Friday, 30 January 2009

Manchester could become 1st city in the UK to have identity cards

During a visit to the city, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has stated that Manchester could be one of the testing grounds for the government's ID cards scheme. The Home Secretary, who discussed the issue with business leaders in Manchester Town Hall and at Wythenshawe’ Newell Green High School, said that the cards, which would cost £30, aimed to be 'less bother' rather than 'Big Brother'. The Home Secretary’s visit featured in a news forecast on Channel M and can be viewed here. During her speech at Manchester Town Hall she spoke about the ID cards’ benefits, e.g. better security at airports, better immigration control, “easier” proof of identity and a "secure and trusted environment" for the public's personal data. The scheme will be tested out in several "beacon areas" later this year to ensure that the relevant systems are operating smoothly, with the aim of then making them available to young people nationwide from 2010 and then adults from 2012. A list of the benefits of ID cards can be viewed here and general information regarding the ID cards here on the Home Office website.

However, the Home Secretary’s proposal and actions have been scrutinised by others. Dave Page, Manchester co-ordinator of the NO2ID campaign, said: "Jacqui Smith is trying to reassure people that biometric data is secure when she herself had her fingerprints stolen”, this relating to an incident in November 2008. Sabina Frediani, campaigns co-ordinator for Liberty, criticised Ms Smith for discussing the issue while visiting a school, "Schools are places for education not indoctrination.". Others are concerned about the security of the ID cards due to recent mass losses of data, e.g. Child Benefit, HMRC.

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“All British Homes to Have Broadband by 2012” according to ‘Digital Britain’ report

The government yesterday published an interim report, titled ‘Digital Britain’, with the aim of creating an action plan that would secure the UK's place at the head of the new media age. The report tackles everything from broadband speeds to internet regulation and public service broadcasting. Prime Minister Gordon Brown identified the importance of the report by stating that digital technology is as important today as "roads, bridges and trains were in the 20th Century".

One of the main points to come out of the report was the government’s desire to get all British households on at least 2Mbs speed broadband by 2012. Currently, around 40% of British households already have broadband internet. Similarly it is believed that by 2012 £1 in every £5 of all new commerce in this country will be online. One issue that the report looked at was illegal copying and sharing music and films using the internet. Lord Carter has proposed the creation of a 'Rights Agency' to deal with the problem of people illegally copying and sharing music and films over the internet. The agency would be funded by internet service providers (ISPs) and the music and film industry paying a ‘broadband tax’. A further issue was the possible digitalisation of radio, which would signal the end of analogue wireless radio.

However, the government’s aims though have been hit with criticism by other members of parliament. Shadow culture minister Jeremy Hunt has said that the report should have given a more strategic plan, rather than a sole review of British media. He also criticised Culture Secretary Andy Burnham his proposal for nationwide 2Mbs broadband is almost half of the current British average speed of 3.6Mbs. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats' culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster has called the report disappointing and again claims that is lacks a strategic plan of action, “We've spent lots of money on reviews, but all we now have is a strategy group, an umbrella body, a delivery group, a rights agency, an exploratory review, a digital champion and an expert task force.”

The government has committed itself to undertake 22 actions as a result of the report, regarding next generation internet, mobile wireless and digital TV and radio. These actions can be listed here. A summary of the report’s findings can be found here. A full copy of the report can be viewed here.

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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Manchester City Council to Resurrect Bid for £2.75bn Transport Funding

A conference in London between Greater Manchester Transport officials and MPs was held this week, with the intention of resurrecting the region’s bid for £2.75bn transport funding. The conference aimed to create a ‘Plan B’ for the region’s bid, following an overwhelming majority vote of ‘no’ in the congestion charge referendum in December, where over 1 million from the region voted. Greater Manchester had originally been promised £3bn of investment in public transport, on the basis that there was a majority vote in favour of the congestion charge.

Details of the new proposals have not yet emerged, but it has been suggested that the new plan would not involve any sort of congestion charge. Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, who was present at the conference, believes that the meeting was successful, “I would be surprised if we didn’t get something”. Matt Colledge, chairman of GMPTA (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority), believes that the “unusually high turnout at the meeting” and high levels of determination and enthusiasm shown by the attendees towards the cause put’s the bid in a good position. Bolton South East MP Dr Brian Iddon believes that the region has a strong case for the funds, despite the referendum setback, as GMPTE already had, “detailed plans that pre-date the failed Transport Innovation Fund bid”.

Consequently, further meetings will be held in the near future and a report by Manchester council chief executive, Sir Howard Bernstein, will be sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, in support of this bid to secure funds. Geoff Hoon himself has already taken action towards solving the city’s congestion problems by announcing a scheme to widen the M60 motorway.

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Monday, 19 January 2009

Monday 19th January – The most miserable day of the year

According to various psychologists and mathematicians today is the most miserable day of the year. The date is selected because the start of the working week is disliked by many workers and in the middle of the month many have spent most of their last pay packet over Christmas, but still have a lengthy wait for the next one (The Telegraph). According to Psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall today’s 'Blue Monday' in particular will seem more miserable than most, due to the credit crunch, worries over Christmas bills, unemployment, the long dark winter, and poor weather . The BBC website has a story on a group, The Optimists' Society, who intend to turn today’s ‘Blue Monday’ into ‘International Optimism Day’, by holding a free comedy event in London and sending ‘cheer’ packages to some celebrities, such as Alistair Darling, Jack Dee, Jeremy Paxman, and the Eastenders cast amongst others.

The Independent gives us 10 easy going tips to get through this ‘Blue Monday’:

1. Make sure you get up, get dressed and try to look good - don't leave off make-up.
2. Make a list of those you know, and how you affect their lives in a positive way.
3. Exercise - it can change your mood.
4. Remember it is "Blue Monday" - you are not the only one feeling blue.
5. Indulge in a gratification exercise - take 15 minutes to write three things you are grateful for such as your health, Christmas presents and friends.
6. Buy a light box - this can help those driven to depression in winter by lack of light.
7. Try to be more disciplined with your bed-times
8. Think like the Opposition party - i.e. from a different point of view.
9. Try a good book and a glass of wine.
10. Visit Australia (its lighter).

Plum Customers need never be miserable with the choice of so many exciting products at very competitive prices. Visit to find out about such products and services.

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Friday, 16 January 2009

Government to guarantee £20billion loans to small businesses

The business secretary, Lord Mandelson, has unveiled a £20bn package to support small businesses during the recession, by boosting the availability of credit from the banking sector. The package means that the government will provide £10bn of working capital to customers with a turnover of less than £500m (a measure which could cover all but the largest 350 companies in the UK), and £1.3bn of loans for companies (particularly those in sectors which are seen to be vital in rebuilding the economy) with a turnover of up to £25m (Financial Times). In return for a fee the state will insure banks against companies defaulting on loan repayments (BBC).

One cause of this package was banks’ reluctance to lend to businesses, as they were afraid that, as the economy sinks deeper into recession, more companies would find it difficult to meet debt obligations (The Guardian).

As with a recent previous programme to help smaller business, Mandelson believes that this package will help steer businesses through this economic downturn into a stronger position once this climate is over (The Telegraph). However, many feel that £20bn is not enough to get the banks lending sufficient funds to help businesses get access to much needed cash, with members of the Conserative party stating that the figure should be £50 billion instead.

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Monday, 12 January 2009

Rhodri’s 10km Run For the Alzheimer’s Society

Plum Communications’ own Marketing Manager, Rhodri Lloyd, is to run in the forthcoming Bupa Great Manchester Run 2009 on Sunday 17th May 2009, on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Society. Rhodri, a recent University of Manchester graduate who joined Plum 4 months ago, aims to raise £300 in the process of running the 10km race for the charity, in memory of his grandfather who died from Alzheimer’s in 2003. To find out more about Rhodri’s cause and to sponsor him, please visit his Justgiving page. For further information on how his training and fundraising is going please feel free to visit his Facebook group.

He is not the first member of the Plum staff to run for charity in recent years. As reported on in a previous blog, Customer services manager Suzanne Cain ran the Bupa Great North Run in 2007, raising a total of £600 for Leukaemia Care over the 13.1 mile course.

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Thursday, 8 January 2009

£35 million to be invested in creating 23,000 jobs in the North West

Whilst speaking to business leaders at Salford's Lowry arts centre during, as part of the Labour Cabinet’s tour around the UK, Lord Peter Mandelson has today approved a £35m programme to support new businesses in the North West, with the aim of creating 23,000 jobs over the next five years, as reported by the MEN. The start-up programme will be run through Business Link Northwest, the region's business support gateway. The programme’s funding is coming from the Northwest Regional Development Agency (£26.6m) and the European Regional Development Fund (£8.4m). The programme aims to create some 12,700 new businesses and 23,000 jobs in the North West.

According to the BBC Mandelson said, “We cannot and must not fail now to invest in our future…We will not repeat the mistakes made in previous recessions of retrenchment - stop-go policies in public investment have reduced Britain's competitiveness over many decades”.

The MEN added that he said, “This new funding will help entrepreneurs in the north west to get new enterprises off the ground and access the support they need to grow and flourish. Nurturing and protecting start-ups and young businesses through this downturn will lead us into the upturn that will follow”.

Therefore Mandelson has made a clear message regarding his views on how to turn the current economic downturn into an upturn: We need to invest in the future, rather than sit back and wait for the economic downturn to end.

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UK consumers receive an average broadband internet speed of 3.6Mb/s

Ofcom has today brought out the results of its latest consumer research regarding broadband internet speeds in the UK. The report has shown that despite UK consumers having a possible average maximum possible broadband speed of 4.3Mb/s, in reality UK consumer receive an average broadband speed of 3.6Mb/s. The research was carried out over a 30 day period, with approximately 7,000 tests run through monitoring units connected to around 1,500 homes’ broadband routers, resulting in over 10 million separate tests of a range of suppliers’ services. The full report can be views here.

Such a speed is seen as sufficient for many internet applications, such as audio and video applications. However, such a speed is significantly lower than well advertised headline speeds. For example, 60% of UK broadband consumers are subscribed to ‘up to 8Mb/s packages’, but 20% of these receive a speed of less than 2Mb/s and only 45% receive the advertised headline speed.

Ofcom last month addressed this problem by ensuring all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) signed up to the Broadband Speeds Code of Practice, a new Code of Practice which ensures that consumers are provided with an accurate estimate of the maximum speed that they can expect when signing up to a service.

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Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Taxpayers targeted by fraudsters through fake e-mails

As it has been reported in various newspapers today, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are warning taxpayers, in particular small business owners and the self-employed, of fake emails that are being sent out to taxpayers, stating that a tax rebate is owed and then asking for bank or credit card details so that money can be refunded to them (Metro) . These emails, which have been sent from addresses such as and, are being sent out just as the January 31st deadline for online self-assessment forms is approaching, when many taxpayers will be due a tax rebate. Taxpayers are then being asked to enter details online, or by calling a telephone line which appears to keep ringing with callers being charged up to £6 a minute.

The Financial Director explains that the emails promise the recipient a tax refund and consequently prompts them to the HMRC web site via a link. However, the link leads to a very convincing fake web site hosted in Denmark.

The emails are reported to read like this:

'Over the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of £99.23.

Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order to process it.'

HMRC claim that taxpayers are forwarding 500 of these fake emails to the authorities every day, but fear that a much large number of emails have in face been sent out by fraudsters. The Metro reports that between April and November in 2008 more than 11,000 reports of fraudulent emails were made. HMRC officials fear that such emails will probably still be sent after the January 31 self-assessment deadline had passed. As part of their fight against fraudsters, HMRC have worked with police and had fake websites closed down in Austria, Mexico, US, Japan and Thailand.

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