Category Archives: Politics, Policies And Process

Food, Facts And Factoids: What Do We Need To Know?

Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water…. Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

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Big Science In Regional Economic Context: Daresbury And ALICE

Daresbury Laboratory Tower  60x99 043a.jpg Investment in scientific programmes often has added socio-economic value. But there is little evidence that good indices are available to measure what this impact might be for large-scale scientific regionally-based development. Whilst private investors guard their capital with care, only rarely do the criteria for evaluation of Big Science proposals include adequate consideration of the wider impact of public funds invested.
The bovine foot and mouth pyres of a few years ago are testament to unintentional damage inflicted when strictly focused ‘science’ is applied crudely in wider socio-economic contexts.
Everyone wanted to do the right thing; but the upshot of scientific best advice was rural economic devastation.
What criteria?
The same scenario may be enacted again, if the judgement of a panel of leading scientists results in removal of the Alice (Accelerators and Lasers in Combined Experiments) programme at the Daresbury Laboratory in North-West England.
The science will carry on elsewhere, most probably in the USA, but the NW regional economy, which could have benefited hugely, will instead take a hammerblow.
Best value for government investment
Scientists quite rightly concentrate on what they understand – in this case physics, engineering and the like. I cannot comment on their scientific judgements about ALICE; though it is always open to their colleagues have views on this.
Whatever, the investment of significant government monies must also, as numbers of parliamentarians have argued, be about best value in socio-economic terms, as well as indicated by narrower scientific parameters; and the scientists would without doubt agree they are not best placed to adjudicate all this.
Socio-economic impact studies
If the relevant science councils have undertaken regional socio-economic impact studies on their proposed investments, these, like the scientific appraisals, must now be opened to public scrutiny.
If they have not, we must challenge the science councils to undertake these comparative impact studies immediately, before potentially devastating decisions are made.
Added value – or otherwise
Added value‘ (perhaps significantly, a term often used to evaluate the impact of educational initiatives) and ‘unintended consequences‘ (c.f. Robert Merton’s work) may be indices beyond the lexicon of physical science; but, as the rural economists acknowledged after foot and mouth disease, they can never be outside the remit of decisions about big investment, in the public interest, of taxpayers’ money.
A version of this article, entitled ‘Alice in economic context’, was published on the Letters page of Guardian Education on 15 April 2008.
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Science, Regeneration & Sustainability
Science & Politics

Should We Keep British Summer Time All Year?

U.K. clocks go forward on Sunday morning, 30 March ’08, and the lighter evenings which British Summer Time brings will cheer up almost everyone. But there would also be many other anticipated benefits, from road safety to energy conservation and healthier lifestyles, were we to keep ‘Daylight Saving’ all year. A Downing Street petition has now been set up to urge a continuous BST trial period of three years, with research to establish the extent of these benefits.
‘Daylight Saving’ is an issue which won’t go away. And now there’s a Petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to not to let that precious extra hour of afternoon light go away in the Winter either.
Downing Street petition
The Downing Street petition aims to ‘make better use of the limited daylight we receive’. It reads as follows:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to consider a change to the current system of British Summer Time / Greenwich Mean Time (BST/GMT). This could consist of a trial period (similar to that adopted 1968 to 1971) and could take the form of a move to year round BST, or a 1 hour shift to GMT+1/GMT+2. Research shows that such a move could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce road deaths, facilitate business with Europe, potentially boost tourism, increase outdoor activity, promote healthier lifestyles and enhance the well being of UK citizens.
You can read more detail of the Petition, and / or sign it, here.
BST Facebook group
There is also a Facebook group, set up like the Downing Street petition by Dave Alexander, which seeks to ‘raise support of and debate the possibilities and benefits regarding changes / trials of different time zone options for Britain…..This could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce road deaths, facilitate business with Europe, potentially boost tourism, increase outdoor activity, promote healthier lifestyles and enhance the well being of UK citizens.
An enduring idea
This is by no means a new proposal, as we have already established very firmly on this website, but the need to get some action becomes greater with each year. If further debate is needed, the BST: British Summer Time & ‘Daylight Saving’ section of this weblog remains a forum where everyone from the South coast to scattered Scottish isles is welcome to share their ideas.
Discussion is however no substitute for evidence-based action. Health, energy sustainability and accident prevention are too important to ignore.
This article was also published as a New Start external blog.
Read more: BST: British Summer Time & ‘Daylight Saving’ (The Clocks Go Back & Forward)

The Metropolitan County Councils, Abolished In 1986

Merseyside County Council (logo) shield Incredibly, it was twenty two years ago that the Conservative government closed down the Metropolitan County Councils , thereby ensuring control from the national centre of power. The impact on local decision-making was huge, as was the effort subsequently required to rebuild the regional administrative decision-making process.
The Metropolitan County Councils, like the Greater London Council and the Inner London Educational Authority, were powerful bodies representing local and regional interests, and were seen as irritants on the national body politic. So Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided they ‘had to go’.
But as Dr Richard Beeching also demonstrated, when years earlier he closed many local and regional railway lines, it takes little time to destroy something which holds together the physical or political regional infrastructure – and an enormous amount of money and effort to reinstate it.
Merseyside County Council closure reception invitation 20th March 1986 'For workers in the Merseyside arts community'
This is the invitation I received to the Merseyside County Council closure reception for ‘Workers in the Merseyside Arts Community’, on 20 March 1986, at Metropolitan House, Old Hall Street, Liverpool. The evening was hosted by Cllr Keva Coombes, a local lawyer and Leader of the Merseyside County Council.
See more photographs at Locations & Events and read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions.

So Women Leaders Are ‘Less Confident’ Than Men…

08.3.16a Cross arms 115x96 001aa.jpgSenior women leaders are often criticised for being less confident than the men, and for feeling unable to delegate. Is this any wonder, when those very men don’t play fair? It’s time for sexist attitudes in the corridors of power to be challenged head-on – which is exactly what Margot Wallström, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative, has just been doing.

The truth is, men choose men. It is as simple as that – not a question of lack of ambition, of interest or of aptitude from women.
So, in her article A thick layer of men, says Margot Wallström, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative, a network of current and former women presidents, prime ministers and ministers aiming ‘to promote good governance and enhance democracy globally by increasing the number, effectiveness, and visibility of women who lead at the highest levels in their countries’.
Chaps’ clubs
Well, I of course agree. There has to be some explanation of the neglect of women’s (much-needed) talents, and the most obvious is that they’re not part of the Gang. Until 90 years ago, women in the UK weren’t even permitted to vote, let alone to be members of the UK’s ultimate chaps’ club, Parliament, where many of the really big decisions are made.
We all know that the dynamic of debate and decision-making changes as the gender ratio also changes, both for men and for women.
And of course some men are always fairminded and exemplary in their professional conduct and beliefs; but sadly not as yet in sufficient numbers to secure the fundamental changes essential for genuine gender (or other) equality.
Determined rather than confident?
Maybe this explains claims at the moment that there may now be more women taking leadership roles, but these women are ‘less confident‘ than their male peers, and feel more obliged to ‘check the detail’ and don’t like to delegate.
You can only let the detail go, and feel confident, if you know that what you ask to be done, is indeed being done.
The next step towards gender equality can only be taken by the male half of the workforce. When men (and some other women) are as amenable to women as to men issuing the orders, leaders who happen to be female will feel confident that they don’t need to check up on everything.
Challenge the sexism, not the upshot
Until that’s fully grasped – and until ungendered collaboration and compliance in the workplace becomes a required part of professional behaviour for everyone – criticism of women’s leadership styles is, quite simply, unfair and out of order.
All power, I say, to Margot Wallström’s elbow, as she puts the ball back firmly in the chaps’ court.

BURA’s Regeneration Equality And Diversity Network Has Lift-Off

Diverse crowd 177x110 076a.jpg Today (20 February 2008) saw the formal launch of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA)’s Equality and Diversity Framework and Network. The event, at the Abbey Community Centre in Westminster, was attended by people from across the regeneration world, and produced much discussion about how BURA and its partners could move forward.
In my role as BURA Champion for Equality and Diversity I was lucky enough to join our President, Sir Jeremy Beecham, and other colleagues, in presenting and discussing initial ideas about this challenging issue.
Your views too are welcome. To begin the debate, this is what I said:
BURA Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework Launch
Wednesday 20 February 2008, Westminster, London

This event was set up, as Sir Jeremy explained, because of serious concerns which the BURA Board has about inclusivity in regeneration.
The evidence is before our eyes; the top of the profession is overwhelmingly populated by white men.
Regeneration fits the white male stereotype for leadership in Britain only too well; and the stereotype extends even to the BURA Board itself, where Directors are elected from amongst our hundreds of members.
Something has to be done. No-one disputes that, as regeneration practitioners, we must address inclusion; but few of us have articulated how this intention fits in with regeneration. And fewer still I suspect, are sure how to do it.
The BURA Board has therefore decided to invite your help and support as we move forward on this challenging issue.
What is inclusivity and why does it matter?
A look at the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission gives us a good feel for what an inclusive society might look like.
It would be a society in which people had safe and secure opportunities to enjoy a happy and healthy life.
In this society people of every sort would find themselves in positions of influence and leadership, and able to work towards a situation which in turn releases the potential of others.
This would be a society in which we, as regeneration practitioners, understood the impact of our work on all our fellow citizens, and then applied that knowledge across all our activities.
It would be a society in which, say, Asian women in Bury had as much opportunity to develop their interests and employment potential as white men in Cheltenham. It would be a society in which families in both these communities were equally likely to see their children born healthy and strong, with an equal expectation of a long and happy life.
In a nutshell, it would be a society which is stable and sustainable.
And if regeneration isn’t about achieving socio-economic stability and environmental sustainability, I don’t know what is.
Regeneration is more than the sum of its parts
I believe firmly that the task of today’s regeneration practitioners is to work themselves out of a job. We need to believe at a very deep level that ‘regeneration’ is not the same as ‘construction’, or ‘remediation’, or even as ‘planning’.
Critical though these callings are, real regeneration is much more than that.
After 30 years of regeneration in Britain, we should now be seeking very actively to reinvent ourselves as ‘sustainability practitioners’, as professionals who work to maintain an equitable, healthy and safe environment for everyone.
This reinvention of ourselves would require massive changes in the way we work, in our collaborations across disciplinary boundaries, and in our perceptions of how fellow citizens who are not exactly like ourselves experience their lives.
We can’t do that if we don’t understand how to achieve inclusivity, and why it matters.
But there is a very long way to go.
What is BURA doing about itself?
* Firstly, we have undertaken a thorough audit of our own organisation.
* We have looked at the gender and ethnicity of all members of staff and the Board, going back for three years, and for staff we have correlated this with salary bands. We shall report these findings to the Board when it next meets, and post a summary of this information thereafter on our website.
* We will also decide as a Board, in consultation with, we hope, our new Chief Executive, how much more data it might or might not be appropriate to record about the Board and staff.
* And we shall consult too on whether and, if so, how we need to look at the ‘inclusion’ characteristics of all BURA members.
* We would hope at the same time to start research on these characteristics as they apply to the regeneration sector as a whole, and to see how this compares with the data for the British population overall.
What is BURA doing to support progress in regeneration overall?
* Importantly, we are not seeking to compete with anyone; we are offering a supportive network which encompasses the whole spectrum of interests – inclusive, not competitive, with the sole aim of moving this positive agenda forward.
* Also, we recognise that no-one as yet has all the answers; we are simply trying, with everyone else, to identify both the challenges and the opportunities.
* We are launching today a Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework, an ‘umbrella’ group welcoming people and organisations from every part of regeneration, ‘professional’ to ‘community’, to address a wide range of issues around equality and diversity.
This group will not seek to undertake work already done by others, but will help to link together the inclusion themes which regeneration good practice must address.
Some examples of what the BURA E&D Framework seeks to achieve
* We will support the exchange of information and views about what are the most immediate challenges for Equality and Diversity in regeneration in the UK.
* We will seek to collaborate with government at local and national level, and with research bodies already examining aspects of Equality and Diversity.
* We will develop the BURA website as a free open-access resource, available to all, hosting weblinks to legal and professional aspects of regeneration practice – including equality and legal audits – and enabling wider discussion between BURA members and partners.
* We will offer practical help and support to people from different communities who wish to become involved in regeneration – perhaps for instance by offering bursaries and work placements – in a collaboration between BURA and our members and corporate partners.
* But most of all, we will seek to work with all of you to make the BURA Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework not just a talking shop, but a vibrant and positive reality.
In for the duration
* This is however slow-burn. We’re asking the questions but we don’t as yet have many of the answers; everyone here today can help.
* The BURA Board are unanimous that we must work hard to make our Equality and Diversity Framework a reality, not just an ambition.
We very much hope that you will want to be part of this reality.
Contact Hilary at BURA

Launching The BURA Regeneration Equality And Diversity Framework

Liverpool Bombed Church & Chinese New Year 170x126 027b.jpg Next week sees the launch in Westminster, London of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework.

The BURA Board has unanimously resolved to try honestly to do what regeneration is supposed to do – reduce inequality and discrimination through the creation of environments where people can lead sustainable, happy and fulfilling lives.
From the regeneration perspective, equality and diversity are difficult things to get one’s head around. There are so many variables.
I tend therefore to approach these issues from the ‘other end’, and to ask myself the Big Question: what might a community look like when we’ve finished ‘regenerating’ it?
Put that way, things begin to fall into place.
Two futures
Two outlooks are possible for a place or community which has received the full attention of the regeneration professionals.
Either it will thrive, moving forward to a happier future, where people feel fulfilled and their needs are met in a much more embedded way than before; or it will in time lose its expensive new patina and sink into a deeper, sadder, less secure state even than before.
These different outcomes depend largely on the extent to which that community has been enabled to achieve sustainability.
Three aspects to sustainability
Sustainability has three major aspectss: physical (‘environmental’), economic and social. None of these can be achieved longer term without the others.
Sustainability is impossible without equality and diversity; so regeneration too is underpinned by them.
A stark truth
The Commission for Racial Equality’s final blast at the regeneration business, when in late 2007 that organisation became a part of the new Equality and Human Rights Commission, was well placed. It demonstrated, starkly, that ‘race’ issues remain desperately under-addressed in regeneration.
And it certainly made the Board of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) sit up. Already painfully aware of a lack of diversity at the top table, now we had undeniable evidence about one critically core aspect of disadvantage.
Many realities, many ways forward
The more we looked at disadvantage – whether resulting from age, religion and belief, disability, gender, race or sexual orientation – the more it seemed to stem from the same issues; issues most often around opportunities and resources which people feel they have been denied.
The multiple realities of ‘ordinary’ people’s lives are what define our communities and how they interface with the wider society. This then, surely, is what regeneration is all about?
Where to begin?
So here is BURA’s starting point.
As leading players in regeneration, BURA’s Board has resolved to try honestly to do what regeneration is supposed to do – which is to reduce inequality and discrimination through the creation of environments where people can lead happy and fulfilling lives.
To do this we will look carefully and immediately at how we can put our own house in order; we will listen to and liaise with as many other interested parties as we can; we will seek out, and where necessary and possible commission, research which informs our ambition; and we will take the message wherever it needs to go.
We introduced the BURA Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework concept at our 2008 annual conference, in January. We shall launch it formally at our London event on 20 February; and we will monitor our progress thoroughly as we move forward.
We hope you too will want to be part of this journey.
Hilary Burrage is a member of the BURA Board, and BURA Equality and Diversity Champion. (hilary@bura.org.uk)
The BURA Equality and Diversity campaign is supported by New Start and Ecotec.
This article is a version of the piece published in New Start, 15 February 2008.
See also: New Start survey reveals doubts over cohesion and New Start Editorial of 13 February 2008.

90 Years Of Women’s Emancipation – And Feminism

Just 90 years ago on this date was the first time any woman in the UK was ‘allowed’ to vote. Some people still alive now were born when women’s emancipation did not exist; and even in 1918 the Representation of the People Act permitted only specified women over 30 this privilege. It was to be another ten years before women gained equal voting rights with men.
From the time of the Representation of the People Act of 6 February 1918 until the Equal Franchise Act of 2 July 1928, despite this and other first and desperately hard-fought victories, democratic voting rights were still not equal between men and women.
But that was by no means the end of the fight for formal equality. It was, extraordinarily, not until 30 April 1958 – a date still easily within the memory of many people – that the Life Peerages Act enabled just four women gained entry to the House of Lords.
Not there yet
So progress has indeed been made towards women’s equality in the past century. No longer are women paid less in, or indeed debarred if they marry from, professions like teaching; no longer does the law formally and overtly permit differences in the way women and men stand before it.
But still much remains to be done. As Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society, says in her Guardian interview this week:
We have done as much as we can levering women into a system designed by men for men. Now we have to work for a society where the rules are fitted for everybody…. There has been a huge change in women’s lives, but very little in men’s. [To make further progress] we have got to look at what happens in men’s lives…..
Even now, these battles continue, worldwide….
Unapologetically feminist
So I make no apology for being a long-time committed feminist. Half a century after women’s first step towards full emancipation, the feminist agenda of 1968 was a turning point as I entered adulthood. But the year 2008 still sees a long road ahead.
In my lifetime much has changed; but not enough.
Whilst, for example, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act brought about a fairer situation for women requiring maternity leave (and , thereby, their partners and families) – though it was too late for some of my friends and me.
Still unequal in work and in power
But gender equality in the workplace is even now nowhere near achieved. British women in full time work are still paid on average 17% less than men similarly employed; and when part-time the difference between men and women is 36%.
And in national politics, where the big decisions are made, women remain even now a minority. The 2005 General Election saw 128 women elected in an assembly of 644, most of them – as Theresa May, a leading Conservative, herself acknowledged, from the Labour Party. (As at the end of 2006, of 712 Lords, 139 were women.)
Gender fatigue there may well be; but this is no time for inaction.
A way to shape the future
There remain enormous gaps, for both men and women, in parts of our lives which, whatever the legal frameworks, still have to be addressed. Men and women remain unequal, for each of them in different ways. (And so as we know do people of different sexualities, of different colour or age, of different beliefs and with different abilities.)
You don’t, actually, need to be a woman to want to seek equality, to hold that feminism is a sensible and decent way to see the world. You just have to be a fair-minded person.

Read more about Gender & Women.

Translating Public Policy Into Action

Evidence-based policy is central to much contemporary governmental thinking. But how the different phases of policy delivery can best engage ‘real people’ is not always clear. This is true whether the intended policy concerns health, the knowledge economy, or even global sustainability. There is still much to be done in understanding human agency and interaction in policy development and delivery.
In many aspects of public policy, from health through life-long learning and the economy to global sustainability, it is not simply the science or knowledge base which is important. Of equal, or sometimes greater, importance is an understanding of how to apply the established evidence which informs policy.
Phases in public policy development
There are, or should be, a number of phases in developing public policy.
The first phase is to derive as much consensus as possible about the necessary evidence base (both scientific and contextual) and the second is to consider how this ‘translates’ – an exercise which is currently being taken forward overtly by the government in relation to scientific knowledge, industry and business.
Securing public agreement or at least encouraging constructive and informed public debate is another phase which must run alongside these first two phases.
This ‘third’ phase is at risk when the established modes of policy development continue.
Public debate
The government has now gone some way to seek proper public debate on issues around science, technology, health and so forth. It is not as yet clear however that the corollary of this emphasis has been absorbed by the wider knowledge-related industries or even by some whose task is to deliver policy for real.
We all know that fundamental research and the intricacies of, say, applied medical knowledge are critical for the future. What is less well understood is that there remain huge gaps in our understandings of how such knowledge becomes operational in the real world.
People are what makes things happen. How they do so, in the contexts of such enormous challenges as global warming, the diseases of contemporary societies and the rapidly changing communities we all live in, has yet to be made clear.
Making things happen depends on people
Despite all our problems, many of us in the western world live in the best conditions human beings have ever known. Ensuring this continues and is shared even more widely is very largely a task for policy makers informed by a social rather than natural scientific knowledge base.
Fundamental science certainly needs to remain at the centre of knowledge creation; but, whether in health, industry or the environment, it must be matched by an equally well researched knowledge of the social world, if there is to be any real hope of public policies to sustain all our futures.

Presidential Schema For The Post-Science Century

‘The next president of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates, and the energy landscape of the 21st century.’ So says Chris Mooney in his seriously impressive review of the options – options in reality about human beings, not ‘just’ about knowledge – awaiting electors of the next President of the USA.
Chris Mooney, in his recent Seed Magazine blog piece entitled Dr President, examines the options for American science and suggests what needs to happen now.
America’s relationship with reality
During the past seven years of the Bush administration, Mooney tells us, America has been subject to ‘what can only be called antiscientific governance’. Scientists, he says, have been ‘ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues…
‘Under George W. Bush—the man who pronounced climate science “incomplete,” who misled the nation in his first major address about the availability of embryonic stem cells for research, who claimed that Iraq was collaborating with Al Qaida—America’s relationship with reality itself has reached a nadir.’
What’s next?
Chris Mooney is right. The status of science is in crisis, at least as far as States-side politics is concerned – and also in terms of what people in many parts of the world, even many sophisticated knowledge economy parts, understand about what science is and does.
‘To better grapple with emerging science controversies’, Mooney proposes that the in-coming president ‘reconstitute something akin to Eisenhower’s President’s Science Advisory Committee, but with a strong emphasis on forecasting the looming problems of tomorrow. …The conversations wouldn’t shy away from controversial or speculative topics. They would be designed, at least in part, to spark discussion in the media, on the Sunday-morning talk shows, and also at the kitchen table.’
Engagement beyond the science
This paper on antiscience, and its resolution through widespread debate and respect for scrutiny of the evidence base, offers many rich seams for us all to explore. But I think it also offers a new perspective on what I might call the ‘Post-Science Century’ which is before us.
The term ‘post-science’ means much more to me than simply the arid ‘total value’ anaylsis deriving from Milton Friedman et al. Instead, it focuses attention on the socio-political impacts and synergies of science and technology (one of a multitude of examples might be IT and the developing world) rather than on measures of money.
No longer can it be said that ‘knowing the science’ is enough – and Mooney is clear on this. We need to understand the future of climatalogical, environmental, genomic, military and many other applications of developing knowledge.
From tested knowledge to the human condition
In seeking to grasp what all these enormous issues, with their huge budgets, mean for each of us, we move from formal and tested knowledge to insights concerning the nature of human experience.
Perhaps it’s an irony of the twentyfirst century that the human condition itself will force us to think about science, rather than any new-found urge to look dispassionately at evidence bases and how to test them. This is what should drive the Science Advisory Council of the next President of the USA.
It’s not what we know, but why we all need to know it, that will spur this critical agenda.

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