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Well it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog but frankly it’s 12:15 in the evening, I’ve been ill in bed for 3 days and I’m totally bored.  Anyway a few minutes ago I stumbled onto this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oamGnLC6FYY&feature=youtu.be

Ed Miliband’s new wheeze about banking reforms.  Personally I’m not immune at all to the argument that banking needs reform, it absolutely does.  Not only that but most of my clients (CEO’s and Chairman of banks!) can see there’s a need for reform.  Ed is talking about needing new banks and he’s absolutely right, we do.  Not only do politicians and people see it but so do the City, I won’t go into details but there are lots of people I know trying to make this a reality, market pressures will force it to happen.  Where I start to disagree with Ed is how this should happen.

Frankly the last time a politician has been let loose with a bank it was the Reverend Flowers (also Labour) and look where that got us.  I’m sorry but senior politicians of all hues are simply not up to the task of banking reform.  Firstly they’re all as I’ve said before PPE graduate career politicians with no real world experience whatsoever, I wouldn’t trust half of them to run a raffle let alone a major business or reform of the countries largest industry.  Yes of course the bankers have made a shambles of this but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Banking and financial services in general make up a HUGE proportion of our economy, if you meddle too much then you risk killing the golden goose.  To all the naysayers who will of course pipe up and say well we don’t need all those rich bankers etc please also spare a thought for the millions of others employed either directly or because of the financial services industry in this country.  I don’t think the cashiers at your local Barclays are your enemy.  Financial services is global, if you change the rules to make things too harsh it’s all too easy for them to relocate elsewhere and frankly with loose regulation and lower taxes elsewhere why wouldn’t you?  

The reform has to be done cautiously, by people who understand the banking world and have no axe to grind.  There are plenty of senior bankers out there who are not looking to profit from the sector anymore but have huge knowledge of global financial markets that we can tap to make judicious reform without cutting our nose off to spite our face.  Sir Win Bischoff for instance would make a great elder statesman to do this (yes I’m aware he is now chairing the FRC)

We have great expertise in this country, it’s a sector we excel in, let’s use that knowledge and tap into it.  Let’s not seek revenge for the catastrophe of the past that can only end in future hurt, let’s make sure we build a sustainable model for the future and in doing so retain the City’s position as the biggest financial services centre on the planet. 

 

(Also as an aside, I’m not sure promoting easy credit, whether to businesses or to people is the best idea, it is what got us into this mess in the first place!  Yes start ups need funds but often that’s better left to private equity than banks, they’re gambling with their own capital and can take greater risks.  I’m rather pleased the banks are being risk averse for a change! Although I’m sure in the next breath Ed can still mention casino banking…)

5 Steps to Increase Revenue.

So let’s discuss the job centre.  I’m not sure if I’ve posted my thoughts on it before but let me be reasonably clear about it.  It’s bloody awful.  It’s a cesspool of misery and there’s a complete lack of hope and encouragement.  How did the government get it so wrong?  I’m not blaming the staff, though I’m not about to champion them either but basically the job centre might as well be called the ‘sign on’ centre.  This isn’t a rant about benefits either it’s an essential safety net, it’s about how the job centre has become much more about compliance, form filling and dole claiming than it is about getting people into meaningful work.  Now what I don’t want to do is drone on about it’s dreadfulness without putting forth solutions, that would be pointless.  I’ve been giving this some thought and I think there’s some obvious ways to make the whole thing so much better.  

Firstly separate out benefits from the job centre, I don’t mean build a load of new places for you to sign on before being told to go somewhere else to actually find a job, have them in the same place but different employees.  The benefits and signing on side is a compliance function, have a group of staff whose sole job description is to help people fill in the said forms as quickly and efficiently as possible, have them become expert in what people are and aren’t entitled to and have the process quick and efficient so people aren’t wasting their lives filling in a small oak trees worth of paperwork.  

Now onto the most important function, the JOBS.  Firstly the people should be professional recruiters.  Yes I say this as a headhunter.  What they shouldn’t be is a jack of all trades who help with the above mentioned form filling.  Their sole function should be find these people a job.  Now let’s talk about the types of people you’re finding a job for, there is no point whatsover in going here if you’re a professional, read accountant, lawyer etc.  If your job earns you £30k plus, don’t even bother looking in here, it’s not for you, go to Reed, Michael Page, Hays etc, they’re paid far more and incentivised to find you roles.  Go to the job boards, network round old colleagues, you’ll find a role.  

Now if you aren’t in that lucky category of people you should be able to go to the job centre and find a decent reasonably paying job.  The people there should be professionals at what they do so let’s get to my next point, remuneration.  At present, let’s be honest, it’s crap.  I’ve no problem with their basic wage but why on earth are we not having a decent performance related bonus? It should be easy enough, next time you find Joe Bloggs a job you get say £50 extra in your pay packet.  That’s equivalent to one weeks JSA but look how much the government are saving not having Joe on the payroll anymore!  Now, let’s do the maths, £50 per person you find a role for, how tough would it be to find 5 people a week a role?  If you manage it that’s £250 a week extra, potentially a wage rise of 50%.  Think of the calibre of people you can now attract to work in the job centre.  If you’re getting £50 a pop imagine how much more motivated those chaps are going to be to get you into a job pronto.  Now let’s make it even more enticing, if you find someone a job who’s been on benefits long term, let’s say over a year you make £100 or even £150, how much more motivated to these people become to find you a job?  Not only that if it’s quiet and there’s not much happening because they’re incentivised they’ll actually get on the phone and find jobs, they’ll ring back companies who’ve hired recently and see if they have needs for other stuff, they’ll stop simply being reactive and become proactive.  They’ll make damn sure peoples CV’s look good as well, not to mention they’ll advise people how to dress, how to interview and how to behave because their cash depends on it.  

Let’s lose all the nonsense, there are jobs out there, there are unemployed people.  The job centre is awful at best in terms of finding people roles.  Pay some proper rewards to professional people, lose the admin, the form filing and the despondency and it’ll go a long way to getting more people off benefits and into jobs.  

What a fine run of beautiful weather we seem to be having in London.  It’s days like this that make one feel optimistic for the future, the sun is shining, birds singing etc.  Cliched as this is it is true, in purely business terms I am seeing a renewed optimism in the City right now.  Deals seem to be happening, whether it’s acquisitions or mergers or interesting new start ups.  All around me there seems to be fascinating plans afoot, for the first time in a while there seems to be money available and people willing to invest in new projects.  There seems to be more of an energy and bullish mood about that I haven’t seen for a while.  Now this could of course just be my own perception from my own reasonably narrow focus but recruitment does tend to be a bellwether for the economy.  If the City is starting to pick up this can only be good news for the UK economy as a whole one would have thought?   While I can’t talk about specific roles or deals I’m involved in I can say it’s a very exciting time right now to be working.  

What are other peoples perceptions right now?  Are we heading for a new dawn or am I seeing a faltering start from a flat-lining economy?

Most of my current workload is taken up with finding independent non-executive directors, it’s a mix of small growing business and large established UK boards.  It’s a fascinating recruitment market for many reasons, not least it allows me to deal with the most senior people in the market and to have some fascinating conversations.  My blog would be infinitely more interesting if I could reproduce some of those but alas confidentiality is imperative to what I do!  In the last week though I’ve chatted with people who worked with Baroness Thatcher while she was at the height of her pomp, people who’ve raised billions of pounds to buy and sell businesses and heard one particularly juicy anecdote re a FTSE 100 CEO.  This makes life anything but dull.  

However I do want to focus on why hiring a good independent NED or two is a must for a small growing business.  There are many little businesses out there which don’t really employ NEDs, why would they?  You’re paying someone a relatively fat salary for a few days a year work, how is that cost effective when you’re struggling to get growth?  This is a conversation I had recently with a CEO, the thing is though it wildly misses the point.  The current competition for NED roles is absolutely fierce and the quality of candidates is honestly mind blowing.  If you have an interesting business with sound growth prospects you could very easily have a ftse100 main board director for very little money each year.  Yes that’s not full time but imagine what you could learn from that person.   Imagine the contacts they have.  Now imagine how much that will help grow your business.  It may be a hefty day rate that you have to fork out but it is more than worth it in the long run.  

An NED might not seem like something that’s important right now but I’d argue it’s time for a rethink, the value there is potentially incredible.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I do, what value I add and how as a headhunter I make money.  Of course one could argue it’s a fairly simple model, sell a retained piece of work, find an employee, get paid.  It’s elegant and simple, if not always particularly exciting.  Is that it though?  Is that all our business model amounts to?

Actually the bits I enjoy about my job and the bits that interest me the most aren’t really the day to day bits of search it’s the much more commercial aspects of what I do that turns me on.  I love meeting a Chairman or a CEO who tells me something interesting about what they do or what they’re looking to do and then connecting them with other businesses or other individuals who can help them achieve their goal.  It’s meeting the entrepreneurs with a great idea who just don’t have the contacts or the capital to get it off the ground and then introducing them to the right people or the right organisations who can help.  Those meetings where you have a great idea for a joint venture between disparate companies that later becomes reality with a bit of a push.  Those are the most interesting aspects of my work but they’re not really what you’d call traditional search work.  Ironically though the value of these to what I do is probably the highest of all, they build my credibility often pay better than a simple search if it leads somewhere and best of all actually creates something which changes the sector I work in just slightly.  

If you’re in recruitment, what other things outside of traditional recruitment do you get up to?  How does it benefit your business and does it make you money?  

Does job title matter?  Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, from my own perspective mostly I admit but it’s an interesting topic.  When I started my current job I was brought on board to do actuarial recruitment, hence the name ActuarialChris.  Since then I’ve recruited a grand total of 0 actuaries.  In terms of search work you tend to go where the markets dictate, so if a particular area is busy you work there.  I’ve ended up specialising in investments in one form or another but mainly around pensions, there are lots of actuaries in this space but it’s mostly not actuarial work really.  Mostly what I’ve done is very senior and of late it’s mainly board level execs, non-execs or chairman type roles.  With this in mind what should my job title be?  When I started I was given the title ‘Head of Actuarial’, sufficiently broad for its original purpose and worked reasonably well, since then though as I’ve moved away from that space it’s less relevant.  Indeed I’m now constantly asked when I headhunt a chairman, why would I be talking to an actuarial recruiter?  As far as I can tell it’s not hampered me at all thus far, if anything it’s been a talking point but it does need to change.  The question is though, what to?  Something generic like simply Associate Director?  True but maybe a bit vague?

So what are other peoples thoughts, does it make any difference ultimately?  It won’t change my level within the company as we’re all on an equal footiing below the owners but it might make a person decide whether or not to speak to me or to use me.

Abi's Accountancy Blog

So, Dave from down the pub told you that you could claim your Sunday family lunch as a ‘business expense’ and tells you everyone does it?!

Well, thanks Dave.

Sometimes people misunderstand what they can and can’t claim. Putting it simply if it doesn’t relate to the running of your business, then you can’t claim it – it must be ‘wholly and exclusively’ for business purposes.

HMRC can ask you to prove that an expense is wholly and exclusively for business purposes and you can’t say because Dave told you so. Alternatively, just because you discussed how business was going with your family for 5 minutes of your meal, HMRC aren’t likely to deem it a relevant business expense.

How’s that fair? Dave’s claiming it? Everyone’s claiming it!?

You’d be suprised how many people ‘say’ they are, when actually they aren’t. Dave could have been joking, or even overheard it…

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I’ll apologise in advance for this but this post is a bit of a moan I’m afraid, the main thrust of my point is going to be why on earth does everything take so long in the UK?  

I could pick a million things to illustrate this but let’s pick one at random, HS2.  20 years.  Really?? 20 Years to build a high speed rail link, by the time it’s done we’ll be driving our flying cars or teleporting round the country, what on earth is the point of building something  that won’t be fully up and running ’til 2035-ish?  

In China they’ve built much much larger stretches of railway in a fraction of the time, granted they don’t have our levels of ‘elf and safety but still 20 years is just taking the mickey isn’t it?  

Let’s look at another, the Edinburgh tram.  What on earth is happening with that? I mean they must be having a laugh, it’s been years already, they’ve laid tracks, dug them up and laid them again and it’s not going to be anywhere near as useful as it was first planned to be.  Given that it’s been so badly planned, so dreadfully managed, why haven’t people been sacked? Why have the council just handed the contractors a blank cheque to sort it out?  

I would partially like to move onto a rant about why the public sector is so godawful at commissioning projects like this but I’ll refrain and instead move on to another example and the real reason behind this particular blog.  

So, the Scottish independence referendum.  Why on earth is it taking so long?  2014?  It feels like it’s been dragging on for years already!  Yes I’m sure Mr.Salmond wants this to run and run and he wants as much publicity as possible but unless the man is an idiot (which I’m sure he isn’t) he must know how much this is currently hurting Scotland.  I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of it here, personally I think they’d be crazy to vote for it but what’s concerning me more right now is the uncertainty.  

Scotland is a comparatively large country by area with a small population, as such outside of the Glasgow/Edinburgh central belt a lot of the country is employed by the public sector.  So when private enterprise comes knocking on the door looking to invest the SNP should be rolling out the red carpet and laying on the fizzy wine.  There are businesses in Scotland right now with great plans, who’d love to start acting on their ambitions but the problem is the uncertainty.  Private equity is simply frightened of it, businesses which should have had  funding in a matter of weeks have taken months or even years to raise capital because nobody knows what’s going to happen after the referendum.  Scotland is in the doldrums, it needs all the help it can get, allowing this to continue for the sake of political expediency is wrong.  Hold the referendum, get it out of the way and get the country moving again.  It can’t be all that hard to arrange for people to vote, we do it all the time, so please Mr.Salmond, get on with it…

My blog is normally a light hearted (read rubbish) bit of pith and nonsense, or my views on some current event of some form.  However today I’d like to blog about the NHS and something a bit more close to home.  Recently I’ve been reading the reports on the Mid-Staffs scandal with interest, not just as a voracious reader of current affairs but and this is rare for me, genuine outrage and anger.  I think a large part of my anger over what happened in Mid-Staffs stems from my own experiences with the NHS.  Normally I wouldn’t be quite so personal on here but I feel it’s a tale worth telling, before I do though I will add some background detail.  I have a great affection for the NHS, my mother was a manager in a large hospital for many years and as such a lot of our family friends are doctors of one sort or another.  During my degree I spent huge amount of  time in hospitals.  My cousin is a very dedicated nurse.  I have every reason to love the NHS and I am an ardent supporter of what it’s function is, I believe it should be state funded and free for all to use.  

So onto my story, about 6 years ago my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, we’d known for a while she had it though wrongly thought it was alzheimer’s.  For a period of time she lived with the disease and we were complicit in telling nobody what was happening, she asked my mum and I not to broadcast things or to go to the doctors and we respected her wishes.  Eventually she needed help so we spoke with the doctors, found as we suspected nothing could be done and I moved back into the family home to help with her care.  

Now I will say at this point we were well enough off that I could take time away from my business and mum was semi-retired, for the last months of her life we moved to Scarborough, a coastal town she loved and had grown up knowing well.  We cared for her at home for several months until one night she had a much more severe stroke.  In the morning we found her half stood next to her bed unable to move and freezing cold, my guess is in the night she’d stood up to go to her toilet and the stroke had hit, rendering her unable to move or speak and so shed half stood shivering and cold ’til we discovered her in the morning.  

We called an ambulance and she was taken to Scarborough Royal Infirmary, which is where my experience of how awful the NHS can sometimes be began.  Over the first few days we stayed by her bed day and well into the night each day but with no change to her condition. The nurses seemed busy but unconcerned and as we were always there we often did whatever little things needed doing for her.  We learned on the third day she’d had a severe stroke, and we were shown scans of her brain.  The doctors held little hope of any meaningful recovery and we braced ourselves for the worst, indeed on the fourth day she had the last rites read.  While I’m not particularly religious my grandmother was and for the first time since being in the hospital we noticed her eyes flicker with emotion when the priest was there and she shed a tear.  From that point on we knew that while she could neither speak nor really move on her own beyond random arm movements, she was still somewhere in there buried below the damage done by the catastrophic stroke she’d suffered.  

Over the next few days though she seemed to get lighter, the dark place she’d been inhabiting seemed to be less harsh, the faint light behind her eyes was growing ever so slightly stronger.  Yes it’s tempting to believe something like this when you’re a grieving relative but at certain points she would smile or frown.  Pictures of her big dog Monty (now mine) would put palpable pictures of excitement across her visage.  While we didn’t dare hope for recovery we did believe she was perhaps out of the horrible place she’d been inhabiting.  

Unfortunately this is where we started noticing problems, the first was compassion.  The staff even when we were there were treating her as a hindrance not a person.  She was unable to control her bowels so when she did have a movement she’d be laid in it and frankly the nurses were ignoring her obvious suffering, discomfort and lack of dignity.  Even though mum and I were spending days there it an uphill struggle to force them to change her, on numerous occasions I threatened to do it myself but was told it would be a breach of ‘health and safety’ and they would get round to it eventually.  They treated her as a nuisance and a chore, never a person who deserved respect and empathy. 

By far the largest problem though was food and drink, during the stroke she had lost her ability to swallow.  Now during this phase where she seemed to be growing in strength, whenever we ate or drank near her she leaned forward  clearly craving what we had and on numerous occasions we were told we must not even give her a drop of water or food as it could kill her.  Of course we obeyed unthinkingly, options were discussed has to how to overcome the problem one of which being we don’t and she would effectively slowly starve.  However neither of us would allow this so we firstly insisted on a daily SALT test, which is where a speech and language therapist checks her ability to swallow and also in the interim they would fit a naso-gastric tube.  We were warned that her dementia could mean she could pull the tube out eventually but we had to try.  The first tube was put in by one of the nurses, during the procedure we heard my grandma cry out in pain.  We sat there for 4 hours with her eventually persuading her not to pull it out, at which point they checked via ultrasound that the tube was in correctly and it wasn’t it was dangling painfully into her lungs.  Again a nurse put the tube in and again she cried in pain again 4 hours later after we’d sat with her they found it had been done wrongly and had to come out.  

The following day the doctor told us they’d tried and it was distressing and they should now stop trying.  The night before though we’d spent some time on the phone to a friend of ours who happens to be a consultant gastroenterologist, he advised us that the reason it hadn’t worked was purely incompetence on the part of the person doing the procedure and that the best thing was for us to ask for a consultant anaesthetist to do honours.  After much arguing we stood our ground and eventually well into the evening our doctor came, he spent literally 10 seconds with her, no pain or anxiety later the tube was in place.  A scan confirmed we had our now working NG tube.  

By this time it was late into the night, we spent another hour keeping her calm and then went home.  The following morning when we came back to the ward to see her we weren’t allowed in due to an outbreak of diarrhea and vomiting.  For two days we couldn’t see her as we were told the ward was having a deep clean and nobody was allowed in for fear of other germs.  Thankfully she wasn’t affected by the bug but after the 2 days when we finally saw her we discovered the tube was gone and we were told she’d pulled it out during the first day of the bug.  One can’t help but think if only we’d been there.  

The following day a minor miracle happened at 6pm she passed the swallow test.  The senior nurse on duty said we could give her a drink and knowing exactly what she would want she had her first sip of tea in nearly 2 weeks.  We used a sponge but gave her a good half cup of sweet tea and the joy on her face was plain to see.  For the first time in what felt like forever we had a little ray of hope.  Yes we were torn, we didn’t want her to have such an awful quality of life but neither did we want her to die, yes it was unlikely but even the tiniest hint of recovery is something I think one always looks for.  

The following day as we went in we took a cup of tea for her again but were stopped from administering it by the senior nurse on duty who told us we couldn’t as she hadn’t passed a swallow test.  Of course I relayed the tale of what happened the night before but she told us it wasn’t on her notes and essentially accused me of lying about it!  What made it worse was she then proceeded to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about and I was simply being stupid.  After a moment or two to calm down and seeing how keen my grandmother was for the tea, I ignored medical advice.  I told them it was our choice and we would take any responsibility for any problems.

Over the next week and a half we continued going every day, the nurses stuck to their line that the passed SALT test didn’t happen and I continued to fight our corner.  We gave her regular cups of sweet tea, chocolate buttons which melted in her mouth and good vanilla ice cream which did the same.  She clearly enjoyed the food and was asking for more.  Yes we could have been prolonging a poorer quality of life but there is now way I was starving an elderly lady to death, especially one who had been there throughout my life as a hugely important figure.  During those final days she smiled, she enjoyed what we gave her, we enjoyed the time to say goodbye to her.  She suffered a fatal stroke 10 days after passing we started feeding her.  She died in the night peacefully and I’m sure in the full knowledge that we would be there again in the morning to take care of her.  

As an aside when the morning came the hospital had another diarrhea and vomiting outbreak.  Two in 2 weeks on the same ward!  

The time I spent at Scarborough Hospital is one I will never forget.  The wards were dirty.  The nurses were rude, unhelpful, uncaring, clearly overworked and clearly utterly disinterested in patient care and utterly lacking in empathy to relatives.  Our doctor was either the same or incompetent, much of what we were told at the time we later found out to be false.  

My one lasting regret is that I never complained or spoke out afterwards.  It is to my shame that the grief we felt as my Grandma died deflected me from complaining very loudly and very publically about just how poor Scarborough Hospital was in almost every regard.

As a final note, I do not say this as a political point, I don’t use it as a justification for any argument.  I’m simply relaying my story of what happened to my family within the NHS.  Yes the NHS is a noble institution and yes I would defend the ideals of it but that doesn’t make it perfect or immune to change.  Clearly there are grave issues which require attention and I have no obvious solutions to put forth but I certainly don’t feel the NHS is above criticism.