Government = big ideas, lots of noise. Business = action.

All talk no action

We live in a very eco unfriendly house which we are trying to make more eco friendly. Although well built it is more often than not colder inside than outside. We don’t have any of those new fangled luxuries like cavity walls, insulation of any kind or even any heating system other than open fires. Any heat that is generated (at planet threatening levels of energy consumption) dissipates pretty rapidly.

It can get chilly.

not eco friendly, not cheap, not warm
not eco friendly, not cheap, not warm

Luckily the UK Government have a flagship scheme just for folk like us. The Green Deal allows people who live in environmentally disastrous old wrecks to access and pay for the type of improvements needed through a nifty loan scheme. We get the newest, best possible eco friendly technologies installed – not just insulation but solar, ground source etc. – and repay via our electricity bill over a 25 year period. The idea is that we’ll save so much money on our energy bills the whole thing will make economic sense for all.

The existing housing stock reduces its carbon footprint, there’s less energy consumed, we’re all warmer. Everyone’s a winner.

Except it doesn’t work.

Along with 38,000 other people we’ve had an assessment, found out that we qualify for pretty much everything, but we can’t get anything done. In fact out of the whole assessed population only 4 – yes 4 – have had anything done.

(Why? For the fairly simple reason that no single provider can do everything – so if you qualify for say insulation plus a boiler plus solar there’s no way to get all of that done through one provider. And the whole scheme is predicated on the idea that the financing is organised through the provider (singular). Just not thought through)

Grand idea, big vision, poor implementation.

not available via the Green Deal anytime soon
not available via the Green Deal anytime soon

Similar issues afflict the “rural broadband” rollout. Those lucky enough to live in the countryside endure patchy broadband speeds of (on a good day) 2MPS. Some don’t have access to broadband at all. We read with bemusement about new metro-elite concepts such as MOOCs and smile wryly as we get back to digging the potatoes.

(Incidentally it’s quite wrong to characterise this as “city fast, country slow” – there are some isolated villages around these parts getting speeds faster than central London, and some parts of central London that suffer the kind of speeds we currently ‘enjoy’).

This week it emerged that the rollout of “super fast” broadband to the vast majority by 2015 wouldn’t be quite so comprehensive, or quite so superfast, or quite so 2015 after all. And – a bit like the Green Deal – it’s because the Government have determined that the whole rollout should be done by one provider – of course that means BT – instead of the more local, more entrepreneurial people like Wightfibre on the Isle of Wight .

Big vision, poor execution

Nowadays Government doesn’t know how to get stuff done. That was more or less OK when the Government had loads of money – it created incentives and more often than not things got done, not always well but it got done. In an age of austerity, shorn of the ability to incentivise, Government has to learn how to work with partners, learn how to co-ordinate, cajole, influence. And this dog can’t learn that new trick.

Post CSR business

Contrast that with what we learned this week from business – specifically from BITC which explored what’s happening in a post CSR world. When business fuses a sustainable development agenda with core business practice very good things happen. When business innovates (new business models, new products and services) to deliver sustainable development it also grows. Good business is sustainable business – more needs are met, societal challenges are addressed, and it’s all done in a way which does not depend on charity or donation.

And business can do things that Governments can’t seem to do any more. For example Telefonica’s exemplary digital accelerator Wayra (and its social enterprise cousin Wayra UNLTD), or KBC’s gap in the market programme, or Google’s Fiber.

These are all fabulous innovations that create new and better value. All of them make the world a little bit better. None of them have anything to do with charity or volunteering.

A little less conversation

But the most striking thing is that you’ll probably not have heard much about any of them. There was a time when business used to make a big noise about its credentials in building a better world or acting as an economic catalyst – nobody could accuse (RED) of being publicity shy, nor Ford when they claimed the Transit to be the backbone of Britain.

economic catalyst or jut a van?
economic catalyst or jut a van?

Which is a head scratching thing for us brand folk – because right now the Government’s making a lot of noise about visionary stuff it really can’t do, whilst business is just quietly getting on with it and being really quite meek about it.

Actions really do speak louder than words.

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