"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Monday, 29 November 2010

John Lewis

John Lewis are supposed to be the model for our public services. Interesting that, the model for public services and not the private sector. If it is good enough for the public services, why isn't it good enough for the private sector?

But I digress. The subject of this post is actually about the dimness and vacuity of their managers and customers.

My local Waitrose gives £1000 to local charities every month. This is fine, however the way that they do it is tawdry. When you buy something you get a token, a green plastic disc. You are encouraged to put this token into one of the slots in the top of three plexiglass containers. Each container has the name of a charity and at the end of the month the money is divided between the charities in proportion to the number of tokens. Your token is worth nothing. Every month exactly £1000 is distributed between three charities, if you throw away your token the money given to charity is still £1000. Your only involvement is to decide the proportion of this money goes to which charity.

Initially the manager chose three different charities, so you may get a nursery, a cat charity and a disgusting sounding disease charity. This always resulted in the majority of the tokens going into the nursery box. The manager changed his policy and now we get three similar charities: three nurseries, three animal charities or three disgusting sounding disease charities. This has now got nasty. My token now says not that I support one nursery, but that I the other two are undeserving.

If I shop at Waitrose I do not take part in this scheme. I do not contribute to determining who doesn't get the money. If everyone did this then the money would be divided exactly between the three charities. I think that is the fairest way to do things. However, most customers think that they are contributing, they actually think that their token is worth something and that they are contributing to that charity, they seem oblivious to the fact that they are actually taking money away from the other charities. Indeed, the people putting their tokens into the boxes actually think they are doing a little bit of good, and not that they are actually counterbalancing this with two little bits of bad. This is the vacuity of those who participate in this scheme.

This neatly sums up the Big Society. With the public services that we have been used to, everyone gets the service, everyone contributes to the payment for the service: it is equitable. But under the Big (Nasty) Society public services won't be funded by all of us. That concept is disappearing. So this will mean that areas where there aren't the people with the time or money to provide the service that area will not be served. In the area where people have the time and money to contribute, they think that they are being charitable, without thinking that by paying less tax they are depriving someone else.

Just to complete this story, the local Sainsburys also collect for charity. They have a car park and like many supermarket car parks you pay £1 for the ticket half of which you put in your car and the other half you hand to the checkout to get a refund. However, if you choose you may put the refund ticket into a collection bucket and the money is given to the charity. This is a very different way to collect money. There is no limit on the amount donated every month. Sure, Sainsburys only select one charity but this collection mechanism will still work if there were three. The difference between this scheme and that operated by Waitrose is that by putting your refund ticket in one box you positively increase the money they will get - with no effect at all on what the other two get (they get nothing in this transaction). With the Waitrose scheme when you put your token in one box, one charity gets more money, and the other two get less.

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