting rather than making our teams and our work better.

My approach has always been to treat business as personal. Every decision that we make has an impact on our colleagues, clients and the wider community and it pays to remember that the people you meet will be around to help or hinder you for the rest of your career. Now that any mishap in business or personal life can also be broadcast across the entire Twittersphere within moments, it’s even more important that we are personally involved and authentic in all our professional relationships –besides – who wants to live 1/3 of every day as someone you’re not?

It can’t all be lovely fluffiness of course – we all have bills to pay and clients to service – so for this reason when managing a team I use a two pronged approach to all people management tasks:

Structural foundation: No organisation can work without the building blocks of what, who, and how. Each role within a team needs to have a job description, a personalised set of objectives for each member (based on their client mix, their skills and career aims, and the market’s possibilities), that ensure that the client’s and business needs are fulfilled.

In something as fast changing as digital, with new technologies and partners, the operational tasks that make up the objectives are likely to be changing on a regular basis, so as a minimum 1:1s are needed every 3 months to check that things are on track and the world hasn’t changed under our feet. The detail of the steps may change but career progression needs to be clearly signposted and recognised when it is achieved. Nothing is more demotivating than running just to keep still.

The personal approach: One of the best known theories in psychology is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which Maslow contends that once we satisfy our basic physical needs (food, shelter), we move onto satisfying social and status needs, and finally work our way through to self-actualisation – and hopefully finding a real purpose in our lives. Taking the workplace as a microcosm of society, we can have people at multiple levels of this hierarchy within any one team, and crucially it will not necessarily correlate to their career maturity. There will be some who are grateful to just have an income, those who desperately need more money, some who embrace the new and require fast progression or a new job title, and those who need flexibility around their family needs or just want to be with their friends. As a manager our role is to figure out what each team member’s drivers are, and how to satisfy those within the realms of our professional and personal capabilities.

The point is that there is no all encompassing perfect approach – it is different for each member of staff, and keeping up with them all certainly keeps us on our feet. Happily my tenure at MediaCom search saw the staff churn levels from 75% to 28% within less than two years, so I am taking that as a sign of success.

Oh, and remember – you can’t win them all. When people do leave; as they sometimes will for reasons outside your control; let them leave with a smile. You will come across them again – I promise – and you’ll be glad to.

Our annoyingly smug wedding story

September 22, 2012 2 comments

Partly for posterity, and partly as I found myself telling it again for the umpteenth time, I thought it was time to capture the details of our amazing wedding-the details of which have amused many a traumatised engaged couple over the years.

The story begins in my usual way, with an anally retentively well planned day: spreadsheets aplenty, many venues visited and a slight disappointment in finding out that we couldn’t get married on a moving boat (they have to be permanently moored, to allow for any random member of the public to object at the opportune moment-not that just anyone would gain entry anyway these days so a slightly pointless tradition put paid to my maritime flirtations. Back on land we finally decided on Kensington Roof Gardens, it being a) gorgeous b) in central London so easy for people from all over the place and c) able to host both the ceremony plus reception, presenting less chance of decrepit Leeds relatives getting lost and wandering around “That London” to be picked up by police in between ceremony and champagne.

So, in January 2000 we booked our slot, paid our deposit and settled down to be sold to by glossy magazines for the next 15 months until the planned day in May 2001.

Bored of choosing favours (what?) and everyone involved in commerce’s eyes lighting up as if with cartoon currency signs the minute we mentioned weddings we bailed out early and decided to go on a pre-wedding Oz/Asia ‘honeymoon’ for 6 months over the winter (aided by the timely profits from a shoebox I bought in 1993). This turned out to be the best thing we could have done at that stage-rather than stressing ourselves and destroying our relationship with endless details and frippery, we spent 6 months wondering along beaches, chilling out in hippy traveller cafes and re-discovering the joy of meeting someone or something new every day. We also saved a wodge of cash on my wedding and the bridesmaids dresses-made for under $100 for the lot, in silk, in Hoi An, Vietnam and posted back in an amusing Vietnamese post office adventure that took around 3 hours, 2 rolls of sellotape and gave us a free Vietnamese Post Office t-shirt as a thank you.

Arriving back home in March – a bit dusty and having fallen for the myth that Thai Red Bull t-shirts and fishermen’s pants were acceptable items of clothing; we thought we were in plenty of time for last minute wedding arrangements. Even the seeming reluctance of the Roof Gardens to set a date for our menu tasting didn’t worry us. We knew there had been a refurbishment over the winter (building a whole new floor it seems, for what is now Babylon restaurant) and that plenty of time had been left for over-runs, so we carried on with our lives, found and started new jobs and settled back into London life.
Little did we know then that the refurb had hit several problems, one of which I think was the discovery of asbestos, meaning the work took months longer than planned-threatening ours and one other wedding, which were the first events booked there for early May (after a January planned finish date).
So, we carried on not knowing, and when the missive of doom finally came we were floored. Since arriving home we’d stepped back onto the frenzied wedding juggernaut in which any mishap is blown up to represent the end of life as we know it. Even factoring in wedding planning paranoia this was a pretty big crisis.

The Roof Gardens refurbishment had only just finished, the kitchens weren’t ready and it all still had to be signed off for health and safety, Without this we couldn’t even use it as a room, never mind restaurant- so there was no way we could get married or have the reception there.

Big problem. Huge.

Several issues meant a replacement venue would be difficult to find:
1) we’d booked a Sunday wedding on a bank holiday weekend
2) we wanted the ceremony & reception in the same place and
3) we had 13 working days left before the wedding
4) we lived in Lewisham borough, and were getting married in Kensington & Chelsea (meaning we had to post our banns locally 10 working days before the wedding for us to legally marry)
Therefore we had 3 days to find a new venue.

3 days!!!

Anyone who’s planned a wedding will come out in a cold sweat at this thought, and believe me this was my reaction too, and terror, and fury.

And tears… many many tears.

It was at this point that events took on a bit of a surreal tint. Peter, the events manager was on the phone apologising for the venue not being ready, and he said something odd; “Richard is aware of the problem and wants to do all he can to help.”
To which I answered “Richard? Richard who?”
“Richard Branson.”
“Am I missing something? Why does Richard Branson give a shit about my wedding?”
“Well. We’re part of the Virgin group.”

Being that I work in media I did immediately think “Oh good, I’m sure he’ll do something as he’d hate bad publicity” (mental image of weeping bride on the front page of a red top), which in retrospect was ungenerous of me, as I had no idea of the extent to which Richard would become our fairy godmother over the next few days.

So Peter said he’d had some thoughts and he’d send a car around to pick me and Jules up from work that evening to show us some potential replacement venues. This in itself was a treat as we certainly aren’t the kind of people who have access to drivers at our beck and call, so we said something along the lines of “Ooooh, thanks.” and prepared for a new experience.

The car ushered us to some posh part of London I’d never been to, and pulled up in front of a *massive* white Georgian house, all beautiful dimensions and manicured gardens. We got out of the car, ran up the drive avoiding the rain, were let in the front door and as we were shaking our brollies in the hall Peter called around the doorway into a room we couldn’t yet see; “Richard, they’re here!”

We looked at each other. Seriously? Was this real?

Giggling we followed Peter into the house, to be met by non other than Richard Branson himself. Smiling, (wearing an appalling Giles Brandreth-esque jumper), shaking our hands and saying “Mel, Jules.. I am so sorry we didn’t get things ready for you in time.
May I offer you some champagne?”

We drank champers with Richard Branson as he said sorry, and (still unbelievable 11 years later) offered us his house as a potential reception venue. He then had to go off and do something far more stimulating than watching two star struck idiots stumble over their words, but we were shown where the marquee could be in the garden, where the cloakrooms would be, and stood in his lounge where our guests would later gather, looking at family photos on the walls, and plastic plane models on top of the telly and just grinned.

And yes, he did it. We had our wedding reception at Richard Branson’s house.

Peter also found us a glorious licensed ceremony venue in the 10th floor bar at the Royal Garden Hotel a skip away from the original venue, laid on double decker buses to take us from there to the Branson residence in Holland Park (oh yes) where we partied the rest of the day away, surrounded by immense joy and a very overwhelmed set of family and friends- who still to this day hark back to that wonderful day.

And the lashings of free booze they threw in as an extra sorry.

Oh I know.

I know he’s rich, and I know it’s not his only home but he didn’t have to greet us personally, or offer what was clearly one of his family homes for us to use… and that is why I always smile when I think of Virgin.

Thank you Richard!

Melanie Melons. *sigh*

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

So this is a bit of a weird one, and I guess the only reason I’ve started to think about it is that now I have a daughter I’m hyper aware of the smug/judgemental/scaremongering (delete as you see fit) media coverage that says that Eleanor is doomed to have the same physiology as me, which means, poor lass, that she’ll probably end up on the lardy side but at least she’ll have huge boobs.

The general assumption seems to be that having big boobs is a good thing, although given the media representation of larger ladies you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re actually just an adolescent joke.

Barbara Windsor in Carry On Camping - clearly being appreciated solely for her acting talent

One of my clients a few years ago in the online agency world was a cosmetic surgery company, and breast enlargement was definitely their biggest seller. We had to be *very* careful which search terms their ads came up against (it’s a XXX minefield out there) but once you’d filtered out the porn element, what remained were lots of women who seriously thought spending £4K on bigger boobs would solve their personal and emotional issues. Now I don’t have a problem with cosmetic surgery per-se – frankly if I thought I could throw money at my excess 4 stone and it would magically disappear, I’d probably do it, but sadly liposuction doesn’t work for this level of excess so I have to face it that it’s my lifestyle/level of exercise I need to change, if I want to permanently look different.

Poo.

I did once go and ask for a professional opinion on having a boob reduction, on the basis that if I didn’t have the boobs it’d be easier to do more exercise, which would make the rest of the weight easier to get rid of. It was then that I was made aware of just how horrific a procedure it is – involving cutting the nipples off totally and re-stitching them further up the remaining boobage.  Makes me shudder.

I decided not to go ahead partly due to the ikk factor, and partly because if I’m going to be overweight, I’d prefer to *also* have big boobs, rather than being overweight with no boobs at all, and this has been my general thought process about boobs since they arrived. I say arrived because that’s how it felt – through no fault/with no input from me at all, they just happened, and changed the way that people have perceived me ever since.

There was no guarantee boobs were going to happen – my mum’s a size 8, and in fact I spent a good year of my pre-pubescent life desperately wanting boobs, and borrowing one of my friend’s trainer bras, putting carefully-arranged socks in them & thinking nobody noticed how daft I must have looked.

And then puberty struck, and within weeks they started to grow… and grow. It got to the point where I thought it was normal to change bra size every couple of months. After a few months I thought “Great, that’s enough now, you can stop”, but they just kept growing.

Jessica Rabbit - another serious actress

By the age of 14 I was getting giggling sixth form boys coming up & brazenly telling me they’d had a vote and decided that I had the biggest tits in the school… and being groped regularly… and compared to Sam Fox…  and being told (seriously) that I should consider a career in topless modelling, even though I was a total nerdy swot, in the top set for everything, planning to go to university, considering either medicine or law (my how things changed later, but that was the flush of youth).

Being called Melanie didn’t help with the annoying alliterative nicknames either.

If this sounds a bit moany, then that’s because it really can be a pain. Don’t get me wrong, I am not undervaluing the benefits of gaining attention from the opposite sex, and me and my boobs have had some great fun over the years, but the problem is just that well, they’re just always there.

They get in the way, sports are a logistical/gravity defying nightmare; clothes either hang so wide that I look like I’m wearing a tent, don’t fasten and need safety pins/a vest underneath or sometimes just make me look like a whore. It’s hard to look efficient and businesslike when you have these bloody things in the way all the time, and nomatter how much you and other people studiously avoid the issue, there are *always* moments when you catch people having a quick look, which is unnerving, and undermining when you’re trying to have a serious conversation.

Dolly Parton. Millionnairess, successful singer songwriter. but it's all about the tits.

Even breastfeeding, which is what they’re bloody well *meant for*, was harder for me because I had to hold my boob *and* the baby, there was no way of doing it discreetly like these lucky mini-boob ladies who pop the baby against their chest and you don’t even see the boob. For me once they’d been released from their (ugly and unsupportive) non-wired feeding bra, you couldn’t avoid the associated acre of boob flesh nomatter where you tried to put your eyes.

So what’s the answer then?

They’re a mahoosive faff, but I don’t want to get them removed as it’s too icky.

Removable boobs, perhaps? or is that taking us back in a circle to comedy boobs again?

The riots: my tuppenceworth

August 21, 2011 2 comments

I’m not sure I’ve ever known so many people get so passionate about politics, parenting, social issues, crime, race and policing, so in a way I’m glad the London/UK riots have stimulated a lot of passionate debate. There is nothing more worrying to me than people who either refuse or see no point in getting involved or having an opinion about politics; saying “It won’t change anything”.

Many of the contributory factors to the riots were political, and we’ve already seen that the discourse and proposed (many draconian) responses will be, so it’s important to understand the political context behind issues like this in order to go any way to solving them (as all parties have previously stated- David Cameron of course has conveniently forgotten his understanding/humanity of yesteryear, of course).

So, firstly I’m saddened.

Sad that shopkeepers in run down areas, with probably no stock insurance won’t be able to regain their livelihoods, adding to the shuttered up blight.

Sad that in the same world where millions in east Africa are at risk of dying of hunger (I blame corrupt govt and religious anti-condom rhetoric for much of that) we have people who have so little context on hardship that they loot their own neighbourhood and pretend that they’re getting what they deserve.

Sad that the media blaming frenzy includes bigotry of almost every shade, and in almost every instance fails to grasp that violence, frustration, bandwagon profiteering and cruelty are neither new nor confined to the poor, unmarried, young, black or any other sector of society.

I’m also heartened by the massive movement of people involved in the #riotcleanup. Hundreds of people with brooms, dustpans and brushes turning up in Clapham, Hackney and across the country, to make good the damage other people caused brings a smile to my face and a little leap to my heart.

For what it’s worth, I have a political theory. I think the riots can be traced back to the selling of council houses. The crucial accompanying theory is my belief that between the carrot and the stick; the carrot seems a much more effective way of maintaining social norms than the stick. The fear of official punishment is often a lot less than the quest for peer approval. So instead of vast police numbers, spending a fortune on jails and punishment, (or maybe an effective addition to) the answer could be in getting society to help to maintain those standards, right?

Here’s the thing: for hundreds of years there have been strong communities of relatively poor (some may say average, as judged by the standards of the past) who lived in subsidised council housing for their entire lives. They knew their neighbours, their parents, extended family, friends from school, staff from local shops all lived in the local area.

My paternal family came from exactly such stock. I remember my Nan in Leeds telling me (on many occasions) that when a new council estate was built, she and my Grandad were proud that their family were invited to be tenants, as they had looked after their previous council house so well, and been model tenants. They were very poor-bringing up 4 kids on one unskilled wage- my grandad went from being a barber to eventually working for decades at the Tetley brewery, but they were proud, clean, law abiding and have turned out, at last count 19 descendants of varying levels of education, but all of whom are working, law abiding and grateful for the chances they have been given. Amongst all of us, the fear of parental, family and social disapproval is a far greater disincentive to crime than the tiny chance of being caught.

So, what happened when council houses were sold off? One family, often from the exact same stock as mine, gain a goldmine-a foot on the ladder, a sense of ownership and a stake in their financial future. But as the houses were sold and not replaced, and the original buyers move on; sometimes making a healthy profit along the way the community changes. The estates where everyone knew each other now have various houses split into privately rented flats (better rental return that way) with transient tenants in. The inflating housing bubble-exascerbated by the lack of affordable long term rental property, makes the privately owned ex-council stock the only property reachable for first time buyers, who move in for a few years – never intending to make this their home or where they raise their family. After a few years of decreasing social connections/pride, a few of the houses get a bit run down, then the only landlords interested are the low level private landlords who rent out ex council property for more than the council would, in a worse state of repair.

Now we get into the much touted ‘broken windows’ theory. Once a neighbourhood goes this way, it’s incredibly hard to regain its social glue, and meanwhile all the people living within it have a constantly reducing sense of social collective responsibility, and the results are clear.

None of this is to say that parents, schools, stop-and-search and ASBOs, unemployment, despair and a materially driven media don’t bear some responsibility; but in Africa they say “It takes a whole village to bring up a child” and where one or more of the above are failing, having no social safety net is hardly the way to learn that society includes you.

The token fat bird

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been ages since I last blogged, mainly because I started a new job, which has been harder and longer work than I’ve ever done. It’s also involved a better salary than I’ve ever had before so I’m not complaining, but it’s been a logistical juggling act juggling long hours & stress, trying to see Eleanor before she goes to bed and also keeping a modicum of social life going on.

One thing that I’m super pleased that I’ve managed to squeeze in in the last couple of months is training for a “fun” triathlon, which I completed today. Most of you, like me, may wonder how the words “fun” and “triathlon” get to co-exist in the same sentence (never mind day), but the concept comes from the fact that it’s much shorter than a usual triathlon, and is meant to be a (relatively) easy introduction to the concept.

I only signed up to this by accident (ie: when pissed). A couple of friends were planning to do it together, and then one of them landed a new job in Qatar (about which I’m sure we’ll all learn more when we do our first trip); and since she’d signed up to swim/bike/run in aid of Cancer Research, and I’m a sucker for cancer causes, I felt like I had to step in to make sure the charity didn’t lose out.

So, the concept was 200m swim (8 lengths of a 25m pool – not too bad I thought), a 12.5K bike ride (longer than I would normally do but dealable with) topped off with a 2.5K run. Each of them I figured was do-able (the biggest worry being the run), so it was just a case of doing some training and going for it, right?

Me & Lorraine before we got too sweaty & hecticNot really. 8 weeks of 6am runs 3 x per week, plus a bike ride at the weekend, and I thought I was getting close, but my experience today involved being overtaken during every leg (even in the 7 minutes I spent in the pool), being the only person with seemingly more than an ounce or two of body fat, and (results pending) being probably the last person in the entire fun run to finish.

The weird thing is, I actually enjoyed it, and when people say that exercise is addictive, they’re not wrong. I’m already determined to enter next year, beat my time and raise more money.

If all this makes you want to donate a few quid on my justgiving page http://www.justgiving.com/Melanie-Mack0 then feel free.

Thanks & toodle pip.

“Bloody students”

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

The Young Ones

We definitely showered more than this lot

I’m in a (probably hypocritical) quandary about the whole student fees issue.

I have to be honest and admit that I’m one of the lucky gits that not only didn’t have to pay any fees as I started in 1990, but also due to the not-so-lucky fact that my parents had just divorced and my dad was skint, got a full grant (£2,500 in my first year, topped up with about £400 of student loans as I recall). This was, again luckily for me, in a time when only 10% or so of school leavers went to Uni, so we were still for some reason seen as the cream of the crop, and therefore worth investing in.

As I tirelessly said at the time (to the people in the pub who overheard me; the locals in Lancaster, for whom the students definitely seemed to represent a bunch of posh utter wankers; and extended members of my family who called me a sponger) there are many benefits of further education for both society and with the student. Higher average wages mean more tax receipts, there’s also a lower propensity to crime, more likelihood of bringing up children who also do the same (after smoking a few joints and pretending to be a bit of a rebel along the way of course), all of which helps/helped to justify the public purse funding of further education beyond the age of 18. When loans came in of course there was a lot of hoo haa about people helping to pay their own living expenses, but I don’t remember there ever being a question of the actual education being anything other than worthwhile for the greater good.

Sadly the party that is supposed to stand for access for those who can’t afford it appears to have scored an own goal, as this recipe formula only really worked at a certain level of access. Anyone who thought that Labour’s much vaunted policy of expanding further education to as many people who wanted it wasn’t going to a) cost more or b) devalue the qualifications earned was clearly mad (or needed a bit of basic statistic training – bell curve anyone?).

Add to that a recession and coming out of the oven is a generation of teens who have been taught that anyone who’s anyone gets a degree, and besides, there are no jobs for those who leave school at 18 anyway – ta da daaa – a perfectly predictable well baked funding crisis.

So someone has to pay for it, right? and surely the people who benefit should pay…. but should they *all* – and in what proportion?

I don’t claim to have a perfect answer, but I can’t see that dumping the entire, increased fees on the students themselves is “fair” (yes, you coalition lot).

Firstly, yes of course students benefit, but society does too; and the true opportunity cost of what these people will do instead needs to be borne in mind.
- Is it cheaper to have people at university, busy doing something constructive for themselves and which makes them less of a burden on society for the rest of their lives, than claiming jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit. If there *is* a short term gain, how does this bear out against the lifetime cost – given that the majority of the fees are paid back and the future tax returns/losses.

A agree that students with money/from families with money should contribute something (not all of these families will help, it must be said – a rich dad can still be stingy), but education is truly an investment that pays back everyone who is involved, and I’m horrified that it’s being restricted to such an extent.

I desperately hope that people who are nervous of paying the fees aren’t totally put off, and choose to plough through anyway.

..and maybe those of us who’ve already benefited from the good old days should put our hands in our pockets and help them out a bit.

… a few quid for your old Uni to help fund a bursary anyone?
… a graduate tax for all graduates from the last 30 years?
… corporate sponsorships from industries that have the greatest need for educated staff?

#justsaying

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