Better government in England

The debate on devolution within England is the wrong debate at what BBC East Midlands journalist John Hess hinted is a convenient pre General Election debate time.  Truth is, any national gov’t needs to know its mandate is able to shape the country.  It’s also true that the balance of powers is wrong.  But so is the balance of the country – the real reason why the Scottish referendum was so close.

England does need better government.  It’s hard to see what value any kind of English assembly could add.  The natural levels of gov’t here are – UK, principal local authorities, boroughs & districts, towns & parishes, and finally regions.  Notably, health and education structures are fitting less easily into that model.  Core cities don’t fit the model well enough either – but they’re meeting a need and who wants to hold them up with boundary re-organisation?
IMG_1634
New Labour developed a psyche – “Look, there’s a problem! Quick! Re-organise!”  At its worse with the re-organisation of social services into adults and children (as if families don’t contain both) because of Baby P.  Top down, expensive, knee-jerk and merely creating different boundaries to manage. 

Yet New Labour also developed models for service delivery – based on project management, service planning and inspection that tests key criteria for success – ambition; planning and performance management; capability, capacity and culture; legitimacy; inspiration.  (I’ve added some, but I’d also expect a Labour gov’t to be looking to equality and participation.)

benn-l by kathleenEnglish gov’t would be better if people could more easily understand it – to which Tony Benn’s five questions are interesting.  My version would say –
– elected representatives are accountable for all public money raised and spent;
– more than FoI, freedom of quality information;  the planning that allows the spending of public money published, along with its results;  available (on-line) to the public, journalists and inspectors; giving substance to political debate.

Democracy – all equal on election day – gives so much, but it gives more when people take the responsibilities along with the rights.
The greatest disappointment of the new technology in politics (and in journalism) is that it has led to trolling and conspiracy theories, impugning motives and attacking personality (even for opinions on baking on TV) and putting people off from joining in, rather than enlightenment and participation.  Legislation can only take us so far; instead we should all work to what George Orwell said – publish nothing rather than publish anything barbarous. 

Better government requires better information.  Pathetic that we can no longer properly count the people who are out of work.  Civil servants should be given a duty to publish more fully the options that have been suggested by those not in majority power.  And check everything for the impact of poverty;  check performance in the context of adding value – don’t fail teachers for deigning to teach the deprived.

My immediate steps for change (which I think could appeal across the political spectrum) would be –
– new accountability for the NHS, including commissioning by principal local authorities; the restoration of full local education authorities;
– along with new rights for principal local authorities, new responsibilities for them and Whitehall – embracing value-added analysis, FoQI and inspections (based on key criteria and self-assessment, including peer inspectors, and Ofsted mark 2 rather than Ofsted marks 1 and 3);
– allowing core cities to find their own ways of evolving, and locally elected representatives to provide regional co-ordination;
– the North, the Midlands and the South-West to take on more of the economic activity conducted in London and the South-East;
– a massive drive on tackling tax avoidance.

For Labour –
– an electoral register drawing from all sources of public authority information, from which people have to opt out of; enfranchising millions of people left off the lists;
– new expectations that public services are provided by staff in recognised workplaces, working to the living wage as a minimum;
– commissioning that allows choosing local suppliers.

Longer term –
– can we find ways of town councils being the viable second tier of local government, rather than boroughs?
– could the regional assemblies be the new channels for creating a new House of Lords?

Postscript:
Should have said something about the need for national (and possibly regional) government to ensure that neighbouring authorities don’t undermine each other – not bringing forward plans to build housing, allowing out of town dev’t that takes retail away from existing shopping centres supported by public transport, schools taking away the most able children, not taking opportunities for green energy. You need a framework. And it’s just one reason why “independence for Nottingham” is so ridiculous.

Michael Gove denies the real world

20140316-153743.jpg
I want to weep.
‘City schools have a “toxic lack of ambition” for pupils from poorer backgrounds’ reports the N Post on Michael Gove. Yeah right. The schools that have just returned the highest levels of Key stage 4 results, following years of extra financial support from the Labour government, extra finance then withdrawn by the ConDems.
The minister spoke out during a visit to Nottinghamshire yesterday and demanded that under-performing schools improve – suggesting they be taken “by the scruff of the neck”. Yeah, but with what powers? Cos the only people with powers over academies are Ministers and Whitehall. The Ofsted inspections have found things to address and the council has had to create a new structure to make progress.
‘education leaders in the city should not hide behind levels of deprivation when trying to explain away poor exam results and inspection reports.’ 20 years after Notts County Council’s Education Cttee. published research it had commissioned from Sheffield Hallam University showing the statistical connection between attainment at schools and the deprivation of their cohorts, and we’re left with the Secretary of State of Education, say again, the Secretary of State, demonstrating a dismissal of statistical analysis not worthy of a student of Maths O-level.
Cos we were taught to understand the value and the limitation of statistics. That you can’t determine an individual’s future from statistical analysis is plain and was understood, but still people feel the need to repeat it. Once you embrace value-added analysis, there’s nothing to hide behind anymore.

Before Gove, we got that you needed to focus on leadership, management, teaching and learning. We got that schools serving deprived cohorts needed extra finance to mitigate its impact. We even gave ground on allowing some schools to be run in a new way to give schools a new appeal, at the expense of democratic accountability.
We also get that you need to acknowledge a problem, not deny it; then measure and understand it; and then solve it.

NUT rally in Nottingham against the blitzkrieg inspections

20131208-101027.jpg
Pleased to join the NUT rally yesterday.
Experience from twelve years as a Chair of a secondary school, where we saw results improve through increased investment, reform, understanding what makes good education and knowing when inspections are designed to help, leaves me in no doubt that these inspections have alternative motives.
20131208-101413.jpg
Graham Allen MP calls the inspections a “blitzkrieg”;
The Nottingham Post says “Nottingham isn’t a dead-end city full of poor schools and no-hope kids.
We must not fail our kids, our teachers and our schools by condoning a new inspection system –
– that is not prepared to understand the challenges that helping those most in need brings;
– that is run by private companies who will not give assurances about the experience of school leadership, or even teaching, that their inspectors have;
– that is run by companies who can then play a role in running a school they declare as wanting.
We can do better.

Rally against hospital services privatisation

Unison NUH rally

More than a hundred people at the rally called by Unison for estates and facilities, cleaning and catering workers at Nottingham’s hospitals that are currently threatened by privatisation.

IMG_0298bLG MP at rally1593h

A big concern, cos some of these services in Nottingham have been farmed out before and had to be brought back in.
People don’t like privatisation and they won’t want corners cut with cleanliness and food in local hospitals.
Concerning too that the in-house bid and not been kept in for consideration – you’d have thought it would be useful at least for comparison.
Unison say – “The present in-house team … have won numerous awards and accolades over the past decade for their performance and innovation in a wide variety of its fields, and … all three surviving bidders have been heavily fined for bid-rigging, two have illegally purchased illegal blacklisting information about staff, and between them have caused numerous disruptions to the smooth running of other hospitals, including 21 days of strikes at one hospital, caused patients to go hungry due to a catering blunder, attacked pay and conditions of hundreds of staff, failed to meet national hospital cleanliness standards, been involved in allegations of bullying and blackmailing of non-white staff, and losing thousands of patients’ records.”

IMG_0296b1209h Erewash candidate

Lilian Greenwood MP cited Andy Burnham and his conference speech where he said Labour was not neutral in who provides NHS services.
Pete Madon spoke for the staff affected.
Labour’s candidate for Erewash Catherine Atkinson also spoke.
UNISON believes that organisations by patient need, not shareholder profit, are best placed to deliver safe quality services in our localmotivated hospitals.