Changing government

Yesterday I was invited to talk to a seminar of public sector executives and some Public Affairs executives of larger companies about the change in the relationship between the individual and the state they could expect from the new government.

I said the word that unites Lib Dems and Conservatives is liberty. We want to give voters back more of their freedoms, and start to demolish the surveillance society, the authoritarian state, the bossy Whitehall knows best inheritance from Labour.

I said they should not feel threatened by this, but liberated themseleves. After years of top down decisions and directions, the public sector would be asked to change and improve through the inititiative and enterprise of its own local leaders. Some might want to set up companies, not for profits, charities or social enterprises to do what the state currently does, only cheaper and better. Some may see ways to do what the state currently does that raise quality and cut costs. It would be difficult to do so little for so much as we do at present. Bright and energetic public sector executives should welcome the coming staff freezes, as that offers them accelerated promotion. Good leaders should see that now their wish to transform and improve their service will be welcomed.

One good example of new thinking is the approach to waste management and recycling. Out go top down targets, bin surveillance, lectures, rules and fines. In will come consumer promotion and reward schemes. The Tesco model works, the dreary hectoring government model does not. If government wants to encourage more recycling, then make it worth people’s while. Then the word will spread and attitudes will change, so recycling becomes natural and a good thing to do. We changed from leaded petrol to unleaded with a tax cut on unleaded – it made it relatively fast and painless.

Today Mr Willetts is raising the issue of how we can have more and better Higher Education without a bigger bill for taxpayers. The issue of how many places to offer in HE is simply resolved.Universities should offer places to all who can reach a suitable standard at A level to mean they can get something out of a University course. Students need to show basic skills, levels of achievement in higher study and an aptitude for self motivated study to do well at university.

The issue of keeping cost down can be tackled in no small measure by looking at the issue of where you go to university. Most people in England live near to a university. They could go to the local one, and save all the rent costs of living away from home. They may also enjoy free or subsidised food by continuing to live at home. If cost is the obstacle to attendance, then keep the living costs down.

Some will want to go to a more distant univeristy because the far away one offers a higher quality course or is a more prestigious institution. Some may wish to go to a far away university because they want to live away from home. For the first category we need to encourage and support more bursary and scholarship schemes for students from lower income families. Higher income families will often support their children to leave home anyway. For the second category that is a life choice which may require and be worth a higher student loan.


  1. ColinD.
    June 10, 2010

    You talk about 'giving voters back more of their freedoms'. I perceive the greatest loss of my own freedoms has occurred as successive governments simply handed over power to the EU and thereby destroyed democracy. This is the 'elephant in the room' and you don't even give it a mention. Why?

  2. Mike Stallard
    June 10, 2010

    Well, that is exactly why we are going to set up a new school right here in Wisbech.

  3. waramess
    June 10, 2010

    Why restrict it to "not for profit"? Who then will provide the capital for such an enterprise without seeking a return on their funds?

    Oh, poor old taxpayer again, eh? And under duress as usual.

    Just goes to show that even good solid right wingers get taken in by a bit of socialist guff from time to time.

    Reply: I will add for profit as well! I took that for granted.

  4. Antisthenes
    June 10, 2010

    The public sector is going to be a thorn in the side of the Government in the months and years to come and there is nothing much the government can do to avert it. This will be Cameron's Thatcher moment pretty much as Thatcher had to stand up to the unions so Cameron will have to stand up to the likes of Unison and like Thatcher he has to win. I hope the government has foreseen this and have factored it into their game plan if not then the coalition may split and the country will vote the buffoons back into office and all that portends.

  5. Simon
    June 10, 2010

    As an employee in a Whitehall dept I welcome these comments and relish the prospect of the changes they represent.

    what we need, and quickly, is to make this all real. make that 5% cut, tell us that pay is frozen until 2014 but that there will be no compulsory redundancies, put in place a voluntary redundancy scheme, I can tell you many colleagues will jump at the chance.

    I am worried about the entrepreneurial part; worried that colleagues simply do not know what that means.

    We are still, today, funding hugely expensive IT Projects based on the technology and project management practices that I saw swept away in the Private Sector 10-15 years ago.

    The web site I deliver still comes under attack from colleagues who think the web is not a place that HMG should do business; the prestigious, multiple million pound flagship IT project is still the place to be; All embracing, running for years and years, consuming all the available funding with delivery dates out until 2016

    This is old fashioned, wrong headed and starves anything else from funding. Using the web site I am responsible for we could deliver much of the essential functionality for hundreds of thousands in a few months that we currently loan to deliver for hundreds of millions in a few years. I say nothing will be delivered.

    I just hope we get the political ministerial leadership we need to cut through this crap and get to the place you describe Mr Redwood, and I am sincere about this. I really do accept and indeed am excited about your vision but when I go into the office shortly I will still find the money pouring into an old fashioned, ponderous project already running for years, delivering nothing for years and with the pay back benefits (dubious in my view) stretching out to 2018 and
    beyond. And all staffed by consultants on massive salaries.

    Meanwhile, on the front line, we still use official cars, diplomatic bags and blokes with suitcases cuffed to their wrists to carry discs containing data from a to b as well a crazy carousel of sending faxes to people having added some printouts to the original fax they
    sent to us!

    Challenging this puts me in a risky position so I make occasional comments but mostly keep my head down. I hate this but best not to seem like a maverick, too risky to my prospects.

    is our Minister aware of this or are we doing a Yes Minister on him?

    There is talk of change but so far that is all. Believe me I could deliver through the web site I manage in days and weeks radical, instant improvements direct to critical services using British designed technology but policy, risk aversion and the rest stops colleagues grabbing this solution and the inertia and false thinking continues, and the money continue to pour away!

    1. Mike Stallard
      June 10, 2010

      This is a really inspiring cri de coeur!

      June 11, 2010

      Simon – this is exactly what we all need. Someone who speaks authoratitively and with conviction from inside the tummy of the monster!

      Do keep going and refresh us all with your thinking.

  6. a-tracy
    June 10, 2010

    Are you really suggesting that if you want to study Mathematics having obtained four A's at A level and working extremely hard all the way through a State mid-league comprehensive school and none of the top 20 institutions are within 70 miles of where you live, in fact the first university that is commutable by train and a bus ride is near 50th in the ranking, that because of your parents unfortunate postcode and working class wages you should settle for your local lower respected degree university?

    Reply: No – you would win a scholarship

    1. a-tracy
      June 10, 2010

      Where would your cut off for scholarship support come in, similar to EMAs where if your parents working full time both earning £15,500 pa gross each means that you're just over the limit so no support. Or current Maintenance Grants where the amount reduces significantly if you are from a similar family and disappears around £19,000 gross per parent pa? It seems to me that if you're from a solid, together, hardworking family you pay your own way, disciplined, good behaviour is expected and unrewarded all through school where around you children get free vouchers just for turning up half the week. There is talk that child benefit for such couples could be in the melting pot as well as child tax credit, where if I remember right wasn't a welfare benefit at all, it was the old married mans tax allowance that was only then given to couples with children in school.

  7. a-tracy
    June 10, 2010

    In addition to my previous comment, I guess you still believe in social mobility? Politicians will spend millions on low skilled, unemployed feckless people, and multiple baby making numpties, yet those social movers and parents who get up and go (to work full time) are to be punished. How do you get the best opportunities for three children with different specialities when the rates go punishing even if they are more talented than fortunately born Oxford and Cambridge born children and others who happen to live in choice university areas. One thing that keeps some High schools at the top of the league is the way they creme off the best and brightest from the larger catchment area of switched on parents, when our top institutions fish from a much smaller local pool I suppose it will free back up places for the children of wealthy parents in safe jobs who can afford the higher accommodation and higher fees. There'll be grants for the children of parents who split up, there'll be sponsorship for the well connected but poor and all those in the middle will be expected to settle for what they can afford locally. One day Britain will be Great again – Pwah!

    1. Mark
      June 10, 2010

      I'd actually like to see a return to state funding on scholarship basis for all first degrees and higher qualifications similar to the HND etc. After all, we don't charge school fees for state education, and people who display aptitude get paid to do jobs rather than paying for the privilege of doing a job. That would mean a much lower proportion of university students, and rather more on shorter courses as used to be the case. Anyone who failed to achieve the necessary standard could apply for courses, but would need to fund them to defray the risk of failure.

      Equally, I would like to see opportunities extended within the school system to those with ability: that might mean assisted places and scholarships as well as grammar schools (although I would like to see selection for these over a broad age range, with the option to move elsewhere for those who don't maintain early academic promise).

      It is also true that we see teens who "mess up" but then sort themselves out and catch up. I'm a strong supporter of the OU and other adult education opportunities that allow these people to shine with their true colours.

      I think it is important that there are ways for the self worth of those who lack academic ability to develop. They will then make a contribution to society and have respect.

  8. Norman
    June 10, 2010

    I was sceptical of the new government, the 'Big Society' (still not quite sure what that means – localism rather than centralisation I think which is a very good thing) and all the rest of it but I am warming to Mr Cameron and the governments agenda.

    I just wish he'd be a bit more bold about things and not be scared of the BBC / Guardianistas branding him a throwback to Mrs Thatcher (that should be worn as a badge of honur) when putting forward ideas.

    I don't know why you're so out of favour too, whether it is this desire to shed all vestiges of the roaring success we had in the 1980's or some other reason but it's the country's loss. One can only hope that you are having a significant influence behind the scenes and helping to prod Ministers in the right direction.

    1. rose
      June 11, 2010

      The only time Dave gets on my nerves is when he allows the media to report he has moved on from Mrs T and that there is such a thing as "Society". In fact the BIg Society is only his and Oliver's way of saying exactly what she said to Woman's Own when lamenting people's habit of casting their problems on "Society": …" but there is no such thing as "Society" – there are only individual men and women, and their are families…." – i.e. we all have to do our little bit to help each other and the country. This is where Liberals and Conservatives have had most in common, in complete contrast to socialists. For the long view look back to Gladstone and the Derbies, as well as Disraeli and Churchill.

  9. no one
    June 10, 2010

    dont introduce catchment areas for universitys please, its bad enough that catchment areas of schools is such a divisive part of the current society in the uk

    funding should continue to let students choose uni's not based on how near they are to their current address, but how close they are to their needs, and this is one of the only ways to keep universitys on their toes

    if you take away student choice then you end up with an nhs model, and customers with no choice get rubbish service

    and by the way the uni that meets my needs best might not be the one that meets your needs the best, thats good, we already know individuals will make better choices than top down definition of "excellence"

  10. Mark
    June 10, 2010

    I'm a passionate believer in education as a way for people to be able to improve themselves. Unfortunately, hiving off universities and other tertiary education from schools doesn't make for joined up policy, but it has allowed Labour to redefine the agenda in terms of social engineering targets that bear no relationship to aptitudes.

    It seems Willetts has fallen for the trap . Instead of recognising that we have seen a massive dumbing down of educational standards so that today's school leavers need to go to a "university" to attain the standards that their predecessors managed at school, he assumes that adding to the student numbers is the solution. A joined up policy would see school qualification standards enhanced, so that school leavers have something worthwhile to offer employers. Many fewer students would then need to go on to expensive three and four year degree courses to achieve their potential, consuming resources and incurring debts and not being in a position to earn a living. Some of them could benefit from shorter courses, as used to be offered by Polytechnics. None of them would waste time on courses that add no economic value to them as students. The general increase in productivity from restoring educational standards could allow substantial savings in the budget.

    At the same time, the consequences of inadequate education on those whose schooling has suffered from Labour's dumbing down of standards will need to be addressed. That means offering opportunities to those who have missed out to attain the standards that schools ought to have inculcated – one of the main reasons we have so many NEETs (who are likely to become welfare dependent) is that there is a lack of appropriate education to do this. This is another reason why schools and further education should be under a unified education department.

    June 11, 2010

    In our part of Essex we are fortunate in being able to put all recyclable items into a single container for sorting at the depot. In fact there is so much that most of us put it into several plastic shopping bags to be collected weekly (as is general waste).
    As part of a more enlightened approach every council should follow this example we believe and employ lesser skilled folk to do the sorting. Also the local authority should tell us just what happens to our recycled products so we know exactly what is worth putting into the recycle bags to ease the job of the sifters and sorters.

    June 11, 2010

    "Bright and energetic public sector executives should welcome the coming staff freezes, as that offers them accelerated promotion. Good leaders should see that now their wish to transform and improve their service will be welcomed."

    Excellent argument. Let's hope it's put firmly to those dreary trade union leaders to drive a wedge between them and their brighter members.

    David Blanchflower talked on radio today about the USA system whereby students are means-tested AFTER acceptance; those with families where incomes are less than $75,000 pa are allowed to apply for reduction/exemption of fees.
    Higher fees are paid by the rest in a graduated scale up to $55,000 per year (similar to attending a top private school). Sounds like a fair system to consider here.
    Various ideas of attending a local uni, 2-year courses and using the internet more are steps in the right direction. And how old-fashioned is it for students – many of them with a dozen hours or less of lectures a week – to find casual paid work to supplement their grant?

  13. ChrisH
    June 11, 2010

    Although some of the ideas for introducing "distance-learning" O.U-style lectures are quite sound, you can't do it very well for most of the science and engineering degrees. These always require hands-on practical work, thus need specialist expensive lab equipment. Also, what is this about students only having a dozen hours of lectures per week? I suggest they get onto a physics degree course at a good university; plenty of lecturing hours on offer, for all three years!
    We are fortunate to live within daily travelling distance of four universities, two of them Russell Group, a fact which our son made good use of. It would be interesting to point out that virtually all his friends in the sixth-form were absolutely desperate to move as far away as possible for their University places; seemingly to escape their parents!

  14. nonny mouse
    June 11, 2010

    I had an idea about privatising parts of the higher education system.

    Rather than privatising institutions, privatising particular courses and charging students full fees for them. The idea would be to cut back on state provision of subjects like media studies but allow the private sector to provide them instead. They could even rent state sector facilities.

    See my blog for more information.

  15. rose
    June 11, 2010

    The best thing the Liberals did here in Bristol was to make simple arrangements for rubbish collection: recycling once a week; the residue once a fortnight. No chips, no spies, no fines, and no bribes (nb this last, Coalition) – just common sense. So you put out as much once a week as you can, i.e. glass, paper, tins, foil, batteries, rags, shoes, waste food, cardboard – and your reward is to get rid of it asap. The residue once a fortnight is then very little and very light. The noisy automatic lifting machinery operated by the diesel-fuelled lorries should therefore be redundant.
    Only problem – and it is a big one – is the HMOs who just put it all out on the pavement unsorted and not at all compact, 7 days a week. But they wd be doing that however often it was collected, and certainly wouldn't bother to co-operate with bribes.

  16. David in Kent
    June 14, 2010

    Universities could make it much easier for poor-but-hard-working students to attend. There are many paying jobs on campus which could be reserved for students. The experience of having financed their own education would also be good for students and good for their relations with the university.

  17. christina sarginson
    June 15, 2010

    I gasped when I read this blog. I was a public sector work in my previous life and left it to set up a social enterprise focusing on equality and diversity. I had a job as a senior manager and the salary allowed me to have nice holidays and a very high standard of living, which I really enjoyed.
    Ten years ago I left the safety of the public sector to have a life in business which although exciting, challenging and liberating it can also be stressful and difficult to plan a life outside work. It requires a lot of very hard work with little reward. When I think of some of my colleagues who still work in the public sector I cannot see them giving up a life of safety and can’t blame them. Although with the planned cuts they may have no choice.
    If we want to encourage social enterprise and entrepreneurs and the skills they bring, they will need help and support. I hope someone will provide this.

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