Monday, 9 February 2015

How Good? Let's see...

It's been a busy week.  Last Friday, New Start magazine published my review of John Seddon's "The Whitehall Effect" - . As summarised in the review, Seddon's trenchant criticism of the industrialisation of public services & the policy mistakes made by Governments (Central and local) during the last 35 years makes for compelling, if disturbing, reading.  If the tone of the book sometimes disappoints, the concluding focus on the possibilities for change is redeeming. 

On Monday this was followed by the receipt of a copy of Will Hutton's new book "How Good We Can Be", which I'll be reviewing soon. Hutton's seminal "The State We're In", published 20 years ago, was the first book of its kind I'd ever read & opened my mind to journalism & analysis of politics & the economy. Years later I saw him speak at a conference on austerity & public services, & although I don't always agree with his analyses I hugely admire his work & commitment to public society. Thus far the new text is living up to expectations. 

Monday also saw the publication of Respublica & Core Cities report "Restoring Britain's City States", Alongside recent publications from the RSA & Centre for Cities this report continues the current narrative momentum for English devolution to cities and City Regions, a momentum that continued to a certain extent at Tuesday's NLGN ( annual conference "Looking for a new England" held at the City of London Guildhall.  The keynote address from Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, set out the long road to last year's milestone agreement to create a Greater Manchester Authority , which as he pointed out actually began in 1985! This timescale adds a different perspective to the current scramble to replicate DevoManc in other regions of the country: as was noted by several fellow attendees, the relationships, trust & confidence to break the mould of local government takes time to evolve.

Also noteworthy from the conference was the differing levels of enthusiasm & commitment for devolution between politicians, but not due to the usual tribal loyalties. The strongest voices in favour came from the local politicians (both Labour & Tory) who seemed to be at best dismayed, if not disgruntled, at the lack of trust & understanding shown by Parliamentary colleagues. As was rightly pointed out, few Ministers are likely to vote in favour of giving away hard-won power without understanding the benefits, & it is for local government leaders to make a persuasive case for change. The revolution (if it comes) will be led by the localities, but Richard Leese sounded a warning: any changes are currently made at the whim of Ministers, & that which can be done at the stroke of a pen can just as easily be undone. The need for a new constitutional settlement remains.

Hotfoot from the Guildhall I returned to the Midlands for Tuesday night's RSA West Midlands ( engage event, held at the brilliant & inspiring Impact Hub Brum ( for an evening of networking, conversation & inspiration. Eight pitches for involvement, input & support were made from Fellows aiming to reduce waste, inspire children, design the future, & develop new skills (amongst many other things!). I'm hoping to be involved in a couple of these projects & look forward to getting started, but more than anything came away from the Hub immersed in a sense of shared optimism, enthusiasm & determination to create change. These are difficult times, but as John Seddon points out the opportunities are immense. In the words of Will Hutton, "the challenge is to shape this future rather than be shaped by it."