Archive for August, 2011

Murkyside V – brass necks on parade

I don’t like to preach, but sometimes it seems necessary.  The Daily Post yesterday revealed the legal advice behind the appointment of Mac the Knife to be interim Chief Exec at Liverpool City Council.  It appears some of the advice was ignored.

The conflicts of interest are so blatant it raises some more serious questions about those involved and those around them.  First, would a person with any integrity take up a role that was so evidently compromised?  Second, if they did, when the conflicts are pointed out, would not the response be to resolve these unequivocally?  And what of those around them?  So what are we left with?  People so lacking in a sense of integrity, so ethically compromied, that they will plough on regardless.  Brass neck, or what?

And today we read that the new Chief Exec (mate of the interim) needed a £25k ‘golden hello’.

So, to the preaching.  Lord Nolan, the first chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, set out the Seven Principles of Public Life (listed below).  They are a little idiosyncratic in my view, but nevertheless they highlight some key issues for decision makers.  Can many of the decisions around Mac the Knife and Co stand up against these principles?  And where is the external scrutiny that polices these?

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.

Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Riots – some views from abroad

I have been abroad for the last two weeks and, in that time, a topic of discussion has been the riots and looting.  What has gone wrong in England?  But the comments have not been about the behaviour of the rioters.  Nobody understands it yet and opinion is not really helpful.  Rather, the sense that something has changed in England was prompted more by coverage of some of the harsh sentences being passed.  In particular, the sentences for receiving goods stolen during the riots or those for the futile efforts to incite riot in Warrington have created a strange image of the country.  From abroad, it seems we have lost all sense of proportion.  Is England in the grip of a repressive regime, I am asked.  It certainly looks like it from here.

Riots and solutions

After watching Newsnight last night I am not sure whether we should be amused by our ‘leadership’ or alarmed.  The response to the riots seemed to consist of a series of self-interested statements.  So, for the police, the cuts to pay and conditions need to be reversed.  There would be no riots if police pensions were better?  For Ken Livingstone, cuts in public services are to blame.  Are the people rioting for lack of youth clubs in which to play table tennis?  To suggest there are simple answers is either naive or a deliberate attempt to use the events for other ends.  There are clearly lots of things happening at once, not all of which are easy to understand.  Rioting, looting, other crime in the shadow of the disturbances and, in Liverpool, some ‘copycat’ riots that would scarcely have made the national news in normal circumstances.

Leaping to conclusions about why, who and what should be done only seems to emphasise a sense that there are different (many?) worlds at play, each unable to communicate with or to understand the other(s).

Mea culpa and some strange invitations

It is a while since I have posted anything.  No real excuses, just inertia – it gets harder to post the longer you leave it.  In the intervening weeks, a lot has happened.  But I want to comment on a couple of events.

First, an invitation to speak to an event in London.  I cannot remember the last time I saw so many Tories gathered in one room.  They were from local authorities across the south-east and had a world view I scarcely recognised.  Apparently, the Big Society is alive and well in Windsor and Maidenhead District Council.  That is to say there is more volunteering, but this is in the context of a very small (3% was mentioned) cut in their budget.  The contrast to the north-west was stark indeed.

Second, an invitation to join an Expert Group Meeting at the UN.  This arose as a result of the colloquium I organised with colleagues on administraive history (see: and a special issue of the International Journal of Public Administration to appear shortly).  This seemd an odd interest for the UN to be following up, but an invitation is an invitation.  The event itself was hard work and, to be honest, I am not sure what, if anything, the UN will derive from it.  But it was worth it to hear an ancient historian addressing the assembled to suggest that we haven’t progressed much in 2,000 years.  The problems we face today are very familiar, and the solutions not much different either.