Does it make sense to make some government services worker owned and operated?

One of the things that come up in the Chamber of Commerce’s budget breakfast is the idea that portions of the civil service could be restructured via entrepreneurial initiatives. This is something I’m wholly in favor of.  Workers should be given more of a stake in success of the services they provide.  We should aim to give ownership and control over some of the existing government services directly to the workers who provide them.

Erica Smith, executive director of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, said: “With the potential restructuring of the Civil Service and the potential for redundancies and loss of jobs, maybe there is a way to incentivise entrepreneurs so privatisation comes into play.”

Let’s take garbage collection as an example of an area that could be converted into a set of worker owned and operated enterprises.

Create a couple companies and give one a set term contract for each of the east end parishes and another a set term contract for each of the west end parishes, each contract matching the existing rates it costs government to operate those services.  Give each company an interest free loan to purchase the existing equipment from the government.  Then either make the organizations worker owned cooperatives or register them on the Bermuda Stock Exchange and give each worker ownership shares in the organization.  Stipulate that after the contracts expire parish councils will be provided the budget to choose their own providers.

What are the flaws with such a concept?  Would it be possible to move much of the maintenance and service responsibilities

 

Why is this a terrible and misleading chart? AKA: the PLP didn’t actually destroy tourism

Another lesson learned?  If people don’t understand why a chart is misleading then they can miss that you’ve made a chart so ridiculous it was meant to be humourous, not taken seriously.  So perhaps it it helpful to point out why this chart was terrible and misleading.

1. The y-axis has been set to 200,000 which as you can see by the markings makes it appear as if the change between 2012’s number and 1995’s number is significantly larger than it is in reality.

Contrast the above chart vs the one below.  Notice how significant of a difference it makes?  The decline represents roughly 1/3 of the overall numbers however when depicted with a y-axis of 200,000 it gives a perception of a 4/5th decline.

2.  The date chosen of 1995 is a subtle detail that makes it look like we were on an uptrend before the decline and betrays the long term truth.

Choosing simply 1995 doesn’t tell a complete picture.  If we take numbers going as far back as I could find we see a the trend was part of a larger decline.  For example, had I chosen to start the chart in 1993 instead of 1995, it would have emphasized the decline has beginning under the UBP (labelled OBA in the chart).

3. The pre-1998 and post 2012 years are both labeled OBA even though pre-1998 would have been the UBP

This was a jab at the OBA but not a fair comparison.  A fair comparison separates out each party to show the details of each.

Bonus points?

  • The chart only focuses on “Air Arrivals” and not people who specifically came on vacation.  It also doesn’t focus overall on overall visitor spending which is the most important number in tourism.

  • If you look at the long term trend as a rolling average (this means you take the average of 5 values to smooth out the peaks and troughs) you can see the general peak in the 80s and the decline began in the 90s under the UBP.
  • The decline happened to coincide with the rise of international business.
  • Likely reasons for the decline are rising costs that made a Bermuda vacation more expensive while offering less value.  We also saw significant changes in the number of hotel rooms available over that time period with hotels that were increasingly aging and rarely renovated.

Wait… pearls, jewelry, decorations and antiques are “essential” and not subject to duty hikes?

While I’m absolutely in favor of harmonizing duty towards a single rate and reducing the complexity, the government’s duty changes don’t make sense according to my current understanding. It seems as if the government has simply just found an excuse to hike rates without actually harmonizing anything.  They’ve also made efforts to keep rates low on a whole raft of things that should be taxed at a much higher rate, while simply hiking things that were already taxed fairly highly.

Perhaps I’m entirely misinterpreting the new rates but as far as my understanding goes, they haven’t changed any categorizations, simply just hiked rates.  Let’s take a moment to review a few scenarios to see what I mean.

Let’s say your importing something via a courier.  What are the new rates?

Well, if you’re importing a computer for work or for school originally you would have paid 22.25%, now you’ll pay 28%.  Good luck.

However, if you happen to be importing Pearls or Jewelery you’ll be happy to know that you’ll have no rate hike.

Wait, what did they say in the budget statement?

The 3 lowest rates remain the same as they contain several goods which are considered essential.

Let me get this straight.  Pearls, Jewelery, decorative glassware, fancy china and ornaments, are all considered essential and will not see any hikes?

You’re kidding right?  What am I missing as they certainly couldn’t have left rates low on these items while simply hiked the rates on other things.

Where are the cuts in the civil service? #WhereDidTheJobsGo

With the introduction of the recent budget, the civil service is under the spotlight for the tremendous burden it places on the economy.  The Chamber of Commerce expressed its disappointment that little is being done to reduce this burden.  Facebook has lit up with claims that “the civil service is basically welfare”.  Is it fair to say that the civil service is oversized for a jurisdiction like ours and overloaded with far too much unnecessary bureaucracy?  If so, what is being done?

Let’s take a look at how civil service job numbers have faired against all other jobs.

First off, let’s note that there’s no crazy chart voodoo being done here.  On the zeroed left axis we have public administration jobs and on the zeroed right axis we have all other jobs.  The two data points are plotted in such a way as to give a relative comparison from the same starting point.

What we can see from this chart is that the civil service has only gradually started reducing overall numbers from about 2012.  Declines are happening, though they aren’t happening all that quickly when you contrast them against the declines across all non-public jobs.  Non-public sector jobs witnessed a start decline right from the start of our available data in 2008 and have only recently shown signs of halting.

Let’s take a deeper look at changes of specific occupational groups within the public sector to better understand what has been happening.

Interestingly the largest job category is “professionals” which has seen rather significant declines over the years.  The other categories are not as clear, mostly seeming to either stay around the same or actually rise a bit.

Let’s narrow in on the declines other than professionals.

Technicians and elemenary occupations don’t show a great deal of change while clerks (such as secretaries) have seen a significant decline.

How about job growth?

This one was a bit surprising.  Interestingly there was job growth in management as well as service worker positions.  It would seem that although attrition is happening, there does seem to be considerable growth in management which could be pushing up costs as salaries tend to be higher for these roles.

So, there are certainly some arguments to be made that the civil service is gradually being reduced in size, albeit slowly.  Unfortunately this means that the private sector is left to take on an increased burden and the public faces higher taxes as a result.  It’s too bad the furlough days were eliminated, they seemed like a good solution for reducing costs without eliminating jobs.

Are people really that easily misled and is that why fake news is king?

Today’s lesson has been watching my post on how misleading the PLP’s tourism chart was drive a ton of traffic and discussion based upon an over sensationalized headline that was intended to be sarcastic.  My aim was to demonstrate how the PLP’s chart and “back to average” headline was an equally misleading chart based upon the same data and an equally terrible sensationalized headline.  What I didn’t really plan for was the number of people who took a title like “This ridiculous chart shows how the PLP clearly destroyed tourism” seriously, somehow missed the “ridiculous” part and not actually bothering to read the piece.

No wonder fake news is king and traditional blogging and media is dead.  In the old days it was possible to just write half decent content regularly to get a reasonable following. That was back when there was no commenting on news articles and people barely knew about facebook.  Now there’s an overload of content, cat photos, jokes, and stupid videos. We’re inundated with it.

Many people just don’t really care to actively go out, read and verify things for themselves anymore.  It seems like its easier to pull-refresh-react on facebook or twitter. Really, my traffic has been dead despite a return to regular blogging vs. the old days where it was rather easy to build up a regular readership.  Now, large social media driven spikes are the norm with a flatline for the rest.  Get a few shares and traffic spikes but otherwise people don’t come back.

 

Why am I even still blogging?  I want to understand how things have changed.  Given that I work in tourism I need to understand how social media marketing works, how to advertise on facebook and drive interest in products and services.  Sure I can read articles, but it isn’t practical experience.  I know google analytics inside and out enough to explain a compelling story of traffic already going to a site but I don’t really know how to create viral content and drive traffic.  So, hack together some half witted articles, throw some headlines on it and see what sticks.

For  example, here’s what facebook shows you about shares on  a page in terms of reach vs. engagement.  It’s actually quite interesting stuff.

Apparently highly sensationalized misleading headlines, even when they’re intended to be clearly sarcastic, drive traffic.  They also drive up a firestorm of interest from people keen to express their opinion based upon a headline.  All this without having actually read any of the content while readily ignoring key words like “ridiculous” that are supposed to offer a clue that I’m not actually being serious here.  I’m still reeling from it as I’ve watched people whom I wholly expected to take a deeper view into things react before evaluating.  It really helps illustrate why fake news seems to be so successful these days.

In the age of an abundance of content that is being pushed at us through mediums like facebook, people seem to ignore a sense of getting to the truth and just accept the narrative presented.  This is a large reason why I’m so frustrated with the PLP’s misleading chart.  Politicians are all too ready and willing to take advantage of people rather than focusing on moving the island forwards.  Is that all we’ve descended to? Shallow headlines and terrible charts that mislead people to evoke a response?  That’s what works these days?

 

Bermudians are to blame for the decline in tourism

No, the PLP is not to blame for the decline in tourism air arrivals.  They’re to blame for terrible misleading charts but not the decline as it is something that has happened since 1980.

The real hard truth is that Bermudians are to blame.  We can point the finger all we want at politicians but it won’t change the truth.

Oh, but it was 9/11 and 2 recessions.  Sorry to burst your bubble but no, it wasn’t.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization publishes extensive stats on it.  Unfortunately they used to be free and now they’re stupidly expensive so my alternative is to use google images search.

Here’s one.  Arrivals down in the recession?  Not much, spending was.  9/11 fear?  Only till 2004.

 

Some countries did just fine, like the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica.

Even Haiti saw improvement from 2006

Let’s stop kidding ourselves.  It’s not a “Platnium Period”, we haven’t set a “gold standard” and for the love of all that is holy it isn’t a “Tourism Renaissance”.

We’d be lucky to call it green shoots appearing long after we thought the plant was dead.

Who’s responsible?  We are.

This ridiculous chart shows how the PLP clearly destroyed tourism

Note: the chart and headline was intended as sarcasm to make a point about how charts and headlines can be misleading of the real story, not imply the PLP actually destroyed tourism.  In no way was it meant to be taken as fact as the chart only represents a small snapshot of a much larger decline (shown in the chart at the bottom) and the y-axis is set at 200,000 to make the decline seem more extreme.  It was only created in an attempt to illustrate my frustration with the PLP’s chart that also took only a snapshot and adjusted the y-axis to 200,000

The above chart clearly shows how the PLP destroyed tourism.  Note the heavy decline from 1998 and the flatline from 2009.  Obviously this chart makes it clear just how massive a decline there was from the UBP days to the PLP’s with 2006-2008 barely registering a blip over what the levels used to be.

Ridiculous misleading charts make me laugh.  For example, here’s the PLP’s version:

Of course the axis is set at 200,000 to emphasize the difference between 2007’s level and 2015’s.

Jahmal Simmons proclaims ‘Numbers Are A Return To Being Average’.  Sure they are.

Let’s be frank here.  When compared to historical figures, the OBA’s tourism numbers suck and the PLP’s numbers sucked.  They’re a shadow of what they once were.

The real question is:  What was the tourism budget and the corresponding visitor expenditure figure for each year?  Now that’d tell a real story.

Oh, and the BTA provided a much more comprehensive 0-based axis chart in their 2016 report that gives a much better picture of the long term failure of tourism.

#WhereDidTheJobsGo? – Health care and government most stable fields

So continuing our series of using excel voodoo (aka VLOOKUP) to take a look at where jobs the jobs went, let’s take a look at what jobs losses looked like across industries.

Unfortunately the data to break things down by Bermudian vs. non-Bermudian isn’t available so we’ll just look at jobs overall

How about construction?

Clearly this stands out as the industry that faced the most pain of the recession.  We overheated the economy and ultimately construction demand dried up causing the very painful loss of nearly 2000 jobs.

International business and associated business services have also had a painful slide with slight indications of recovery in 2014-2015.

It is too bad we don’t have a picture of pre-2008 due to the change in the occupational categories as it might give us more insight into what things looked like before and afterwards.

Then we can see retail, hotels and transport were all hard hit, likely especially due to the recession.  Restaurants seemed to hold steady.

Let’s move on to the growth sectors of the last few years.

Education, Healthcare and Social work was one of the few places that saw job growth. Perhaps unsurprisingly as Bermuda was increasingly encumbered with unemployed people needing assistance.

Oh, and government…

 

OBA reenergizes some of its base

The recent poll results suggest an uptick in OBA support, though it comes in the fashion of undecideds becoming more certain rather than any sort of conversion from the PLP support base.

This poll was conducted between February 7th and 9th, before former Premier Brown’s businesses were raided and the government launched a lawsuit against the Lahey Clinic.  It was also before excerpts of emails were published in the paper that allege there was a conspiracy to drive up health care costs.  That won’t bode well politically for the PLP because a former PLP Premier is implicated.  Worst of all, rising health care costs have impacted every Bermudian and this weighs on that important voter question “how does this impact me?”.

Before this poll, we surmised the PLP had lost the momentum they’d built up thanks to the Genevieve-Tweed crusade.  Now it looks like they may not just lose their momentum, but re-energize OBA supporters while disillusioning their own.  If a poll were held today, would we see a decline in PLP support and a rise in undecideds or is it possible that we’d also see a decline in PLP support, a decline in undecideds and a corresponding rise in OBA support?

This is quite a hole to dig out of, though the same would have been said of the OBA back in November when police pulled out the pepper spray.  It certainly could still be recovered from, however the timing is pretty bad.

The sad truth is that the PLP has spent far too much time trying to be “not the OBA” and not enough time being a credible alternative.  They were elected to govern for many years to provide opportunity to those who were disadvantaged and yet increasingly it doesn’t look like that really happened.  Only a select few seem to have prospered. When people look deep down and ask themselves “how does this impact me?” associating rising health insurance costs with the PLP is a pretty horrible combination.  What have they really done to demonstrate they’ve learned from being voted out?

Thus the PLP’s prospects aren’t looking very good.  Things are already starting to ramp up for the America’s Cup.  Jobs, the big headline item, are being created.  Money is starting to flow.  It will mostly all be temporary and will dry up come July but the hype, euphoria and joy of having money in one’s pocket won’t be so quick to fade.

It looks like this time around the OBA won’t need to make pie in the sky promises of being a new party that promotes good governance that they have no intention of fulfilling.  It seems quite likely that we’ll see an election called for mid to late July if things stay the course.  That would be the most likely time for the OBA to capitalize on their momentum, broken promises or not.

#WhereDidTheJobsGo – Comparing declines in major occupations by Bermudian status

Ah, so much to write about, so little time.  I haven’t followed up on our #WhereDidTheJobsGo analysis in a bit so I thought I’d throw up some more charts I’ve generated.

One thought I wanted to explore is what job declines looked like for Bermudians vs. non-Bermudians (excluding spouses and PRCs) on a relative basis.  \

Basically, if I zero the y-axis, plot Bermudians on the left, non-Bermudians on the right and adjust the upper values so that they start at the same spot, what do the declines look like relative to each other?

But what does it all mean?

Well, so far we’re seeing a story that non-Bermudian jobs on a relative basis declined first and more aggressively than Bermudian jobs across all job categories except Elementary Occupations.

It adds more questions to dig into.  Which jobs within major categories declined the most?  Why did Elementary Occupations see an increase rather than a decline?  Why did Plant and Machine Operators and Assemblers witness a spike in 2015?

Lots of questions, few answers as of yet.
What have we reviewed so far in this series?