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Archive for May, 2012

Equality in Education has been destroyed by the idea that all can make the best of the same opportunities

images (31)I seem to have the phrase ‘cause and effect’ branded in my thought processes right now as I look at all of the problems with Government and no less so when recently reading yet more bad news about struggling school pupils failing to catch up.  But is anybody really surprised?

One of the greatest problems with modern government and law-making is that once an issue has been addressed, the people who have been put in place to deal with that issue then have nothing to do – unless of course they create something else to justify their existence. Have a good look at every area of life where some kind of policy has been created or exists and you might just begin to see what I mean.

The problem with this process is that whilst you can easily see that some things do benefit from being revised from their original form to meet a need which was not originally considered or indeed, to bring that a policy or law up-to-date to meet or to be applicable to contemporary need, the rise of the bureaucrat and ‘professional’ politician has led to unnecessary meddling and the creation of having laws for laws sake. This is particularly evident in matters such as education.

The value of education has been appreciated for a long time but the system we have probably began the headlong descent that we are now experiencing when the concept of real apprenticeships was lost and the school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1972. Speak to what some might call ‘old school’ educators and they will tell you that children were either ‘heads or hands’; the inference being that they were academic or practically inclined. Would you hear a teacher say the same in a similar conversation today? No.

The 1997-2010 New Labour project oversaw much of the destructive push towards blanket qualification levels which now seem to be the accepted way to enhance an evolving society. Put simply, the approach of such meddlers is to work on the basis that the easiest way to improve education is to make the education fit the population, rather than encourage the population to meet the demands of the time. Now is that real equality or just a twisted view of it which is taking our once highly educated and envied Nation backwards?

Everyone is different for many reasons, not least because of their genetics, demographics and social conditioning. It is therefore sheer folly to believe that by applying the one-size-fits-all mentality that you will create a perfect and fully functioning society by making everyone equal ‘by default’. We currently see high levels of youth unemployment and dissatisfaction with the system (Something apparently highlighted by the August 2011 Riots), but again no real attempts to address the causes of these problems being made by the very people who could genuinely make a difference.

There are many young people who don’t want to be in ‘school’ and others who just don’t get the benefit from a dumbed-down degree system where 3 years of undergraduate study provides what could be a lifelong debt and a qualification that industry views as useless, all against the backdrop of a Government that cannot afford to provide such diversions in the first place. The balance has been lost and somebody needs to get this all back where it should be so that each and every individual can follow a route to a career which gives them the best opportunities to realise all that they can achieve based on what they are capable of doing; not what some idealist in London thinks it right that they should do.

Rather than scratching heads about the escalating problems created by the decline in standards in education, why not get back to a basic appreciation of the fact that everyone has something unique to offer and that in itself requires real diversity of opportunities and not one which is offered by an encyclopaedic exam syllabus. Put 14 year-olds who have no academic inclination – or don’t recognise one at that age – into real 7-year vocational apprenticeships in industry and SME’s where time and application give them the career footing that they would otherwise never achieve?

Why not begin to rebuild the ‘time-served’ bank of talent and experience that no amount of schoolroom activity can provide our dwindling industries and hungry-for-help businesses with, in a cost effective way which reduces the burden on the State and will probably address all manner of other issues hurting society at the same time such as youth crime?

I can almost hear the ‘it won’t work because…’ right now. What – because of employment laws or other legislation? – That’s exactly the point and the very reason we are getting into more and more of a mess isn’t it?

Local Council decisons that really aren’t that local at all…

It was great to be present at the Annual Parish Meeting of Ashchurch Rural Parish Council within my Ward last night. But listening to questions raised within Public Participation reminded me of just how easy it can be for Councillors to take for granted what people actually know about the 3 different Tiers of Local Government and how equally easy it is for problems to arise when the expectation of the Electorate is simply left unmanaged.

As an Elected Member and Chair of Licensing at Tewkesbury Borough Council myself, I have witnessed first-hand how the frequent misunderstanding of where responsibility actually lies for the different functions of the tiers of Government can not only cause confusion, but create serious disappointment. More often than not voters can be left feeling that Councillors are completely out of touch – even at times when some of us are actually just as frustrated as the residents from within our Wards and feel obstructed by the views of bureaucrats that most of us will probably never meet.

Perhaps the area where this problem is most evident is within the quasi-judicial functions of Planning and Licensing.

The Planning process itself creates an almost continual air of controversy and mistrust; a matter not helped by the seemingly ubiquitous tales of corruption and ‘back-handers’ which seem to accompany a good percentage of conversations on the subject. Such tales of course would suggest that real decisions are actually made at Local Planning Committees, but the truth is not so straightforward, with Councillors and Officers (under delegated powers) simply interpreting Planning Law which has been set centrally by Officials and MP’s who may never have even been within a hundred miles of the location to which the Legislation will be used to apply.

Such a system is too broadly set to consider the very local factors which really should inform Planning decisions and this has been only too painfully apparent not only to Villages within my Ward, but to the wider Tewkesbury area since the July 2007 Flooding Event. This itself was perhaps the perfect example of why local people should be making locally informed and constructed decisions about local Planning issues, without the fear of overruling from the Secretary of State.

Licensing presents different, but nonetheless equally frustrating challenges which again restrict the ability of locally Elected Councillors to really deliver decisions and solutions which are based completely on that locality and the local evidence which it provides, rather than relying upon a centrally-led Legislative Policy which doesn’t provide anywhere near the flexibility and level of responsibility that those Elected to do the job should actually have.

The 2003 Licensing Act brought the Licensing Authority function within the fold of District Councils and away from Magistrates Courts. There is a lot to be said in favour of this specialist area being dealt with by trained Councillors on dedicated Sub-Committee panels which are of a similar format to a Magistrates Bench. However, the benefits are lost by the right of Appeal being automatically passed back to the Magistrates Court, where one might respectfully suggest that the trivialities of cases such as a Licensing Hours extension for a Town boozer or that of a Private Hire Drivers License for an unemployed jobseeker with 6 or more points on his or her Driving License will be seen to do no more than take up unnecessary time that could be spent more effectively elsewhere.

Real parity in both Licensing and Planning could be achieved by developing this type of system further to allow both functions to use the Sub-Committee panel system, but by also restricting and focussing the right of appeal so that the system cannot be left open to the potential misuse and manipulation of specialist advisors who know exactly what approach and to what level they need to take a case in order to achieve the result that their client wants, which may well not be in the interests of the wider population.

We have heard David Cameron talk a lot about Locality and giving power back to local people. I’m afraid that to date it has looked all too much to me like the age old story of taking back with one hand what the Government and Ministers such as Eric Pickles have given with the other and people just aren’t as stupid as such actions would suggest some Ministers think.

If the Coalition Government really wants to empower local people, there are many ways that they could do so and reform of the decision making processes and guidelines for both Planning and Licensing Law allowing local factors to be prioritised would be a significant start.

Without Government Funding, many Not-for-Profit services are unviable…

News has been making its way into Today’s agenda regarding Charities struggling as a result of Government budgets shrinking. But this story itself alludes to the differences between what are in some cases little more than not-for-profit organisations carrying out low-cost public services on behalf of perhaps a number of government organisations and what most of us would consider to be Charities in their ‘truest sense’, which are those specific cause-focused organisations which are rarely anything but funded by donations, fundraising and private support.

All enjoy varying levels of volunteer support and share the commonality of reduced incomes  – a factor not just brought about by the economies required by the times, but also by the sheer number of Charities which now exist, many of which duplicate the work and aims of others at least in part, if not entirely – literally creating competition for donors.

Together as the Third Sector, Charities and Not-for-Profit ‘service delivery’ organisations face very different issues in the drive to fill the gaps left by cuts and the short reach of Government and it is a little more than ironic that at a time when David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ looks to the service delivery specialisms of the Not-for-Profit providers, that the Government is itself reducing the funds which are their very lifeblood.

What many of us may not readily understand is that whilst there will always be some members of the public who are motivated to donate what are sometimes sizable amounts to service providers such as Rural Community Councils and Dial-a-Rides, the community focussed work that these very worthwhile 3rd Sector Organisations carry out, in simply assisting people in their everyday lives fails to have the same donation draw as a Charity with a cause which fires the imagination, passion and dare I say it fear of many – thereby  motivating them to put their hands in their pockets.

In simple terms, this leaves the practical reality that Government – whether Central or Local or through NGO’s – will always have to support the Not-for-Profit service providers within the 3rd Sector if they wish them to continue to provide services, as the public will never provide the level of support voluntarily to make public services provided in a different name available.

Whilst the services that these organisations provide may be low in cost and a cheap option for the Government to take, politicians do not have the option of stepping away from supporting them with some kind of misplaced idea that the public will directly choose to pick up the bill. They won’t and shouldn’t have to, because that’s one of the reasons they pay Tax…

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