What Did Exercise Cygnus Deliver?

May 11, 2020

The UK carried out Exercise Cygnus – a pandemic drill – in 2016, and it highlighted all the issues we have seen this year, though the conclusions have never been made public. The Guardian has published a document labelled as the final version of the report and it does not make reassuring reading.

Conclusions from the report:

  • There is no useful strategy in place, nor is there a useful implementation plan for what strategy there is
  • The public reaction has not been considered
  • Ethical aspects of decision making have not been considered
  • It’s recognised that capacity is inadequate and one area where it is lacking is in subject matter experts

Lessons ‘LEARNED’ from the exercise:

  • Organisations should ensure their Emergency Preparedness Resilience and Response training and exercising is consistent with best practice.
  • Planning should be considered a multi agency responsibility. Specialist advice from all stakeholders needs to be available. Sector specific advice should be scaled up during a pandemic.
  • During a reasonable worst case pandemic responders will struggle to maintain a response using the existing framework
  • Meetings between the health ministers of the 4 nations should be considered best practice
  • Consideration is needed of population based triage
  • Work is required to consider surge arrangements. An NHS plan is being developed. Service plans need to be modelled for health, social care, and community support. A communications plan is needed. A clinical and ethical plan needs to be agreed. Mitigation plans are needed to ensure flexibility. Buy in is needed from those who will actually implement these plans.
  • Strategy is needed for the use of antivirals – less relevant since there isn’t one for COVID
  • Staff absence should be considered
  • Health messaging at the national level was not effective. Procedures for getting the message out should be re-enforced (sic) and practiced. Local messaging was more effective.
  • National attitudes to use of social media render their use of it ineffective
  • Messaging needs to be consistent, avoid jargon, and consider that people want to make their own decisions. Trust in the message source is important
  • Consideration needs to be made to using the voluntary sector
  • There’s a need for a cross government group to make the response process effective
  • The impact of school closures needs to be considered
  • Overseas nationals should be considered
  • MoD involvement should be considered
  • Process for providing and presenting data to decision makers should be considered
  • Social care and surge capacity should be considered
  • Expansion of social care real estate and staffing capacity should be considered
  • Thought should be given to using the capacity of the voluntary sector
  • Capacity for managing excess deaths should be considered
  • Work is needed to develop contingency plans and processes for prisons
  • Future guidance and plans need to consider the potential response of the public

To all of the above unlearned lessons, the DeliveryDemon says NSS, all basic planning requirements. Such a shame that we have had generations of politicians who failed to consider that their job includes managing the country to the benefit of its population. Can there be any excuse for ignoring such a telling report? Maybe perhaps the astonishing claim made late in the document – ‘The healthcare framework to respond to a pandemic is robust’. Along with the minor bureaucrapic qualification that people need to be briefed of the plans for a similar exercise – seriously, the assumption for a disaster scenario is that there will be time for lots of cosy meetings.

We have seen the theory come up against reality. Will that make our politicians and bureaucraps treat disaster planning as something other than a fun exercise and a source of PR?

What Has Boris Delivered?

May 11, 2020

The DeliveryDemon actively dislikes listening to political pomposity. Let’s just get at the text and eliminate the waffle. If you didn’t listen to the PR persiflage, here it is edited to the bare factual bones, along with the DeliveryDemon’s thoughts (in italics) of what was said.

I will be setting out more details in Parliament tomorrow and taking questions from the public in the evening.

Given an offline Parliament there’s really no need to hold this info back

Because although we have a plan, it is a conditional plan.

Fair enough, but I’d expect to see a bit more about checkpoints

And since our priority is to protect the public and save lives, we cannot move forward unless we satisfy the five tests.

  • We must protect our NHS. Pious wish, not a test
  • We must see sustained falls in the death rate. Question as to how reliable that data is
  • We must see sustained and considerable falls in the rate of infection. AFAIK criteria being used to determine infections is still pretty inadequate compared to the range of symptoms being reported so again a question as to how reliable the decision data is
  • We must sort out our challenges in getting enough PPE to the people who need it, and yes, it is a global problem but we must fix it. Pious wish again, what actions are proposed?
  • And last, we must make sure that any measures we take do not force the reproduction rate of the disease – the R – back up over one, so that we have the kind of exponential growth we were facing a few weeks ago. Pious wish again, what actions are proposed?

These are not tests, they are emotional PR.

And to chart our progress and to avoid going back to square one, we are establishing a new Covid Alert System run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre. What is this Joint Biosecurity Centre? Sound like the renaming of an existing committee. What’s its remit? Who are the members and what are their qualifications?

And that Covid Alert Level will be determined primarily by R and the number of coronavirus cases.

And in turn that Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures.This actually contradicts what he said earlier about conditionality. For basic risk management, it makes sense to monitor the effect before confirming a reduction in level.

The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.

There will be five alert levels.

Level One means the disease is no longer present in the UK and Level Five is the most critical – the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.

Over the period of the lockdown we have been in Level Four, and it is thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to Level Three.

And if we are to control this virus, then we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts. Forget world beating, it’s not a competition. It needs to be effective. The UK carried out Exercise Cygnus – a pandemic drill – in 2016, and it highlighted all the issues we have seen this year, though the conclusions have never been made public. The Guardian has published a document labelled as the final version of the report and it does not make reassuring reading. It is clear from this that the lessons ‘learned’ use a different understanding of the word ‘learned’ from that understood by most people. The DeliveryDemon has summarised the document in a separate post.

And yet when I look at where we are tonight, we have the R below one, between 0.5 and 0.9 – but potentially only just below one. That’s quite a range for a non-linear variable. Just how many people will understand that distinction?

We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work. Not all workplaces are equal in their ability to provide a safe environment. What protection is there for those whose employers are not providing a safe workspace?

And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. May not be an issue initially but as more sectors are expected to return, just what proportion of the working population work in major centres and / or at a distance from work? Are we expecting gridlock and a pollution hike from car usage? Where will all the parking spaces come from? Travel distance and weather will make walking / cycling impractical for many.

So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.

And to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure. Guidelines are fine, enforcement is another matter and whistleblowers tend to suffer.

And when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following COVID-secure standards. Enforcement?

And from this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.

You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household. How far is an acceptable drive? What guidelines will police have? How will more isolated communities react to an influx?

You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.

In step two – at the earliest by June 1 – after half term – we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6. No consideration of country-specific differences in school term dates.

Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. And we will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops and on transport.

And step three – at the earliest by July – and subject to all these conditions and further scientific advice; if and only if the numbers support it, we will hope to re-open at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing. Fair enough, but it would have been more sensible to state conditions rather than a date – the date is now firmly implanted in people’s minds.

We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health. It has long been accepted that ethics have a place in this sort of decision making. Why is it excluded here?

And I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big Ifs. It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R down.

And to prevent re-infection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air. NSS. But why just air? And why so late?

And of course we will be monitoring our progress locally, regionally, and nationally and if there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes. Fair enough but a bit awkward after setting so many dates in people’s minds.

The DeliveryDemon has yet to be persuaded that we have a political class which is capable of managing this country in the interests of its population. After decades of hiding behind the excuses of the market and of the EU, there isn’t the will, the culture, or the competency to make that change.


April 3, 2020

In a crisis there has to be a constant balancing between the urgent and the important, and the primary focus has to be on items which are both. These activities get priority, they get publicity, and they get resource. That is often at the expense of activities whose importance is as great, or even greater, but whose urgency is less.


The resource issue is an interesting one. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t guarantee success though it can be essential to remove barriers to finding a solution. Throwing people at a problem can, beyond certain limits, become counter-productive. Come a crisis, effective resource management is critical. The right quantity of the right resource has to be directed to the right activities. When this is applied to the public sector priorities for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some clear priorities, and resource needs to be directed to these. But what happens to the people not involved? The people not involved in the high-profile new roles? For some, the existing role cannot be abandoned – it may even become more demanding as the effects of the pandemic spread across the population.


That leaves a group of varying degrees of seniority, whose work, quite frankly, cannot be justified. Should they simply be put on gardening leave and treated as a reserve until such time as it becomes appropriate to redeploy them to fill gaps in the essential services? Or can some of them spend the time preparing for the day when the world emerges from lockdown?


With this in mind, the DeliveryDemon is about to talk rubbish.


We don’t know how long the pandemic will last. We don’t know what the world will look like when it comes to an end, or under control. One of the very few things we do know is that it will have generated one hell of a lot of rubbish, and that rubbish will need to be dealt with to prevent it choking the entire global environment. The earlier governments can start thinking how to handle this predictable problem, the more quickly it can be addressed.


Where is all the rubbish coming from:

  • Even with inadequate supplies of protective and medical equipment, there will be a massive quantity of infective waste to be disposed of. Incineration may be an appropriate resource, but barely 18 months ago it became clear that the UK did not have sufficient capacity for business as usual operation. There is no evidence of substantial capacity increase. This waste is a predictable problem.
  • A substantial increase in the demand for home delivery by supermarkets will more than offset the efforts of the past few years to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags. Picking and packing under pressure doesn’t allow the luxury of maximising the number of items per bag. And the bags are essential to minimise the level of contact between the delivery driver and customers.
  • Fear of infection predisposes food shoppers to prefer wrapped goods to loose, whether shopping in person or on line.
  • Working from home, limiting time away from home, home-schooling of children, all these create a degree of boredom and tension and the easy solution can be treats – an instant source of soft drink containers, wine and beer bottles and cans, wrappings from sweets and biscuits and other snacks. In one way this can be offset against the reduced waste due to reduced footfall in business centres and the closing of some of the big chains of fast food outlets. In another way it’s a shift from the commercial waste disposal route to the domestic one. Logistics and commercial agreements become as much of an issue as waste volume.
  • Panic-buying has already had a noticeable effect on waste volumes, with bin crews finding fuller bins and obvious disposal of just out of date perishable foods.
  • Tips have been closed at a time when people are forced to spend more time at home. Even those who can work from home will have more time on their hands to notice all the DIY jobs they never quite had time to do. That’s more waste being generated and it has nowhere to go till the tips open again. It won’t just be swallowed up by the newly opened tips either, they are not designed to cope with several months of waste arriving in a week or two.
  • Fly tipping has been an increasing problem for some time as local authorities applied more and more limitations to the usage of tips. It is in fact a growing organised crime. It is also becoming less socially unacceptable at the lower end of activity. As outdoor footfall reduces, and tracing resource is reduced or redirected to other activities, the risk of a flytipper being caught reduces from an already fairly low level. After a few months there will be a lot of rubbish to be cleared from countryside, wasteground, farmland, and parks.
  • And there’s the obvious point that legitimate waste disposal is as likely to be affected by resource problems as any other activity, where employees may themselves become ill or be required to isolate because of contact with others who become ill.


When we are able to look beyond the pandemic, when we are able to go freely from our homes into the natural environment, the DeliveryDemon expects that environment to look very different, and not entirely in a good way. We will not be able to ignore the aftermath of the lifestyles adopted of necessity during lockdown. It would be reassuring to see, as a secondary line of activity, some thought being given to helping our environment recover from what we have done to protect ourselves.


March 29, 2020

The DeliveryDemon, like most people, has long been aware that the reason we get ‘free’ online stuff is because the providers are after our data. Few if any providers are clear about what data they gather and how they use it. If they provide that information at all, it’s hidden in Ts and Cs the length of a small, or not so small, novel. And of course, in those Ts and Cs they reserve for themselves the right to make unilateral changes to those Ts and Cs whenever they want.


They might sell it on, they might use it themselves. Sometimes they seem to give you some choice, but is it real? There are sites, quite a few, which offer a ‘Reject All’ option. Seems good, the DeliveryDemon still doesn’t feel comfortable. Clicking that button – does it really do what she expects? She can but hope! But some sites are a lot more obstructive when it comes to letting users have control of their data. And once your data gets out of your control, there’s no way to get it back.


The DeliveryDemon stopped using Huff Post some time ago, after seeing how they reacted to data protection legislation intended to give data subjects more control. They’re not the only one to take this approach, but they are a classic bad example. So what did they do, and are they still doing it?


They did, obviously, provide a mindless ‘Accept’ button. But if the user chose the alternative options button, what happened? A couple of layers down there was a list of third parties that Huff Post wanted to provide data to. And some of those third parties existed to provide that data to yet more third parties. How long was that list? Something like a hundred entries.


The options were set to the default of giving away data to each of those third parties. It was not possible with a single click to reset those defaults, that had to be done individually. And that was only a part of the story. Not all third parties had the toggle option. To opt out, it was necessary to go to the site for each of those third parties and SEARCH for how to opt out. Of course such lists are not set in stone, new entries can be added. Is the user, who would normally be using a lot more sites than just Huff Post, to track each site frequently, looking for changes in a long list? And to follow through to all those third parties who can’t be toggled off? Sleazy to put it mildly.


The DeliveryDemon has just gone back to see what Huff Post is doing now. No upfront information about permissions now, it was necessary to keep scrolling just to find where the options are. Guess what. Using the site implies acceptance of the Ts and Cs, though to find them requires site usage. The terms aka user agreement have the usual bias of absolving Huff Post of responsibility by shifting it to the user.


But the user agreement is only a small part of the story, there’s more hidden in a privacy policy. There are 15 topics in that privacy policy. And 20 products. And 11 ‘controls’ which look very like company names. And a dash board which looks very like the 11 controls. Plus a section on advertising which goes back to the controls, or maybe the dashboard.


Eventually some of those sections lead to multiple individual advertisers and the like, all with their own policies and opt out arrangements. The DeliveryDemon CBA to count through them all.


The HuffPost user agreement claims to be under the laws of England and Wales. The DeliveryDemon wonders how those laws apply to those many partners whose individual Ts and Cs claim to operate under completely different legal frameworks.


Of course HuffPost is not alone in using these underhand tactics to get at user data. Users are being groomed right, left, and centre, to participate in the normalisation of this sort of behaviour by a highly unethical use of nudge techniques. And the more they are normalised, the more readily they will be adopted by newcomers to the field.


What may be less obvious is the impact CORVID-19 is having. Yes, a viral pandemic can affect the technology we use, and not in the way of the common or garden computer bug.


It’s happening through the massive increase in the use of conferencing facilities at all levels. A lot of people are working from home. Pubs, gyms, and other gathering places have been closed down, depriving people of their normal social contact. The internet provides ways of offsetting that absence of face to face contact. There are well established conferencing apps, some designed for professional use, some embedded in better known social media. Niche apps are suddenly becoming highly popular. They are our work meetings, our social gathering places.


What are these apps doing with our data? Rigorous analysis would take so long it would never stay up to date so the DeliveryDemon is picking on one example – the Zoom conferencing app. You can’t sign up without accepting cookies. Even the Required Cookies refer to tracking your orders – with no indication of this being a shopping site. Functional and Advertising options are opted in by default – recognised bad behaviour in data privacy terms. And the Basic Settings option doesn’t actually allow you to change that, it’s necessary to choose an Advanced option to get at it.


Try to see Zoom’s privacy policy? It’s greyed out till you go through the cookies rigmarole. And it contains the statement ‘Whether you have a Zoom account or not we may collect personal data from or about you when you use or otherwise interact with our product’. That includes names, user names, physical address, phone number, job title, employer, Facebook information, your device, network and internet connection details. It also demands the right to grab data other users hold about you – and you may not even know what that data is.


Zoom is an egregious example, but it’s not the only one. The DeliveryDemon wonders just how many people know how much of their data has been grabbed, and what use it is being put to. Actually, she knows the answer. No-one knows how much of their data has been grabbed and how far it has been distributed. As soon as an app provider starts grabbing one person’s data from that person’s contacts, all control has been lost. It’s been happening for a long time, and the conferencing needs driven by CORVID-19 isolation are an absolute gift to organisations whose Ts and Cs are in breach of the letter and the spirit of common data protection legislation structures.

Deliver Brand or Deliver Product?

March 26, 2020

The DeliveryDemon has never been a fan of online grocery ordering. It may be convenient, but it just doesn’t seem to fit the complexities of a shopping list built round a planned menu. For example, she may want four courgettes, but if there aren’t any aubergines that drops to two and she doesn’t want the peppers either. And if the aubergine is a battered specimen, it might as well be no aubergine as she doesn’t want to buy it. And if that happens, she might pick up a couple of baking potatoes or the makings of cauliflower cheese instead.


It has always been easier just to go to the store and pick what’s needed. That’s till coronavirus intervened along with massive panic buying. Not by the DeliveryDemon, but suddenly the supermarket shelves were empty of the most everyday goods, making basic menu planning a near-impossibility.


That’s when the DeliveryDemon tried click and collect. It seemed like a good idea, and the confirmation email showed that some items were available this way that hadn’t been on the shelves since panic buying started. It looked like about 50% of the order would be fulfilled.


That’s when the perils of substitution became apparent. If the DeliveryDemon needs turmeric, she would order her favourite brand but in the circumstances would use an own brand if her favourite brand was not available. But a pack of the same brand of cayenne pepper would be no good whatsoever. And when she orders kidney beans, sure as hell she doesn’t want yet another tin of chickpeas.


First world problems in the context of the times, certainly. But when the world returns to some sort of normality, perhaps the supermarkets would like to consider splitting their substitution options. It only needs a simple split. Let the customer choose whether they would accept another brand of the same product. Let the customer choose whether they would accept a similar product of the same or a different brand. Two tick boxes instead of one, that’s all.


The supermarkets are focused on getting orders to vulnerable customers at the moment. But when life settles they will have a massively increased base of customers who have tried and tested their online ordering systems. That’s a huge source of information about the customer’s real requirements, invaluable for a revisit of online ordering systems which, inevitably, will be in need of tidying up to rationalise all the seat of the pants changes needed to be responsive in a time of crisis.

Can Contingency Plans Deliver?

March 16, 2020

Back in the long-forgotten days of the Millennium Bug, the DeliveryDemon was involved in a fair bit of contingency planning, basically identifying and documenting the actions which would be needed if a range of adverse occurrences came to pass. Even twenty years ago most large public bodies had pretty detailed contingency plans to draw on and adapt to suit the risks specific to the Millennium hype and scares.

Twenty years have passed and the concept of contingency planning is fairly mainstream. Mainstream means routine. Routine means a chore. Routine chores don’t get the same analytical thinking as do novel concepts. They get written, signed off, then put on a shelf and forgotten. It’s not clear to the DeliveryDemon if this has happened to public sector contingency plans. Having a Prime Minister making a maudlin announcement like a B-movie actor, – ‘Loved ones will die’ – does not engender confidence. If the contingency planning material exists, there should be facts to announce, even if those facts are only decision points. Instead we have constant statements which are quickly contradicted. And our irresponsible media love it – headlines galore, each scary enough to be clickbait.

What would the DeliveryDemon expect to see?

Obviously the NHS ought to have fairly hefty and well maintained plans, since they call on them every winter. Whether they have the resources is another matter, and not one which can be addressed quickly enough.

Logistics, as at the Millennium, is another key area. The UK, with its old and twisted road system is not an easy place to plan logistics. That is partially offset by the traffic reduction which has started already as people reduce their social contact. But a whole range of other factors come into play. Food and related goods have to come from somewhere and they are part of the infrastructure a country needs in order to function. That means a lot of HGVs going up and down motorways and through towns and trading estates.  But successive governments have abdicated responsibility for this and left it to ‘The Market’ – the range of competing companies which form the food supply chain – to manage the logistics of getting food to customers. It does not work. Retailers forever look for ways to cut costs, JIT (just in time) supply is the norm, there is cost in reducing expensive shop space to create more storage space. The retail model has little contingency in it and that drives the need for supply logistics.


Panic buying and hoarding are human nature, and totally distort the demand side of the equation. ‘The Market’ quite simply cannot control that, not without some sensible support from those who are supposed to be managing the country. Yes, the DeliveryDemon is talking about rationing, but not in the way it was applied during the World Wars of the twentieth century. So far, we are told that there is sufficient food in the supply chain and the problem is the speed with which is leaving the supermarket shelves. That’s a pretty clearly defined problem to solve.

Of course it’s not the only problem. Much of the UK’s food comes from abroad and the agriculture and fishing sectors haven’t figured high on government priorities for decades. Dr Tim Leunig, economic adviser to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, is understood to have said the food sector was “not critically important” to the country’s economy – and that agriculture and fisheries “certainly isn’t”. That’s looking like very bad advice now.

Already scarce items are appearing on Amazon – 16 rolls of Andrex for £49.99 anyone? Mothers relying on formula milk can no longer find it in the supermarket and the advice circulating is that it can be obtained from pharmacies but only on prescription – further demand on GPs and on NHS finances.

Of course, logistics needs people – to move, load, unload, deliver the goods. Two problems here. Those people are as prone as the rest of us to Covid-19 infections. And it’s in the nature of the job that they have contact with other people as well as the goods they deliver. The Army is well supplied with logistics expertise but it is certainly not an infinite resource and there will be a whole range of calls on its manpower.

Disruption of utilities and hygiene services has yet to be given much prominence. Households need power, water, sewage, more so when social isolation advice causes people to spend more time than usual at home. Hospital needs are even greater. As is the case for logistics, all these services depend on people, and people can get sick. So can their families and that means healthy people having to drop out.


One utility which has become much more critical in the last 20 years is communications. Today the internet is an integral part of most people’s lives. It’s a good way to disseminate news – and false news. It allows people to work easily from home. Social media enables people to keep in touch during periods of physical isolation. It’s also a channel for mass hysteria. That makes it important for the powers to be to have a trustworthy and informative presence through reliable media sources. That’s just not happening.


And underlying the need for good communications is a whole range of other functions. Telecomms companies provide the delivery mechanism – in this country still reliant on ancient copper wire technology for the critical last mile to houses. Internet service providers enable individuals to have internet access. Security companies provide all manner of protection for data, financial functions and the like. Banks use the internet to let people and companies manage their money. Online retailers abound – a great benefit to those confined to home. Email and social media create a venue for communication without the need for face to face contact. Content providers are a major source of entertainment when public gatherings in cinemas and at live events no longer happen.

In a well-run democracy, the government would have at its fingertips the management status of all these critical functions. Well-established plans would already have been activated to smooth over the most obvious disruptions. Serious consideration would already be given to the actions of other countries in the global economy, and the impact these actions have on this country. There is no sign that this is happening. All we’re getting is bombast and hyperbole and contradiction and obfuscation.

The DeliveryDemon has a message for our senior politicians. Think. Plan. Forget the vanity projects of a fortnight ago. Deal in facts, not spin. Drop the B-movie Churchillian speeches. Do the job. It’s hard? Tough shit, you could have thought it through when you went for the job. JFDI!!

England’s Rotten Planning System

March 29, 2017

The DeliveryDemon wanted a brand new shiny kitchen, matched units fitting neatly together, with nice level worksurfaces. Someone suggested looking  at Howdens Joinery offerings.

It was going to take some time so it seemed like a good idea to get some planners in to sort things out. Maybe someone from East Northants Council’s Planning Department. After all, they should have some understanding of how structures are put together.

The units needed to sit on top of a plinth, so 600 millimetres seemed about the right height. Roxhill Joinery said ‘Of course 600 millimetre units is what we will provide’. The DeliveryDemon designed out what was needed, and Howdens Joinery said ‘Of course, that’s what we will create’. The DeliveryDemon briefed the planners from East Northants Planning Department and they took her hard earned money to check that Howdens Joinery actually did what they were supposed to do.

Having done everything necessary, the DeliveryDemon headed off to spend days working long hours to pay for this kitchen (and of course to shell out what the taxman demanded).

Come the day the kitchen was supposed to be ready, the DeliveryDemon  went to look.

At first she could see nothing for the glare. The promised soft downlighting had been replaced with what seemed like searchlights. She asked for an explanation, and the reply was drowned out by a cacophony of beeping reverse alarms and revving HGVs, from vehicles which had ignored gates and warning signs to demolish the garden wall.

Finally she managed to see the promised kitchen. But it wasn’t the promised kitchen. Those 600 millimetre units were not 600 millimetres high. Some were 350 millimetres high, some only 250 millimetres. And some took up only a half or a quarter of their allotted width. The work surfaces had been hacked up and balanced randomly on the mismatched units. Not to put too fine a point on it, the kitchen was a mess.

The DeliveryDemon demanded an explanation from those planners.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 300 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 250 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us part width was the same as full width and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘All your neighbours offered us tape measures but we decided to ignore them’ they said.

‘We don’t care that your family will have to live with this’ they said.

‘We CBA to give you even vaguely credible responses’ they said.

This is a fable of our times. It exactly mirrors the surreal process we have just been through in East Northants. It started with predatory developer Roxhill, in collusion with Howdens Joinery, ignoring all the suitable industrial sites available because Roxhill thought they could overthrow  the taxpayer funded neighbourhood plans in order to rake in profits at the expense of real people.

Their multitude of planning documents were thrown together to allow planners to tick boxes. And those planners duly ticked their boxes without ever considering the omissions, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies before them. People who actually used their brains pointed out that those documents were entirely unreliable. But the planners had ticked a box saying 600 new jobs and they weren’t going to get off their backsides to perform the most basic level of challenge which due diligence demands.

‘Loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘That 600 justifies destroying people’s lives’ said East Northants Planning Department.

The 600 jobs figure was challenged on the basis of inconsistencies too blatant to be ignored.

‘Well maybe it’s only 300’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well maybe it’s only 250’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well, a lot of those jobs are only seasonal’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘We only have embarrassing answers  to your questions so we refuse to answer them’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘The answer is always loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘We’re not going to consider that a lot of those jobs will be done by robots’ said East Northants Planning Department.

Six doughty councillors toiled tirelessly to put the facts in front of their colleagues. Deaf ears were relentlessly turned. Six eloquent voices could not prevail against that obdurate deafness. Why? I have my views and no doubt you have yours.

And this has made it very clear that our planning system is not fit for purpose. Real people’s hard earned and over-taxed money pays for that planning system. Yet it allows faceless corporates like Howdens Joinery and Roxhill to ignore democratic decisions and ruin lives, all to make themselves a fast buck.

The DeliveryDemon is holds a strong view that this country is overdue for a heavy dose of democracy.

And the DeliveryDemon would advise anyone considering a new kitchen to look for a supplier whose numbers can be relied on.

Why Marketing Doesn’t Deliver

October 26, 2016

Every organisation in the world spends a fortune on marketing, to the extent the DeliveryDemon would have to go entirely off the grid to avoid the deluge. With that volume, it’s not surprising that it’s easy to find examples of stupidity. One of the commonest marketing fails is when an organisation is so busy preening its corporate ego that it completely loses site of the real customer experience. Microsoft’s latest idiocy provides a classic example.

For most people, email is a utility – boring stuff but it needs to be there and usable, low key but reliable. It doesn’t have to look pretty or to keep coming up with new bells and whistles when a typical user ignores most of the facilities already in existence. Hotmail used to be a good utilitarian email. It popped up quickly on the screen. It was easy to skim through emails and get rid of the trash. Emails could be sorted. There were reasonable filters. It was pretty good at identifying spam. And, having been around for so long, a hotmail address was reasonably memorable.

For a good while after taking it over, Microsoft let Hotmail be. Then came the change to Outlook. Now Outlook on a business network has been a pretty reasonable utility too, but that wasn’t carried forward when Hotmail became Outlook. Loading became painfully slow. Months later it hasn’t improved. On an iPad it’s still totally unreliable, verging on unusable. First it displays a smug little picture showing how the floppy disc supersedes snail mail. Below that appears what the DeliveryDemon at first assumed to be a progress bar. Actually it’s a throwback to the 1980s, when time and again users would watch the blue bar inch painfully slowly across the screen, only to freeze when it reached a fraction from the end. Time and again it does this, with refresh and URL reentry making not the slightest bit of difference. The DeliveryDemon has left the progress bar for 40 minutes and it still didn’t display any emails, hit refresh over 100 times without anything useful happening. Sometimes there is a complete access fail because the site has failed entirely. And of course there are no updates from Microsoft to let users know what is happening.

That’s the user experience. How does Microsoft marketing handle it? With a classic demonstration of being blinded by focus on the big fat corporate ego, that’s how.

Several times during this (ongoing) fiasco, the DeliveryDemon has had emails from Microsoft marketeers. ‘Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while, we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365 to see how much more you can do.’ Lets translate that into user experience.

Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while…. –
Now you have endured for a while the primitively slow response times and clunky user interface……

….we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365…. – A free month is nothing but a cynical attempt to entice users into locking themselves into something which is barely usable and certainly not worth paying for when that month runs out….

….to see how much more you can do – If it can’t even do the basics at a barely competent level, it sure as hell isn’t going to do anything more useful.

In other words, Microsoft has made crap out of something useful and its marketing department are so enamoured of their own verbiage that they expect the world to be equally blind and shell out hard cash in response to that slimy marketing-speak.

Of course there may be another agenda behind this. Maybe the end of free Hotmail is in sight. Maybe Microsoft hopes that enough users will transfer to the paid for product so that any furore following the withdrawal of Hotmail will be minimal. If that’s the case, the marketing needs to be a damn sight more intelligent than the current efforts. And if that does happen, the DeliveryDemon will follow the oft-tested prudent advice. If something which works well is withdrawn, don’t blindly accept the offered replacement. Treat that replacement as just another product and evaluate it against whatever else is available. And of course, that replacement offering starts with an immediate handicap – it comes from a supplier which values its corporate ego over the customer’s need for continuity and reliability.

Holland and Barrett – Delivering Rotten Food

August 24, 2016

The DeliveyDemon has in the past bought aloe vera juice from Holland and Barrett. The sealed opaque bottles usually have shelf life well over a year into the future so it makes sense to buy a few at a time and save the delivery hassle. But the last purchase from Holland and Barrett will definitely be the last one – the DeliveryDemon is strongly opposed to being expected to pay for rotten food.

The first bottle was OK. The second bottle was anything but – the colour of the urine of someone who was severely dehydrated, with a smell to match.


The one on the right stinks and tastes foul

Not a pretty sight! Bottle after bottle, including ones from the same batch, are clear and pale like the glass on the left. Then comes one which looks foul, smells bad, and a tentative taste makes it obvious that it would be dangerous to consume any more.

A reputable company would clearly be glad to know that there was a problem in their production line or product handling. But Holland and Barrett are clearly not a reputable company. And they insist that, when they sell in England, English Law does not apply to them.

It took from 27 July to 18 August – 23 days – for Holland and Barrett to try and wriggle out of their responsibilities on the basis that their process insists that returns must be made within 30 days. Clearly a process with that sort of delay is designed to force out the vast majority of complaints. The DeliveryDemon has a message for Holland and Barrett – your internal process is irrelevant when you sell rotten food.

First comes the Food Safety Act Section 14. Government guidance on this act says that the retailer must:

  • make sure food is safe to eat
  • make sure you don’t add, remove or treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat
  • make sure the food is the same quality that you say it is
  • withdraw unsafe food and complete an incident report
  • tell people why food has been withdrawn or recalled, eg a leaflet or poster


The retailer has additional duties:

  • You must tell the Food Standards Agency (FSA) if you think any food your business:has sold is unsafe.
  • The FSA will tell you if the food must be withdrawn and customers asked to return it.
  • Submit a food safety incident report.

Clearly, by refusing to accept returns, Holland and Barrett is trying to weasel its way out of dealing with a food safety incident. Any company with this attitude obviously constitutes a significant risk to public health since it has chosen not to have in place the processes needed to comply with Food Safety Law.

That’s not the only legal breach either. The Consumer Rights Act makes unfair contract terms illegal, and Holland and Barrett are deliberately trying to hide behind unfair contract terms when they refuse to deal with food in sealed containers with a long shelf life whose rottenness becomes apparent more than 30 days after ordering.

  • Aloe Vera juice comes in a sealed, opaque bottle, so smell, colour and taste are not apparent on receipt.
  • The bottles have a shelf life which extends 18 months into the future, so a consumer may reasonably buy several bottles with the intention of using them over several months. Clearly, opening bottles on receipt in order to check whether the contents are rotten instantly reduces the storage potential.

To add insult to injury, Holland and Barrett emails glibly lie that:

  • We are proud of the quality of our products and as such, if you find that your products arrive with you in an unsatisfactory condition, please return the unopened products to the following address (note the weasel word ‘unopened’ in there).

The DeliveryDemon acknowledges that things do go wrong in retailing. Equally, the measure of a good company is the way it reacts when things go wrong. In the DeliveryDemon’s experience, Holland and Barrett as a company are as rotten as its products.

If you want to follow this saga to find out whether Holland and Barrett decides to live up to its legal responsibilities, or whether it clings to its policy of relying on unfair contract terms to conceal its food safety breaches, follow the DeliveryDemon on Twitter.

Another Open Letter to BT As They Deliver Sheer Incompetence

June 24, 2016

As I have already said very clearly in the email you have included in your reply, it would cause considerable problems to be called on the number BT nuisance called, and I have on multiple occasions made it very clear that BT do not have permission to call me on that number. Equally, my experience of BT is that staff are prepared to be blatantly dishonest, therefore I place no trust in verbal communication. All communication should be by email or in writing, and I prefer email because I do not want the hassle of disposing of junk snail mail from BT.

You already have the phone number which you have been calling despite being told not to.

You already have my name associated with that phone number, including in one of your nuisance calling lists, and you have confirmed this by promising to mark the number as one not to call. Equally you had sufficient information in that junk calling list to mention details of the previous account so it is clearly on your systems somewhere.

You should, under the Data Protection Act, have recorded that you have been refused permission to make nuisance sales calls to my number.

You should have a record on your complaints system from when I became so annoyed with BT’s dishonesty that I spend considerable time making it very clear that your behaviour was unacceptable.

If you check your domestic and business accounts, complaints system, and data protection records, you should find all the information you are requesting. Equally, if you check your own records and confirm the actions you have taken I will have slightly more confidence of BT taking appropriate action than I would if I spoonfed all the details only to receive a bland and unreliable assurance that the problem had been dealt with.