The Broadband Blue Tape Gambit: guest blog from Hamish Glenlivet

Hamish Glenlivet (looking at the broadband scene through the bottom of a glass while waiting for a snail-mail attachment to download) drafted a response to tell me that my blog entry forecasting the breaking of the broadband logjam was far too optimistic because of the blue tape, not just red tape, that binds that logjam together.
I am always happy to accept material for guest blogs, whether the authors wish to be attributed or, in this case pseudonymous. In the latter case I will not disclose their identity unless requested by a court or a Select Committee sitting in private session (unlike one former Computer Weekly journalist I will not risk going to jail, or Strasbourg, for my sources). This is, however, a moderated blog and I might change my mind if faced by a well-argued submission to the Press Complaints Commission – although I would mcuh prefer to give right of reply.   

Back to the material from Hamish, which I have edited slightly for clarity (and added a few links) while trying not to change the sense.


He defines “Blue tape” as “the structural spaghetti that large corporates use to tie-up the Public Sector, Regulators & SMEs”. 

“With weak regulation, these corporates end up dominating their chosen market.  BT, the BBC as well as Sky and Virgin Media are expert practitioners and the laissez-faire attitude of the current government is similar to that shown by many of the Western Governments to the bully Putin over the Ukraine: “Live and let live – and all will be well.”  [his thoughts, not mine].
“The real issue is lack of vision and of strong and fair regulation.
So long as Ed Richards stays in post (and where else is there for him to go?), then we will continue with a telecommunications industry where BT, the BBC and the other, large corporates keep their place through Blue Tape and cash flow manipulation: forcing SME suppliers onto skewed contracts and 60 or 90 day payment terms – just as the big supermarkets do to their suppliers.
The underlying problem has been created by the Financial Services industry who reward companies that “roll-up” a sector through acquisitions.  This knocks-out the Medium-sized businesses you find in balanced markets (like Germany) and creates the “too big to fail” mentality.
It will take more than the incumbent coalition government or any fuzzy-thinking from the Labour manifesto (the Labour list Blue Tap blog entry reads well but links to 90 pages: the “recommendations” from which could probably be stated in 90 words) to change this imbalance.  But, if we do not address it, we will continue to have successive governments locked in the headmaster’s office, unable to manage the bullies and gangs that have taken over the classrooms and playgrounds.
We obviously don’t want a war in the Ukraine – or between the government and the private sector – but we do need a more proactive and visionary regulator for the telecoms and media sectors that will do the right things to create truly competitive, fair markets that are not dominated by playground bullies.  I hope that, within the next five years, we have a government that not only stands up to Putin, but also stands up for its own position against the large vested interests that tie up their customers and suppliers in what the Labour Party calls Blue Tape”.

I note that Hamish has no more love for the Labour Party or its Telecommunications Apostle than he has faith in the current Government to do better. His comments, however, reminded me of the material I received for a guest blog on regulatory reform that was sent to me by his equally robust cousin, “Jardine Glenlivet”, another Scots ex-patriate. Jardine helped create and enforce regulatory frameworks for some of the critical intrastructures serving the high tech, high growth industries of the Pacific Rim:

“The Need to Reduce and Simplify Regulation: The dangers of “Comfort in Complexity”. 
•    Government must take a stand on reducing the flood of regulation in almost all sectors, both in terms of the number of regulations and, most importantly, in the way they are presented.
•    There is an accelerating trend towards more regulatory verbiage causing business, from main boards to SMEs to spend more time on compliance than on running the business, let alone identifying and managing the most serious and important risks they face.
•    Flooding business with compliance verbiage increases the risk that operational managers may miss something important or critical in the detail. THICKER MANUALS INCREASE RISK, NOT REDUCE IT.
•    Tough rules and laws may be required, but short sharp checklists should replace most of the prose and will help all concerned watch out for what is critical.
•    All those proposing new regulations should be seen to make a cost/benefit analysis, to determine whether the change meets the objectives intended at less cost than that which it seeks to replace.
•    Academics, consultants and lawyers who charge by the word or hour have no place in drafting. Those responsible must practice the art of precise so that regulations are short and sharp. They must learn to KISS: keep it short and simple. They must also aim for quality not quantity. 
•    Regulatory material should be better laid out with less wasted space on each page and no large logos. The Department of Education recently made a good start when they cut health and safety guidelines for schools from 150 to 8 pages. 8 pages will be read. 150 pages will sit on the shelf.
•    Any regulation intended to be read by main board directors or the proprietors of small firms should be no more than 2,000 words. Some comparisons may help focus the mind:

a. The Ten Commandments – 336 words words
b. American Declaration of Independence -1,344 words
c. EU Regulation on Exportation of Duck Eggs  – 28,911 words


Jardine’s comments were as crisp as the 500 to 2,000 word regulations that he helps draft and enforce in other parts of the world.

That raises the question of how we might achieve “The Glenlivet simplification” in the UK and across the EU – short of getting it included in the UKIP manifesto.
I suggest beginning with an attempt to get all-party support for a Ten Minute Rule Bill which states that only the first 2,000 words of any Statutory Regulation or any Public Sector  Terms & Conditions or Contract should apply to organisations with under 10 (or 20) employees or the 25% of contracts supposedly to be awarded to SMEs.

Everything else should default to common law and legal precedent..

Those who think such radical simplification impossible should recall the exercise to produce the original VAT return (one side of A4 because everything else is on file), the DVLA vehicle tax renewal system (simple because everything save for the payment should be on file, with only updates needed) and the Scottish (as opposed to English) rural payments system.

P.S. Such simplication could/should also be applied to complex public sector IT-related procurements, specifying the use of organisations like CEDR instead of contractual gobbledeygook. The first really complex contract negotiation with which I was professionally involved at a senior level ended up with an exchange of letters between the Finance Directors of buyer and supplier, totalling barely 1,000 words, which voided the standard contractual terms of both organisations.

Neither had faith that their legal advisors could agree a forms of words that reflected their concerns and those of the teams of engineers who had been looking at how to achieve the agreed objectives, given changing markets and technologies. They decided it would be much simpler to rely a simple statement of the high level objectives and constraints (on both sides), common law, an arbitration clause and a break clause for use if the objectives changed.

Barely six months later the break clause was used. Changed business needs enabled a much simpler solution before either side had committed resources beyond starting to recruit and train the implementation teams – by far the longest task on the critical path! [whose neglect is still the second most common cause of major systems failure].