Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Don't listen to what people say, watch what they do

Published Monday 7 November, 2016

As a lawyer many years ago, I had many clients who would say one thing, swearing blind they would follow a particular path, and then promptly walk off and do something entirely different. In my time as Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry so often I saw examples of those words in action. Sadly some ten years on, I still do.  

Politicians or Business bosses or Sporting so-called heroes. They all want our "vote" in one way or another yet their hypocrisy is on display every day in so many ways.

So why have I chosen to get this off my chest this Autumn? I shall come back to the political and sporting class later; but it is the fact that I have just emerged from one of those "you don't give a damn about me frankly, you just want my money" experiences that has forced me to the typing keys so full of indignation.

 I have been a Vodafone customer, on an uninterrupted basis, for thirty (yes .... 30 .....) years. It was 1986, when mobile phones were the size of house bricks, that I first had one and I have never changed my provider since, for even a month. My small business which supports four iPhones pays them an average of £200 per month. Now you would have thought I was someone Vodafone would want to make sure felt cared for at contract renewal time. So when on four consecutive days they tell me to ensure that someone is at home to receive a delivery of new handsets and for those four successive days the delivery doesn't arrive as promised, when I make fourteen calls to their call centre (and have to repeat my tale of woe on each occasion to a different person because their clear priority of maximising profits over looking after the customer means there is a permanent unilateral anonymity in the person at the end of the line) to be told each time how sorry they are and that if it was them, such appalling service would not be tolerated and when on twelve of those times I was given erroneous facts clearly in an attempt to shift me off the call centre line to enable answer-in-time targets to be met, I am entitled to believe that the customer is NOT at the centre of all that they do, that they are NOT "sorry" since surely such a statement carries with it an implication that they will do all that they can to ensure that their mistake or lousy service is not repeated and that their description as a communications company must be the greatest misnomer since England were called a football team.

It was in June 2011 when Vodafone were forced to apologise in writing to me for dreadful customer service but rather spoilt the effect by (I am not making this up!) stating in their missive that "we apologise for our incontinence". They spend millions on marketing and trying to attract customers but have clearly not grown past the bed-wetting stage in looking after them once they've been ensnared.

Listening to what Vodafone "say" creates ideas of a 21st Century, consumer-focussed, market-oriented mobile telecommunications business; watching what they "do" leads to the sad and hugely frustrating conclusion that I wouldn't trust them to run a whelk stall and I certainly wouldn't pay their call-centre staff (and those who set their parameters and make money out of their gross inefficiency) in washers let alone my hard-earned cash.

But if sportsmen give Business a run for their money in the "Watch What They Do" stakes (how many times has the verbal allegiance to a particular club been trumped by the squillion-pound transfer deal? With apologies to the late, great Caroline Aherne, "what was it about Club X with their £5,000,000 signing on fee that made you realise that what you'd be saying about how wonderful your present club was and how you would be there forever was so much rubbish?), then the clear winners of the Tarnished Globe for Outright "Watch What They Do" Hypocrisy has to go to those we elect to serve us.

Chancellors of the Exchequer speak volumes about the importance of creating jobs yet maintain that iniquitous tax on jobs called Employers' National Insurance Contributions. The only tax in the land that does not take a share of what is earned, spent, transferred or received but is charged purely if a job is created regardless of whether the employer is making profits or not. Get your socialist anti-business mind round that one Mr McDonnell.

Politicians constantly give businesses, large and small, a kicking over poor levels of productivity, especially compared with other rival economies, yet constantly fail miserably to deal with the obscenity that after eleven years of full-time, free, compulsory education (spending our tax pounds to provide it) nearly half the young people at 16 cannot read, write, count and operate a computer to the standard expected of an 11 year-old. They take decades to decide where (or indeed whether!) to build a runway or railway line yet criticise business for under-investing. Human and physical infrastructure of the world class variety will allow businesses to become more productive........so, politicians, stop "saying" and start "doing".

But the "Best in Show" Rosette in the Hypocrisy Awards has to go to the Shadow Foreign Secretary Diane Abbott. Socialist to her core, anti-business, anti-choice, campaigning for a World where everything is either forbidden or compulsory yet.........she sent her child to a fee-paying private school! Maybe there's an advisory job awaiting her at Vodafone.

"Don't Listen to What People Say, Watch What They Do" should be the test for all those wanting our cash or our vote; and sadly, my recent experiences lead me to conclude that the test is being failed miserably.