Spy in the coffee machine

I have been reading the Spy in the Coffee Machine, on privacy. The premise is that computing and connections are pervasive (only 2% of processors now going into traditional ‘computers’), so you never know quite what is left, private to you or not. It’s a recurrent theme in today’s world, but beautifully written and far more a call for intelligent action than a cry of lament.

Bad Lego

You want to love Lego – harmless, constructive fun. But I am sorry to say that Lego as a company really bend over backwards to discourage you.

Lego have done their own survey, suggesting that construction sets appear on 45% of children’s wish lists for Christmas. So what does Lego do? They set up their website for children so they can compile their own wish lists from the Lego store to email to their grandparents, relatives and friends to urge them to get Lego products for them for Christmas.

Encouraging children to incite adults to buy things for them just happens to be one of the things expressly banned by marketing codes in the UK. The CAP Code Section 47.7 c) states that: “marketing communications addressed to children should … neither directly urge children to buy or persuade others to buy … the advertised item,” while the BCAP Code Section 7.3.1 states that: “advertisements must not directly advise or ask children to buy or to ask their parents or others to make enquiries or purchases.”

Lego have in fact done so well this Xmas, that sellers are jacking up prices up to three times the list price – a classic rip off. The Daily Mail, and the Telegraph, quote me on Lego this week. (The Daily Mail dubs Co-operatives UK as the ‘network of ethical businesses’).

You want to love it, but they really make it difficult.

Bad Lego.

New Mike

Best of luck to Mike O’Connor, current head of olympics grants body, who I am told is up for my old job at Consumer Focus. He joins a great team.

A beautiful world

South London born and based, I am enjoying my trains to Manchester with my 3D view of passing landscapes and, this morning, snow lined canal ways and white tipped trees.

Two emails intrude, both on the rising phenomenon of co-operative schools. There is a trip by pupils to Lesotho, in the sun, reporting on their visit and experience with cooperation, South Africa style – http://www.youngco-operatives.coop/News/Young-Co-ops-on-Safari

And an email from the Whitehall brainboxes of the Innovation Unit, suggesting that cooperative schools are the future – http://innovationunit.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/co-operative-schools-the-future-of-schooling/

Mervyn, from the Co-operative College and one of the inspirations for this, tells me we have thirty schools now constituted as co-operatives in England with 100 expected by this time next year.

I can’t help feeling it is a bright and beautiful world.

Too much too young? – guest post by Agnes

This is a guest post by Agnes Nairn, my friend and co-author of Consumer Kids, on the report out this week by an academic panel (including her) looking at the evidence aroundildren growing up in a commercial world.

10 academics from a range of disciplines and viewpoints were assembled in May 2008 to assess “The Impact of the Commercial World on Children’s Wellbeing.”  Quite an ask!  But we worked hard, debated hard and produced a substantial and rigorous report on time in April 2009.  We’re still not sure why it took 9 months to publish…

Its purpose wasn’t to make policy recommendations (maybe it would have been published quicker if we had) but we made some robust statements particularly about new media e.g.

“New media and marketing techniques raise some ethical concerns about potential deception and threats to privacy: the public is currently not well-informed about this area, and existing regulation is insufficient in some respects.”

And we raised issues which need more public debate e.g. commercial influences in schools

“Schools and public places are increasingly being used as marketing venues and being affected by privatisation and commercialisation.  The implications of these developments for children’s wellbeing remain to be identified.”

And areas where there just isn’t enough transparency e.g.

“Information about the children’s market is not easily available in the public domain or for public scrutiny.  It would be in the interests of both public accountability and of the public profile of businesses themselves for such information to be more widely shared.”

Codes for new media need to be tightened – We need a debate on commercial influences in school and play places – We need more public information about how much is spent marketing to children.

The Mutual State

Around ten years ago, I set out to explore the case for converting public services from public ownership to what Henriette Moore and I called a public ‘sense of ownership’ in a pamphlet for the New Economics Foundation, later developed in collaboration with Mutuo.

Since then, we have had some remarkable experimentation. A clutch of participatory models in health, the emergence of cooperative schools and, at community level, around 350 projects underway at present to transfer assets like parks and playing fields to community ownership.

The case for creating an enabling environment for staff and citizens still seems to me to be very strong and it is good to see debate on this taken up by politicians across the parties. Tessa Jowell’s contribution this evening has been excellent – her speech drawing on a report by the Innovation Unit, which I was pleased to help launch today.

There are still challenges. Only ten per cent of those asset transfers appear to be in deprived areas and yet those are the areas that need community action the most. Some state-sponsored social enterprises are genuinely social but not genuinely enterprise, unlike most cooperatives which live or die as businesses. But above all, the challenge is to create meaningful and inclusive communities for membership.

These are the central challenges, though, for all public services not just mutual ones. We have to rebuild the constituency for social justice and welfare. If not more of a mutual state, we may only get the leftovers of market outcomes and residual state action.

Lincoln people

“Lincoln people are a prudent lot” Alan tells me on my visit to the wonderful Lincolnshire Co-operative. It is a prudent coop society, and doing wonderfully well. 175,000 members, investments in community initiatives from the local university and football club to the new Polish restaurant below, an inspiring Chief Executive, Ursula Lidbetter and sister cooperatives locally such as 8,000 pigs in the meat co-operative, stocked locally, reared cooperatively and sold through the local shops.

Prudence with a purpose, the real thing!