Labour: ”We must tackle the social recession”

Efforts must be made to tackle the country’s freedom, fairness, equality and democratic deficits rather than focusing on only the fiscal deficit, rising Labour star Chuka Umunna has urged, writes Dean Carroll.

The MP, widely tipped as a future party leader, claimed that the UK was suffering from a “social recession”, adding: “It all comes down to the massive gap between the rich and the poor. These kids on estates often are from traditional families, but their parents have to work two or three jobs and so they are not able to spend the quality time with them ““ it’s not all about single-parent families leading to kids joining gangs as they try to tell us.

“These young people feel they have no part to play in this capitalist society we have ““ which has created the deficit in terms of freedom, fairness, equality and democracy. Where is the deficit reduction programme for these things? That is the question we need to be asking.”

Umunna called for serious policy work and efforts to bring the working and middle classes together to build common solutions to the problems of modern society.

“This right-wing stuff about locking up kids and tougher sanctions is lost on them,” he said at a Compass debate. “Headteachers in my constituency tell me that these kids don’t think that they are even going to live long so why would they have a stake in our capitalist society.”

Compass chairman Neal Lawson praised Umunna’s comments and signalled that Ed Miliband’s focus on “the good society”, a Compass concept representing mutualism and government intervention where necessary, would begin to tackle some of the issues raised. “We need a new tolerant, pluralist politics and we have to get back to the vision of hope,” added Lawson.

And Douglas Alexander added: “With the good society, that state can be a crucial ally to the community. We have no time to waste in rebuilding a majority project for the centre left in Britain.”

Joining the discussion, Jon Cruddas said Miliband’s election as leader had represented “a profound shift” for the party.

One more heave – or does Labour need a much deeper ideological renewal?

As voting begins on who will be the next Labour Party leader and Tony Blair urges the party not to abandon New Labour, Rick Muir ““ senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research ““ wonders if the party needs a new approach.

In the aftermath of one of its worst ever electoral defeats, the Labour Party is immersed in a debate about its future. Labour must not only choose a new leader, but also decide what it stands for, and in doing so simultaneously unite its different factions and position itself as a credible alternative to the coalition government.

The party can count itself lucky that the two most likely winners are talented and telegenic figures. David Miliband possesses that most vital of political qualities ““ stature ““ easily resembling an alternative prime minister. Ed Miliband communicates passion and sincerity in an age where the public has become highly cynical about politics. The ideological differences between the two are exaggerated: both are authentic European social democrats to the left of Blair, both favour pluralism on questions such as constitutional reform, both are instinctive liberals.

Of the others, Andy Burnham has come across well in the debates, but has failed to move beyond the appeal of his working class backstory. Ed Balls has impressed with his pugilistic political qualities, tearing into Michael Gove over the Building Schools for the Future cuts. Nevertheless he is marked as Brown’s man, which has crippled his candidacy from the very beginning.

Diane Abbott has an advantage the other candidates do not ““ she can authentically dismiss most of what New Labour did in office, because she opposed most of it at the time. Nevertheless while Diane has performed well in the debates, possessing an easy public manner and speaking from the heart, she has failed to articulate a left- wing alternative strategy for Labour that moves beyond opposing specific policies.

The quality of the debate itself has been poor. There has been no real public reckoning with the New Labour legacy. Connected to this there has been no serious analysis of the ongoing crisis of neo-liberal capitalism and what it means for a modern social democratic project.

In a way this failure is understandable. It is hard to have an honest conversation about why Labour lost in the heat of a leadership contest in which candidates are reluctant to offend important political constituencies. Nor is a hectic leadership contest the time to rethink the ideology of the modern left. These are issues that the party has to address over a longer period. Whoever is elected leader needs to have the courage to open up a genuine dialogue about the party’s future ““ with members, unions, think-tanks and intellectual fellow travellers.

The crucial question the party needs to address in the next few years is whether “one more heave” will return it to power in 2015, or whether the public has so rejected the New Labour project that it needs to undergo a much deeper process of ideological renewal. To answer that question Labour needs to ask itself three things. First, what did New Labour get right? Second, what did New Labour get wrong? And finally, even where New Labour was successful, have times changed such that the party requires a new approach?

In renewing itself Labour would be best advised to look backwards as well as forwards, drawing on its own rich tradition of political thought to generate a new agenda that strengthens its identity as a distinctive political force. This is a job for five years not five months.

Byles: Blame EU for BSF bureaucracy

The bureaucracy inherent in Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects is a result of compliance with European Union (EU) rules rather than wasteful management of resources here in the UK, the man charged with delivering the programme has claimed, writes Dean Carroll.

Education Secretary Michael Gove had criticised BSF for spending £250m on projects before a brick was even laid. But chief executive of Partnerships for Schools (PfS) Tim Byles told the Commons Education Committee the problems were created by the need to comply with EU aggregate procurement standards ““ demanding two designs were planned “through to fine detail” for each project before a local authority was able to choose a winning bid.

Explaining the shortfalls in the competitive dialogue process, Byles said: “There is inherent waste in that process because you have two designs if you have two sample schemes, as we do, which have been fully worked out and are then put in the bin. That cannot be sensible from a man-in-the-street view. It is absolutely determined by the procurement route that we must follow on competitive dialogue, as set out by the EU. We have been trying to push the boundaries of that several times in the past three years.”

The revelations shed new light on why the Conservative Party is so keen on free schools, which would be exempt from the EU constraints. Byles also admitted that his organisation was responsible for 11 of the 23 “miscoding” mistakes on the incorrect list of cancelled BSF projects released into the public domain by Gove.

“There were 12 that were not to do with our data,” added Byles, who earns a salary 50 per cent larger than the Prime Minister’s.

The PfS chief executive told the committee that academies had produced a “leap forward” in schools performance in many areas. “For example, at Bristol Brunel Academy, A-C GCSEs went from 17 to 34 per cent in the first year,” said Byles. “The Oxclose Community College refurbishment scheme in Sunderland went from 19 per cent to just over 60 per cent in two years. We have some encouraging signs, but not yet a universal picture.

“That’s why we tried to move away from the original one-size-fits-all approach. We tried to tune in to local priorities and local issues to make sure that the solutions we were coming forward with made sense to communities and to teachers and parents in schools.”

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report on BSF found that only 38 per cent of schools believed that their buildings had been completed on time while PfS put the figure at 90 per cent. When asked by the committee for his explanation of the discrepancy, Byles said: “Headteachers are less experienced at how procurement and capital works, so it’s not unusual for people to think ‘right, we could have got this done in a year’, whereas in fact we go through the pre-procurement and then the procurement phase.”

The Incredible Machine

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell explains how the civil service is coping with the coalition challenge, the government’s pace of change and reducing the deficit (first published in Public Servant magazine)

The past months ““ with a general election and a new coalition government ““ have posed significant challenges for the civil service. The months ahead will be similarly stretching, as we continue to support a coalition government addressing the current deficit and accelerating the reform of public services, including the civil service itself.

Prioritisation and planning have helped to ensure that the civil service has risen to these challenges. For the year running up to the election I emphasised the need to focus on two clear priorities. We needed to be ready, first, to support a newly elected government from day one and, second, to help that government reduce the fiscal deficit while protecting public services as much as possible.

This planning ““ across all departments ““ helped the civil service to support a smooth transition. We had to plan for a range of election outcomes, including those taking us into relatively uncharted territory, and this was, of course, exactly where we ended up. Thanks to clear guidance on dealing with hung parliaments and extensive scenario planning, we were able to support politicians quickly and effectively.

Civil servants provided essential practical support as the negotiations unfolded and a coalition agreement was reached. I am hugely proud of the way everyone stepped up during that momentous period. As the new Prime Minister asked: “Where else in the world can you see a transition to government be so smooth and so effective?”

Just as trust helped the two coalition parties agree a programme of government, so trust must continue to be reinforced as the government takes forward its ambitious agenda. Again, the civil service and its leaders have a key role to play.

Cabinet committees ““ chaired by a minister from one party, with a deputy from the other ““ are helping to ensure decisions are taken through proper processes and that trust is strengthened through open discussion.

Civil service leaders are also ensuring there is trust between ministers and the civil servants providing advice. In doing so, we are able to draw from our core civil service values ““ honesty, objectivity, impartiality and integrity ““ which were embedded in legislation for the first time as one of the final acts of the previous administration, with all-party support.

Of course, the real test for any government is what it achieves. The coalition agreement is an ambitious programme, and many have been surprised by the speed with which the government has taken forward significant measures ““ from the emergency Budget to constitutional reform.

The overriding priority is reducing the deficit. The coming spending review ““ the toughest for decades ““ will test all our leadership skills, requiring us to motivate the civil service behind the imperative of finding innovative ways of delivering services and enhancing efficiency, setting out clear choices for ministers. Permanent secretaries from major spending departments are meeting regularly to consider the biggest challenges to ensure we take a coherent and effective approach across all departments. The government has created an efficiency and reform group to give a strong central push to achieving efficiency savings. And I am chairing a new senior group focused on how fresh thinking from behavioural economics can help us to address policy issues in new ways at a time of limited resources.

Many of the best ideas will not come top-down from ministers and civil service leaders, but from the many hard-working and talented people at all levels of public services with excellent ideas on how we can work better and more efficiently. More than 60,000 suggestions for working more efficiently have now been submitted to the Spending Challenge website by people working in the public sector. We will need to identify the best of these and implement them, helping bottom-up innovation to deliver genuine change.

We know that some of the toughest changes are likely to affect the civil service itself, including on pay, pensions and compensation for redundancy. These changes will be hard felt by many civil servants. It is here that our skills as leaders will be most tested. We will need to ensure we communicate with openness and honesty, not ducking the tough messages, and ensuring people understand the difficult trade offs ““ for example between pay freezes now or greater job reductions later. We will also need to provide support and protection for the more vulnerable ““ including the lowest paid.

This will not be easy. But as leaders we have a responsibility to ensure that the civil service rises to all of these challenges. I have spoken often of my desire to lead an organisation full of pride, pace, passion and professionalism and I have seen these qualities in abundance over recent months. I see people with an enduring pride in what the civil service has to offer. Our challenge is to harness this passion. If we achieve this, I have no doubt that the civil service ““ this “incredible machine” as the Prime Minister called it ““ will emerge even stronger in the years ahead.

The Five Labour Leadership Candidates On Public Services

This autumn’s fight for the top job in the Labour Party will be the first true leadership election since Tony Blair defeated John Prescott and Margaret Beckett in 1994.

Public Servant asked the five candidates to set out a clear vision for the party and for public services

Andy Burnham

Over the past two months, the mission of this coalition government has become clear: to unpick the fabric of our society, to hollow out public services and to pursue a survival of the fittest ““ or the richest ““ approach. I joined the Labour Party against a backdrop of swingeing Thatcherite cuts. Now I am seeking to lead the party against a depressingly similar backdrop.

The Tories’ election slogan was “we’re in this together”, but we’re not. Older people, those with disabilities, families struggling to make ends meet, will all feel the cuts harder than the Cabinet of millionaires that is making them. But it’s not just the recipients of services who will bear the brunt. Thousands of public service jobs are at risk too.

We need to tackle the deficit, but the emphasis on cuts is wrong. I would adopt a more balanced approach, looking at tax as well as cuts. I want to see a more meaningful financial transaction tax which exerts a level of social justice where the institutions who got Britain into this mess make more of a contribution to get us out.

We also need to look at personal taxation. As Labour leader, I will support the continuation of the 50p rate and recommit to the increase in National Insurance contributions. I will look again at taxation in order to minimise cuts. Higher taxation may make life a bit harder for those having to pay it, but service cuts can devastate lives.

That is the collectivist approach I will bring as leader of the Labour Party. At times in government, we appeared to be dazzled by big business, power and glamour, no longer on the side of the ordinary people. I want to redress that balance and to bring forward policies that will improve health, wealth and life-chances across the country.

I want to help those kids without connections get the training and education they want and need. That’s why I oppose the scrapping of the Future Jobs Fund. I want to help support those families who do the right thing, but still live on a financial knife-edge. That’s why I will ensure that they are not penalised by utility companies because they don’t have access to direct debits. And I want to start celebrating our ageing society. That’s why I will bring forward a National Care Service, to give older people and their families peace of mind that they will not lose everything they’ve worked for just to pay for their care.

That is why I am standing for the Labour leadership, and that is why I’m in the race to win.

Ed Miliband

When Labour came to power in 1997, the public sector in Britain was on its knees. Chronic underinvestment had left a legacy of diminished services, decaying infrastructure and a demoralised body of public servants. Labour can be rightly proud of what it achieved in power.

But we failed to address people’s daily frustrations ““ citizens who felt that the state was not responsive enough to their needs, public servants discouraged by layers of central bureaucracy.

I have, and I believe Labour must always have, the highest expectations for public services, where local people are able to shape the area where they live and the services they receive.

At a time when the public finances are stretched, it is all too easy declare that real improvement to local public services is impossible. To do so is mistaken.

Rather than cut funding and leave small pockets of citizens to fend for themselves as the coalition government intends to do, we have a plan for the future which is about empowering public servants. By shifting the balance more towards local communities and less towards Whitehall, by encouraging greater cooperation between services. It is a radical approach that relies on our ability to change the way we use resources.

The Labour government set up the Total Place approach that was pioneered across the country. It seeks, not simply to improve the standard of individual public services, but to bring together the many facets of local public bodies to deliver the best possible services.

It asks the hard questions of what people need and how best to provide it. It strips away layers of central control and hands power to the people who are going to use those services in their communities.

Under our proposals, from April 2011, local authorities and services like the NHS and police could come together, gaining for themselves enhanced freedom in their spending, and a lighter touch from central government, in return for offering better and more efficient services.

The coalition government would rather not see the different arms of our public services work together. Instead they have said they will ringfence health and schools spending, leaving local authorities and police forces to fight for ever diminishing resources.

Theirs is a disjointed approach, which is happy to see schools break away from the local education authority, setting up parochial health boards and local sheriffs. In short, cementing a permanent dislocation in local public services at the cost of massive inefficiencies.

The Tories are happy to promote better services for the few at the cost of substandard services for the many. There is nothing radical or new about it. It is an insidious attempt to disguise something we all recognise ““ a return to the cuts and retrenchment of the 1980s.

But a truly progressive party believes in establishing a standard that all can live by and seeks to achieve it for all. Only when that deeply held belief is matched by what you attain, do you achieve genuine progress.

David Miliband

Over the past couple of months, Labour’s leaders have rightly been opposing the government. The coalition’s avoidable and ideological Budget has put our fragile recovery at risk. Despite their pre-election promises, Cameron and Clegg hit the poorest the hardest, and yes, they did cut frontline public services.

However, in time Labour will have to propose. We will need to show that we have the vision and ideas to chart an alternative course. An alternative course in the economy, an alternative course in society and an alternative course in public services. In hard financial times we will need to find innovative ways to deliver better for less. And we must make sure we don’t leave those at the bottom behind.

In public services Labour made real progress. Thirteen years of investment and reform has left our nation healthier, safer and more qualified. Public servants are better paid and better trained. At our best we are world class.

But ours is a job half done. Too many students still leave school without decent qualifications, crime blights too many communities and health inequalities remain stark.

In the debates ahead my principles are clear. People must have the power to shape the services they rely on. Practitioners must have the autonomy to deliver. Strong accountability must be the ally not the enemy of professionalism. And while the state should provide the platform for this empowerment, it is people who will turn their power into action and into change.

In the past, public services have too often been state services; done to people; offering but not always demanding. At their best, relationships, between teachers and parents, doctors and patients, police and residents, are based on reciprocity and give and take. We solve our problems together when powerful citizens enter into pacts of mutual obligation with professionals.

The truth is we won’t close the achievement gap, or tackle antisocial behaviour, or improve life chances if people are passive recipients and public servants are above, not alongside, people. Parents can determine how well their children read, so we need them on board. Communities standing together can help the police stamp out crime, so there must be engagement. People need to change their lifestyles to defeat obesity, so we can’t ignore individual responsibility.

Fine words, but what do they mean in practice? I set out last month my vision for the next stage of education reform. I said I wanted to recruit three-quarters of teachers from the top 25 per cent of graduates, with self-critical peer-to-peer networks central to accountability. I said I wanted to give pupils the power to choose their own pathways at 14 so they could move at their own pace. I said I wanted to make the opportunity of university a promise to more and more young people. My vision: excellent teachers with the tools to innovate, students with the freedom to create, graduates with the social capital to be powerful.

Over the months and years ahead I will be making the case for people power in all our public services. I believe that this is the way we meet and master our shared challenges.

Ed Balls

We are witnessing the biggest assault on our public sector since the 1980s. Ideological free market reforms to our schools and NHS are being pursued regardless of the cost. Vital public services are being slashed as public sector jobs, pay and pensions are attacked.

The new Tory-Lib Dem government is promoting a myth that the public sector is to blame for our economic difficulties. But this is a myth we must not allow to go unchallenged. The global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers, not by teachers, nurses or local government workers on modest incomes. It is immoral for them to pay the price. Most public sector workers have modest incomes and pensions ““ though significantly improved compared to 1997 ““ and while there are some over-generous salaries at the top, as in the private sector, let’s not allow these examples to feed a battle against millions of public sector workers.

As a Labour leadership candidate, I will not be distracted from my first duty which is to defend public services from this savage assault. That’s why I have led from the front on campaigns to stop cuts to free school meals, against axeing new school buildings and in opposition to privatisation of the Royal Mail.

But we must also be clear that, despite all the investment in better public services of which I am very proud, the Labour government sometimes got things wrong. When our core aim should have been guaranteeing better public services for all those who rely on them, in the second term the government sometimes sounded as if this could only be done by attacking public sector workers.

We cannot duck difficult decisions and reforms, but there is a better way of doing politics which takes people with you. In education, the social partnership model between government, unions and employers delivered investment and reforms and a better deal not just for teachers and support staff, but for parents and children too. I want this approach, based on fairness not favours, to apply across government.

I fought hard to make sure Labour honoured the three-year pay deal for teachers and prote?cted spending on vital frontline services like schools, the NHS and police. But even with that settlement, I knew that our public services needed to make every pound go further. That’s why I worked with unions and employers on being more efficient ““ with schools working more closely together for example ““ not just to save money but to raise standards too.

I set up the first negotiating body for school support staff and was the first and only Cabinet minister to implement the living wage for all staff and contracted staff in my department.
So in this Labour leadership election I hope people will judge me not just on what I say and do now, but on my record as a champion of public services too.

As this contest proceeds my first priority will be to continue being that champion who will stand up for public services from this most savage assault.

Diane Abbott

How life will look under the coalition government is something that only time can tell us. But with the threat of cuts looming over Britain the outlook is decidedly gloomy.

We might be in opposition but there is still a very important debate to be had about the economy as part of the leadership contest. The Con”“Lib Dem coalition all assume that we have to have big cuts in public expenditure to fill the hole in the public balance sheet. But, as an MP from the inner city, I know that these cuts will hit my people twice. Firstly they will have a worse service, but secondly they will lose their jobs.

I live in an area where the majority of people work in the public sector. Or they are in private sector jobs such as restaurants, cafes, hairdressers etc that depend for their clientele on people who work in the public sector. Many of these people are women. There are no alternative jobs for them. Often they are the only wage owners in their family.

Big cuts in the public sector could devastate some inner city areas like Hackney, just as closing the mines devastated many pit communities in the North. When David Cameron tells us our way of life must change, he doesn’t mean his way of life, he means ours.
I want to be leader of the Labour Party because I understand this. I want to be the voice in the debate about the future of the Labour Party that reminds people that one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job loss.

I would look at ways to avoid drastic cuts altogether. Instead of assuming that all this money should be found from public expenditure cuts we need to discuss raising levels of taxation on bankers and the higher paid. Why should ordinary people, who did not pocket the bonuses, pay for the credit crunch? We are being forced to pay to clean up the mess the bankers left after them. I find that hard to accept, as do my constituents.

In addition, we need to discuss the possibility of dropping the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, which would save billions. Even military men believe a new Trident weapons system would be a waste of money. This money could be used to save our public services and stop hardworking people losing their jobs.
I have always stood up for my beliefs and those of my constituents. This is something I will continue to do as leader of the party.

Councils ”Shouldn’t Tackle Climate Change”

Councils in the UK should do “absolutely nothing” to tackle climate change unless a stringent global deal on reducing carbon emissions is reached through the United Nations, which includes developing as well as developed countries ““ according to Lord Lawson, writes Dean Carroll..

Insisting that such an agreement would be unlikely due to India and China’s need to rapidly increase economic growth ““ in order to bring tens of millions of citizens out of poverty ““ the chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation claimed that town halls were wasting resources by promoting renewable energy schemes and green initiatives.

“For now, energy is carbon based because it is cheaper than anything else and it makes no sense to decarbonise unless everybody is doing it; it’s lunacy to go it alone when China is building a new coal power station every week,”

he said, speaking at the LGA annual conference.

“It would cost the British economy £50bn a year up to 2050 to meet the requirements of the UK Climate Change Act. Local authorities should do absolutely nothing to tackle climate change. Your money could be put to far greater use.”

Lord Lawson said northern Europe would actually greatly benefit from continued warming and urged public servants to focus on adaptation rather than mitigation. He also highlighted Met Office figures showing that global temperatures had not risen at all in the last decade ““ although, he admitted they had gone up by 0.75 degrees over the last 150 years since the industrial revolution.

Countering his views, founding member of the Tyndall Centre professor Andrew Watkinson told delegates that 10 years was too short a period to identify weather trends and this explained the stabilisation in temperature.

“The climate science is sound and last winter was the second warmest globally despite the bad weather experienced here in the UK,”

said Watkinson, also a professional fellow of the University of East Anglia.

“We could see temperature rises in the future of between 1-4 degrees as a result of greenhouse gases ““ way beyond what humans on earth have experienced before, so local authorities have to take on the science and show leadership with new forms of energy as well as adaptation and mitigation measures.”

Watkinson revealed that some scholars thought the global population could shrink from six billion to one billion if the worst effects of climate change came to fruition and parts of the southern hemisphere became inhabitable.

But Lord Lawson rejected these claims insisting that more extreme warming periods had occurred during Medieval and Roman times and that sea levels were not rising rapidly anymore.

“There has certainly been skulduggery with the science; it’s totally one-sided ““ ignoring the benefits of global warming and exaggerating the downsides,” he added. “Climate change is like a new religion and there are some people who see it as a way to undermine capitalism.”

CLG Committee To Look Into Localism

Localism, shared services and budget constraints on public services will be among the areas to be investigated by the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, Labour MP Clive Betts has revealed, writes Dean Carroll.

An inquiry into local government finance will not be conducted this year because the government’s commissioned review will not report until 2012, the new committee chairman told Public Servant. Betts, who took over from Dr Phyllis Starkey and has been a committee member since 2001, said:

“We will look at localism and concepts like Total Place and how they fit into a very difficult budgetary position.”

Betts, a former council leader and government whip, admitted his concern at the lack of detail in the coalition government’s plans for decentralisation and the Big Society. He added:

“We will need to look at what it all means in practical terms. I’m very much supportive of the commitment to remove ring-fencing, for example, but if it means taking all the money away at the same time ““ then local government may not be getting a great deal out of it,” added Betts.

“And with the Big Society, it means government pulling out of things ““ which is fine if the voluntary sector is there to pick it up. But very often the people willing to volunteer are more evident in the affluent areas so the poorer areas lose out. With some of the reforms announced, such as health, I am worried that responsibility is just being handed over to the private sector.”

The ramifications of education, NHS and police reforms for councils will be considered by the committee with ministers, experts and the Local Government Association being called to give evidence.

“We also want to explore topics like the general power of competence for local government; they are nice words but does it actually mean anything different,”

Admitting that his own party had not delivered on decentralisation, Betts said:

“I wasn’t satisfied with how far we went, but the relationship between central government and councils did improve substantially after an initial period where the centre said ‘local government isn’t very good so we are going to tell them what to do’.

“But we never dealt with the fundamental issue of local government finance and the fact that the average council gets 75 pence of every pound it spends from central government, which is not a healthy situation and has to be addressed. There also needs to be a proper constitutional settlement between central and local government and the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated that he is now interested in pursuing one.”

Betts voiced his opposition to coalition government plans to install elected police commissioners and elected mayors.

Betts said:

“You cannot say you want councils to deal with things in the way that they think is most appropriate locally and then turn around and say that this is how they are going to do it,”

But he welcomed the plans to abolish quangos like regional development agencies (RDA) ““ although, he added:

“I am not sure that the partnerships between councils are yet sufficiently developed enough yet to take on the RDA role. They certainly are in places like Manchester and Leeds where they have had city region pilots ““ I am not sure that is the case elsewhere.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council ““ Now There’s A Real Coalition

Mohammed Pervez, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, explains how four political groups are working together to deliver ‘a well-run and responsible local authority’ – Writes The Public Servant’s Dean Carroll.

Council Leader, Mohammed Pervez said:

Say the word “politics” to most people in the country these days, and the word that immediately springs to mind in reply is “coalition”. That is true for the national picture and for Stoke-on-Trent as well. Where our city differs from the alliance between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Downing Street, is that there is now a coalition of four political groups forming a majority within the city council.

The Labour group, Conservative and Independent Alliance, Liberal Democrats and City Independent Group all hold positions on my new cabinet. This coalition was formed to ensure continuity and stability at the council, as well as effective leadership. Last year was our first twelve months after reintroducing the Leader and Cabinet system of governance after having an Elected Mayor. We needed to make sure that what foundations had been laid weren’t washed away. This has meant forming a historic partnership between the four groups.

The Labour group was given a mandate by the electorate, but not an overall majority within the council chamber. We realise the most effective way to address everything from regeneration to education within the city is to work together with other political groups. That is not to say that the road ahead will not be difficult, but any squabbles we may have between us now need to be set aside.

We need to show we are not shying away from the responsibility of running the city and are willing to provide strong leadership to the city council in difficult times. The coalition is a way of ensuring that all the main political groups in this city work together for the good of Stoke-on-Trent. As the largest group, but lacking an overall majority, it would have been irresponsible to try and exclude them.

This coalition brings together and experience and talent from a wealth of backgrounds that we can use for the good of Stoke-on-Trent. I will be working closely with my deputy, Councillor Ross Irving, who has had the benefit of leading the council in the last 12 months, and well as Councillors Brian Ward and Kieron Clarke who have both held cabinet positions. This ensures good continuity, and also shows that we have a good dialogue between all parties to make decisions quickly and efficiently. I will also be working closely with our Chief Executive, John van de Laarschot, as will the rest of the coalition leaders, to ensure we have an effective council.

It’s true Stoke-on-Trent has suffered on many fronts over the years. We need to put that right. The national government talks about “new politics”. In Stoke-on-Trent our “new politics” will consist of strong leadership and partnership working, to be able to make decisions for the good of the city, and to show the electorate that we are listening to, and acting on, what they want from a well-run and responsible local authority.

More than 72 per cent increase in ‘spin doctors’

The number of press officers working in government has increased by more than 72 per cent over the last 10 years, the permanent secretary of government communications at the Cabinet Office has revealed, writes Dean Carroll.

Independent estimates put the annual spend of government public relations at around £250m. Giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee, Matt Tee said he was unable to give a precise number.

But asked if the often quoted figure of a 72 per cent increase in the number of communications staff over the last decade was accurate, Tee said: “I would say that was a slight underestimate, the growth in professional communicators would be a bit greater than 72 per cent. Some of what we are talking about here is a growth in the spend on communication as a result of government policy. Were government policy to change you could spend less on government communication.”

Outlining other reasons for the increase in PR budgets, Tee pointed to the rise of the internet as another media channel, the move from reactive to pro-active public relations and the emergence of internal communications.

Conservative Party shadow Cabinet Office minister Nick Hurd has attacked Labour for having “bankrolled a vast spin machine, politicised the civil service and created a corrosive culture of deception at the heart of Whitehall”. When these allegations were put to him, Tee insisted that he did not recognise the term spin in relation to the distribution of government information, but instead saw it as “really proper public service communication”. He added: “I do not see the people who I am the professional head of as doing spin. Spin is not something that I feel is part of the function.”

The panel of MPs suggested that it was unnecessary for the Ministry of Defence to have 242 press officers or for the Department for Work and Pensions to have 150 communications professionals. Although unable to deny the figures definitively, Tee said he thought the estimates were inaccurate. He added that he was working with the National Audit Office and HM Treasury to compile concrete figures on the total number of government press officers within six months.

Tee also said that he was unable to confirm how much the Labour government spent on marketing despite the Pre-Budget Report stating that it would cut this figure by 25 per cent. Committee member and Conservative MP David Burrowes said: “So it’s pretty meaningless for them to say there will be a 25 per cent cut.”

Bullying ““ how do you deal with the boss from hell?

Professor Cary Cooper, who has just stepped down as patron of the National Bullying Helpline, says a little bit of help and understanding might be all you need to cope with the boss from hell.

Most of us have, at sometime in our career, worked for the boss from hell ““ or if we haven’t we all know someone who has! I’m talking about the boss who is constantly finding fault when things go wrong ““ while rarely praising you when you perform well.

There are several different kinds of bosses out there ““ from the bully/autocrat to the bureaucrat; and those with participative and involving styles. The fact is you could end up with any of these and find yourself telling your family and friends about the “boss from hell”.

But not all bosses who fall into these categories of managerial style are likely to be “hellish” or exhibit bad behaviour, so it’s important to understand the underlying motives of bosses who have different managerial styles if we are to deal with them effectively.

Let’s start with The Bully. This is someone who persistently demeans, devalues and harasses subordinates in a way that has negative consequences for the health and well being of individuals and the performance of the group. In a study I carried out with a colleague at Manchester University involving 5,000 employees across about 80 different organisations, individuals who had been persistently bullied reported significantly poorer mental health, lower job satisfaction, more days off due to ill health and told us that they were less productive. So the personal costs are substantial to the employee, but there are also consequences in terms of productivity and morale for the organisation.

There are two different types of bullying boss. In the most extreme and rarest form, the bully feels threatened by others and needs to put subordinates down in order to enhance their own self-esteem. It is very difficult to deal with this type of bully because of the deep-seated drivers of the behaviour ““ something that cannot be easily resolved or dealt with by employees. This makes it a matter for the bully’s manager and, in reality, leaves employees with two choices ““ escalate the matter or find another job.

For most bullies however, behaviour is driven by the fact that they are so overloaded that they can’t handle their workload. This frustrates them and, often lacking the skills to cope, they take it out on their subordinates. There can be several underlying causes of this kind of behaviour. The bullying boss may not be able to handle the pressure inherent in

their job; they may be unable (or unwilling) to delegate to others; or they may habitually blame others when things go wrong, rather than thinking about their own behaviour. Another explanation is that the bully is simply in the wrong job.

Unlike the “low self-esteem” bully the “overloaded” bully can be helped ““ it’s possible for such managers to develop better skills in this area with the right help and support from the organisation.

Just as importantly, though, employees can improve the way that they manage upwards by being more aware during periods of overload. If employees understand a bit more about the triggers, they can become a source of support rather than contributing to their boss’s stress and bad behaviour.

Another type of difficult boss that abounds in both the public and private sectors is The Bureaucrat. You might recognise the characteristics ““ needing to be in control, demanding clear structures, systems, processes and norms. Bureaucrats are rarely abusive ““ in fact, they are often very pleasant and reasonable people ““ but they want things done by the book and in their way. Working for them can often feel inflexible and it can be difficult for employees to act with any significant degree of autonomy. “It’s my way or the high way” can be difficult to deal with for people with lots of ideas and drive.

The best way to handle the bureaucratic boss is to develop a good knowledge of two things. First, get to know the rules and regulations of your organisation ““ that way, if you want to make substantial changes to existing practice you can couch them in a way that is consistent with these norms. Second, get to know what is important to your boss, what objectives they focusing on at the moment and what drives their behaviour. Once you know these things it is much easier to present your own ideas in a way that will not jar with your boss’s needs and you can start to help them to work out how to rationalise new ideas so that they fit inside existing rules and structures. You may even be able to convince your boss that it was their idea in the first place.

In an ideal world, we’d all have a supremely effective boss who is open to new ideas, uses praise orientated management style, is innovative in finding solutions outside the constraints of the corporate box and truly listens to our ideas. But it isn’t an ideal world and we have to remember that our bosses are usually under at least as much pressure and have a workload that is at least as heavy as our own. There is no excuse for bullying behaviour or poor management driven by personal needs ahead of what’s best for the organisation. However, next time you’re on the end of bad management behaviour, stop for a moment and try to see things from your boss’s perspective. Think about your own behaviour and what would be most likely to get things back on track for the organisation. Consider how you would have behaved differently if you were your boss and file that learning away ““ after all, you may be in your boss’s shoes one day.

Cary L Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School and director of Robertson Cooper Ltd. Read his blog at http//

Thanks to Dean Carroll for this article.