November 12 2009

They toil not, but they spin


Old Grumpy is impressed by the ability of public bodies to put a favourable gloss on even the direst of circumstances.
For instance, on entering the National Park's website, you are confronted with the 'important' message: "Early editions of the tidetable information in our visitor newspaper 'Coast to Coast' are incorrect."
Reading that you'd never guess that, due to the inclusion of the previous year's tide tables, the whole of the 250,000 original print run had to be pulped.
This expertise in massaging the message is also to be found in a report on the Park's website reviewing the first year of operation at its £4.2 million flagship visitor centre, Oriel y Parc at St Davids, where we read that: "The first 12 months of operation have been extremely challenging for staff but they have pulled together to make the facility a success and they should be congratulated on their efforts."
So everything's lovely in the garden?
Well, not exactly because, elsewhere in the report, we are told that absenteeism is "much higher" than the Park's average and that "staff morale has been quite low" and "it is felt that a significant proportion of the staff have not bought into the ethos of the facility".
The report concludes that: "It is vital that staff support each other, particularly during busy periods and work together as a fully functioning team."
That would hardly need saying if staff really had "pulled together to make the facility a success."
Indeed, the proposal is for £2,000 to be spent on putting staff through a "team building" course.
As for the "success" of the enterprise, careful reading of the report reveals a rather different story.
Educational visits and events; budgeted to bring in £18,000 have raised only £3,000.
The cafe; projected to generate sales of £180,000 took only £74,000 up to the end of September and, with the winter now almost upon us, "it is anticipated" that the sales figures "will fall well short of target by the end of March 2010."
The retail area has generated a net income of just over £78,000 to date."This has been achieved by implementing the recommendations of Peter Holloway of Retail Thinking ( a retail consultant often employed by the National Trust) when he visited Oriel y Parc in June 2009. This success has been driven by the centre manager etc".
As the report says: the original estimate for retail sales was £130,000 and it is anticipated that there will be a shortfall of some £35,000 which equates to roughly 27%.
And despite making savings of £32,000 in staff costs, £5,000 in equipment purchases and increasing profits by £14,000, the National Park is still set to lose £30,000 on the project in the current financial year.
The café is described in management speak as a "high risk area in financial terms" so "sales must be boosted (without overly competing with local businesses)." Quit how this is to be achieved is not clear especially as the authority is applying for a liquor licence for the facility..
One option, says the report, is "even (emphasis added) franchising out the café to a private contractor (mirroring the arrangements at St Davids Cathedral and Haverfordwest Leisure Centre)," although, it adds sniffily, "this could be viewed as a last resort as quality control and culture might become difficult to manage."
The sheer conceit of thinking that the private sector is incapable of delivering a quality of service equal or better than the public sector.
Indeed, if management in the private sector presided over a financial fiasco of this nature, somebody would be expecting their P45.
Though I should point out that it is not all bad news because, as the report says: "The facility has garnered considerable media coverage and accolades including a WLGA 'Excellence Wales Award' due to the high quality of the exhibitions on display as well as the commitment, by the National Park Authority, to create a high caliber (sic) 'green building'."

Dog eat dog


Two recent contributions from the climate change fanatics caught Old Grumpy's eye.
First we had Lord Stern, who wrote the deeply flawed report on the economics of climate change, telling us that we should stop eating meat because of the amount of methane emitted by ruminants.
Then we had the publication of research which claimed that keeping a large dog had the same effect on the climate as driving 6,000 miles per year in a SUV.
Perhaps the Koreans are on to something, after all.
By the way, the same researchers found that a cat is the equivalent to 6,000 miles in a VW golf and a goldfish to charging the batteries for two mobile phones.
So when a cat fishes a goldfish from its bowl it can claim to be doing its bit to save the planet.


The latest bastion of male exclusivity to fall victim to the march of feminism is the Red Arrows acquisition of their first woman pilot.
Is it significant, I wonder, that aeroplanes don't have a reverse gear?

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