Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Not so good

So as you can see in that little descriptive paragraph to the right I quote "The greatest love of all", but the thing is I do belive that children are our future.

I've said it before and I will say it again this government is letting down the children.

So if we pass over the fact that the benefit cuts, when introduced with housing cuts and increased unemployment almost certainly mean more children will be living in poverty it still looks pretty bleak.

Yesterday it was announced that the government is withdrawing all funding for book-gifting programmes. These programmes give books to children, get them interested in reading and help them find a way into self directed learning. It is not a programme that is losing money - they turn £13 million from the government into £56 million in terms of sponsorship to help the scheme run. So it seems like they use government funds efficiently to do a job that is worth doing. In terms of the nation as a whole £13 million to provide free books to schoolchildren is chicken feed, but this gets cut.

So we have free school meals significantly reduced, EMA cut, free books cut, Connexions services designed to help those young people not in education, employment or training (a number set to rise in this climate) cut, ring fencing of local government money for children's services and education removed, and funding to the poorest local authorities cut the most.

Theoretically devolved decision making could work. However it needs to be run effectively. So schools need to know what their special needs budgets should be if they are to set them, and many do not, in fact what we have is the worst of both worlds where they have the "freedom" to determine thier own budgets but no support - just stringent checks on the number of sick days teachers take under the proposals.

Please don't even get me started on the health "reforms" which take no account of teh fact that in seven years of trianing GPs get no training in budgeting, do not properly allow for sufficient oversight of the practice of doctors (and area the NHS and GMC have been working on for years now to ensure proper regulation) and which neglect all the work done by the NHS in the past few years to ensure more efficient procurement practices. Devolved units can't make the same mass puchasing savings as a PCT. Again there is a principle that can be argued is correct but the implementation is foolish and rushed.

I genuinely am scared for the future. If people argue (and they do) that the Thatcher generation are self motivated, individualistic and materialistic (those that were children more than those that were older and protested)- where do we see the generation born under this?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

You fall for everything

This post is brought to you by the words "despair" and "anager"

So times are tight. Cuts to change the nature of society are happening left, right and centre (though mostly the last two cutting the first). So what about organisations and businesses that are feeling the pinch? Well it seems that they are taking the same short sighted tack, I've seen before and will see many times again.

Let's take as an example a small enterprise, with 90 people, ranging from a Chief Executive and board of directors, via some high paid senior members of staff, some less high paid less senior members of staff, some administrators and down to the junior staff. For the sake of argument let's make this a not for profit organisation.

This not for profit private company tended to earn money from big government contracts but now the government has stopped ordering from it and so has local government. It has an expensive office space which needs at least one full time receptionist.

So who do you cut out?

Do you cut out the specialists who have specialisms that are no longer called for and who are bringing in no money (despite contracts saying they must) and who cost a lot in terms of payroll?

Or do you make strategic decisions about the future of the business and make posts redundant based on that?

Or do you make the "strategic" decision to make redundant the lowest paid and least likely to be in a Union/make a fuss. The ones who you feel no real short term hit from as their redundancy settlement is negligibility despite being with the company since the start.

Obviously you take option 3 and then get confused when the top heavy organisation you created falls over.

Cut off the legs and what have you got to stand on?

And this is happening at every level, local authorities, universities, management consultancies. This is hitting the poorest, and then when they are down the housing, welfare, health and education reforms will take it in turns to kick them further into the gutter.

Welcome to the ConDem Nation

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Let's get some things straight

Labour, opposing, in opposition an unpopular policy does not mean they would not have implemented it in power.

Pre-election Labour's policy on Higher Education and fees was to wait for the outcome of the Browne Review. The policies being discussed regarding fees are not ConDem policies, they are the recommendations of an independent inquiry.

Here is my position. In my local area the candidates were asked to sign a release saying that fees would not go up under their party. The only candidate to refuse was the Labour candidate. It made her unpopular. It made her honest. She is my local MP and I like her a lot for that.

Right next thing along, public spending cuts. You can say "no ifs, no buts, no public spending cuts" all you want but what is your viable alternative? Whoever was in power was going to make cuts. There was fat to be trimmed. The main way that public money is wasted is through poor purchasing and procurement practices, a fact that was brushed under the carpet by Labour and is being brushed under the carpet by the ConDems now they are in power. Why? Well it makes less splashy headlines and it takes more hard work.

I'll lay my political beliefs on the line here. I am definitely left wing and I am almost certainly a Labour supporter, but not necessarily a Labour fan. So if you say if Labour in power things would be better, I'd like to ask you to stop and think. I believe that cuts brought in under Darling would have been more progressive in nature than those brought in by Osborne. I believe that the focus on child poverty which I really truly believe in would have been retained. I also believe that deeply unpopular decisions would have had to be taken. I believe that lots of people would have been hurt. I believe that a recession always hurts no matter who is in power.

People are losing their jobs and that is genuinely awful. Every day people are having to face the fact that there are 5 job seekers for every job, or more in some places (where I am it is about 30). These are tough times. Families are suffering from this. Spending from individuals is going to drop. The economy is going to struggle more.

Sticking your head in the sand and pretending it is not happening is not a good move. But then neither is pretending that there would have been no recessions, no cuts, no Browne review under Labour.

Wake up! The world is changing. We need to work to ensure that it changes for the better. And if we want that we need to speak together about what the priorities are. And we need to think carefully before we do that. Any knee-jerk response will get us nothing. If we want change we need to speak and think clearly. What are our priorities?

Monday, 27 September 2010

Miliband of Brothers

I was far too excited about the Labour Leadership Announcement. Saturday at 3pm you would have seen me (had you been in my house, which I am rather glad you were not) doing a little song and dance about the announcement.

And then the announcement happened. I was glued to the TV (well not literally) and watched it all as it happened. Ed looked like he was going to cry. David looked really happy. The results did not seem to reflect that. As a rsult I was forced to picture Ed and David Milliband doing a version of Poker Face a la Lea Michelle and Indina Mendel in Glee. I don't want to be the only one with that mental image so here is the video. I like to think of David as Indina and Ed as Lea. And by like, I mean am forced to by my subconscious.

At the moment I am choosing to reserve judgement. My brother was planning on throwing himself under a bus if David won, my sister seems gutted that Ed won. I am mostly just waiting to see how it pans out. But quite concerned, I am scared that this whole thing might shake my belief that flawed though it is, the British political system works with the opposition tending to fight the best fights.

We shall see. In other news though (and related to my last post) what I think we need more in british politics is DOOM - particularly if riding a unicorn through a rainbow.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Thank you!

Thank you for the comments on my last post. I work in education so get a bit riled about it.

I have lots to say at the moment but am not finding time to say it because the big public spending cuts seem like they might be about to hit me personally. I am,of course taking it in a calm collected manner, so for now I would like to leave you with the following picture and comment

We're Doomed

Friday, 10 September 2010

I believe the children are our future

I wrote this a few weeks ago and found it today - as the new free schools have now been published (and sadly and annoyingly supported my worst fears about them) and as Blair's awful personality show is on the road it seemed a good time to post.

I think the next post here will be post Spending Review and once I have time to digest it a bit. This is one about big society, education and Blair's legacy where is worked (as he did some good stuff in there - stuff he seems determined to overshadow with his recent interviews and exploits).

So a while ago I got angry about Big Society and now it is coming in. The reason I am angry is because it is a lie. Basically "Big Society" is a wolf in sheep's clothing, claiming to empower communities, but acting instead as a return to Thatcherite "No such thing as society, only individuals and families" policies.
Basically this will work through choice.

Choice is a difficult thing and tends to empower only those who are already empowered but there are examples of it working well. Direct Payments were brought in under Labour, and while some users found the opportunity to employ their own staff, empowering, others found it a burden. And it could be a burden to manage paperwork, if you have never had to before, particularly if severely physically disabled with limited energy resources.

Then came a more flexible system as piloted by Simon Duffy and In Control. This did give people choice which they could exercise. Turning Point did interesting work on this area too. When it comes to some parts of state provision choice can be useful. People working in the community can drive change and it can be beneficial. It has led to some interesting innovation, and to better spending of public money.
Allowing charities to engage in the debate about how to commission services has been proven to have some benefit too. Again this was done under Labour with a major project to improve the commissioning of services, and the links between the public and third sectors.

But then there is the next level (and most of this has been in place since Blair) where an individual can choose which hospital they have their operation in, or choose which school their child goes to. The argument here is that the choice drives up quality, but does it really? Surely to drive up quality there would need to be a surplus of providers and a fair amount of capital spread between them. In both these cases I can't see that happening. We don't have a surplus of schools or hospitals, and we certainly don't have the capital to invest in them.

The Building Schools for the Future programme has turned into a fiasco, and Gove's attempts to rush further policies through on education don't really inspire confidence. If I believed choice would drive up quality, I'd be all for it, but education needs investment, particularly in schools.

Recently there was a furore about the salary paid to a head teacher in a state school, but it shows how short people's memories are. The reason salaries for many head teachers went up, was because there was a shortage of quality head teachers, particularly working in deprived schools. How do we expect to drive up the quality of teaching and care for those who need it most?

This is where I start saying things like "I believe the children are our future" because I do. I think the cuts have the potential to leave us with a lost generation. That might sound a bit overblown but it really is what I feel. We are cutting school meal provision, which means the children who are from the socio economic backgrounds least likely to perform will have another barrier to learning.

Some of the better teachers may be lured to "free schools", which will probably have better facilities, smaller class sizes and more generous resources provided by the (almost certainly) overwhelmingly middle class parents who set them up. Local authorities are being asked to make cuts, they are cutting advice and guidance services, which means that even if those children were able to learn while undernourished, with larger class sizes in unsatisfactory buildings they would not know what to do with it. Or at least would not know the full range of options available.

The other place where this information could be found in the past was from Universities, but as they are making cuts, many are cutting their widening participation provision, which further reduces the chances that these children have the chances of thinking of their options. Of course if they do choose to go to university it is really unclear what the options will be for them by then too.

The whole thing seems like a kick in the teeth for social mobility, and though not everyone wants social mobility, it should be an option. I do believe in meritocracy, and I don't believe that is going to be the system we have.

But there is hope. There is always hope. And that is how I leave you today.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Friday the 13th? Well it's a massacre at the Audit Commission

So today it was announced that Eric Pickles is scrapping the Audit Commission. The Audit Commission was flawed but this seems a bit much. Surely reform would be a better option? Well it would be but Eric Pickles is a man with a mission and that mission is revenge against an organisation he has long had a problem with.

What better way to deal with your personal issues than to abuse your position and ruin the lives of more than 2000 people? There really is nothing like someone letting his power and his own personal vendettas interfere with his professional judgement. This means that now there is yet another member of the cabinet I no longer have any professional respect for.

Laving all that aside this is still a worrying move. The Audit Commission worked as a national body to look at the efficiency and performance of local authorities particularly with regard to the rather thorough by Gershon Review.

The new plan appears to be for a range of private providers to run this efficiency review service at a time when we need to be more efficient in our public service provision.

EDIT: Since I wrote this I found out that the plan is for individual authorities to get in auditors. This is even worse than I thought. That means no unified benchmarking system, no follow through required on recommendations and additional costs as each time the provider used will have to do extensive research in order to do each piece of work (ploughing through old reports, looking at comparable authorities to get an idea of recent events and so on). This plan also means that authorities may be able to get away with not publishing the reports in full, at least not straight away, as though an FOI request can be processed some may choose to wait until one is received to publish. Of course that is not the only way a local authority can conceal and spin the report - if a local authority if commissioning someone to do their audit they can influence what is and is not reported and how the report is written. The local authority having this much control over the reporting cna mean that say closing many services for old people can be reported as a saving, even if the result is only a short term gain, for a long term rise in spending for emergency services.

This means the new system proposed is more expensive, less transparent and less accountable. Way to go Eric Pickles you have just created a great opportunity for Local Authorities to cut corners and spend too much money anyway. Its the stupidest short term cut with long term financial implications yet from the Con-Dems. Now we juts need to see if someone can trump it.