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Tim Ambler

Tim Ambler

Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

Articles by Tim Ambler

What do women want?

10 days ago

“Minister.  Can you spare a few minutes?” “Of course, Humphrey.  How can I help?” “We’ve drafted a new consultation paper.  May I take you through it?  We are asking women what they want.” “Good luck, Humphrey. That is not a question I have ever been able to answer.” “We are asking women, and of course men, what the government should do, or rather what women would like the government to do, to improve women’s health.” “You’re joking. You are asking men what women think the male Secretary of State should think about doing to make women think he is doing something they think they want to improve their health.” “Yes, that sums it up nicely, Minister.” “Maybe, but I cannot understand why men, and those who are neither men nor women, are being asked to fill in these forms at all.“It would be

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A New Northern Ireland Protocol

27 days ago

It is easy enough to find fault with the existing Northern Ireland Protocol, but how should it be revised? The objective was, and remains, to obviate the need for a customs and regulatory land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. When the Protocol was first drafted, it was not certain the EU and the UK would agree to duty-free trading.  When that happened, many in the UK naively believed it would remove the need for more than token checks at the border.  They had forgotten that the EU is besotted with regulation but that is where the problem mostly lies, and not just in Ireland.The alignment of regulations is the nub of the whole problem, followed by the need for a pragmatic approach to paperwork and inspections. The EU is demanding all kinds of bureaucracy, paperwork and

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A Formula of Diplomatic Etiquette

April 7, 2021

When my great-grandfather was deputy head of the Royal Irish Constabulary during the troubles at the dawn of the 20th century, he considered Whitehall to be the main obstacle. Were he alive today, his views would probably not have changed. The Northern Ireland Protocol is an example.  It all started from a good idea. The Irish land border is 499 km long, about 10% longer than that between France and Germany. Nearly 300 public roads cross it.  Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, border posts and customs checks existed along it, albeit not very effectively, for the 70 years up to the UK and Ireland joining the Single Market in 1993. Brexit meant that there had to be a border with customs checks between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. As the land border was not really enforceable, moving

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Making do with the quangos we’ve got

March 29, 2021

Victoria Street SW1  “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister.” “Someone came up to me in the House yesterday and claimed we had too many quangos.” “I think you may be referring to Arm’s Length Bodies.  What did you say?” “Well, I had to admit that I didn’t know how many we have but I told him the number was just right.” “Quite correct, Minister.  We now only have 15 – it used to be more.” “Well, I suppose health and social care is a wide remit so we need a range of expertise. How many of the 15 help us on social care.” “The Care Quality Commission has just started taking an interest in social carers but apart from that, I regret to say the answer is zero.” “No wonder we can’t produce a Green Paper on it, Humphrey.  We have no quango to write it.” “We do have one in the works, Minister, as we have

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Is Council Tax fair?

March 22, 2021

Is it fair that a little old lady, in her family home, impoverished and using few council services, pays far more council tax than a family of large wage earners in social housing and using most of the services? Council tax is based on an out-of-date assessment of the value of one’s home.  It is based on the daft assumption that the wealthy live in expensive properties and the deprived in cheap accommodation. Moving to local income tax, as has been long discussed, would be a start. The Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded that it would help accountability and should be a flat rate. The bureaucracy should not be a problem as it could be based on the same assessments as the HMRC uses for national income tax. That would save the need for periodic property valuations.  Other countries use

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Latest from the MoD: It’s only money

March 18, 2021

Whitehall London SW1 “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister?” “The Public Accounts Committee is grumbling that our plans are unaffordable and have been in every year since 2013. The MoD is only planning to spend £181 billion over the next 10 years on equipment for our armed forces. I take it we need every penny?” “The National Audit Office did indeed say previous years were unaffordable. Consistency is important, Minister.  We have a black hole accounting system: now you see it, now you do not. When you welcomed the PM’s promise of an extra £16.5 billion, you may not have realised that we had already spent it, so it would not be extra at all.” “No, Humphrey, I did not.  Well at least if we’ve been spending all that money, we must now be match-fit: our troops, tanks and other equipment must be world

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Is the EU Implementing the Irish Protocol Unfairly?

March 11, 2021

The trouble all started when Dublin, aided and abetted by the EU, conned the UK government into accepting that Brexit might contravene the Good Friday Agreement.  This was nonsense for two reasons. The Agreement was reached in 1998, long before Brexit was even on the horizon.  It has no reference to customs posts or a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic – it has nothing to contravene. It does require north and south to cooperate but it takes two to cooperate and there was no cooperation from Dublin about the mitigations proposed by London.  Secondly, the UK was relaxed about goods flowing north.  It was the EU that required customs posts and all the absurd documentation devised by the bureaucrats in Brussels.  The customs posts would have been south of the border and

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Getting on Top of the Obesity Problem

March 9, 2021

Victoria Street SW1  “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister.” “I gather all these people have died of Covid not because Public Health England cocked up but because they were overweight.” “That is correct, Minister.” “Bur haven’t Public Health England known about this obesity crisis for decades and been taking measures to deal with it?” “Also correct, Minister.” “According to a letter I read in The Times last Friday from the Chairman of the National Obesity Forum, wittily surnamed Fry, the government’s new policies to tackle obesity are the same old things and will fail just as surely.”“Not at all, Minister, not at all.  We can now reap the benefit of this lengthy experience and look forward to a panoply of successes.  You will recall the announcement of our public health plans last July with no less

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Driving the road out of lockdown by data, not dates

February 23, 2021

Victoria Street SW1  “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister?” “Why have you dragged me into the office on a Saturday?” “The Cabinet Secretary was on last evening.  The PM wants a draft of Monday’s statement to the House to discuss with senior Cabinet ministers by tomorrow morning.” “I thought Dom Cummings did that sort of thing.” “He left us some time ago, Minister. My understanding is that the PM’s Jack Russell was considered to have rubbed along with him with excessive enthusiasm.” “I wondered why I hadn’t seen Dom recently.  Sic transit and all that.” “The Sage scientists joined us overnight and we now have a 60 page draft setting out the four steps out of lockdown. Our brief is to be statesmanlike, with no Latin tags or jokes.” “I had rather hoped you’d given up jokes for Lent, Humphrey. Caution

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MI5 reports PM ensures closer Cabinet working

February 19, 2021

Downing Street SW1  “Good morning, Humphrey.” “Good morning, Prime Minister.” “What’s that lorry doing outside?” “It’s delivering another chair for the Cabinet room. You will now have 23 round the table, Prime Minister, as well as those who sit around the walls.” “Golly, it’s getting a bit squashed.” “We refer to it as ‘working more closely’.  It also provides more opportunity for the streamlining of government you have long promoted.  There will be more heads to roll, Prime Minister.” “I wondered why Michael was looking a bit peevish when I saw him on my run this morning.” “I thought I should forewarn his staff last evening. The trouble seems to have originated because Mr Gove considered Lord Frost to have lost out to Monsieur Barnier in the Treaty negotiations and to be responsible for

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EU Bans English Shellfish

February 11, 2021

Deafer House Marsham Street, SW1  “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister?” “What’s all this about the EU banning the imports of our shellfish?” “It is not all our shellfish, Minister, just live bivalve molluscs from UK class B production waters that have not been through purification or have not cleared testing.”“I’m not sure my club serves live bivalve molluscs, still less from class B waters.” “I believe there are about 140 species in all. Your club menu may include scallops, mussels and oysters in season, but perhaps not clams or cockles. Whelks and winkles are gastropods, not bivalves, and I doubt your club provides the necessary pins with which to eat them.” “Is this just because we are not filling in the EU forms using the right coloured ink?” “No, Minister, it is more serious than that. The EU

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Damn Difficult, Booking Hotels

February 8, 2021

Victoria Street, London SW1  “Humphrey…” “Yes, Minister?” “The BBC have been pestering me to explain why it has taken us so long to organise hotel accommodation for UK arrivals.” “Did you accept?” “Certainly not.  I told them we were working 24/7 on the plan.” “Quite right, Minister.  It has been an exceptionally difficult problem.” “You have my full support, of course Humphrey, but I don’t quite understand why it takes so long to book a few hotel rooms.  I must have asked you to do that four weeks ago.” “Just occasionally, Minister, there is the momentary lacuna in your comprehension of the workings of the civil service. For a start, we have to determine in whose domain this matter lies.  We are the steward of the national’s health but dealing with arrivals is a matter for the Home

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The White Paper could crash the National Grid

February 3, 2021

Driving down a motorway while looking only through the rear window is generally considered risky. The December energy White Paper considers the provision of electricity as a whole but gives no consideration to the key problem of the volatility of renewables which amplifies as the reliance on renewables grows. Since hydrogen is a user, not a source, of electricity, the main other zero carbon source is nuclear, backward to the traditional large pressured water reactors (PWRs).  That is using old technology to solve new problems.  The two new PWRs at Hinkley Point and Sizewell apart, the White Paper is talk rather than the commissioning action we need now. Of our eight large PWRs, seven need to be decommissioned, and their contribution replaced, within this decade.    Before returning to

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One wing good, two wings better

January 26, 2021

90 years ago, the Air Ministry dismissed monoplanes as fighter aircraft on the grounds that biplanes had served us well in World War 1 and biplanes were what our world-beating aircraft industry built. The fact that monoplanes were breaking airspeed records and winning international races merely indicated their suitability for amateurs. It should have been no surprise, come 1939, that British “string bags” proved no match for the Luftwaffe’s monoplanes.  Luckily, and just in time, the private sector had rebelled and put the Spitfire, and then the Hurricane, into production. MIT Professor Eric von Hippel has long demonstrated that “user innovation” is more successful than that by bureaucracies. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) exhibits the same “two wings

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More Tapes from MI5

January 18, 2021

Victoria Street January 2021  “Humphrey.” “Yes, Minister?” “People are awfully pleased with my Energy White Paper.” “You may be referring to our White Paper, Minister.” “Yes, yes, of course.  I’m really very grateful for your contribution, Humphrey.  I believe you used to work for Priti Patel?” “An effulgent experience indeed, Minister. May I ask what aspects of our Paper have met with particular appreciation?” “There are so many: lower energy bills for consumers, massive private investment with more jobs, great British innovation and engineering strengthening the economy, and zero carbon saving the planet. It’s a fairy tale scenario.” “Yes, indeed, Minister, what is not to savour? May I respectfully suggest, though, that you avoid the term ‘fairy tale’ – open to misinterpretation, you

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Kafka’s Mass Vacillation Programme

January 11, 2021

Not for the first time in this pandemic, the government is making bold claims and failing to deliver.  When the Pfizer vaccine was approved, we were told five million cases would be delivered and used by the year end.  In the event, it was less than one million. As my colleagues’ “Worth a Shot” Briefing Paper showed this week, “Britain’s vaccination programme is being hampered by an excessively centralised, command and control approach that has rebuffed help from the private sector, the armed forces and volunteers.” But for once the problem does not lie with our leaders setting out bold ambitions but with our Kafkaesque bureaucracy getting in the way. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulation Agency (MHRA) has been blamed for delays but this turns out, according to a release on 8th

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DHSC: Highlights from MI5

January 7, 2021

Victoria Street. Early March 2020 “Humphrey” “Yes Minister?” “Everyone is saying we have to do something about this pandemic thingy.” “Don’t worry, Minister, it’s all in hand. Our world beating Public Health team have a plan.” “Good.  I’m told the Korean and Germans have got things under control with a test and trace system.” “No, no, Minister, we don’t need that.  We’re not the snoopers they are. We will lock everyone in their own homes so no testing and tracing will be needed.” “Starting immediately?” “I’ve been in touch with the PM’s office on your behalf. The Jockey Club have asked them to hold back until after the Cheltenham Gold Cup.” One month later “Humphrey.  The hospitals are all complaining they’ve got no protective equipment and they are running out of beds. Where’s this

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Say Goodbye to British Fish

January 4, 2021

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement may be a good deal for the UK overall but it is a rotten one for the British fishing industry. We were led to believe that regaining sovereignty over our waters would mean that the long decline in British fishing would be reversed.  The rot set in when the UK subscribed to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 1973. The new Agreement only gives the UK a marginal increase in fishing rights by value. See Table for the shares of key fish stocks according to the new Agreement and what the shares should have been according to the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations [1] : UK shares of agreed total allowable catchesThe government, however, claims that there will be a 25% increase “from just over half of the quota stocks in our own waters now,

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Powering Our Zero Future

December 16, 2020

Santa’s reindeer delivered the long-delayed energy white paper on December 14th. It is full of good cheer: zero carbon, more jobs, more prosperity, cheaper greener energy for all.  As Alok Sharma concludes his introduction, “The UK is leading from the front in the transition to clean energy, while ensuring that we leave no one behind”. (p.3) The 170 pages include no executive summary but plenty of tubs are thumped.  The first question, though, is whether this is a white paper at all.  According to Parliament, “White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation.” In this case the proposals for future legislation are skimpy and refers to only two proposals.  Using coal for electricity generation is already due to cease by 2025;

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Obesity? Round up the usual suspects

December 10, 2020

You know the form: government sells off school playing fields, children get fat, government must be seen to do something but poor old Matt Hancock is preoccupied with Covid, so he rounds up usual suspects, namely junk food and advertising. He shows no interest in analysing the real causes of the growth of obesity nationwide, starting in childhood, continuing through life and culminating in premature death. This paper concludes with some proposals for serious research after addressing some of the fallacies in Hancock’s current approach. We have been here before. In 2003, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) used a study by the Centre for Social Marketing to attribute childhood obesity to advertising. The research was deeply flawed. Some authors have claimed that the number of TV ads watched

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Taxpayer Value

December 8, 2020

Gordon Brown, Chancellor and then Prime Minister, made much political capital from labelling all his government’s expenditure “investment” (good, no matter how wasteful and transient), and all opposition proposals for savings “Tory cuts” (bad, no matter how sensible or good for the taxpayer).  Unfortunately, Boris Johnson is starting to misuse our language in the same way: the £30 billion defence expenditure announced last month was labelled “investment”. Some of it may be; but the 10,000 extra jobs, hopefully in the armed forces rather than the ministry, are definitely not. Investment means money spent today for benefits in future years; accountants put it in the balance sheet.  Otherwise, it is current expenditure, like wages and travelling costs; accountants put that in the profit and

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Common sense, Science and Nonscience

December 2, 2020

The government’s response to the Covid pandemic has thrown common sense, science and nonscience into stark relief. The seven strains of coronavirus that infect humans belong to the same family as colds and flu.  We have been battling their various pandemics for 140 years and should have learned how to do it by now.  The assumption by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in 2005 that the next pandemic would be like the flu was not wide of the mark. Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, caught from cattle, as the name indicates, was the first historically recorded.  We culled the cattle for no good reason because contagion was, after the first, human to human.  The human mortality rate was high then. Imperial’s Professor Ferguson’s recommendation to cull the cattle during the mad cow

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Blinding us with Nonscience

November 19, 2020

The government decides, from time to time, that it needs to justify its intended course of action with science.  But is that science or “nonscience”, selective statistics dressed up to look like science?  Yes, we should reduce air pollution from vehicles and discourage excessive alcohol consumption; policies of this nature do not need spurious justification by bogus science.  The SAGE committee has provided statistical extrapolations of their guesses of people’s reactions in hitherto unknown circumstances.  This is known as “behavioural science” even though, because the conventions of science (theory – test – revise theory etc.) are not followed, it is not science at all. This week saw the announcement that the sale of petrol and diesel motor vehicles will be banned from 2030.  Fair

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Is the Grand Old Duke leading the charge to Zero Carbon?

November 2, 2020

Although the nursery song is much older, the Grand Old Duke of York usually refers to Frederick, the titular commander of the British army during the Napoleonic wars.  Despite some good innovations, such as founding Sandhurst, his grasp of strategy and financial control was fragile. Eliminating carbon emissions is certainly a good idea but the leadership is a bit wobbly on how that can be achieved and the costs. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is chaired by Lord Deben who, in his ministerial days, was famous for rarely, if ever, reading his briefs and for reassuring the public, during the mad cow disease era, by feeding beef-burgers to his children. But the CCC is only advisory. As previously discussed, current forecasts by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

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Do we really want Santa Claus managing the NHS?

October 12, 2020

The Cabinet Office categorises NHS England as an “Executive Non-departmental Public Body”. In other words, it is not part of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) but it is part of government.  It is independent and not independent at the same time: it is a quango. But it gets better. The IT, legal and HR functions, which all other CEOs of large organisations would expect to be under their control, are separate executive agencies of the DHSC. NHS Improvement is tasked with running the NHS alongside the Board of the NHS. In April 2019, they were brought under one roof but still with one Board each. The foundation of the country’s health care, the GPs, are contractors to, not employed by, the NHS.  The CEO of NHS England has probably the toughest job in the country. NHS England,

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Health Imperialism UK

October 7, 2020

“Healthcare UK is a joint initiative of the Department for International Trade, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)…We work with the NHS to strengthen its capability and capacity to operate and succeed internationally.” In fact there is more to it than that. The Department for International Trade (DIT), at least in theory, helps the private sector export profitably and helps overseas bodies, private and public, export into the UK.  Provided the DIT adds value after deducting the costs it creates for itself and its clients, few would argue with the former objective.  Quite why a country with an adverse balance of trade wishes to support the latter, is another matter. Helping NHS providers succeed in export markets is not just good for

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Power to the People

September 24, 2020

The National Grid looks likely to come under increasing strain due to the conflicting government policies on nuclear, renewables, zero carbon and funding.  As fossil fuels are phased out, and electricity becomes our only source of power, its sufficiency should be the top priority for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Yet the UK commissions nuclear power plants like Cheshire Cats: Anglesey Wylfa, Moorside and Oldbury have all been cancelled.  Nuclear running costs are competitive with fossil fuels but the capital costs and development time, both exacerbated by overruns (and tendered to an oligopoly), e.g. Hinkley Point C, are not. In a net zero scenario, the continuing use of fossil fuels for electricity generation is only really possible with carbon

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PHISAG wants to hear from you

September 17, 2020

As Matt Hancock has been too busy even to think about the date for the Social Care Green Paper (Q182), you may be wondering how he has been spending his time.  The answer is establishing the "Population Health Improvement Stakeholder Advisory Group" (PHISAG) which will be ready to roll and wanting to receive your advice next month. This will be part of Lady Dido Harding’s new empire: the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), You may remember her as the person bringing us the world beating Test and Trace system by 1st June. Her career may not have yielded much health experience but it has not been without controversy.  Fortunately, she will be supported by another interim appointment: Michael Brodie, who was previously Director of Finance for Public Health England (PHE), will be

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‘A Level’ Lessons for the Cabinet

September 8, 2020

The Cabinet did not deserve a long summer holiday, after flunking ‘A levels’, it should have been back in the classroom. “The Need for Independence” was the main failure followed by “How not to Lose to Judges” but we can consider the second another time. Part 1 of the former paper dealt with civil servants, part 2 with what the Cabinet Office is pleased to call “arm’s length bodies”. We all know that civil servants are part of government but should be independent of political party. Policy intentions of ministers should be challenged, the classic introduction being “yes minister, but…”. Of course, once the ministerial decision is made and recorded, the civil servant’s role changes from devil’s advocate to implementation but the nature, course and timetable for that implementation should

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Adult Social Care: Broken Promises

September 3, 2020

The other day I asked a well-informed Tory peer when we should expect the long-delayed adult social care Green Paper. “Not in my lifetime” came the response. Recent history begins with the 2011 Dilnot Report which was accepted by the coalition government, welcomed by the Labour party and then rightly over-ruled by HM Treasury as being impractical and too expensive.  It was, or should have been, a start. There was much talk of achieving cross-party consensus, but no action, and it was left to Select Committees to fill the gap. The government response to the Health Committee’s 2012/3 report included “The Government will work with stakeholders and the Opposition to consider the various options for what shape a reformed system could take, based on the principles of the [Dilnot] Commission’s

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