Terrible idea halted just in time!

Earlier this month South West Trains told passenger groups it was suspending the audio announcements of train information at Waterloo Station for a two-week trial. This was a particularly strange decision given that just two years ago they had spent almost £3million on a new 90-decibel system, comprising 1,000 speakers, which it said would deliver “better and clearer” information.

Suspending audio announcements would have had a devastating impact on blind and visually impaired train users, not to mention thousands of others who benefit from this service. It would have forced people to seek out assistance from information points and made it much harder to be independent. It was a terrible idea, the RNIB campaigned against it and Caroline Pidgeon from the London Assembly described it as “one of the most absurd decisions by a train company I have ever come across”.

The positive news, however, is that South West Trains listened to the outcry and changed their minds. I am pleased to report that audio announcements will remain at Waterloo. If this is an optimistic tale of people power then it is also a reminder that we should never assume that anything, no matter how sensible and seemingly beyond question is necessarily forever. It is down to us, as communities and individuals to ensure that better is the benchmark and never let anything simply slip away.

At a time when much is written about voter apathy and community disengagement it’s good to be reminded that people do care and actions can change things.

What do Select Committees do?

As a relatively new member of the House of Lords I was delighted to be appointed to the Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills. Unlike select committees in the House of Commons, which are generally responsible for overseeing the work of government departments and agencies, those of the Lords look at general issues. They can be permanent, or, like this one on Digital Skills, ad hoc. We will report by March next year.

This select committee has been formed to look at the UKs digital landscape and particularly competitiveness and skills. It is a timely and important investigation. The UK is at the forefront of digital skills in Europe but the digital landscape changes so quickly it is essential to look constantly at how well equipped we are to keep up with developments. In particular how will jobs be effected and how fit for purpose is the current education and skills training system?

Technology is likely to dramatically reshape labour markets in the long run and to cause significant changes to the types of skills that workers will need. There is debate as to how drastic these changes will be but some studies suggest that jobs vulnerable to computerisation range from 45-60% of the current labour force. Whilst government priority is obviously boosting employment, it would be short sighted indeed not to consider how to adapt to a jobs environment that requires different skills.

The Committee meets weekly to hear from expert witnesses and consider various evidence. So far we have heard from Microsoft, Google, academics and industry experts. Most meetings are public and available to watch live via Parliament TV.

In July we published a call for evidence. This is an appeal for a public response to the questions we are considering, particularly: skills training, support for the digital sector, industry and infrastructure. What are the challenges? What should the government be doing? Please see the full text of the call for evidence here.

It is a significant amount of work and an important task. We will absorb and process a vast amount of information, cross examine witnesses, draw out the key elements and make concrete recommendations. I sincerely hope that our work will improve the nation’s connectivity, competitiveness and enable us together to be increasingly tech fit for the future.

Campaign to increase diversity in broadcasting.

As Disability Commissioner at The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Chris is spearheading a new government-backed project aimed at unlocking economic and creative potential by increasing the diversity of people working in Britain’s television sector.

As Great Britain’s national equality body and authority on equality legislation, the Commission will be providing expert legal guidance on what is permitted under the law for employers, commissioners and others working within the sector.

The guidance will help broadcasters expand the talent pool from which they find the best candidates and will cover areas including employment, commissioning, broadcasting, programme making and procurement practices

EHRC to offer broadcasters diversity guidance, Broadcast.

Commission announces new project to increase diversity in the television sector


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