Archive for February, 2011

Forgetting our purpose?

An interesting programme on Channel 4 last night – Heston Blumenthal to turn around Alder Hey Children’s Hospital catering.  I do not want to question whether what Heston developed is great (it probably was) or whether the change is sustainable (it needs work and imagination….).  What I found interesting was the fact that the senior staff seemed to have lost sight of their purpose.  The catering seemed to care more about the food served to senior managers than to the children the hospital serves.  I have noted this sort of behaviour in other contexts and in earlier posts.  But I worry that we are seeing more of this sort of thinking emerging as the cuts are announced and begin to bite.

Too much focus is on the loss of jobs in public agencies and not on the declining or disappearing levels of services.  For example, Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, said that the hardest thing about making cuts in the budget last week was the 1,500 job losses.  Surely, the hardest thing is the loss of children’s centres and other measures announced?  This might be the result of staff losses, but the local authority does not exist to employ people – that is not its purpose.

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Liverpool, the Big Society and the Big Con

So, Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, has written to pull out of the Big Society.  In one sense, I am not surprised.  It has always seemed an insubstantial policy.  Why cooperate with central government when there are big cuts being imposed on the city?  However, I wonder whether there is more to this and, at the same time, a degree of danger in the approach taken by Anderson.

At the time of the launch last July, I suggested that the City Council might use the city’s ‘vanguard’ status to squeeze extra resources from the government.  It appears to have failed and this is at the heart of Joe Anderson’s statements on TV etc yesterday.

However, at the time of the launch, Phil Redmond was the key contact in Liverpool, not the City Council.  Clearly the city needed to be a partner, but the very point of the Big Society is to reduce the role of the state and to encourage citizens and communities to act on their own behalf.  It appears that Phil Redmond remains committed to the ‘vanguard’ status, despite slow progress and this latest setback.  Is there, then, a risk that the government calls their bluff and welcomes the City Council’s withdrawal?  Now would be the time for them to offer resources or support, but to by-pass the city entirely.  From the perspective of some ideologues, this might be the best news in a long time.  A council withdraws from the stage, leaving civil society institutions to take the lead.

They were always strange bedfellows, Anderson and Eric Pickles.  Too alike?  It was bound to end in tears….

 

Murkyside IV

I have, in the past, been less than excited by the Freedom of Information Act.  But, it does have its uses.  And Julian Todd, hats off to him, has persisted in using it to reveal the details of the Liverpool Direct Limited contract with Liverpool City Council.  I am no expert, and I suspect the question is not about law but about value and commercial good sense, but the contract is now open to public scrutiny.  Any experts out there might want to view it: http://files.whatdotheyknow.com/request/liverpool_direct_bt_contracts/unredacted/.

All opinions welcome.