How do Parliaments cope in a ‘lock down’?

In a public health crisis such as coronavirus, buildings have had to be closed and gatherings banned.  That has included political institutions such as the House of Commons, which went into recess early.

Yet if Parliament cannot meet, not only can there be no legislative progress, there also can’t be proper scrutiny of the Government. 

The problem is not just a UK Parliament one, bodies around the world are having to find ways of balancing protecting health with protecting democracy.

Those familiar with the UK House of Commons and Lords will realise the problem.  Members are crowded onto benches.  Voting takes place in jammed division lobbies.  The maze of passage ways doesn’t lend itself to social distancing.   Before Easter’s early recess, changes were made to make protection a little easier.  This  saw a “two-shift” Prime Minister’s Questions in which MPs swapped over at half time to allow more to take part and observe distancing.  Questions remain  however about what might face MPs on their scheduled return on 21 April with the Speaker and others examining whether some MPs could take part remotely.  If possible and agreed, that could mean a very different feel to Prime Minister’s Questions.

A Commons recess doesn’t necessarily mean an end to activity.  Select Committees have been meeting and taking evidence remotely with, for example, the Home Affairs Select Committee holding a video conference with witnesses on 6 April.

There was some disquiet about the earlier than expected start to the recess.  Some opposition MPs argued that the scrutiny and challenge role of Parliament could not be carried out if Parliament was not sitting somehow.  In the weekly Questions to the Leader of the House on the day before the recess was to start, Labour MP Wes Streeting said this: “I understand the difficulties that we are in, but I have to disrupt the consensus: I do not think it is right for Parliament to go into recess early, and I am worried about how long it will be until we return. I hope that the Leader of the House will guarantee that we will return on the date in April when we are due to do so….”

The Scottish Parliament met to vote on its Coronavirus Bill on 1 April and is now in a planned recess until 20 April.  The design of the chamber makes it easier for Members of the Scottish Parliament to maintain distance.  There are individual desks, which  means members can spread out.  Voting is electronic which means no crowding though lobbies.

The Welsh Assembly meanwhile lowered its quorum – the minimum number of members having to be in the chamber for plenaries and then introduced  on line meetings of the body.  It has another plenary meeting to go before Easter.

As governments around the world take more powers and Parliaments are less able to meet thought has been going on elsewhere about how to maintain scrutiny.  One of the more imaginative approaches comes from New Zealand where a special select committee has been set up, with majority membership from opposition parties, to scrutinise the Government specifically over its response to coronavirus. The committee meets on line and it is broadcast on the Parliament’s TV channel.

In Australia there has been fierce debate about the suspension of Parliament.  The Government planned a suspension until August, but has had to recall members for at least one debate for legal reasons. Opponents of the suspension argue that other crises have not stopped Parliament and that democracy is at stake.

EU flags in front of European Commission

Nearer to home, the European Parliament, surely one of the largest single group of Parliamentarians in the world is meeting (mainly) on line and voting on line. Changes were introduced for the late March plenary with only a few members needing to be in the chamber but everyone able to vote electronically, wherever they were.  Political groups were still concerned that MEPs needed to do more to fulfil their roles to represent and to scrutinise.  This has led to a special session being organised for late this month (April).

Other European Parliaments have adopted rules to allow on line meetings.  Poland’s lower house, the Sejm, had to have an in person meeting to do so in late March.

Parliaments are having to walk the line between safe operation and ensuring they do their job.  But the forced changes of these months may well cause rethinks across organisations about how best they do their work.  Perhaps some of the old customs will go.

Edge Hill University’s political degrees include advanced material on Parliaments and how they function.

The featured image on this blog is a still taken from UK Parliament’s video The House of Commons Chamber.

Everything you need to know about metro mayors – and the latest Labour nomination


Next year will see the election of England’s “metro mayors”, in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, the North East, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, and the West of England. The role has been created by the Conservative Government and will see powers from Whitehall handed over to regional leaders – who will be accountable to voters as to how these powers are used.

The move will put one individual at the head of an area covering several local authority patches. But the mayoral powers that person will have, will differ from place to place. This is because each area has a different agreement with the Government concerning what the mayor will or won’t oversee.

Sound complicated? That’s because it is. Supporters of devolution, however, would argue that a one-size fits all arrangement wouldn’t work and that this is a positive step forwards for local politics.

Under the new system, each area will have a mayor who will be a significant local figure in the way that some council leaders, and some MPs, can only dream of. It is because of this power and significance that the candidacy for these roles has become a prize of some importance, encouraging former cabinet ministers and senior MPs – such as Andy Burnham and Ivan Lewis – to contest the party selections.

What has happened so far?

Currently, we have only seen Labour’s selections, voted for by party members. In the West Midlands, the party elected former Birmingham MP and current West Midlands MEP Sion Simon to stand. In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham has been announced as Labour’s candidate, and in Merseyside – also known as the Liverpool City Region – Steve Rotheram will stand for election on the Labour ticket.

Of the three Labour party selections made this week, Liverpool City Region is perhaps the most significant, partly because the candidates represented different camps within the party and partly because of the region’s complex geography.

Liverpool City Region is in fact made up of six local authority areas, only one of which is Liverpool City. The other areas are Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, and Wirral. All have their own very specific local concerns and fears about resources being “dragged to the centre”. This is also significant for other metro mayor areas, such as Sheffield – which also includes Doncaster and Barnsley, both areas with their own unique identity and issues.

In Liverpool, the selection process saw three main candidates vying for the role. Joe Anderson is already the elected mayor of the Liverpool City part of the area and chair of the Combined Authority. Luciana Berger is MP for Liverpool Wavertree and was Shadow Spokesperson on Mental Health until she resigned in protest against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. And Steve Rotheram is MP for Liverpool Walton and parliamentary private secretary to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Steve Rotheram was named the winner, with a 72% member turnout.

What does all of this mean?

What we can take home from the recent results is that Labour members are not always satisfied with those already in post. In both Manchester – where former MP Tony Lloyd was effectively acting as mayor – and Liverpool, voters have turned against someone who was effectively already doing the job. This of course could simply mean that post holders can make enemies through their decisions while challengers do not carry that baggage.

Steve Rotheram, Labour’s candidate for metro mayor of Liverpool. PA

That said, party candidate selections are unusual elections. Candidates need to make themselves distinct from the other challengers but must also be careful not to criticise them too heavily. The need to be seen as loyal to the party pulls in the opposite direction to the need to seem different. This means candidates need to identify issues on which criticism can be made without seeming disloyal.

In Merseyside, where campaigners from other parties have highlighted threats to park land, Rotheram made good use of the whole “open space” issue. He managed to talk about his commitment to protect open space in a way that effectively criticised mayor Anderson’s record – or the appearance of Anderson’s record – while not implying disloyalty to the party.

What happens next?

All of this also arguably demonstrates members’ continuing support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Of the candidates, Berger was one of those who resigned her post, while Anderson has generally been noncommittal. This is in sharp contrast to the victorious Rotheram, who is associated with Corbyn through his role as private secretary, alongside his appearance with Corbyn at a rally in Liverpool shortly before the close of ballot.

Steve Rotheram, Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham at the Hillsborough inquest earlier this year. ITV

The Liverpool outcome may well have an effect on shortlisting and internal campaigning in those areas yet to select, such as Sheffield – particularly as the announcement of the Liverpool result provoked some comment on social media about gender balance. All Labour’s selections to date for this role – or for the earlier comparable London and Bristol roles – have been men. And of the three recent selections, only Liverpool even had a woman on the shortlist.

Of course as shortlists are drawn up individually, it is quite possible for Labour to end up with no female candidates at all. But given how bad this looks, I would imagine the senior players such as Harriet Harman will want to think about how to persuade more women to consider one of these roles role. A discussion for the forthcoming Labour women’s conference perhaps?


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Emergency services collaboration: role and future of the ambulance services?


Collaboration between emergency services is neither novel nor new. Many emergency services are already working with each other and other public bodies to provide better services while improving efficiencies. It was however argued that the present levels of coordination and collaboration are uneven and not as well developed as they might be. In September 2015, the UK Government published the consultation document ‘Enabling closer working between the Emergency Services’ aimed at promoting better coordination of emergency services in England. Early this year, the responsibility for fire and rescue policy was transferred to the Home Office from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The Government also published its response to the consultation in January 2016. The Summary of consultation responses and next steps sets out legislative proposals to:

  • introduce a high level duty to collaborate on all three emergency services, to improve efficiency or effectiveness;
  • enable Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to take on the functions of fire and rescue authorities (FRAs), where a local case is made;
  • where a PCC takes on the responsibilities of their local FRA, further enabling him or her to create a single employer for police and fire personnel;
  • in areas where a PCC has not become responsible for fire and rescue services, enabling them to have representation on their local FRA with voting rights, where the local FRA agrees; and
  • abolish the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and give the Mayor of London direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service in London.

The latest consultation response assumes both the desirability of PCCs taking over the leadership of fire services and the ‘single employer’ form of merger to promote greater efficiencies. Arguments for and against the proposals to bring together the fire and police services under the remit of PCCs have been well rehearsed in the media. The consultation response does not specify the exact nature of collaboration between the ambulance services and the police and fire services. Other than suggesting a legal duty to collaborate, the role and responsibility of the NHS ambulance trusts in determining their legal duty remains unclear and has not attracted much attention and scrutiny.

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) has welcomed the intention of the Government backing to keep ambulance services as part of the NHS, while reaffirming its support for closer collaboration and more innovative blue light working between the three emergency services. The Keogh Review and the NHS Five Year Forward View also acknowledge the role and contribution of the ambulance services to the Government’s urgent and emergency care strategy. This view was also echoed by several speakers at the recent Ambulance Leadership Forum 2016.

Whether ambulance services see their future as part of NHS or whether there is a drive to integrate-fully or partially with other emergency services, there will always be the need for two functions currently provided by the ambulance services namely, (i) a means of supported transport of patients in the community to services provided in health care facilities and (ii) responsive, professional, timely outreaching emergency diagnosis and management service. These are the core of current ambulance services and will be the core of any future service(s). What is likely to change is the means of delivery and the professionals that delivers the service. Technology will enable better remote triage; increasingly skilled practitioners will use better decision support mechanisms to deliver more sophisticated heath care.

There is however a significant change in the profile for demand for the ambulance services as compared to the police and fire services. The overall attendance of fire services incidents has shown a decline of more than 40% over the last decade. Recorded crimes (other than fraud) are showing a downward trajectory since its peak in 2003-04. But ambulance demand has shown a steady increase of almost 10% over the last five years. Ambulance services are also no more the sole employer(s) of the paramedics, many of whom now work outside the NHS ambulance settings such as the GP surgeries, out-of-care facilities and with private ambulance providers. With a shortage of paramedic staff, managing such levels of demand and quality of patient care is clearly unstainable and it is no secret that ambulance services across the country are struggling to cope up with increased activity and meet their performance targets.

This is a changeable moment for the ambulance services. Steady rise in 999 demand and shrinking budgets are seen by many as two of the key challenges which are unlikely to go away in the near future. While their position within the blue-light architecture is still being decided, it presents opportunities for exploring new innovative organisational forms and management structures to bring about real reforms and transformational change. There has never been a greater need for an open and honest conversation between the ambulance leaders, policy makers and other stakeholders to debate the role and future of the ambulance services we all love and care about.

Why cutting Parent Governors out of schools matters

Students Raising Hands in Classroom

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s Institute for Public Policy) comments on the Government’s White Paper on Education:

The significance of the many changes announced by the Government recently will be taken up by a number of groups over the next few months.

Clearly the headlines have focused on the way teachers are educated and assessed as full and potentially excellent teachers. I will return to that in future blogs but I want to pick up on the role of parent governors.

The announcement that the requirement or expectation to have parents as members of governing bodies is to be relaxed so that they may cease to be present, reflects one of the many contradictory features of the current Government.

The idea that service users should be involved in decision making is not the preserve of progressive interest groups. It sits quite easily within the framework of seeing service users as consumers. They are one of a number of so called ‘stakeholders’ who have rights to be consulted and to participate in the governance and oversight of professionals or administrators running public services.

There is a litany of failed public services from hospitals to schools to social work departments, where it is claimed lack of suitable arrangements for the governance of those services excluded users from having a voice.

Indeed in the recent budget, the Northern Powerhouse initiative and the associated agreements with local public authorities in the setting up of city regions, include governance as a non-negotiable element. In this case it’s the election of a city mayor as part of the package.

So what do the new developments in education tell us? There is a plausible argument which says it’s difficult to recruit, train and retain parent governors; the role and expectations are complex and require significant commitment; and the growing needs of schools especially financial ones require more professional expertise than is always available. These are familiar arguments but not necessarily new ones.

There are a secondary set of arguments which are not explicitly stated and they include the restructuring of school based education takes it away from local oversight  – the creation of academies or trusts detached schools from a sense of the ‘local’ or the ‘neighbourhood’ and as such parents are actually only have temporary interest in the school.

What is needed are individuals who are there for the long term and who see the needs differently from local parents or local interests. It is the logical perspective if you do not see schools are rooted in specific geographies and communities.

There is an additional pragmatic argument too. Parent governors are likely to be resistant to changes and maybe become oppositional to the current funding decisions. I think we can anticipate changes in governance elsewhere across the public services as the space to be critical is closed down.

Changes in the voluntary sector are good examples of where this is already happening. I think this is the issue. It’s not parent governors in principle, but local voices being excluded and critical or different perspectives being excluded too. That seems to me to be the big story behind the White Paper.

The Budget and the Northern Powerhouse: Why what happens next is important

big ben

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s Institute for Public Policy) reflects on what the story behind the budget means for devolution:

One of the big claims by the Conservative Government has been their willingness to devolve services and decision making to local decision makers.

The full story of the underlying motivations over the Northern Powerhouse – the shift to city regions and the bringing together of both services and major infrastructure initiatives into local oversight through an elected mayor – has yet fully to be told. Partly because it is a work in progress but also because some of the key decision makers are too close to their public positions and are unlikely or unwilling to discuss why they are in favour of what is (potentially) a radical restructuring of decision making in England.

At the moment the off stage critiques are familiar. The Tories don’t really mean it and anyway, we have a good working system. Or they are using it to mask further spending cuts or this is a chance to change how business is done or regional decentralisation had never worked. In one sense all of the above are possibly true.

It seems to me that the both the budget and the EU referendum remind us that the Government and the political party behind it are far from united. We should not underestimate the internal conflict within the ruling party. And I suspect that we are a long way from seeing or even grasping how their internal conflicts are likely to be resolved.

My own guess is that post referendum result (whatever the result) the conflict will continue for a long time to come. In the short term it will begin to render the Government unable to function properly. Remember the 1990s and John Major? Why does all of this matter? Because there were and are some really significant things happening on the devolution front.

The big picture are the cuts in social and education services and the impact of further cuts in health. Two immediate consequences: worsening services for the most vulnerable and increasing pressure on those who manage and work in these services. And a third consequence for local politicians: much less room to manoeuvre if you want to invest. A further medium term impact: growing opposition amongst community or professional groups and pressure on elected politicians to resist making further cuts.

At the same time infrastructure spend over the medium term is planned to grow. And the ‘idea’ of the Northern Powerhouse as a counter weight to London and the South East grows. Already members of the Labour Party are considering who might be the elected mayor of Greater Manchester. It is clearly seen by some as a role to go for.

Whilst these are all important developments, they are essentially the public story. What’s the scope for responding to the present context and looking to innovate or at least to stop merely responding?

It’s here, I think, that there remains lots to explore. Almost by going ‘under the radar’ we should be looking to see how to develop what we gave and to see the spaces for change or innovation. It’s these spaces of change that I think we need to look for. What they might be and how we might use them will be the subject of future discussions here.

Why charity trustees matter: Getting governance and accountability right

Woman hands in winter gloves Heart symbol shaped Lifestyle

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) comments on the report on Kids Company by a Parliamentary investigation:

The details of the collapse of the charity Kids Company are likely to be subject to much debate and criticism. The likely negative impact on the lives of those young people who relied on the support of staff who worked for Kids Company cannot be underestimated.

The media fascination with the charity and the willingness of most senior political leaders to look for a photo opportunity with its founder and many of its users probably did no one any favours in the long term.

One of the key learning points in the report which is being discussed today is the role of the trustees. A really central element in keeping charities going is the role of the trustees. They have the responsibility to exercise oversight and keep an eye on the financial health of the organisation. Both require close engagement with the work of the charity and both require trustees to take their roles seriously. And it appears too as if the chair of the Kids Company trustees had been in that role for over 15 years. As a small sign of good practice you would want the chair of the board to change and certainly serve not more than 5 or 6 years.

Declaration of interest: I am chair of a small national charity and we have term limits for our chair and I will be finishing this November after 3 years in the role. Fixed term limits requires trustees to think of succession planning and making changes. Trustees (whilst needing support and training) can become over connected with the charity and of course you want them to be advocates and proud supporters, but they as well to be the critical voice or the questioning voice ensuring that the aims and values of the charity are being met. And with charities that are set up and led by strong and very committed personalities it is important to have a strong set of trustees too. They are there to protect the charity for as long as they feel able.

Getting the governance and accountability processes right is about protecting those that depend on it too. Sadly it looks as if Kids Company is going to be a case study in the failure of governance rather than in a celebration of what can be achieved by the charity and not for profit sector.

Interoperability between Emergency Services: A Missed Opportunity?


Professor Paresh Wankhade (Business School) analyses the latest Interoperability proposals offered by the government:

The governance of the emergency services in England is complex and the three main emergency services (ambulance, police, and fire & rescue) are structured differently, largely as a result of the relatively ad-hoc nature of their historical development. In September 2015, the UK Government published the consultation document ‘Enabling closer working between the Emergency Services’ aimed at promoting better coordination of emergency services in England. The government argued that the present levels of coordination and collaboration are uneven and not as well developed as they might be.

Earlier this month it was formally announced that fire and rescue services will be transferred to the Home Office from the Department of Communities and Local Government. However the Chief Fire Officers Association has sought clarity on issues pertaining to transitioning policy, provisions to meet national emergencies, in-depth risk assessment framework and sustainable budgeting principles to separate fire budgets from police and other Home Office Budgets.

This week the government published the ‘Summary of consultation responses and next steps’ to the Consultation after receiving over 300 responses. The Government intends to legislate to:

  • Introduce a high level duty to collaborate on all three emergency services, to improve efficiency or effectiveness;
  • Enable Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to take on the functions of fire and rescue authorities (FRAs), where a local case is made;
  • Where a PCC takes on the responsibilities of their local FRA, further enabling him or her to create a single employer for police and fire personnel;
  • In areas where a PCC has not become responsible for fire and rescue services, enabling them to have representation on their local FRA with voting rights, where the local FRA agrees; and
  • Abolish the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and give the Mayor of London direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service in London.

The proposed governance arrangements contained within the consultation document present a number of challenges and has received mixed responses. The Local Government Association (LGA) raised concerns in their response to the consultation document. It contended that the changes would be a distraction from existing patterns of cooperation and could indeed undermine existing arrangements where the boundaries between the fire & rescue services and PCCs are not coterminous. Government’s proposals to allow PCCs to take responsibility for their local fire and rescue services was dubbed as ‘dangerous’ by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

It is worth noting that some of the proposals in the latest consultation are not original. In 2013, the government commissioned report ‘Facing The Future’ led by Sir Ken Knight, former government Fire and Rescue advisor (and Visiting Professor at Edge Hill Business School) had reviewed the efficiencies and operations in the fire and rescue authorities in England. The report had further proposed the merging of fire and rescue services with the possibility of the PCCs taking on the role of fire and rescue authority after due evaluation.

The latest consultation response assumes both the desirability of PCCs taking over the leadership of fire services and the ‘single employer’ form of merger to promote greater efficiencies. There are concerns that that giving a wide range of powers to a single individual will necessarily provide greater benefits than having an elected body with those powers. The merger process can have its own unintended consequences and there is enough academic evidence to suggest that such a process is likely to have an adverse impact on individual staff and organisational capacity to deliver intended benefits. Moreover, the requirement and mechanisms for the PCCs to have access to an informed, independent assessment of the operational performance of the fire services remain to be finalised.

The proposals while suggesting a legal duty to collaborate, do not clarify what would constitute evidence of a failure to collaborate, who would be allowed to institute proceedings should this allegedly happen and what would be the penalty for non-compliance. The role and responsibility of the NHS ambulance trusts in determining their legal duty remains unclear and efforts should be made to reflect their role within these proposals and in future legislative changes including possible impact on the governance of the ambulance services.

One key pubic message emerging is that the government wants the police, fire and ambulance services in England to share control rooms to improve their response to 999 calls. But this is already happening in many parts of the country (such as in Bootle in Merseyside) without a formal merger/integration. The long standing question of addressing the issue of different professional cultures in the three emergency services remains unattended in these proposals. Lack of specific proposals to improve strategic leadership across these organisations in brining transformational change can seriously hamper bringing real change in attitudes and culture(s) within the blue-light services.   There is a danger that the current process may lead to a ritualistic compliance and perverse consequences.

The consultation process was the first real opportunity to look into the important question of improving interoperability between the three main emergency services. By limiting the scope of the consultation to seek views on the proposed integration of police and fire & rescue services and giving power to PCCs to take on the functions of the fire rescue authorities, a golden opportunity has been lost for having an honest and frank discussion about the future of our emergency services.