Saturday, 7 November 2015


Over the years, many people have drawn my attention to polls which suggest that a significant majority of people would be prepared to pay more tax or higher charges if the extra money raised was being directed to the NHS. As it happens, I support that view.
Unfortunately, the same people want to ignore all the research evidence which shows that, when actually offered that choice, people don’t vote to pay more. When challenged about the contradiction, people explain their decisions by saying “I didn’t believe the extra cash would go to the NHS” or “I would pay more…….. but only when the number of managers is cut, or there isn’t any waste,”.

Of course, we have the right to expect that all our public services are run efficiently, effectively and responsively and that there is a continuous quest for performance improvement. Actually, the evidence suggests that they are, despite the relentless flow of stories to the contrary from some parts of the media which are determined to promote a particular view of the world.

There is an irony in the fact that, as an important part of our democratic process, we devote resources to exposing and making transparent any failure in public performance. I’m the chair of an all-party select committee part of whose remit is to hold the government’s performance to public account and quite right too.

But, just imagine the outcry there would be if there was a proposal that all companies were required to fund overview and scrutiny of every aspect of their own performances and that all the information and findings had to be made public. 

I wonder what Volkswagen’s scrutiny committee would have disclosed about the technology for assessing noxious emissions? Or what would Tesco’s scrutiny committee have told us about its accounting practices? Or what would the banks’ scrutiny committees have told us about the integrity of their activities? 

As a matter of interest, the world’s biggest 20 banks have now paid getting on for £200bn in fines alone since 2008. But, despite the extent of public anger about the banks’ activities, in true contradictory style, when faced with the choice, the same people express reluctance to regulate to intervene.

Friday, 6 November 2015

It’s good to talk………..then act

In the recent cyber-attack on it's service, TalkTalk reported that the personal and banking details of up to 4 million UK citizens may have been accessed by hackers. This was the third time that the company had suffered a large scale data breach in the past year. TalkTalk have since said that the number of people affected is “materially lower” but they still do not know exactly who is affected and to what extent.

Over the weekend, there have been a number of media reports that TalkTalk customers have suffered a range of consequential damage including that their bank accounts have been cleared out. Other customers report that they have been harassed by criminals. Actually, I think it’s unlikely that these events are related to this data-loss; they are more likely to be coincidental. What we do know is that stolen data is sold and re-sold, even rented, many times and over many years after the original theft.
The only thing that is clear is the widespread confusion about the extent, timing and consequences of the breach and about the various responsibilities and actions to be taken by the Information 
Commissioners Office and the Police. It is obvious that the Government has to do more to ensure confidence in this vital industry and to protect the personal and sensitive data of millions of UK citizens from cyber-criminals. 

In answers to parliamentary questions last week, the Conservative government Minister, Ed Vaizey, said that guidance to companies experiencing a data breach is issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). But the ICO guidance is vague. It simply does not answer customers’ legitimate concerns and entitlement to compensation where appropriate. Whilst the ICO require businesses to notify them of breaches, they do not insist on customers being informed. This is clearly unacceptable. In this case, 4 million customers must wonder who they can trust with their data.

The inability of TalkTalk’s Chief Executive to confirm that, after the previous hacking attacks, she had acted to ensure that customers’ data was properly encrypted was telling. TalkTalk’s share price is down 10%. I expect that shareholders and customers will insist that heads roll in the boardroom.