Then Holton-Lacey perked up. 'Assuming he makes these changes,' he said, excited about the prospect that he might have a workable idea that wasn't entirely focused around killing people, 'and VastTel is a shadow of its former self...'
'Yes,' said Duff, only half listening because he was yet to see Holton-Lacey come up with a workable answer to anything.
'Why don't we start up another telco? A much bigger one that employs all the people who are retrenched from the old one...'
'Well, why don't we abandon VastTel and start up another phone company?'
Actually, it wasn't a bad idea.
'A much bigger telco that employs all the people who are retrenched from the old one.'
Duff liked it. He particularly liked the idea of having a phone company back in the hands of the government. VastTel, which had been an inefficient state-owned entity for many years, had been inadvertently sold on the stock exchange. It was an administrative error, dating back to when the government moved from one parliament house to another many years ago. The new building had an excellent new phone system that rendered the old system useless. Calls on it had been virtually inaudible, anyway, beneath the crackle of the various phone taps. So Duff asked his department to sell the old phone system, but, unfortunately, the command, made over the old phone system, was misheard as, 'Sell the old phone company.'
Soon after that, VastTel was listed on the stock exchange. As soon as the mistake had been realised, Duff had asked what could be done to stop people buying shares. Word was spreading around the investment community that VastTel could be a good buy, but the excitement soon subsided when the analysts promoting the stock started to disappear. No one could say for sure where they went, but, equally, no one seemed to care. The mass murder of the nation's financial advisors wasn't considered newsworthy.
As trading slowed, the government managed to quickly buy back more than half the company, but some private investors remained, including Damien Woodburner's father and several other wealthy luminaries, who, if they ever sobered up, could easily insist on driving the company down the road of efficiency. But sobriety continued to evade them, and the solid efforts of the old management team had prevented any sort of productivity drive, until now.
'Brilliant,' said Duff, after giving Holton-Lacey's plan a little further thought. 'A brand new, government-owned phone company. Are there any downsides?'
The mass murder of the nation's financial advisors wasn't considered newsworthy.
'Well, I suppose people might ask what's different about this new company. They might wonder why we need it when we already own so much of VastTel?' suggested the finance minister.
'Good point,' said Duff, wanting to put some of this down on his big sheet of paper, but still a little unsure of what to write. Instead, he drew a picture of a tree, for no reason whatsoever, except that he knew how to draw a tree.
'We could make this a mobile phone company,' said Holton-Lacey.
'What, run it out of a van?' said Duff, who had a poor grasp on the industry. 'That won't work.'
Holton-Lacey sighed. He knew the prime minister was an idiot, but he sometimes forgot the full extent of it.
Both men thought long and hard. Their gaze was set on no place in particular, but seemed to land on the box of Wheety-bits in the centre of the table. There was a picture of a happy family, deriving great enjoyment from their breakfast cereal. Underneath, the words 'bringing fibre to your home' were prominently displayed.
'I have no idea what would be different about this new phone company,' said the prime minister. 'I don't think this idea is going to work.'
'Well, we could argue that this new company will introduce competition.'
The prime minister choked on his Wheety-bit. He hated the word, and found it hard to believe Holton-Lacey had brought it up.
The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.