They aren’t helping those who need help the most. At the same time, they are scaring potential students away and making the universities irresponsibly rich. They are also creating a future debt time bomb that will bring the country to its knees again, when it becomes clear that a massive proportion of the ‘loans’ are never going to be paid off, in the not too distant future.
Universities are no longer incentivised to deliver the best possible education, but rather strip back the contact time to the minimum they can get away with, whilst still achieving acceptable results. The focus is becoming about getting a result rather than learning to love a subject, inspire a new generation or just progress thinking in their area of study. I’m sure there are many exceptions, but with so many students coming from the middle majority who only got average A levels, standards simply have to fall, whilst universities just get richer.
Universities are now becoming ultra-powerful property owners and managers, creating a near monopoly for student accommodation in their city or campus. We all know that a position of monopoly will always drive competition down and prices up. This isn’t good news for students.
The university is no longer just taking the £9k tuition fee but adding an average of £500 per month for accommodation too, which adds up to £6k on top. Restrictions for private landlords are being added by the universities to make it harder for genuine competition to enter the market. Any graduate of my generation will have lived in some terrible ‘Young Ones’ style places as students and it probably made us appreciate how lucky we were to be gaining our free education and living away from home.
But graduating with £50-60k of debt is a bad thing. The thought of the debt is enough to put off some very bright young people who are scared of carrying that debt burden through their life ahead. Even worse when the government up the interest rate to 6% it is just asking to be bundled up and sold to the highest bidder, which means the graduate debtor will be pursued mercilessly for payback.
A reasonable earning graduate who becomes say a senior leader in a school by the time they reach 30 years old may be paying back £300 per month for their loan. They will also be paying into their pension at the same time. They may also be trying to buy a house or even bring up kids. It is just not possible to do all of these things at the same time unless you are from the very richest elite, where money isn’t an issue anyway.
If you don’t need a degree to enter your intended job, more and more will conclude that it doesn’t make financial sense to do so. As such, far less will actually go and our university sector will become ever more desperate cost-cutters.
There will also be millions of graduates who never get to the earning threshold to pay the loan back and little incentive for them to earn over it and start being hit hard by the payback they will face when they do.
So my solution is simple. Introduce proper means testing again, so the poorest get the most help, the richest get none and change the payback of a loan into a payment into a personal pension.
We should cap university tuition fees to a sensible level. Ensure class sizes are sensible too and agree a minimum amount of contact and one to one time.
We also need to cap accommodation fees so they are at least reasonable. £500 per month rent is the price of a small house per month to rent, not a single bedroom in a flat with five others who all share a kitchen – unless you are in central London.
And finally, add a new type of graduate tax, where they pay an extra few percent, but that tax goes into an individual pension contribution account for them to claim when they are old enough to retire – however old that may be by then. That way, they become self-sufficient and the state is paid back by helping them to provide for themselves in their old age.
University education should be free and accessible to everyone who is bright and motivated enough to pursue it. It can’t just be a right for the rich or those with the nerve to go massively into debt and mortgage their own futures.
Organic Stars in search results were outlawed for many years by Google as there were too many people ‘gaming’ the system and using results from all of their products and pushing them against every product they own individually. This is still obviously outlawed and if you do it, you will get a Google penalty.
But the good news is that there is now a super simple way to get Organic stars in your SERPS, just by adding your aggregate rating wrapped up in a simple Organization schema. They can improve CTR by a huge percentage, so for so little effort, there’s very little else that delivers more for your buck. This is what they look like when they are delivering.
The Schema is simple and as follows:
At present, you do need a reviews provider to give you these scores, but it may be possible to gain them from Google’s own rating if you can deliver a dynamic link into the Google page with your aggregate rating.
It is important to note that when you add it to your page, it’s worth testing it through Google’s own Structured data tester to ensure you have the code exactly right. It’s also CRITICAL to note that if you miss any of the elements off above, it may well pass, but you do need ALL of these elements to gain stars.
So it’s that simple. Add it to your home page, wait a week or so and you should get stars. I have used this many hundreds of times and it works every time!
Good luck, and please feel free to post examples of stars in the comments when they arrive on your site.
When my father was taken ill around 12 years ago he wanted to make sure everything was sorted for my Mum, so she didn’t have to worry about things when he was gone. He moved the home insurance to Saga Insurance, thinking they would be safe, reliable and trustworthy. But 12 years on when I happened to see a home insurance renewal from Saga, the cost was clearly very heavily inflated. £616.69 feels like a lot to me for a low risk existing client. So I had a look into it.
I think what makes it worse is some of the itemised costs. £20 renewal arrangement fee? Have you ever seen that before? Where does that cost come from and who on earth would ever pay that.
So bring on Compare the Market to see how this quote stacks up against an open market competition for a retired person living at home, with awesome security and who has never claimed in her life.
This is a like for like quote. £1 million rebuild cost (which is way too much) £75k contents, also too much and accidental damage everywhere. It is massively over-specced, but still comes in 79.7% cheaper at £125.00.
There were actually quotes as low as £102.93 (which is actually 83.4% cheaper) but these had a few things like legal cover missing, so weren’t identical.
So for Saga, they seem to assume that because they deal with the over 50’s, none of them will ever check quote them. For me, that’s not the way for a brand to ever behave. Maybe Saga is just another corporate money making machine like any other company these days. This is sad. I had always believed, like my Dad before me that maybe they were slightly better, knew how to look after customers and were in it for the long term. But obviously not.
We live in a totally transparent age, anyone can see almost any data these days and it is easy to find out of you are paying too much. This ploy of Saga feels like cynical profiteering to me. Surely they can only increase prices at an RPI linked cost?
In the meantime, we’ve signed up with Legal and General, complained to the Financial Ombudsman about the behaviour of Saga and passed the file to Money Saving Expert so they can have some fun with it too.
We have had phone call from Saga and an apology (not an admission of guilt) but they acknowledged that there may have been some overpayment by my Mum and offered some compensation. I am rather delighted to share the cheque with you today for £1839.66. I’ll take that. Thanks very much. The little man fights back and wins.
I was at east Midlands Airport recently and they have something of a captive market for their meal deals with both Superdrug and WH smith offering meal deals for £3.99. On the surface this looks like great value.
WH Smith is a brand that started 224 years ago in 1792 in London and has 1,351 outlets with 615 on the high street and 736 travel outlets in airports and stations. It turned over nearly £1.2 BILLION in 2015 and employs 14,500 people.
So with all of these years of experience, heritage and the sheer number of interested parties, you’d think they would understand the concept of authentic brand values. Built on this history and surviving the worst of the high street recessions they really ought to know better.
But they don’t. They have an own brand product in store called ‘Munch’ which is entirely fake.
Munch, which is a range of sandwiches and wraps, tells you you can ‘Grab a bite of the good stuff’. A pretty compelling proposition for food on the go. They back this up with a brand support statement that says ‘Gloriously delicious food-to-go. So irresistible everyone wants to get their paws on it! Satisfies even the wildest of appetites…’
But the sandwich was disgusting. I didn’t want more, I never want to eat it again, I never want to eat anything for sale in WH Smith. I didn’t even want to finish the sandwich. Eating it, made me feel ill and dirty. Eggshell in the egg mayo didn’t help and even the bread was stale and unnatural. So I had to have look at the ingredients.
This was a total shock. I was genuinely horrified with what it contained and it bore no relation to the brand values all over the packaging whatsoever.
Even trying to ignore the fact that claimed ingredients added up to 118% (It must be all the shit they have piled in to make it taste less natural and healthy) the list was not all all irresistible. In fact it was entirely resistible.
I won’t be eating ‘Munch’ again. I’d suspect that if this is how WH Smith run their business, they are in trouble. I’ve talked about Tesco in the past and the start of their problems being with the quality of their products, which all came true. Any brand that says one things and delivers another like Abercrombie and Fitch will be found out soon enough. WH Smith are that brand.
I’m no whistle blower, but if I had any money invested in WH Smith, I’d get it out fast. This is a brand heading for the gutter.
The UK is about to become the second country in the world (after Australia) and the first in Europe to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. It is due to be implemented by 20th May 2016, although it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. I wrote about it here in 2011 and my view still hasn’t changed.
And I think it’s a bad idea for a few reasons.
Taking away the branding will allow cheaper brands to compete on a level playing field with the big brands. Rather than making it less attractive they will make it more affordable. If you can’t see the difference in the packs and you’re new to smoking, why would you buy the bigger and more expensive brands?
It will make it easier for fakes to come into the market as the packaging is even easier to copy. Fake cigarettes aren’t made to the same standard and could even be more dangerous and contain all sorts of additional nasties.
You will make it cooler. It is now so obviously a bad thing that it becomes something that is more attractive to do. Anyone who has ever smoked, knows the dangers and ignores them. In Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology he proves using brain scans that when smokers see the warnings on packs, rather than put them off smoking, it creates an almost religious like fervour. They become more desirable – despite all good sense saying otherwise. The more you try and drive it underground, the more prevalent it will become. As a parallel, it’s not exactly difficult to get hold of Cannabis these days and that’s meant to be banned altogether.
It appears that the tobacco industry are going to take the government to court for loss of trademark value. According to the Telegraph, this could be for up to £11 billion.
Smokers pay their own way – Because they kill themselves with smoking they have finite lives. they pay fortunes into the NHS through the taxes on cigarettes and on average, die much younger. The cynic in me says the government know this and by taking this route, they will maybe even make more money in tax revenue on smoking. The UK government take £11 billion PER YEAR from smokers. Are they really trying to kill this golden goose?
The only good plan (according to the Sun) in my mind is to ban packs of ten cigarettes and Menthol cigarettes. These are definitely entry products for young smokers. There will always be enterprising kids at school who will break bulk and sell singles (or loosies as they were in my day) but it will make smoking a little harder to start.
It’s only my view, but I am convinced I see more young people smoking than ever before. Putting cigarettes behind doors in the retail outlets doesn’t appear to have made any difference – It may even have had the opposite effect to the one they claim they were aiming at – And they are ploughing on anyway.
I’m not going to say much here, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. I have talked about Google and their monopolistic power previously. Google is still totally dominant in the global search market. You’ll see from this graphic below that they have 67.78% of total search share compared to the next biggest Bing with only 13.27%. That’s over five times the share. In the Uk, this is 86.6% for Google and only 8.88% for Bing, which is over ten fold.
So you would expect that their results would be completely above reproach wouldn’t you? They’d play fair as they are in such an obvious monopolistic position right?
I wanted to understand how seller ratings worked in Bing. Were they any different to those in Google? Was there anything else I needed to know?
So an obvious search term produced the following results in Google with no sign of Bing on the whole of the first page.
And in Bing, quite different results here with their own two useful articles in first and second place as you’d expect.
So based on my search intention of trying to find more information about ‘Bing Seller ratings markup’, which produced the most useful results?
This does look remarkably like a playing field that is not at all level. Naughty Google.
Since I wrote this earlier today, Google have been all over BBC news for their alleged abuse of power with Android too.
British Steel first appeared in 1967 which was formed out of the nationalised British Steel Corporation (BSC). It went on to be privatised and launched as British Steel plc in 1988. It was even big enough to be part of the FTSE 100 Index. In 1999 the company merged with Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus Group and even then, many of us thought it was a mistake and would start the end of the steel industry in Britain. It’s easy with hindsight, but it looks like that was right.
And it’s why we need British Steel again. Quality, traceable, home manufactured fabulous, british steel. It may not have been a glamorous brand, but it was one we knew and understood.
There is a new standard in Europe called BS/EN 1090 and what it says is that EVERYTHING, right down to welding rods has to be traceable back to source. No traceability, no CE Mark. This is currently impossible with imported steel as there is no way of knowing where it came from. If you don’t know how it was made, where it was made or what it was made with, then how can you guarantee it is safe? For an insurer, how can they assess that risk?
So for me, bringing back British Steel would be a huge step forward.
So maybe this is just too obvious to be useful but if we are about to lose our steel industry and 15,000 jobs anyway, then surely it must be worth investing in this industry again.
We poured billions into our banks to save face more than to save jobs and now it must be time for this support to turn to one of our core industries. Steel.
Even taking the finances alone. 15,000 families will be immediately having to draw benefits for some considerable time. Let’s say an average of three years. Then by my maths that’s at least £1bn million over this period and ongoing devastation to communities that just don’t need more bad news.
If you take Port Talbot as a case, then maybe energy is the issue? This can be solved with the Severn Barrage. Every aluminium producer in the world seems to use Hydro Power to smelt aluminium, so why not clean steel up at the same time and make it go green. That’s a bargain at between £10-34bn – which makes the saving of steel look positively cheap.
British Steel is Britain through and through. It’s literally what our country was built with and by my very simple way of thinking, something our government should not just support but make it a model of how decent targeted intervention can help rebuild Britain from our proud industrial heritage outwards.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but my first reaction when I heard that VW had rigged the software in their cars to behave differently when it detected it was being tested, I thought “wow, that’s clever”.
There’s no doubt they have done a huge amount of harm to their brand and damaged the trust that has been built over many, many years. They deserve a really big fine as they have been found out as liars. Brand owners who lie generally get found out and they generally struggle to build their brand back up afterwards.
But, do they deserve to be put out of business when it is near certain that every other manufacturer in the world is pulling the same stunt, without having been caught yet?
I think not.
It’s bad yes, but it isn’t life and death. They will be hit hard enough with a potentially huge decrease in sales and profits for years to come.
So for me, the talk of a £20bn fine is excessive. When you add in the lawyers scurrying around like leeches starting Class Actions in the US and it’s getting ridiculous. Assume £10,000 per car and this could easily be another £50bn on top. Really, have they done £70bn of harm?
As I work with some great theme parks, I am a member of the Themed Entertainment Association. One of the benefits of membership is their organisation of visits to some of the best the world has to offer, to see what they do and how they do it. And I have just come back from Puy du Fou, and can safely say that it is, without doubt, the best theme park in the world.
It’s a total one of a kind and without any of the conventional rides you associate with other theme parks. It draws in the local community, trains all its own staff through its academy, creates everything internally (even the shoes and costumes) and delivers spectacular, emotive and beautiful shows that you have to see to believe.
It’s been created by Phillippe de Villiers, the father of Nicolas de Villiers who runs it today (and who showed us around). The control Nicolas still exercises is phenomenal. It’s not like any other brand. If anything it’s a little like Google in the way they controlled their growth in the early years but this has lasted for 35 years already. He even interviews the shortlisted kids for the academy and watches every Cinescenie to be able to feed back to the managers where they could do the show even better. The level of detail they manage is unbelievable and even the back stage areas are immaculate.
We had a totally jam packed 48 hours and got to see behind the scenes of nearly every show. Here’s a summary of the best of them.
The first show I saw there and an amazing introduction to life at Puy du Fou. It’s filled with eagles, horned beasts, vikings and marauders, all backed up with huge explosions, gigantic flames and boats magically appearing from stage left and under the water, with the performers disappearing with it. Animals everywhere and a large cast. It’s an amazing start and an even bigger ending.
The Knights of the Round Table
It’s a story of Excalibur with Merlin, mermaids, sword fights in the water, horses walking out of the huge hidden caverns underwater and probably the simplest of the whole lot we saw. It’s great fun, has the best safety warning I have ever seen (hilarious) and I saw it twice.
The Secret of the Lance
This is a huge show that just keeps on growing. Spectacular horse riding, massive sword fights and jousting and flames everywhere. Then a disappearing castle, another HUGE castle that moves and rotates and amazing sounds and effects everywhere. There are things going on all over the place and we were lucky enough to get to see behind the scenes here. It was sooooo good, that a few times during the show I felt myself becoming a bit emotional.
This is a huge great roman spectacular played out in a purpose built amphitheatre that seats over 7,000 people. Again, it starts off quite small and then just grows and grows. The cast is huge and varied and whilst the story is their own version of history, it’s still truly amazing. Just look at the pictures.
I saw this one twice too. It’s the only inside show and simply massive. Perhaps a little hard to follow in french, but I found it far more enjoyable to just watch the show and ignore the story. It’s breathtaking but you aren’t allowed to take photos, so this is a sneaky one of the set, just as the flamenco dancers start going crazy. It’s quite reminiscent of Riverdance with horses and water and swords and explosions and…..
The Phantom Birds’ Dance
Now this was a real highlight. Again I saw it twice from two different seating positions. The first time from down in the pit gave a great view, but the second time, right at the back at the sides gave you far closer access to the birds. The show itself is incredible with beautiful, haunting music and a cast of over 170 birds. If you are going to sit at the very back, it’s probably best to shuffle forwards just a little so you don’t get pooped on by a vulture, like I did. There is simply noting like this anywhere in the world. It is totally breathtaking.
The Organs of Fire
This was the first night show I saw and can only be described as breathtaking (I’ve used that a lot haven’t i!). It starts with a lone violinist emerging, her dress lighting up and her floating around the lake playing music until she meets the pianist, who does the same. The orchestras appear, huge fountains emerge and an even bigger organ suddenly appears to add to the music and the gigantic party. I thought it was the biggest show I’d ever seen, but I hadn’t seen Cinescenie at this point!
Now this show breaks record after record. It’s the largest permanent show in the world with a nightly cast of 1,500, all of whom are volunteers. None of them get paid. There are 3,400 of them trained to play their roles and it’s held 28 time per year in front of a crowd of 14,000. For the volunteers, it’s a huge social and cinematic event and they train all year. It’s so popular that there are over 1,000 on the waiting list to volunteer and you can’t buy tickets for the event for another year. I won’t say too much about it but it is simply massive, incredible and beautiful (and hard to photograph). I have again, never seen anything like this. It started at 10.45 pm and went on until well after 12.15, so it’s a good long show too. It’s worth it for the fireworks alone.
The TEA Team
Being with the TEA gave us an all access pass to the whole site and the team that created it. It was a huge privilege and worth the membership in its own right. For only three days away it was completely exhausting, but to be able to get to see this place was worth it and i’ll be back to do it again.
Are you watching Nottingham?
It does however make me sad when I see references to knights, castles and even Robin Hood himself that my home City of Nottingham, can’t even get an attraction out of the ground to recognise our most famous son. The French have delivered a genius show that would draw in millions of visitors if it was created here. Nottingham still hasn’t delivered a single thing. So, Nottingham, please take note. Puy du Fou turns over €74m and is very profitable, filling every hotel for miles around with it’s 1.9 million visitors per year. A little of this would go a long way.
Where we stayed
The accommodation offer is quite new, but growing fast. They may look like simple tents, but they house a fabulously well equipped four poster bedroom with wet room, two bunks for kids and even decent wifi.
If you have kids you have to come here. If you don’t come anyway. It’s amazing, awe inspiring and unique. It’s the best kept secret and the best theme park in the world. And it’s my new favourite.
I have been with Natwest bank since my first day at University in 1984. My business banks with them too and so do all my family members based on my own previous good experience. I have paid extra for the ‘benefits’ of the Black Account at a cost of £24 per month for years and years, having been transferred over from the previous Private Banking Account, which I paid £200 per year for before that. I guess you could call me a loyal customer. So you would hope for some loyalty in return right? Err, wrong.
As you can see above, on the very front of the Natwest member Benefits site it says
Just one of the benefits of your Black Account We rely on our mobile phones so much these days, it’s comforting to know as a Black Account customer, you and your family members that live with you have such valuable cover. With Black Account mobile phone insurance, your mobile or smart phone is covered against loss, theft, unauthorised use, damage or breakdown, wherever you are in the world. You’re automatically covered but if your phone is registered, it may make the process quicker if you have to make a claim. Cover is for a maximum of four phones owned by you and family members.
But this simply isn’t the case. It turns out that unless you read the fine print, your family living at home are only covered if they are still in full time education.
My daughter who has finished her A levels and still has an open and unconditional offer to study Photography in Nottingham is not considered as being a member of my family as she was starting work the next day, despite still being 18 years old and living at home.
The ‘Benefit’ is administered by both Aviva and Carphone Whorehouse and despite having spoken to all of them, the claim is still being rejected.
It’s not surprising that people have little time and zero respect for banks as the brand they portray behaves completely differently to the one they live. You can’t trust banks and it seems you can’t trust insurance companies. And with a Five Star Defaqto rating, it makes me wonder whether they can be trusted too.
So, social media works if you want to get huge multinational companies cave in and start behaving reasonably. It does still trouble me that it is only those that shout the very loudest who get some form of justice, but in this case, Natwest, Aviva and Carphone Whorehouse have backed down and paid the claim for a new iPhone. Thank you – Particularly to Andy at Aviva Support. Now do us all a favour and change your policy to be more reasonable and cover all family members – or change your advertising to make it clear it is only for under 23’s in full time employment.