Bees have rights

Some lovely reseach just out on co-operative group farms in Gloucestershire and Leicestershire has identifed a mix of flowers that works best for bees. Wildflowers work well, including annual flowers such as Crimson Clover and Corn Marigold and perennial flowers such as Yarrow, Oxeye and Wild Carrot. This mix gives pollen and nectar continuously from April through to September when bees are out foraging.

As the Co-operative’s Plan Bee says, the number of honeybees in the UK has halved in the last 25 years and the fact that we have lost 97% of pre-second world war wildflower meadows is part of the backdrop for this. We all benefit if bees have a right to roam.

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Investigation

John Denham, the shadow Business Secretary, has asked me to lead an investigation to try and get a better deal for consumers in UK markets.

It is a good offer and I am pleased that consumer interests are coming back to the fore of political debate. There was an excellent consumer White Paper from the Government earlier this year which focused on new ways to open up information and choices for consumers, but the reality since seems to have been a catalogue of drip drip scandals of mis-selling and hiked prices.

I have had some welcome offers of input and support, starting this morning, following a trailer in the Guardian, from the super Australian consumer group, Choice (there’s a proper consumer champion for you) and soon after, the Financial Inclusion Centre which has emerged with the most effective and informed critique of today’s mainstream financial disservices sector.

The investigation itself will happen alongside my core focus and work in the co-op sector, thanks to the Co-operatives UK Board, and alongside our work with other parties on this and other issues in and out of government across the UK. What it looks like will shape up over the coming period, so this is at most a pre-announcement rather than a kick off.

The initial terms of reference though give plenty of scope for investigation, including “key principles for consumer protection and how these are underpinned by regulation, open information and good practice; a broader approach to whistle blowing covering both consumer and competition policy; consumer co-operatives and the scope for collective action, including redress when things go wrong; the role of consumer advocacy and advice; competition and diversity in markets; and the culture of business, including incentives (such as commission based pay structures), the role of corporate governance and the role of auditors.”

Who are you calling lazy?

Chris Huhne dubs consumers as lazy because we don’t shop around for our energy suppliers. It is a fair comment, but if we all have to find our way through the maze of complex tariffs on the market and we don’t trust the companies making the offer, laziness can be a rational response.

When I ran the National Consumer Council, consumer research showed that energy companies were less trusted than second hand car salesmen. What the market needs is not just price competition but some good, old-fashioned trust. The entry into the market of Co-operative Energy, with a Which? Award for consumer action, introduces for the first time a simple tariff and a brand that is genuinely held in affection. 75% of consumers in our surveys say they believe that co-operative enterprises act fairly, compared to only 18% now for companies at large.

Lazy businesses, if they are allowed to get away with it, can make for lazy customers. It is time for a change.

Let’s not go Japanese

Anyone who’s interested in the question of how we avoid turning Japanese – i.e. how we get out of the economic hole that we’ve dug – will be interested in Adam Posen’s excellent speech of a few days ago.

Active economic policy, monetary stimulus, new forms of finance.

Thanks to Jonathan Portes at NIESR for pointing me to this.

Let’s go Spanish

Great report out today from UNICEF-UK on children and family life in the UK, compared to other countries. The research, led by my Consumer Kids co-author Agnes Nairn and IPSOS MORI, suggests that Spain, in particular, has got it right.

I have done a blog post, as a member of the Advisory Committee for the research.

Great media coverage, including:

British family life in crisis” The Daily Telegraph Front Page –
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8760558/Cycle-of-compulsive-consumerism-leaves-British-family-life-in-crisis-Unicef-study-finds.html

“Exhausted parents try to buy way out of guilt” The Times Front Page and ps 2,4,5 (including editorial and double page spread)

“Parents ‘spoiling children over lack of quality time’” Daily Mail p6
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2037111/Parents-spoiling-children-designer-labels-make-lack-quality-time.html

“UK families face ‘brand bullying’” BBC Online
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14898614

“UK children caught in ‘materialistic trap’” The Guardian p12
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/sep/14/uk-children-stuck-materialistic-trap

“Parents in bid to buy love” Daily Express p11
http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/271184/Children-want-more-family-time-

Why engineers don’t write cookery books

Same subject, a different view? I found this on a University of Bristol site of quotes by engineers

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients:

  1. 532.35 cm3 gluten
  2. 4.9 cm3 NaHCO3
  3. 4.9 cm3 refined halite
  4. 236.6 cm3 partially hydrogenated tallow triglyceride
  5. 177.45 cm3 crystalline C12H22O11
  6. 177.45 cm3 unrefined C12H22O11
  7. 4.9 cm3 methyl ether of protocatechuic aldehyde
  8. Two calcium carbonate-encapsulated avian albumen-coated protein
  9. 473.2 cm3 theobroma cacao
  10. 236.6 cm3 de-encapsulated legume meats (sieve size #10)

To a 2 litre jacketed round reactor vessel (reactor #1) with an overall heat transfer coefficient of about 100 Btu/&degF-ft2-hr, add ingredients one, two and three with constant agitation. In a second 2 litre reactor vessel with a radial flow impeller operating at 100 rpm, add ingredients four, five, six, and seven until the mixture is homogenous.
To reactor #2, add ingredient eight, followed by three equal volumes of the homogenous mixture in reactor #1. Additionally, add ingredient nine and ten slowly, with constant agitation. Care must be taken at this point in the reaction to control any temperature rise that may be the result of an exothermic reaction.
Using a screw extrude attached to a #4 nodulizer, place the mixture piece-meal on a 316SS sheet (300 x 600 mm). Heat in a 460&degK oven for a period of time that is in agreement with Frank & Johnston’s first order rate expression (see JACOS, 21, 55), or until golden brown.

Once the reaction is complete, place the sheet on a 25°C heat-transfer table, allowing the product to come to equilibrium.

A complementary currency for Greece?

The German Professor Margrit Kennedy is best known for adding up the impact on prices of the cascade of money borrowed at interest throughout the economy. Her influence was prominent in a book review I have done for the latest issue of Resurgence.

Together with Ludwig Schuster, she now offers a timely case for complementary currencies, operating within the Eurozone, starting with Greece.

As an introduction, she tells the story of the German baron, Karl Friedrich Hieronymous Freiherr von Munchhausen, a seventeenth century adventurer and story-teller who claimed to have extracted himself from a swamp by pulling up on his own hair. This is Plan A, in her view.

The alternative is to draw on the growing body of praxis and innovation around complementary currencies, to kick-start the kinds of exchanges which are ruled out by the straightjacket of the Euro. As ever, getting the framework and technology right (Shann Turnbull suggests using mobile phone credits) and dealing with convertibility or not, without losing the heart of an alternative currency, are probably the key issues.

The Spanish co-operative think-tank, the Ekai Centre, has re-published a doomsday analysis on the breakup of the Euro by the investment bank UBS.

It feels like this is an innovation whose time may now have come.