State or private – it’s the wrong question

July 22, 2014 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

A recent twitter spat about which of the new set of DFE Ministers are privately educated has got me thinking about whether and how far it matters where the DFE Ministers went to school. My conclusion: state or private is the wrong question.

I’m tempted to leave it there – it’s a hot day and there are other things I should be doing – but let me explain…. Read more

Global Fellowship in Action: the RSA in Brussels!

July 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

This is the second in a series of blogs exploring the work of Fellows across the world and is a guest blog by Alain Ruche, RSA Connector for Belgium.

With the Fellowship present in nearly 100 countries, and new ideas regularly springing up, we are in exciting times for the international impact of the RSA.  If you would like to find out more or have ideas of your own, please contact Laura Southerland of the International team who will be happy to assist you.

Garage Culturel As the European capital and a vibrant city, Brussels has great potential for growing a dynamic RSA Fellowship network. Since I joined the Society three years ago and became the RSA Connector for Belgium, I have been gathering Fellows at the wonderful Garage Culturel which my wife Olga, now a Fellow as well, is running at our place. With Olaf, the latest newcomer to the group, we have been stubbornly meeting on the first Friday of every month between 18.00 and 20.30 for about 8 months now.

Growing a community of Fellows outside of the UK is not without its challenges – we recently opted for organising a social event mixing Fellows with non-Fellows whom we believe might be interested in joining, or share the same values and interests as Fellows of the RSA. Among the attendees, were several accomplished artists (dancers, actors and a pianist); representatives of international organisations (British Council, Club of Rome), diplomats, academics, NGO professionals, social activists and EU officials – in total, 35 people representing 15 nationalities from four continents. The evening was lively and entertaining as we were able to hire a jazz band comprised of a number of talented young musicians.

We are now thinking of testing another approach with our network in order to invite discussion around important social issues. A member of the group will introduce a topic and initiate a meaningful conversation, followed by socialising for those who would like to stay on. We will adopt the ‘etiquette’ of the world’s cafes: connect, listen carefully, ask focused questions, look for new insights, allow for disagreement but avoid pushing individual agendas. Such a meeting would end with a concrete action that all involved can endeavor to undertake in the short term. We will be starting this new format in September and as RSA Connector, I will be introducing the first topic – ‘the role of culture in international relations.’

Then in late September we will welcome Michael Bauwens FRSA at the Garage to lead a conversation on the emerging collaborative paradigm of which he is himself a world-known actor, as founder of the P2P Foundation.

We remain persistent in our mission to raise the profile of the RSA in Brussels. We believe that we can have fun and meaningful conversations. The Garage is a great place to meet people and connect. I happen also to be a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar and of the Club of Rome EU Chapter, and a global ambassador of Kosmos Journal, but every one of us has useful connections to bring to the table. Recent research shows that connections within local neighbourhoods provide a more powerful means of relating to the world than long distance contacts.

Let’s build on this social capital together and see what emerges from it!

If you are a Fellow based in Brussels and would like to join the emerging Brussels network then get in touch with Alain, at ruche_alain@yahoo.fr. Information about the next meeting at the Garage Culturel is detailed below:

When? Thursday 25 September 2014, 7-10pm

Where? www.garageculturel.com, 79 rue D’Albanie, B-1060

Who? Michael Bauwens FRSA

About? The emerging P2P paradigm

 

How to Increase Political Party Membership by using the Tricks of the Web

July 10, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Membership of Britain’s political parties has been declining since its heyday in the 1950s.  Both the main parties have under 200,000 members, meaning they are able to attract less than one-third of one percent of the population to their ranks.  Membership of the National Trust is eight times the combined membership of all the parties together.  Yet, despite numerous initiatives, none have been able to reverse the trend, let alone attract a substantial new following.

              Political Party Membership

Political Party Membership

Labour have gone furthest in trying something new, with Ed Miliband creating a ‘registered supporter’ whereby you can register your support for £3 and in return take part in party leadership elections.  I doubt this has made much difference as it is a compromise rather than a well thought through, radical change in direction – they’re called supporters so members won’t get upset, but you can’t just call them supporters as anyone can support the party so they have to be registered supporters.  Who is inspired by being a registered supporter?   Worthy certainly, but hardly imagination grabbing.

The internet has opened up new ways of connecting, altered the way that organisations engage with their customers, changed the way people think and captured terabytes of information, yet political party membership has remained fundamentally unaltered.

If we were to take this new world and apply it to membership of political parties what would they look like?

Read more

The revolution starts at closing time

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Today’s launch of the ippr’s Condition of Britain report coincided (I’ll assume by accident) with the Centre for Policy Studies launch of The Policy. The fixture clash reminded me of my ex-colleague Temi’s Ogunye’s brilliant article for The Independent, arguing that ‘The left can be too clever for its own good. We need to translate think tank speak into plain English’. Contrast these two reports:

Condition of Britain: “This landmark report argues for a new approach to politics and public action driven by the goals of spreading power, fostering contribution and strengthening shared institutions.” 

The Policy: Abolish corporation tax for small companies; abolish capital gains tax for investors in small companies.

Condition of Britain: 28 recommendations

The Policy: 2 recommendations (see above)

This is probably an unfair comparison; the ippr’s report was deliberately wide-ranging and systematic, capturing the concerns of thousands. The CPS idea came from Maurice Saatchi, one of their trustees, underpinned by a small amount of empirical data. So I won’t take this comparison further (especially as I haven’t read either report properly).

Matthew Taylor’s blog gives a deeper analysis of the strengths and flaws in the Condition of Britain approach and Ed Miliband’s response. With a football match to get home to, all I’ll say now is that every party’s commitment to localism (and attitude to local authorities within that commitment) needs severe and forensic stress-testing before anyone should believe any of it. Which precise powers are you prepared to give away, to who, and for how long? What rights of redress or re-centralisation will you retain? Otherwise, as I wrote in my last blog recommending that all Lib Dem ministers resign this summer, ‘whoever is in office, the centralisers are in power’.

 

Image courtesy of Cherry Red Records

Joe Hallgarten is Director of Education at the RSA. @joehallg

 

Time for some clear yellow water: Should all Liberal Democrat ministers resign?

May 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Uncategorized 

lib dem manifesto

Yesterday’s predicted and predictable local election disaster for the Liberal Democrats may be meaningless this time next year. If their core vote forgives some of their soul-selling, and no other party gains its own overall majority, the Lib Dems could arrive in May 2015 with a similar number of MPs and a meal ticket to form another coalition.

It will, however, be a different party from the one which formed a government in 2010. International Development Minister Lynn Featherstone confessed on Question Time yesterday that the Liberal Democrats have lost some of their ‘humanity’ since joining the coalition. Her explanation that the party has become too ‘ministerial’, may only partly explain this (it’s not as if the electorate perceives the Labour opposition as having humanity in spades), but there is little doubt that national power has changed the Liberal Democrat DNA.

One of the unintended yet refreshing aspects of this coalition government has been an unearthing of the power of open policymaking. Whilst the Cabinet Office is trying this through sophisticated, design-led processes, politicians have been getting on with it. Cross-party ministerial teams have been prepared to reveal the tensions, debates and doubts that are an inevitable part of policymaking processes.  The disagreements have been substantive, in the best possible way – they have revealed the substance of policy debates, rather than the style of clashing egos – the ‘froth’, as Tony Blair used to dismiss various internecine New Labour squabbles.

When we met with David Laws last week (squeezed between various free school/free school meals rows and rapprochements) to discuss our report into teacher education and research, he was as focused as ever on the job in hand, especially the effective implementation of current policies.  However, with policy development more-or-less concluded for this Parliament (with the important but cross-party exception of the Modern Slavery Bill), there is now a strong argument for all Liberal Democrat Ministers to resign from their posts, in an orderly and non-grumpy way, before they depart for Summer holidays. There have already been rumblings of plans for a  happy divorce, but I’d suggest that it’s up to the Lib Dems to take the initiative on this. If some kind of mutual non-disclosure agreement is necessary to prevent Jerry Springer-like mudslinging between current and former ministers, then so be it (although with Clegg, Gove and advisers involved, any truce is unlikely to hold for long).

Liberal Democrat Ministers deserve some time out of office to create some clear yellow water between themselves and the administration they have been part of. This is not just about the development of catchy pupil premium-like ideas for the next manifesto. Next time, the concept of coalition does not need to take them by surprise.  Liberal Democrats need to rethink how their approach to their next possible coalition needs to be underpinned by a clearer set of principles which return the party to their historical roots and traditions, especially relating to localism.

What was most surprising about Nick Clegg’s ‘free school meals for all’ policy, apart from its shaky evidence base and partially regressive nature, is the lack of commitment it revealed to the principles of school autonomy. Schools could not be trusted to make their own budgetary decisions on this issue. Similarly, less excusable than their unavoidable climbdown on tuition fees (they are the minority party, after all) was their blind rubberstamping of the government’s top-down health reforms – I say blind , given that Nick Clegg allegedly did not even read the proposals before giving them his blessing. One Liberal Democrat 2010 Manifesto proposal which has been barely mentioned since is the idea of a local income tax. Given current concerns about regional disparities in wealth and growth, and the Conservatives’ half-hearted attempts to devolve power to local communities (look and laugh at the front cover of their 2010 Manifesto), this idea is worthy of proper reconsideration.

conservative-manifesto-2010

A period of reflection, on deckchairs, backbenches, and constituency surgery chairs, could enable the Liberal Democrats to use their experience of holding office to think pragmatically about how their commitment to localism should manifesto itself in both manifesto and in future negotiations about the next coalition. Otherwise, to adapt an old phrase, ‘Whoever is in office, the centralisers are always in power’.

Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education    @joehallg

Linking local growth with local politics

May 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Guest post by Daniel Goodwin FRSA (Chief Executive, St Albans City & District Council, 2006 – 2012)

The recent RSA conference Developing Socially Productive Places asked some important questions about the nature of economic growth and spatial development. The underlying concern being to ensure that the long term impact and social value of development needs thinking through carefully. Read more

Could public procurement reduce excessive pay?

April 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Social Economy 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation today published a useful report on tackling poverty through public procurement. The ideas, building on the methodology created back in 2002 for including social and community benefits in public procurement. are practical and sensible. With public procurement as a percentage of GDP barely declining at all during or since the recession, the impact of taking up these recommendations could be significant. Public procurement has already been affected in London and elsewhere by the Living Wage campaign.   Building commitments to local training and employment into contracts and enabling smaller tender ‘lots’ to give smaller local enterprises a chance of successful bidding could create maximum value for the taxpayer by reducing welfare dependency and keeping the financial fruits of procurement within communities. Read more

City connections and city identity

April 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Social Economy 

Can you have too much connectivity? At last week’s City Growth Commission seminar on connectivity, Mark Kleinman, (Director of Business and Economic Policy at the Greater London Authority), highlighted that connectivity is not just a factor, it’s the factor in London’s success: economic power in the global economy is defined by connectivity. The seminar considered how different forms of connectivity affect London and other UK cities. Read more

Big vs. Little: The fight now shaping British politics

March 23, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

According to Jonathan Swift, Lilliput was riven by a fierce dispute between Bigendians and Littleendians. The former believed an egg should always be cracked at the big end and the latter argued fervently for it to be cracked at the little end.  How clever of Swift to foresee the row that would shape British politics around the 2015 election and disrupt the traditional allegiances we take for granted.

The core issue in this emerging dispute is, of course, not about how we crack eggs but about how we crack our biggest problems.

The Bigendians hold with the idea that big concentrations of power hold the key to problems like inequality, climate change, public ill-health and unbalanced economic growth. The Littleendians believe power needs to be widely distributed to solve these problems.

Bigendians have faith in the huge resources, co-ordinating power, clarity and universality that the big or centralised state and big business can bring to bear on our thorniest challenges.

Littleendians favour a smaller state working at local level combined with small business and small civic endeavours. They think our problems are complex and fast-moving and require a plurality of solutions.  They also look back on the failing progress made by the big state and big business towards a fairer, stabler world and are sure that there must be a better route.

Both Parties Split by Endianism

This fight is splitting both parties and with ever greater intensity. It is a division that has crystallised out of the rather bewildering array of different perspectives and colours that characterised the period after the 2008 Crash: Red Tory, Progressive Conservative, Blue Labour, Black Labour, Pragmatic Radicalism, Purple Labour.

Many Labour people have recently renewed their belief that a powerful state is key to the achievement of greater social justice. They worry that a reduction in the size of the state, as planned by the Coalition, will lead inevitably to greater inequality between individuals and communities. There is also a mistrust of small business which it is feared pays less and has a weaker respect for employment rights than big business.

But this view has been facing challenge in recent years from a group who celebrate local entrepreneurialism, fear that the big welfare state has damaged the pre-war Labour tradition of small-scale mutualism and charitable endeavour and wants a vigorous decentralisation of power from Whitehall.

The influential figure Jon Cruddas, who leads the party’s policy review, is a firm Littleendian. The equally influential Tom Watson tends to the Bigendian way of thinking. There are strengthening rumours that this battle in Labour may soon be blown wide open as a public fight begins about whether the election manifesto will have a Bigendian or Littleendian feel.

However, the Conservatives are also riven. All conservatives would like to see the state shrink, of course, but what that smaller state looks like and what plugs the gap when it shrinks is a source of Endian dispute.  For part of the Conservative party, a strong if smaller central state batting for Britain’s biggest businesses, particularly in the City, is a cornerstone of their political beliefs. That strong state is needed to defend our shores against immigrants and security threats, to crack down on crime and give the British people a sense of identity and focus.

It’s a traditional Tory view but one that has been challenged recently by an insurgent group who want to see decentralisation combined with a powerful resurgence of small-scale civic activism (alongside the more traditional Tory faith in the market) and who rather suspect that big business often survives only because of its cosy relationship with the big state.

Jesse Norman is probably the most outspoken Littleendian Tory. Bigendianism, on the other hand, much like Labour remains hardwired into the mind-set of the Party’s grassroots activists across the country.

In Whom We Trust?

While so much of British politics is concerned with the distribution of resources, this dispute is really about the distribution of power and who should be trusted to exercise it.

Nothing exemplifies this better than the argument now raging over pension annuities. By changing the rules so that individuals can take their money out of their pension pots in one go, the Chancellor has struck a blow for Littleendianism. Whatever his motivation and whatever the concerns about how it was announced, he has removed a power from the big, universal state and given it to a million little individuals to do as they wish. He has put his trust in those millions to do the right thing rather than the state.

This has immediately made some people very uncomfortable who don’t share Osborne’s faith in those little millions. The Labour leadership’s uncertain response reflected the fact it felt pulled both ways by the Bigendian and Littleendian instincts in the party. While many Bigendian Tories are probably deeply worried about what the Chancellor has just done to one of the biggest industries in the City of London even if they won’t say it out loud (yet).

A Littleendian Centre?

For years the political centre in Britain has been defined by vote-winning pragmatism. The left of the Conservative Party and the right of the Labour Party shared a managerial outlook that was often indistinguishable. Could this be about to change as the Endian dispute heats up?

The Bigendians in both parties are miles apart politically: one side believes fundamentally in a big, high spending state regulating business, the other in big, high spending business free of the shackles of regulation.

Littleendians are much closer in spirit. Both Conservative and Labour Littleendians believe the state should be decentralised, they both believe that small-scale civic activism is a good way of dealing with deprivation and inequality and they value small business. Most fundamentally, they place their trust in the millions of individuals and small organisations that make up the country and believe power should follow that trust.

It’s very unlikely that these two sides of a Littleendian centre could ever work together formally. They are from different parties after all and there are important differences of emphasis, most notably around faith in the unregulated market. For example, some Littlendians may be very comfortable with the idea that pension pots can now be spent on Lamborghinis; others may hope this freedom could give rise to a new wave of mutual savings based on voluntary rather than statutory principles.

But as battle within the parties heats up, we may see some surprising informal conversations spring up across the party divide.

The Power to Create

From the RSA perspective such conversations would be a good thing. William Shipley founded the RSA in a  Littleendian spirit. He launched the Society with a deep belief that the solutions to our problems could be found amongst the mass of the population not just a powerful elite.  For Shipley, there was no monopoly on good ideas and effective solutions. He also believed, unlike hardly anyone else at the time, that small-scale innovation in the commercial sphere had to be matched by small-scale innovation in the social sphere. Creativity had to be released for the wider public good and the poor as well as private benefit and the rich.

Historically, Littlendians have usually lost out to Bigendians. That may be changing now as the big and powerful find it harder to govern and deliver in an age of technological disruption and huge attitudinal shifts. That’s one major reason why the RSA is trying to capture the original Shipley spirit through the idea of the Power to Create: the notion that we will solve our biggest problems and live better lives if we are free to turn our many different ideas into reality.

In other words, we think there’s never been a better time to start cracking your eggs at the little end.

 

Follow me on Twitter here.

Megacity 2: the right solution to mending the gap?

March 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

Recently moved from London to Bristol, a friend of mine asked me last month: “How is life in Megacity 1?”. While she moved to be closer to her work as a retail manager, she finds herself frequently coming back to London to buy clothes for her small chain of shops in the South West.

The problem is not that London is getting too big, it’s that other UK cities are too small. This is how the adversarial relationship set up in the two-part TV series Mind the Gap: London v The Rest was resolved last night. As Evan Davis wrote “Britain does not have a second city. Instead, it has a first city and a couple of thirds…it is as though Britain has a great world city but lacks a great national one.”

As a recent report suggested, London’s ‘primacy’ – its size relative to the national economy – is not particularly unusual by international standards.

Other countries have more dominant capital cities than the UK

Other countries have more dominant capital cities than the UK (Source)

It’s not just population size where UK ‘second-tier’ cities underperform. Along with other factors, their smaller size means they are less productive, in terms of economic value produced per resident. As Lewis Dijkstra notes “a range of cities allows each firm to find its optimal city”. Illustrating this point with bar graphs, and noting that costs to firms (wages, rent) and workers (housing, commuting) also increase in larger cities, he likens the ideal city distribution to a staircase. If the steps between cities are well-spaced, as in Germany and the Netherlands, firms and workers are less likely to make a compromise. In short, we can imagine that there are firms and workers who want to “downshift” out of London, but can’t stomach the loss in the benefits of locating in the capital; and firms and workers who want to move to London – but are unsure they can afford the costs relative to the likely benefits. Both scenarios lead to inefficiencies: the gaps in our city staircase are too big.

ESPON staircase

Gaps between cities – measured here in 2007 GDP per person – are smaller in Germany and the Netherlands. (Source)

 

The solution proposed Monday night was that “the real second city of the UK is a northern, trans-Pennine strip that extends the relatively short distance across northern England, joining the built-up areas that lie second, fourth and sixth in the UK ranking”. This idea has been suggested before. As we highlighted in our Metro Growth report last month, 22,000 people cross the Pennines every day to commute. Other research shows connections and relationships between Leeds and Manchester are less strong than we would expect for these cities given the complementary nature of their economic activities. The Pennines are both a physical and psychological barrier. City boundaries don’t correspond to their economic footprint.

 

Megacity 2?

Megacity 2?

So, should we use national investment in infrastructure which better connects a ‘northern necklace’ of cities? The Northern Hub scheme now underway will improve the speed and frequency of trains, but over a distributed pattern of urban settlements car travel is likely to be much more convenient for the majority of trips. Without investment, the northern trunk road network is forecast to become more congested in the next decade. Which government – local or national – has the conviction to resurrect the motorways once planned? The M64 (Stoke to Derby), the M67 (Manchester to Sheffield), or the M650 (northwest of Bradford) to slice through the Peak District National Park? Furthermore, at our seminar last week, Henry Overman was sceptical that creating a network of northern cities was sufficient; we may be better off with one city of “over 3.5 million” for ‘agglomeration’ effects to kick in.

Forecast travel times in 2025

Forecast road travel speeds in 2025. (Source)

Evan posed the difficult question as being how to fund public transport infrastructure in both London and other parts of the UK, when the needs of London are so evident. It’s easy to get upset when you consider that, on a per person basis, London gets many times more infrastructure investment than other regions. But much of London’s investment is private, not public; and London’s scale means authorities are able to borrow more affordably against future fare returns. London’s public transport network carries half of all the journeys on public transport across the country every day. On a net basis, each day, London also imbibes over a million workers from beyond its borders and a million visitors from the UK and abroad (tourists and those on business trips). But beyond transport, if government is to guide development of Megacity 2, how will specific policies and priorities change? What sacrifices will be made?

The first question is whether we are confident we can make the right kind of spatial plan. As referenced in the programme, Birmingham’s economic success in the post-war era was stunted by the Distribution of Industry Act 1945 and later the Control of Office Employment Act 1965. By 1957 the council had explicitly accepted that it was obliged “to restrain the growth of population and employment potential within the city.” Seeking the opportunity to rebuild bombed-out British cities at higher housing standards, many planners at the time sought to reduce urban densities, protect the newly created Green Belt around cities, and rely on motor vehicle transport supporting new suburban settlements such as Peterlee and Harlow. This was anti-agglomeration, perhaps even contributing to subsequent inner city decline. Only Milton Keynes – the largest of all new towns – has the scale and location today viable enough to have its own economic dynamism as an employment centre.

We have a poor record of predicting the future dynamics of economic geography, and many of the key forces shaping the UK at the moment are little understood. Despite being important long-term trends, the spatial implications of household dynamics and the changing nature of work remain largely unexplored. As more women enter the workforce, more households are made up of two earners. Larger cities offer the additional benefit of having a higher likelihood that both partners will be able to pursue careers in different sectors, occupations or industries. Some argue London has benefited from a ‘trailing spouse’ effect. For example, with schools benefiting from (otherwise mobile) teachers attracted to London by the work of their partners working in less mobile professions tied to London. And new technologies of production are accompanying different career structures, growing rates of self-employment and different types of workplaces.

Mind the Gap barely engaged with the dynamics of the housing market, where growing anxiety is deepening the British obsession. Cambridge featured in the show as a success story, hungry for growth. Like Oxford, it’s a historic city endowed with a Green Belt and now bursting at the seams and increasingly unaffordable. London housing pressure needs a release valve, and London seems unable to provide it for itself.

The Green Belt in fact covers more land than the entirety of England’s urban areas which it was designed to constrain. It’s the jewel of strategic planning policy, but stifles other strategic thinking. For example, HS2 takes fast long-distance trains off the existing line. New commuter services will therefore offer drastically more capacity: from Willesden and Watford up towards Milton Keynes. Who is talking seriously about Green Belt release for new significant new housing development in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire? Welcome to a property-owning democracy.

Planning restrictions and the proposed HS2 route; Source: http://www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/research/cups/map_for_england_final_report.pdf

Planning restrictions and the proposed HS2 route. (Source)

 

Perhaps, therefore, we need a change in the geography of democracy itself. City growth needs local champions. Central government consented to London’s Congestion Charge in part with the comfort that Ken Livingstone – rather than national politicians – would be held to account if it failed. Lord Adonis noted last week that more people in Newcastle could name the mayor of London than their own council leader.

According to the boldest propositions, perhaps we should consider moving our capital. This question was asked at the launch of the City Growth Commission, and continues to be posed. Moving the political machinery could bring with it not just lobbyists and central government departments, but much of the private sector too – as the links between the two become more complex.

According to Professor Alan Harding “we have slowly redesigned our institutions of government and our major policy frameworks so that they respond to the pressures of growth in southern England and rarely see what happens beyond. We have a national policy regime that not only does not mind the gap, it extends it.” Last week we saw northern Lib Dem MPs calling for a High Speed 3 rail line across the North. The broad debate is gaining momentum and Mind the Gap was a substantial contribution. While cleverly pitched to stir debate, we need to move beyond ‘London or’ to ‘London and’. To be successful, the City Growth Commission will need to build the most important links: those between the political rationale and economic rationale for reforms which will produce a better system of cities. London and other cities will each, inevitably, evolve in their role nationally and globally.

Jonathan Schifferes is research lead for the City Growth Commission hosted at the RSA (@jschifferes)

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