Torquil Norman has sent me his book, “Kick the tyres, light the fires” for review on this website. He bought the Roundhouse with a charitable fund which he had established from his successful toy business, and renovated it for young people to use for performance and media. Around 6000 young people a year use it, often from difficult backgrounds. His determination raised £30 million for the charity.
His success as an entrepreneur, creating the Big yellow teapot and other subsequent good sellers, was followed by his success as charity fundraiser and inspirer of many a young person through his Roundhouse project. We need more people with such get up and go, willing to take their energy and their cash into the world of the uninspired and down on their lucks.
His book is dedicated to the following main proposition:
“Real freedom brings self reliance and independence of mind which releases unimaginable amounts of enegry. Willingness to fail and openness to change focuses that energy towards solid achievement. But equally, lack of freedom, over-control, too much management and too many rules leads to disinterest, apathy and failure”.
Exactly. The more government seeks to legislate against failure and tries to regulate to prescribe the perfect way to do things, the fewer people who feel they can work through or with the system. Entrepreneurs go on strike and charity workers seek state grants to pay for the Compliance officers they need.
He is very critical of the expensive and complex tax and benefits system, believing it has damaged incentives to work and left more people in poverty than a system which encouraged more self reliance. He favours a National Community service, asking people who have been out of work for longer than six months to carry out some worthwhile work in their community.
He wants to see prison reform, with much more emphasis on educating young people out of crime and helping them find worthwhile things to do. He is conscious of the need to tackle drug addiction and mental health problems which underly a large number of UK prison inmates.
He rightly welcomes the last government’s Total Place initiative to find out how much public money goes into each area and how it can be better spent. He favours much more local and community decision making, and more of the local and charitable initiatives that go in to the Big Society idea.
His book is a hectic, energetic and unruly one. Some of the big ideas are not thought through in detail, with round numbers that would not survive the scrutiny of the civil service. Nonetheless it is a welcome contribution to the debate from an energetic businessman and charity worker. He is someone with passion for reform and a strong social conscience. We have need of many more such people if we are going to turn the Uk round. He is right about the stifling impact of so much heavy handed centralised government.