Post Brexit Conversations

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) comments on the recent appointment of Labour candidate Andy Burnham:

Andy Burnham, Labour candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, tells us something significant is happening. Most of the focus will be on the internal conflicts within the Labour Party, and they are important for many reasons. But I think the success of Andy Burnham tells us other things are happening too.

Over the past 40 plus years, city bosses saw their career ladder as going from the local to the national in the UK. And when they made that change, many of them disappeared into the Westminster fog. Andy Burnham is going the other way – from the national to the local (or rather the city region).

Why is this important? One, it suggests that he is doubtful (at best) of Labour winning the next election, and two it suggests that he thinks being mayor of the Manchester City Region is an important political role . This move would not be unusual in other countries – in the United States Obama’s first Chief of Staff went from that role to be mayor of Chicago.

The third possible consequence is that following the May mayoral elections, especially here in the North West with Liverpool and Manchester, those elected together with the mayor of Greater London might seek to shift the centre of gravity away from Westminster to the cities. What kind of new politics might that bring?

I4P are hosting a series of post Brexit conversations and talks starting this October and going through to June – click here for more information.

Why we need to look for the creative spaces to be innovative

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) welcomes Professor Carolyn Kagan’s lecture on ‘Disruptive Change’:

The core message for me last night listening to Carolyn Kagan’s very informative reflection on the ways in which key policy initiatives in the areas of anti-racism, gender and disability have been constrained and limited, was how those advocating change were constantly looking for the creative spaces to lead change. Or as others have put it to look for the room to manoeuvre.

Either expression conveys a sense of space which is potentially limiting but its size and ‘availability’ are limited too, by the balance of forces engaged in the struggle to effect change.

As Carolyn put it in her lecture, this is about conflicts over power. For those who are wishing to challenge racism or sexism, or other forms of oppressive practice, their ideas reflect a different set of values from those which are defending the status quo.

Such progressive values challenge existing ways of working and are likely to be resisted. And over time if the shift in the balance of forces remains with the status quo what appear (in the short term) to be gains, can be lost. This leads to the gaps in income and power and, as Kate Pickett argued in the I4P Annual Lecture, to an increase in inequality in society.

Carolyn’s lecture will be available on the web site both in video and text format.

Author of The Spirit Level encourages people to think globally but act locally

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) reflects on the 3rd I4P Annual Lecture given by Professor Kate Pickett last night:

Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level) set out a powerful and insightful case that demonstrated the link between inequality and poverty, and the inter-connections with poor health, depression and social inequality.

During the Q and A, she also made the case for strong and vibrant unions as an indicator, not just of the potential protection they offered their members, but of a healthier political and civic set of relationships too.

She covered the key points discussed and analysed in her book (written with Professor Richard Wilkinson) but she also set out the case for action.

As she said in her introduction, she wanted to explore the roles and responsibilities of researchers working in this field of study, so an important part of the talk was on what could be done.

She re-iterated a slogan used by sustainability advocates after the Rio Summit in the 1990s: Think Globally but Act Locally. And in doing so she set out the case for employers and organisations (as well as public institutions) to take up and adopt the Living Wage and sign up for accreditation to the Living Wage Foundation.

She referenced the work of Fairness Commissions and their recommendations (taken from more than 20 across the UK) for public bodies to adopt measures that would mitigate some of the impact of the policies adopted by the Government which impact on poverty.

The work of food banks and many small, as well as large charities might help in some ways, but whilst their work might be necessary it is hardly sufficient.

Two additional things : I4P has carried out a review of Fairness Commissions for the Webb Memorial Trust and we are involved in a continuing piece of work for them details on the web site and May 4 we are screening The Divide a film inspired by The Spirit Level – hope you can join us.

The debate on poverty and inequality should include actions too

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) looks ahead to the 3rd Annual I4P Lecture on 9 February:

This year’s lecture is being given by Professor Kate Pickett (York University and co-author of The Spirit Level).

The Spirit Level addresses in a powerful and straightforward way, the causes of poverty and also inequality, not only here in the UK but across the world. The book can be read as a careful and systematic analysis of a range of data which illustrate the relationships between health, poor housing, low paid work, unemployment and poverty. But it is not merely a well argued, well informed analysis of the data. It points to the actions that governments as well as employers can take to address these structural inequalities and it argues as well, that both the non-actions of the state and those of employers represent choices to maintain inequality.

It seems to me that the value of The Spirit Level lies in the way it sets out the data and the evidence. You don’t have to agree with their recommendations for action but it is hard to dispute their analysis. And for those that agree and share the analysis and the overall set of actions, it is important to think of what we then choose to do. We can choose to agree with the analysis but say that we can’t adopt some of the recommendations (including adopting the Living Wage or looking at our procurement policies and thinking about our capacity to influence our suppliers and contractors) because we don’t have the power or we can seek to adopt the recommendations as one set of small steps that begin to change the lives and working conditions of those who are dependent on our choices.

We are involved in a funded piece of work from the Webb Memorial Trust on ‘What Makes a Good Society’ – adopting these recommendations would be a start.

The regeneration of housing estates illustrates the change in the Government’s narrative

Inner city demolition of High rise building

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) argues that the announcement of funding to undertake an initial identification of housing estates which need ‘regeneration’ should not be dismissed:

I am not suggesting that there has been a change in priorities where the allocation of resources is concerned. The amounts outlined over the weekend do not go far enough, nor is the assumption that pension funds will be the primary source of money convincing. But, the announcements mark another subtle but quite important shift in the Government’s public policy narrative.

Following the 2010 and 2015 elections, first the Coalition, and then the Conservative Government made it an important part of their new approach that most of the New Labour initiatives were cut (out went Regional Development Agencies, integrated Government Offices and regeneration initiatives were regarded as old fashioned and not relevant to the new public policy  priorities or strategies).

So has everything changed? Not totally. But just as the devolution agenda (the Northern Powerhouse) is a case of taking other party’s policies and claiming as your own, so is the regeneration agenda. Does this matter? I think it does. Because in both cases to be successful there needs to a ‘public’ or civic society presence. Neither of these two developments can be undertaken by the private or not for profit sector alone. It is this reintroduction of the ‘public’ and with it the idea of the local agency facilitating or brokering changes as well as providing some element of accountability for what is done, which is the real potential shift in policy. Both of these developments need governance mechanisms to ensure that public needs are met or at least addressed. Governance is what the public agency or civic institutions provide. We need to reflect on what this means in the long term but in the short term it is another subtle but important shift in thinking and decision making at a central level.

The importance of executive education programmes for public sector managers, and why ‘silo’ thinking should be challenged

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P), reflects on the need for executive education programmes:

A key point I want to make from the outset is a declaration of interest – I am the co-editor of an international journal which is committed to publishing essays and research papers from academics and practitioners engaged in the education of public leaders and managers.

Teaching Public Administration, published by Sage, carries papers overwhelmingly from outside the UK. They highlight the shared and overlapping interests of leaders and managers in the UK, and they confirm (I think) why we need to raise the question of how we support those involved in managing complex organisations across the public sector.

That statement of interest over, I think there are three key points to make: firstly, that there are very evident shared experiences and agendas – managing change in a context of declining resources but rising expectations from users and politicians. It is not a cliché or a sound bite to say ‘you / we need to do more with less’.

Secondly, there are a group of overlapping issues which cut across public / private and not for profit – questions of governance and accountability. It seems to me that whilst we think we understand the accountability question, and I am not sure we do, there is a real issue over governance. Seeking to ensure that leaders and senior executives engage with the governance question is vital if we are to begin to address the questions raised in my first observation. I think that senior leaders need support, from external mentors or critical friends, it doesn’t matter what we call them, but what is needed are individuals who can support them in their critical self-reflection and personal learning so that they are better able (more confident as well as more reflective) in their practice to think and act strategically as well as understand the local or the domestic too.

Finally, good quality executive education is also about learning to make transitions work too. And I think that understanding that is also about connecting the internal world with the external environment and focussing on what the longer term ideas are. And that requires setting those thinking and learning activities in a set of values and principles which can be shared and recognised. I have a particular interest in how we encourage individuals and organisations to work across their institutional boundaries and silos. These are themes I will return to.

What do we learn from the Comprehensive Spending Review?

There are three lessons from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

First, don’t believe the spin before the statement;

Two, don’t believe the spin after the statement;

And three, look at the trends in spending and their impact.

Whilst the headlines are saying it wasn’t all bad and the cuts weren’t in the order of 30 per cent, but in some cases 20 per cent, and there is investment in some areas that wasn’t anticipated (sport especially) we can look at the trends.

One lesson immediately is that the revision of growth means that the Government has more flexibility than they thought and we can assume (even though the next election is just under five years away) that this will help prepare for 2020.

The second immediate lesson is that the percentage of spending by the state as a proportion of national income is heading downwards past European levels and moving towards US levels.

This is significant and profound. It means that some of the financial and policy changes introduced over the last five years or so are going to be irreversible without significant investment through taxes should a new (non-Conservative government) wish.

The third lesson is what is happening at the local level: since the late 1970s successive governments have shifted the share of money spent at the local level from taxes raised by city hall to money allocated from Westminster. Now the move is the other way. But it is happening in a context of cuts and social and political change.

The responsibility for spending is being devolved (the shift to city regions or combined authorities) but the resources are not following. Hence closures of many local services which are regarded as non-essential (libraries and children’s services) but at the same time statutory services are bring squeezed – especially adult social care.

We can expect more closures of services for the elderly and these cuts are likely to lead to more localised resistance and opposition. As part of our role we will be monitoring these changes and will post updates and briefing papers too over the next twelve months.

Find out more about I4P and its calendar of events here. 

After the election: What next ?

The General Election result will, for those fascinated by the intricacies of such events, provide much fertile ground for endless speculations and interpretations.

And there is a risk that these conversations crowd out some important questions as once again the daily media return their gaze to the succession competitions in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties and the up coming leadership campaign in the Conservative Party (given Cameron’s decision not to seek a ‘third term’).

The important questions which remain after the results were announced last Friday still remain:

What are the immediate consequences of the planned austerity cuts?

Where are the cuts coming to fund the reductions in welfare spending?

Where will the funds come to meet the crisis in the Health Service?

We know that there are planned cuts in public spending and we know that some of these planned cuts have factored into them a failure to keep pace with increases in utility costs.

As a consequences for those managing budgets across the public sector (education, health, social care and all locally provided services) the real reductions in funding are likely to have more impact than has been assumed or expected.

We know too that those responsible for managing local government services are talking about not being able to meet their statutory duties and services. One of the known (but often unappreciated by the wider public) ways in which some social and welfare services are provided at the local level is through the voluntary and community sector. What might appear to be small scale operations (good neighbour schemes or community based mentor or advocate schemes) but have a profound significance for those that use them are at risk in this context. There has been a contradiction throughout the last government’s policy and practice.

On the one hand there was a time when the Cameron-led Conservatives valued the idea of volunteering and the ‘Big Society’ on the other hand the cuts to mainstream services has pushed the provision of some of these services to the voluntary sector. So rather than providing an important added extra based on what might work locally, the Voluntary Sector has found itself looking to provide core services or in some cases through contracting out seeking to win commissions to run them.

There are also questions about those aspects of the last government’s budget which were never quantified. We can anticipate that these will be made explicit sooner rather than later. We might expect that the Government will want to get these cuts announced and implemented within the next three to four years to give themselves a chance of preparing for 2020.

And yet, there is still the impact of these changes at the local level. We can expect that as the cuts result in still further and major reductions in services there is likely to be more campaigning and opposition. One of the unintended consequences (perhaps) of last week is that the political context is ‘clearer and cleaner’ than it was in 2010. The Government no longer has the political advantage of being in coalition (that advantage enabled them to see their partners punished last week) and the opposition (whilst not united at all) might yet begin to articulate a shared critique.

The other potential base from which we might see opposition developing is at the local level. We are moving, I expect, to more direct cuts in services and so those who are local councillors or those who are school governors or members of hospital trusts will find themselves either defending their decisions to cut services or sack staff or they will be joining a broad network of opposition.

It is this period of unpredictability which we need to watch and engage with.

What about the issues that don’t figure in the election campaign, but matter ?

The ways in which the formal election campaign and its associated conversations miss out the issues that touch most people, are ones I will come back to over the coming weeks.

It’s important to start though by recognising that the shared conversations between the politicians and the media rule out a whole series of voices and experiences.

The impact of welfare reform, which will be a centre piece of the next five years if the present Tory-led Government retain power, is ruled out of discussion by ministers.

And yet whilst the media may press them on the issue, the headlines focus not on an absence of an answer, but on the skill of avoidance.

All three of the major UK based parties are in favour of education and all three have a shared commitment to maintaining the new status quo on the roles of academies and trusts rather than local schools.

Indeed all three are also in favour of the status quo on how the NHS is organised.

However, they do differ on some things. But it is the shared consensus which is rarely up for discussion. Why? And why aren’t the voices of  those that rely on the services (not those who work in them) heard?

On May 7th local elections will take place too. Here, the absence of a rich and diverse debate is very evident. But does this matter? I think it does. Whoever wins nationally on May 7th will be putting in place spending plans which directly impact on local communities.

It will be City Hall making many of the cuts and therefore we do need to try and make the connections between the local and the national. Accountability only works if those that make decisions are open to challenge and are willing to engage with that challenge.

 

Why listening to what is said is as important as what is not said: Policy lesson one

In the UK back in 2010 whilst the recurring theme was that the then Labour Government had been responsible for the financial crash all the mainstream parties agreed that austerity was a necessary pre-condition for getting the economy straight.

Looking back over the past five years, one of the things which is striking is how consistent that message has been. As we approach the 2015 General Election in May there is still a cross party consensus on the need for austerity. What has changed or where the points of difference between the main parties surfaces is on the scale and pace of the austerity measures.

Why does this matter? And isn’t it common sense that austerity is needed to ‘fix’ things ?

My own view is that on two counts the common sense argument falls:

Count One – we need to be clear about the causes of the Crash in 2007/8 before we can start setting out the remedies. What is interesting about the debate back in 2010 and now is that the consensus is clear: the crisis was not because we were spending too much on education or health or public services more generally, but the actions of the banking and finance sector. Through a range of decisions from sub-prime mortgages to the miss-selling of financial products or the manipulation of interest rates, the banking and finance sector wrecked the economy and the UK Government (along with other governments around the world) bailed out the banking sector. What the parties then and now have difficulty in explaining is how we got from there to here!

Count Two – the consequence of the mainstream consensus is a package of cuts which will go for at least another four years and cuts now in social welfare, education and support to those agencies which work with the most vulnerable.

And so on the issue of Fairness and Equality I have a difficulty with what is being proposed. Why does this matter ? From a policy point of view it matters a lot. The decisions which were made post 2010 and which will be made after 2015 will have a direct impact on the scale, quality and level of social and welfare provision as well as education and training available across the country. These things do matter. They affect us regardless of our needs now because they are about the kind of society we want to live in. Throughout the next few weeks I will explore some of the issues further.