In our very first report, Metro Growth: The UK’s economic opportunity, the City Growth Commission presented an evidenced case arguing that economic growth is driven by cities. We’ve since set out to identify the ways in which cities in the UK can fully exploit their economic potential, whether it’s through investing in the progression of the low-skilled and low paid, or evolving our infrastructure for example. If there is a key takeaway here it’s that city-regions (metros) should have greater autonomy to do what’s right for them locally. More powers should be devolved to metros with a proven track record of good governance – and these should include new freedoms and flexibilities over immigration policy.
I’m not going to bury you in numbers or shout about all of the ways in which immigrants in the UK contribute to economic growth; these arguments are often drowned out, but are legitimate and should be taken as given. Also, while the numbers are important, the Commission considered more than just the math and the money when thinking about where we stand on immigration.
‘Designers were considering sustainability before sustainability really existed.’ It wasn’t what I expected to hear from an internationally renowned designer, but then it seems to be the job of designers to defy expectations.
This particular designer, Terence Woodgate, rose from humble beginnings in North London to become one of the RSA’s Royal Designers for Industry (RDI), the highest accolade for a designer in the UK and acclaimed for his exquisite furniture and lighting. After failing his 11+ and with dyslexia misdiagnosed as lack of aptitude, he was steered towards woodwork and found a niche in technical drawings – and maths. An apprenticeship at Gordon’s gin plant in Clerkenwell found him designing machines to stamp wax crests onto bottles, and was followed by work in the petrochemicals industry and travel in Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until his 30’s that Woodgate trained as a furniture designer.
One of Woodgate’s heroes is the iconic designer Charles Eames, who famously said: ‘I have never been forced to accept compromises but I have willingly accepted constraints’. Woodgate takes this a step further, declaring: ‘You have to be passionate about every constraint’. For him, this includes the material constraints that must be taken into account when designing for reusability or recyclability, and he maintains that it is the job of the designer to know about the whole life cycles of a product’s components. More than anyone, it is the designers of ‘cheap stuff’ who should be thinking about the lifespan of a product: ‘Because those are the first things that are going to be thrown away!’
‘You have to be passionate about every constraint’
Disabled people have been talked about a lot this week. First, it emerged that a Conservative party councillor and the minister for welfare reform discussed whether certain disabled people were “worth the full [sic: minimum] wage,” with Lord Freud bandying around £2 an hour as a ballpark. Next, there were rowdy exchanges in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions as Ed Miliband seemed to call for Freud’s dismissal from government. #LordFreud, implausibly, has trended on Twitter for three days now. Arguments swirled on last night’s BBC Question Time as everybody condemned the minister’s language while attacking Labour’s Angela Eagle MP for using the issue as a “political football”. And yet, unfortunately, disabled people’s own voices have not been at the forefront of the public discussion.
In creating prosperity across the UK in coming decades, universities need to be front and centre of strategies for growth and competitiveness.
Universities produce research which stimulates commercial and social innovation. Universities generate spin-outs and entrepreneurs among their students, and provide adults with a range of high level skills which are increasingly in demand in the workplace.
Our university sector in the UK is a gem. With six universities ranked among the top 20 globally, the UK has the best publicly-supported system of higher education in the world. Research activities achieve significant bang for the buck against international comparison. One third of the productivity gains made between 1995 and 2004 were down to the rising number of graduates. Read more
Over the last few weeks, London buses have been adorned with adverts for secondary schools, vying for parents’ attention. Parents and their children have until the end of this month to state their preferences for schools. The tangle of oversubscription criteria that vary by school make this, by all accounts, a stressful process and something of a strategic game.
Yet for those who miss the ride and apply after 31st October, or try to move to a new school during the year, gaining a place at the right school may be much harder. I’ve been thinking about this group since handing in my Masters dissertation last month. Although my research was not focused on in-year admissions, in the process of answering a different question I unearthed evidence regarding what happens to these pupils in the admissions merry-go-round. As a non-expert on in-year admissions, I found the results both surprising and very worrying.
This guest blog is from Dr Elizabeth McClelland, who became a Fellow in January 2014. Elizabeth has been working with RSA Education on plans to expand her programme Move4Words to many more schools in England. You can contact her at www.move4words.org.uk where you also find out more about the research evidence.
I was a research scientist in a former life – Royal Society Research fellow for 10 years at Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford University, then University Lecturer and Director of the Palaeomagnetism research laboratory at Oxford between 1997 and 2003. In 1998, I suddenly became very ill with an unknown virus which temporarily robbed me of the ability to speak coherently, to understand speech or written language or to control my muscles properly. All my facilties came back over the following couple of months, except my ability to read fluently. I could read single words, but couldn’t make sense of a paragraph. I was still lecturing at Oxford, I could do my numerical research, gave talks at conferences and even touch-typed a couple of papers (although was unable to proof-read them). It was incredibly frustrating. Eventually, I found a private physio who used a physical activity programme to help children with dyslexia, and she showed me that I’d lost the ability to control my eye movements, and had lost some cross-body muscular control. She showed me some simple physical and visual exercises, which I practised several times a day, and, remarkably, my reading started to improve after a couple of weeks, and within 2 months it was back to my original rapid reading. It was so dramatic, I vowed to find out more and to do what I could to help others in the same way.
Here at the RSA, we want to increase the power to create; our belief that all should have the freedom and power to turn their ideas into reality. Crowdfunding is a technology that helps people to get funding to launch their ideas. So I thought I’d share how four variations of crowdfunding technology are being used to launch ideas:
- beyond “£x0,000 pledged from x,000 backers so far” and “Joe Bloggs backed us”
- corporate social responsibility made easy
- we know crowdfunding can be used to help make films, but it can also make audiences too
- crowdsourcing crowdfunding (what do these words even mean??!).
The pill that promises to help problematic drinkers, who consume half a bottle of wine or have a couple of pints of beer a day, to drink less is a hard one to swallow.
Nalmefene, which costs £3 per tablet, may soon be offered by the NHS in England and Wales to around 750,000 habitual drinkers who are regularly drinking more than the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines. It will not be available to severe alcohol-dependent people or those deemed able to stop by themselves without the help of medical intervention. Read more
Our focus on climate change has been temporarily displaced by other work, but from mid November, in partnership with COIN we’ll be intensifying preparation for 5 RSA public events from January-May 2015 as part of our project The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change.(Democracy,Economy,Law,Technology,Science,Culture,Behaviour) As things stand, the planned events look wonderfully risky (not just talking heads…) so watch this space in about a month. To keep those climate embers bright (rather than burning…) in the meantime, here are ten things(with some of the 7 dimensions captured more than once) that have caught my attention during the last few months:
1. Democracy: The global climate marches were an inspiring sight. I recently argued, slightly too strongly I suspect, that it would have been even better if the generic call for ‘action’ was clarified, but that was a quibble really- demonstrations of that scale can be hugely galvanising. A friend in New York said the best part of the march was the moment of shared silence beforehand as the assembled masses contemplated what they were about to do and why. The marches also gave rise to an evocative expression that may be the key to climate solutions: “If you want to change EVERYTHING, you need EVERYONE.” Nobody quite knows its provenance though you can find Bill McKibben(a huge climate star in the US, barely known in the UK) reflect on it here at 32.40 (HTs @Mariegasha, Adam Corner and Jonathan Rose)
2. Law: While major Oil companies are now on record as saying they don’t believe Governments will act in a manner that is consistent with the totemic 2 degrees target, Mark Carney, The Governor of the Bank of England just made an announcement that acknowledged the reality of the carbon bubble at the heart of the global economy. Simply stated, the world’s projected economic health is based on a false premise i.e. that we can access valuable fossil fuel reserves for the foreseeable future. This is no small matter, and potentially much worse for the global economy than the housing bubble that caused devastation in 2008.
3. Democracy: The Naomi Klein show has recently graced the UK. I am slowly reading her book ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism against the Climate” and enjoyed her Guardian event chaired by Owen Jones. Her emphasis on the ‘bad timing’ of climate change; arriving in public consciousness just as the public realm is in retreat is a crucial point – and axiomatic for her claim that solutions to climate change involve mass social mobilisation and fundamentally rethinking capitalism. I need to reserve judgement until I have finished the book, but I suspect I will end up agreeing with Adam Corner. Adam wrote an excellent summary and critique on COIN’s website here. The depth, scale and complexity of the problem suggests to me that any meaningful climate victory will not be a victory for the left, but more like a growth in human consciousness and cooperation that transcends left and right.
4. Economy: I am not sure how directly Klein engages with the question of economic growth, but it’s a fundamental fault line on climate questions, as I wrote here. I was delighted to see a more advanced version of this argument by David Roberts (a climate writer recently back from a year’s sabbatical!) in an outstanding piece responding to some lazy articles by people who should know better- Paul Krugman (and Chris Huhne) among them- who suggest that technology means we can decouple growth from emissions in absolute terms in a timely enough way (maybe we can, but David Roberts explains what they need to explain to make sense of how.)
5. Technology: On the other hand, a few months ago I was really impressed by a piece that had somehow escaped me about the failures of environmentalism. It’s from 2004, but there have been updated versions since in book form, and the authors now run ‘The Breakthrough Institute’. In essence these ex NGO activists who used to think very differently now argue that the only hope for climate change is a commitment to certain kinds of growth that aim to transform the material basis of the economy. For instance, two of the main proponents of this world, Nordhaus and Shellenbenger argue: “Environmentalists like to emphasize the ways in which the economy depends on ecology, but they often miss the ways in which thinking ecologically depends on prospering economically.” (p6 Breakthrough, 2007)
6. Culture: I don’t know what I think about that yet, but I suspect David Roberts is right that timing is the key question, and that is not particularly intuitive for human thinking or for our cultural discourse more generally. We are prone to deciding between what are effectively ideological visions on the basis of coherence, facts, and values, but with climate change the question becomes even more complex because it’s not so much a matter of what should we do in principle, but rather what should we do given that we have so little time to do it. As Bill McKibben puts it in the video mentioned above: “The physics of global warming are such that if we don’t get it right quickly, we don’t get it right.”
7. Technology: My inclination is to view climate change more as an adaptive challenge(about people, cultures, feelings, psychologies) than a technical problem (clear policy levers, technological change, simple interventions) but that’s a personal bias based on background, and clearly it is both. In this respect this report on ‘Deep Decarbonisation‘ led by Jeffrey Sachs is noteworthy – he believes global negotiations on emissions are much less likely to succeed than government commitments to the technological infrastructure. Put that way, he might be right, but he seems to overlook or underestimate potential solutions at the level of behaviour or culture that impact indirectly on such international talks – as the global marches said loud and clear: the political mandate ultimately comes from us.
8. Economy: And political pressure and economic change happen in tandem. Lots of really influential bodies have begun divesting in fossil fuels and in some cases reinvesting in renewable energy. For instance, recognising the threat to public health, The British Medical Association did it, recognising the moral case, lots of Churches and Quakers have done it, and following the intellectual and moral lead of many US Universities, Glasgow University became the first European University to divest- good on them! That’s quite a bit of momentum on divestment now; slowly but surely fossil fuels are becoming socially stigmatised – the key point of this process, as argued by this influential Oxford University report.
9. Science: All of this is of course premised on Science, and there was an exceptional report released earlier this year by UCL about how Climate Scientists need to form a new social contract with society, both improving their communication based on the kinds of understanding that underpin our work in Social Brain; and, just as important, getting more directly engaged with the policy implications of their work – an excellent and very important read.
10. Behaviour: Finally (for now), it has never occurred to me to write an open letter to Nigel Farage! (The very idea…) But I came upon one well worth reading. Farage’s love of alleged common sense, pints and, crucially- being seen to be drinking pints is well known, but his sceptical if not downright dismissive thoughts on climate change are less salient. I was therefore impressed by Geographer Joe Smith’s charming pitch to help him see sense on climate change which can be summarised thus: ‘let’s have a pint and talk about the weather.’
Jonathan Rowson is author of “A New Agenda on Climate Change: Facing up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels.”
You can follow him @Jonathan_Rowson
Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) education is back on the political agenda. Best defined as “…the training of good human beings, purposeful and wise, themselves with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society that makes that possible”, politicians in a post-Govian world are waking up to the idea that churning our children through an exam factory system of schooling may not be the best way to develop well-rounded citizens. And so SMSC is now in vogue, with the Lib Dems wanting Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education to include content on mental health and sexting, Nicky Morgan’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference commenting on the need for ‘character’ education and Labour recently reiterating their long-held view that Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) should be made mandatory (and you can also read the RSA’s own recommendations on SMSC education here). Read more