Category Archives: Politics, Policies And Process
The current financial chaos is producing a lot of debate about regulation. On one hand we’re told that very tight scrutiny, emboldened by severe legislation, is a must; whilst others say more ‘good, moral people’ from the City are the answer. Both positions have merit. But urgent action to widen the pool from which Board Directors is drawn is one essential and immediate option, insisting that many more women become directors of the most influential companies.
Few would deny that, as Andrew Phillips said recently in The Guardian, a ‘welter of regulation’ cannot in and of itself avoid further catastrophe for the Threadneedle Street and City of London and Wall Street.
Of course ‘good, moral’ people are a pre-requisite of effective reformation of the financial system; and of course this must include people of ‘all talents’.
Diversity improves scrutiny
What Lord Phillips might also propose, however, is that none of this is likely to deliver unless the talents involved are those of a truly diverse lot, in background, ethnicity, gender and otherwise.
The best way to secure proper scrutiny is to ensure, however well meaning they might be, that decision-making groups are not also a collection of people with much, beyond the necessary skills and expertise, in common.
Diversity improves business performance too
We already know that diversity at the top makes for successful business. Group members of different sorts, from a variety of backgrounds, aren’t an optional extra when it comes to effective group working. They’re essential.
And the UK workplace equality legislation to deliver this – applicable as much in the boardroom as on the shopfloor – is already in place.
Read more about Business & Enterprise and about Gender & Women.
John Willman is UK Business Editor of the Financial Times, so his take on the UK economy was an important contribution to the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference in Liverpool. His message, whilst analytically cautious in the present market chaos, came over as generally upbeat. Would that Tim Leunig, the academic who advised the economic emphasis should Go South, had seen things in the same light. Better surely for the North and the South of England, if we face the UK’s regional (and centralist) challenges, than if we run away?
The headline message from John Willman‘s talk came over to me as: Tim Leunig is mistaken. And the UK economy is fundamentally strong.
Leunig’s recent staggering judgement (in the report Cities Unlimited, by the free market leaning independent think tank Policy Exchange) that in general developers should abandon the North of England for the delights of the Golden Triangle – he suggests more development around Oxbridge, which will supposedly realign the North-South markets – in my view takes some beating for silliness. John Willman appeared to be of a similar mind.
The great Victorian cities
Far from suggesting, as Leunig seems to, that Greater London should become even more overheated, Willman made the case that the ‘great Victorian cities’ are the best equipped for the new ‘global living’. There is, he said, a Kit: some combination of conference centres, art galleries, a four-star hotel, some culture and festivals, and maybe a port.
In these respects the major English cities of the North (of the Core Cities, only Bristol is South) have the edge on continental European cities such as Bordeaux and Porto. They’re also great and fascinating cities (as I too can attest), but they’re probably 15 years behind their parallels in Britain: Their docksides have yet to be developed for the new leisure economies, for instance.
North-South divide: London ‘vs’ the rest
The debate about the North-South divide, Willman told us, is sterile. It’s useless to ‘blame’ London. The UK capital is a truly global city; in this, the North can never expect or even hope to compete. It’s just not a realistic objective to close the gap.
And London, with the mayoral model which elected mayor Ken Livingstone provided, showed how a ‘get things done’ city can operate.
The national and global economy
Despite the panic, only 3% of UK mortgages are in default. Willman judged that Britain is still doing pretty well as the sixth largest manufacturer in the world, a supplier of very high quality products.
In these respects the UK economy is well placed for the globalised world; as is North West England, with its emphasis on the service economies, life sciences, media and creative products and the current / forthcoming energy industries (including nuclear energy) .
The Wimbledon effect
The UK is an open economy, which in some senses punches above its weight. Britain demonstrates the ‘Wimbledon effect‘: we don’t necessarily take the headlines, but we do host the event.
In fact, the consultants Saffron Brand recently reported that perhaps the UK sells its story ‘too well’ – some of our cities are actually more highly rated than cold analysis suggests they might be.
A strong basic economy
Willman’s overall judgement at the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference was that UK economy is ‘so much stronger than 30 years ago’.
Perhaps some of us continue to see the elephant in the room – climate change and environmental sustainability – as an critically important challenge, still to be adequately (and very urgently) addressed.
Whatever… Would that Tim Leunig and others like him were as willing as Willman, on the basis of the evidence over many decades, to recognise that people everywhere have to believe in themselves to make their economies work effectively at all.
Read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions
and about Economics Observed.
High Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) are a distressing measure, but they tell us a lot about the nation’s health. In the UK today the risk of infant death is about one in two hundred live births. But still seven times as many babies die in some working class Northern towns as do in the wealthiest parts of the South East. The Sure Start programme, alongside the Government’s IMR health inequalities initiative, shows promise in addressing these massive inequalities; but the next step must be to strengthen Sure Start’s interdisciplinary framework.
Fundamental issues such as human health and well-being are rarely a challenge for only one part of public sector services.
The really big problems almost always straddle a wide range of service provision, which can add substantially to the difficulties of resolving them – no one service provider alone ‘owns’ the issue, and it is often unclear who should head up programmes to address the problem.
Differentials in life expectancy
A classic example of this is the challenge in the UK of reducing the gap between the life expectancy of richer and poorer people, to achieve the goal of everyone who possibly can enjoying a long and healthy life.
The better the start in life, the more likely a person is to have a good outcome also in the future. For this reason there has been much emphasis in recent years on Infant Mortality Rates, which are generally agreed to be amongst the most sensitive overall indicators of a nation’s health.
Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) are usually stated as numbers of deaths per 1000 live births. The figures are often broken down into rates for the first four weeks of life (neonatal rate) and then for the rest of the first year of a child’s life (post-neonatal rate), i.e. from the end of week four till first birthday.
Infant Mortality Rates in Britain
The national statistics show that even since the 1970s, in the UK IMRs have fallen by about 60%. In 1978 the neonatal (first four weeks) rate was 8.7 deaths per 1000 live births, and the post-neonatal rate, up to a child’s first birthday, was 4.5.
By 1988 the rates were 4.9 and 4.1 respectively, and in 1997 they were 3.9 and 2.0.
In 2007 the UK neonatal mortality rate was 3.3 per 1000 live births, and the post-neonatal rate was 1.5 – in other words, a child born in the UK in 2007 had a probability of dying before his or her first birthday of just about one half of one percent. (You can see international comparisons here.)
Sadly, these national statistics include both good and bad news. The good news is that decent housing, income and environments can support people in long and healthy lives.
The bad news is that the opposite conditions can be lethal. There are parts of the North of England, for instance, where IMR is about twice that national average, and up to seven times that of the very best outcomes.
Specifically, high IMR and low life expectancy often go hand-in hand in the Spearhead areas; the 70 local authority areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators, and for which a programme of public service interventions has been developed.
High risk factors in health inequality
The target does not however take into account all dimensions of health inequalities in infant mortality. The statistics show e.g. that in 2002–04, the infant mortality rate of babies of mothers:
* born in Pakistan (10.2 per 1,000 live births) was double the overall IMR;
* born in the Caribbean (8.3 per 1,000 live births) was 63% higher than the national average;
* aged under 20 years (7.9 per 1,000 live births) was 60% higher than for older mothers aged 20–39;
* where the birth was registered by the mother alone (6.7 per 1,000 live births), was 36% higher than among all births inside marriage or outside marriage or jointly registered by both parents.
Improving life chances
Obviously, these significant inequalities are just not acceptable. The Government therefore introduced a Public Service Agreement (PSA ) Target in 2007 with the express objective of reducing the IMR gap, so that more babies will live to have long and healthy lives. (Healthy babies also have better long-term prospects, sometimes dramatically so.)
The deal is that the UK Treasury provides the money, and the public sector delivers the agreed outcome, to a clear timescale and against clearly measured outcomes.
Particular emphasis has therefore been placed in terms of health inequalities on achieving a ten percent reduction (between 2003 and 2010) in the IMR deficit between people in routine and manual (R&M) jobs, and the general population.
Practical steps forward
The practical ways in which the Health Inequalities Infant Mortality PSA Target Review (February 2007) can be achieved are focused on two things: sensible day-to-day actions and provisions, and interdisciplinary co-operation. In the words of the NHS summary of the Implementation plan for reducing health inequalities in infant mortality:
‘The plan describes how commissioners and service providers can develop local services to help reduce health inequalities in infant mortality through:
* promoting joined-up delivery of the target with Maternity Matters and Teenage Parents Next Steps. This includes
* improving access to maternity care;
* improving services for black and minority ethnic (BME) groups;
* encouraging ownership of the target through effective performance management;
* raising awareness of health inequalities in infant mortality and child health;
* gathering and reporting routine data, including specific maternity and paediatric activity;
* undertaking joint strategic needs assessment to identify local priorities around health inequalities in maternity and infant mortality;
* giving priority to evidence-based interventions that will help ensure delivery of the target.
It emphasises the importance of partnership working; outlines the role of government departments, strategic health authorities (SHAs), primary care trusts (PCTs), local authorities and Sure Start Children’s Centres.’
Specific, realisable targets for practical action and delivery
Progress may be slow, but none of this is rocket science.
Large-scale studies have demonstrated that just a few health messages about avoiding early years risk can have a big impact. Indeed, the Review of Health Inequalities has been able to quantify four measures, and suggest another one, which would have appreciable impact on the ‘10% reduction in IMR gap’ target. These were:
* reduce prevalence of obesity in the R&M group by 23%, to current general population levels – 2.8% gap reduction
* reduce smoking in pregnancy from 23% to 15% in R&M group – 2% gap reduction
* reduce R&M group sudden unexpected deaths in infancy by persuading 1 in 10 women in this group to avoid sharing a bed with their baby, or letting it sleep prone (on its front) – 1.4% gap reduction
* achieve teenage pregnancy target – 1% gap reduction
* also, early booking and improved teenage pregnancy services – not possible as yet to quantify probable gap reduction, but positive impact on gap anticipated.
Getting it right
The scope for getting this right in very simple ways is therefore enormous. Whilst guidance at national level, such as the Department of Health’s Child Health Promotion Plan (June 2008) is essential to provide a framework, much of the responsibility for success has to lie with the authorities ‘on the ground’, who have to co-ordinate the action.
In reality, only at the local level is it possible to get practitioners to work together well, to ensure that all those – including so-called ‘hard to reach’ minority ethnic familes, travellers and e.g. very young parents or parents with mental health problems – who would benefit from services, advice or support, in fact receive them. Although programmes such as the Family Nurse Partnership (a joint Department of Health / Department for Children, Schools and Families project whereby specially trained midwives and health vsitors work closely with vulnerable, first time, young parents) are starting to reach those with most disadvantage, in some places still this doesn’t always happen.
It is disappointing therefore to read claims in this month’s Regeneration and Renewal that the PSA Inequality target will be missed, despite the many billions of pounds (£9bn in 2007-8) which have been invested in Sure Start services to deliver early years provision.
An expected move
This probably why the Government is launching a public consultation on proposals to give Sure Start Children’s Centres a specific statutory legal basis, as part of the forthcoming Education and Skills Bill.
Such a move was indicated as a possibility when The Children’s Plan (the ten year programme for Every Child Matters) was introduced in December 2007. It would establish Sure Start Children’s Centres as ‘a legally recognised part of the universal infrastructure for children’s services, so their provision becomes a long term statutory commitment and part of the established landscape of early years provision’.
The best way forward
This is a much better idea than the alternatives proffered in some quarters – more Health Visitors as a stand-alone, for instance. (What about the GPs / family doctors? How do they fit in?)
A review of progress has shown (as my own consultancy work also indicates) that the PSA infant mortality target was not known or understood by practitioners (NHS, local government and Sure Start staff etc) despite individual examples of leadership and good practice.
And nor, in my experience, do practitioners and policy makers automatically know that impact has to be measured across the whole relevant population of infants, not just those who attend particular service provision, be this Health Visitor clinics, Sure Start or whatever.
About 80% of early years formal care is actually undertaken by small private concerns, child minders and so forth, a ‘group’ which, whilst of course the subject of statutory regulation and monitoring, it is particularly difficult to bring together in any meaningful way. But what happens in small relatively isolated provision will have a big impact on children’s future lives.
The PSA IMR Review has therefore identified the criticality of making the 10% gap reduction target part of everyday business – integrating into commissioning plans and provider contracts; taking responsibility and engaging communities; matching resources to needs; and focusing on what can be done.
Multi-disciplinary and future-facing
The challenges of equipping professionals to work together across disciplines are complex; not every practitioner would say, if asked, that they actually want to be so equipped and so far out of their comfort zone. But these challenges must be met, as is beginning to happen, with skills audits by NIACE which indicate the centrality in Sure Start provision of effective multi-agency leadership and partnership development.
The National Audit Office reports that, whilst most Sure Start Children’s Centre managers understand they must approach the work in a multi-disciplinary way, this is not always so for local authorities, who ‘had not all developed effective partnerships with health and employment services’.
The onus is now particularly on local government and NHS providers. If it takes more legislation to ensure they all collaborate properly with Sure Start Children’s Centres (and vice versa), so be it. It’s children’s futures which are at stake.
Read also: Early Intervention In The Early Years
See also: ‘Changes for the better?‘ – The Every Child Matters policy, published in 2003, was a landmark proposal for child social service reform. Five years on, Ruth Winchester asks the professionals how things have developed, and what progress has been made (The Guardian, 22 October 2008)
How do people come to be leaders in their communities? Are they anointed or appointed? Do they take or earn the authority to represent their peers? What are the rationales behind their belief that they should lead? Do others agree? And what are their objectives, and why? It all depends on where you’re coming from, and what sort of ‘community’ it is. So how should those who work in regeneration with communities and their leaders approach this complex and delicate issue?
The answer to these questions is, of course, that there is in fact No One Answer.
People come to be leaders through many different routes. For some authority and legitimacy is always a struggle. For others it just comes with who you are.
Different ‘communities’ for different purposes
This is a tale of different ‘communities‘ in different places and at different times. Some communities are geographically based, some interest based, some economic, some cultural.
‘Communities’ can comprise locations defined by their mono-cultural base (whether Protestant, Punjabi or Presbyterian), whilst at the other end of the spectrum some exist only as loosely connected groups of people who enjoy Politics, Portsmouth City or Painting. Leadership in these different communities will obviously not be of just one kind.
Intentions and expected outcomes
The intended outcomes of the leadership role vary. Some people believe they’re there to uphold tradition and (in their mind) maintain stability in an unstable world. Others seek to be leaders precisely so they can change things.
Traditional leaders and those (at the opposite end of the spectrum) who are of the ‘change the world’ tendency often to see their remit as wide. Others have more piece-meal and modest expectations, perhaps to improve things in a specific and direct way.
Authority to lead
The really interesting thing is that traditionalists and revolutionaries alike usually derive their authority from (what they perceive as) universal social values or mores. But those who seek more modest and specific changes tend to legitimise their positions in reasoned ways, perhaps in terms of the avoidance of harm or similar logically justifiable and rational objectives.
There is a chasm between those who exert overall authority as such – whether to maintain the status quo or radically to alter it – and those who seek to manage specific change, which they believe can be demonstrated to be for the better.
And these forms of influence are not randomly distributed. They tend to be associated with differences in community / cultural experience, age, gender and class. One person’s assumption of power and influence may well become, without any such overt intention, another person’s disempowerment.
Competing beliefs and challenges
Community leadership and wider social interests are sometimes hard to bring together in a world where there are competing beliefs about what legitimate authority in a community might be; and indeed about what constitutes a ‘community’.
Here lies one of the biggest challenges for those of us who seek to work with people in their (and our) own localities. Delivering stability and change together is hard to handle well.
In diversity lies strength?
Where the bottom line is overt – in for instance FTSE 100 Board Rooms – the evidence is incontrovertible, that diversity of gender (e.g. The McKinsey Report: Women Matter) and culture enhances good decision-making.
But how can (or ‘should’) we apply that knowledge in communities where at present the bottom line is not overt (what exactly is being ‘lead’?) and is certainly not up for discussion?
Social Diversity & Inclusion
‘Workable’ Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity (‘Regeneration Rethink’)
Liverpool’s Operation Black Vote programme was launched today in our Town Hall. This ambitious movement intends to establish an emerging generation of politicians of all ‘races’, cultures and faiths, who have been mentored early in their careers by existing councillors. The event this evening demonstrated that OBV’s aim is shared by all our civic leaders, and that they believe they will indeed deliver.
Further information on Operation Black Vote.
Social Inclusion & Diversity
Camera & Calendar
The Presidential potential of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is great. So how has this embarrassment of riches for Democrats in the USA seemingly become an advantage for John McCain and the Republicans, as the ‘race’ and gender agendas compete for dominance? Do progressive politics in race and gender need to collide?
The current – but perhaps soon to be resolved – contest for the Democratic Presidential nomination has revealed some aspects of the political process usually less visible to outside observers.
To understand what’s happening we probably need to look as closely at the (social) psychology of the evolving situation, as we do at the formal political process.
How did two of the most powerful and internationally visible advocates for equal rights find themselves head to head in the same contest? And what does it tell us about gender, ‘race’, and age in politics?
The prospect of candidature is daunting
Only the most stout-hearted would ever consider running for Presidential nomination. It’s a hiding to nothing for most contenders, it costs millions of dollars, and it requires vast amounts of personal time, energy, drive and gritty optimism.
So we’re not talking about ‘normal’ people when we consider Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
Testing the water
Sometimes, nonetheless, the time seems right.
For both Clinton and Obama the Bush administration’s record of failure offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Democrats to take the USA and the world by storm.
And for Clinton it represented the culmination – and justification – of a long period of influence on the global stage. She’d planned for several years to become the first ever female World Leader; and her experience gave her huge justification for this ambition.
Obama’s situation was probably rather more complex. Did his family, worried about his safety, really want him to stand? Would his short time as a Senator be seen as inexperience or as a fresh face? Were race issues going to make things difficult?
But crucially, he will have asked himself, would there ever be a greater opportunity, a more open goal, for whoever was nominated by the Democrats? Best perhaps to put down a marker now….?
It has been said Obama promised his wife he’d only stand once. When could be better for establishing the first black President in office?
Firming the intent
There comes a time for all serious election candidates when they really believe they can win. Surrounded by supporters and campaign workers, they are, however inadvertently, at one remove from the cruel truth that there will be many losers but only one victor.
Presumably this moment came quite early on for Obama. He decided to stand and looks at present as if he will gain the Democratic nomination.
These are very delicate issues, but put bluntly, the contest appears to be developing – as surveys have largely shown – according to the usual lines.
Age, gender or race?
Both candidates have huge appeal to progressive Americans, eager to shrug off the turgid, backward-looking and deeply divisive Bush era. But there are differences not easily dismissed in who the two potential candidates ‘are’.
Clinton is an older (age 60), white woman, inevitably carrying the baggage which decades of deep political engagement bring.
Obama is younger, black and male; and his lack of baggage, because of the good fortune (at 45) of his comparative youth, compensates for his inexperience.
A hierarchy of preference
If things turn out as seems likely we shall have observed again the hierarchies which present in so many aspects of public life.
Given the opportunity to choose between two symbols of progressive – if not leftwing – politics, race is it currently appears perhaps less of an issue (overall?) for the electorate than gender.
Could it be that this consideration in some way enhanced Obama’s enthusiasm for standing so relatively early in his political career? (Earlier in his career he reportedly told a male colleague, Jesse Jackson Jnr., that he, Obama, would only contest a Senate seat if the other man did not.)
Many people across the free world – including me – would like to see Clinton and Obama together on the world stage, running side-by-side as Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. They are as good, in the context of US realpolitik, as it gets.
For some of us there remains nonetheless an unbidden sadness in the realisation that, even now, the odds are apparently stacked against a (any?) woman. More than half the population of the USA is female (an estimated 153 million, of a total population of nearly 302 million – of whom 240 million are ‘white’); but there is – unless you consider Chelsea? – no immediately obvious female presidential successor to Hillary Clinton, if or when she pulls out.
Seeing things longer-term
To many younger people it seems Obama looks the more attractive option, for the reasons we have considered above. Some of us who have been involved in the equal rights movement for decades may, however much we genuinely want to see equality in ‘race’ just as much as we want to see gender, go along with that judgement with a heavy heart.
Perhaps the truth is this: Gender becomes more oppressive for many women as they experience full maturity – it’s when hard ‘family vs career’ choices have to be made that the full force of being biologically female hits one. (And how many women under, say, 35 are ever going to run for president?)
On the other hand, for people of ‘minority’ race, especially if they’re educated men, maybe the oppression lessens a little as maturity approaches and one’s destiny is more one’s own? I would like to think so, anyway – and would be interested to learn more from those who can speak directly about this.
Squaring the circle
These are delicate and difficult matters to discuss.
We are all a product of our individual genetic makeup, and of our socio-economic background, age and culture. No-one is immune from these influences; but everyone is fundamentally entitled to shape and take charge of their own way in life. To enable this to happen requires a very firm commitment, embedded at every level of society, to respect for equality and diversity.
To repeat: Progressives are seemingly spoilt for choice. Both Clinton and Obama are hugely refreshing and talented alternatives to the usual presidential offerings. Either would serve the equality and diversity agenda – so very essential for our future well-being and sustainability – really well.
A step forward or a step back?
But some of us, in spite of our earnest and well-meaning selves, are a bit weary of being the majority which is always and apparently irredeemably second in the race. Especially when, as is the truth for Hillary Clinton, we were there first.
How can feminists – advocates of a progressive perspective which at its best will always seek equality for everyone, female and male, black and white, aged and youthful – cope with the evidence apparently emerging that voters still prefer not to select a woman, if other progressive choices are available? (And, probably, those other candidates have recognised, and can benefit from, this usually unexamined preference…)
As Marie Cocco of the Washington Post puts it, we are now facing the ‘Not Clinton’ Excuse – and that could put things back a very long time.
A challenge Obama must resolve
Somehow the putative President Obama must show this is a challenge to his progressive credentials, and to the inner feelings of many disappointed women who in other respects share his progressive position, which he understands and can accommode.
Perhaps in the current situation the best we can hope for immediately is that Hillary Clinton is acknowledged by Barack Obama in some seriously meaningful way.
The worst possibility is that an extended and exhausting Clinton-Obama contest gives John McCain the opportunity he seeks to slip through the middle and retain the Presidency for the Republicans later this year.
Read more articles about
Social Inclusion & Diversity
Gender & Women.
Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive – it ‘saves’ energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it’s good for us. So how can vegetarianism become more often the diet of choice?