EUROPE not the problem but the COALITION sucking the regions dry

14 Jan

Met with Neil McKinroy, director of CLES to share thoughts on the dynamics underpinning regional economics and finances in northern cities. We met in Pinchjos (see new app on always a good place to meet if your in Manchester. I was interested in CLES’s work on whole system analysis which seemed to coincide with my own perspective on how local economic strategies.

Several good reports have been published recently on regional economies by IPPR North, CRESC which show that the North is not only suffering from continuing industrial decline and public sector cuts but also from government’s own commissioning  and investment policies. Perhaps we need to spend more time on how money flows and what type business is benefitting and which are not. Julie Froud et al at CRESC (University of Manchester) showed in a recent article ‘Must the ex-industrial region fail?‘ that between 1997 and 2010 43%of all private sector jobs created were in London and virtually none were in the North East.  They report a widening gap between incomes between those in Yorkshire & Humber, & West Midlands and the South east-  and  say government is the problem and adding to the  worsening of the north /south divide.

 IPPR North launched ‘Northern Prosperity is a National Priority‘ in Leeds in November which talks about the untapped potential in the northern cities, given that the North has  an economy twice the size of Scotland – a fact largely ignored in Whitehall and the London media. The narrative about the North is largely negative and the region is in desperate need of its own investment bank. 85% of the Coalition’s infrastructure investment is in the Southeast.  While Manchester, Leeds, York and others have leadership committed to innovation and change, without investment in integrative infrastructure, innovation and sustainable private sector growth they are hampered by the government complacency and forms of outsourcing which are taking out as much as they are putting in.

The purpose of good governance is surely find corrective mechanisms to support connectivity and fairness across the UK and to support the growth of SMEs, innovative supply chains and regional resilience. In the Southwest over 85% of all the private sector economy is in small businesses – which are greatly affected by their access into companies and the public sector. One of the things I learnt from the research on government’s procurement was that local, small enterprises in any sector are frozen out by the current gearing of public procurement, because government  is looking to transfer financial risk to larger corporates that have the assets to cope with delivery problems. This public procurement model is sucking the life out the private sector as well as undermining much public service provision.

Another example of how business financing is influencing the flow of capital from local firms into larger companies is in energy innovation. A medium sized company in Chester – developing eco-boilers was told by investment banks that financing the manufacture of the boilers would necessitate that they set up another company to become an energy supplier to compete with existing utilities. They did this and are now a competitor in the energy market, based in London employing highly paid traders; meanwhile the core business of technical innovators are removed from the heart of their business and are waiting for the manufacturing of the boilers to fail. What is clear in this case and many  others, is that the problem for growing companies developing innovative eco-products is not just a matter of finance but of understanding the current power of investment bankers to determine their business models.  Just as public procurement is geared to corporates are the expense of local, smaller companies,  investment finance is determining what is financed, the location of companies and what constitutes innovation.

According to CRESC economies in the ex-industrial areas depend on replumbing the financial circuits rather than national loan schemes etc.  I think the way outsourcing is working at the moment reinforces that view. They suggest that local leaders and activists could champion investment in regional infrastructure in particular social housing & mobilise pension funds into regional infrastructure and initiate new financial circuits.  I would add that regional banks are urgently needed to support SMEs and social enterprise;  current public procurement criteria changed,  devolvement of public finances from some departments into the regions for welfare benefits, FE training etc to regional commissioners,  and critique of the influence of investment bank power over utility companies and innovative new firms.

It is not Europe which is the problem but the current Coalition government – even Vince Cable thinks national schemes not regional potential

Beyond Fragility – Thank You Taleb

26 Nov

I welcome Taleb’s thinking, at last,  someone who policy wonks follow is saying that public leaders need to act less, weave their way through problems by responding flexibly and appropriately, not plan their way out of austerity through ‘one-size-fits-all’ models.  While it heartening to read Taleb  it is hard to fathom why his views are seen as so radical when adaptive leadership and appropriate judgement are hardly news,  this is how good public leaders operate across many partnerships in the country.  Women have been advocating similar views on leadership for many years.

According to the Observer yesterday, those thinkers influencing politicians and policy-wonks at the moment include: David Brooks (The Social Animal); Thaler and Sunstein (Nudge);Kahneman (Thinking:Fast and Slow); Sandel (What money can’t buy); Layard (Happiness);Kate Pockard & Richard Wilkinson (The Spirit Level) as well as Nassan Taleb. The Spirit Level is having an international impact on policy makers who needed  evidence of how inequalities impact not only on individuals but also on society.

Most of the above authors are not saying anything new or wrong – but it is worrying we need telling in 2012 that we are social animals, that money isn’t everything and  doesn’t buy happiness or that inequalities can lead to resentment, violence and despair. Perhaps the reason why policy-makers need reminding of the relationship between well-being, the economy and social cohesion is because the subject of psychology is itself so poor at grappling with the relationship between people’s behaviour and public policy.  I continue to be amazed at how universities attract thousands  to study psychology when the curricula is completely divorced from anthropology, philosophy, political and policy – in reality departments train social engineers rather than conceptual thinkers concerned with  agency and social change.    I should add have a psychology degree.

I like Taleb because he doesn’t seem to be marketing a product but exploring how leaders can better approach complex problems in a turbulent world and concludes responsiveness is better than control.   The problem is that in policy-making circles there is a continuing desire to control and to pick one new idea – for instance Nudge, and promote it as the only solution, when a better reaction would be to question the assumptions underpinning public policy implementation.   For instance, public procurement has become the international lever for achieving public efficiencies, savings and innovation all at the same time while also transferring the risk of delayed results from the tax-payer to large companies, that can carry this risk.  This is delusional there are trade-offs involved in the transfer of risk, efficiency models and services innovation in particular.  See my MBS report on DWP Work Programme Procurement.

It is the continuing lack of respect and contact for practice  within Whitehall which  leads to poor judgement within policy making.  If the Cabinet Office were to reconnect department policy-makers with locality partnerships the latter would learn how difficult implementing policies is, in practice, it would also counter the ‘gadfly’ tendency of politicians and advisors alike. If you find out how specific policies impact on people and their lives  you would be in a better position to anticipate problems and think in terms of ‘trade off’ rather than perfect solutions;  and anticipate what local practitioners already know.

In the pursuit of  improving individual services we have lost the focus on how to support the development of more resilient communities within a world which is currently showing us the power of the weather.  This would  mean trusting people, not always knowing what will happen or where money will be spent, in return policy-makers would engender engagement and a healthier relationship with those who are  doing the work. This was how Sure Start was set up originally – it was the policy wonks who sought short-term results for specific groups. New projects new the space and freedom to develop with the flow of the community not be subject to weekly changes in direction arising from changing political whims.

Public leadership is challenging but it has changed dramatically over the past five years, especially in cities and local government – these changes have not come about because of a new book or theory, although these can help individuals reframe their thinking and judgement – local leadership is ahead of the game and policy-makers should get out more.

A first step would be to find out more about the Local Government Yorkshire and Humber Innovation Awards -in Huddersfieldon the Dec 6th

See recent article – Public Leadership Driven by Values not Bonuses.

Savile protected by male cultures and complacency

23 Oct

Jimmy Savile has been quoted as grooming those around him – but its too easy an explanation, given the male cultures of public bodies in the 60s,70s,80s, and 90s it was not difficult for him to do so – The smirk on Michael Grade’s face when he described the culture in the BBC when Top of the Pops was recorded was easy to see – women were ‘fair game’ and girls were given access to studios as a ‘treat’ only to be abused by Savile and others.

Last night’s Panaroma revealed that the detached complacency of senior management continues – what other explanation is there for Newsnight’s editor Peter Rippon not asking to see the tapes of the interviews with one of Savile’s first victims in the Jersey children’s home – where was his journalistic curiosity? what is the point of journalistic independence if it is not based on a thirst to find out what really  happened. Clearly, the Newsnight producer Meirion Jones was more interested in exploring what had taken place because he had been alerted to Savile’s activities when he saw Savile take girls, of his own age, out for the day.  The frustration of the reporters and police was evident – so why were the managers so complacent? The answer lies in continuing gendered, work cultures where women’s (even less girls) experience is not recognised or valued and where they are silenced.  There is no evidence because the male-culture hamper expression of the evidence. Catch 22. 

There is surprisingly a quote by Kipling that is  pertinent ‘A woman’s hunch is worth much more than a man’s certainty’.  If  the hunch / experience is reframed into inappropriate certainties – ” that celebrities such as Jimmy Savile who fund children’s charities could not be so despicable”  Savile didn’t need a spin-doctor the nature of the establishment culture was such that no-one could believe anything that challenged their world. A denial of  women’s experience often underpins establishment thinking – and the lack of interest in people who are marginal or poor continues. How many managers ever talk to cleaners?

It is unlikely, a new Task Force or Commission will get to the bottom of the BBC’s complacency, if it does not unravel the impact of gendered attitudes to girls. There are alternatives!

In 1990s Di Parkin and myself invented gender or equality auditing to unpack why women were held back in the police, the fire services and local government. This was a process where we had in depth discussions with men and women about what they thought about each other, themselves and their work. What the audits revealed was how stereoptypes and assumptions determine how people treat each other at work – what women said at the time was they were rarely listened to – and that if they were to succeed they should be  silent and not voice anything that would identify them as ‘difficult’. Although, work cultures have changed dramatically. It is still the case that there is a complacency about how gendered cultures impact on women’s lives and opportunities. This is as true in universities as in the BBC and banking.

In the BBC the new Director General does not appear to understand that by merely not seeing the tapes he can abdicate responsibility, any serious leader would have explored the truth, read the interviews and watched the tapes. How could they not have known that an exposure on Savile was a major news story – if they didn’t they shouldn’t be editing Newsnight.

I’m glad after 4 weeks of Jimmy Savile to be going to the Feminista Rally in Westminster tomorrow


Ashburton Buzzing

8 Sep

Ashburton Food and Drink Festival today was a treat – in its second year it had a real buzz. The sun shone on traders from local and organic farms,producers like Incredible Vegetables and Sharpham Wine and Cheese, Il Vulcano and Dartmoor Chilli Farm had some great products and knew their stuff, but they also were all talking about the importance of local connectivity.

Ashburton Cookery School, this week named as cookery school of year, gave jokey demonstrations to a packed tent throughout the day.

Ashburton has become a place where people come to shop because of the number of independent shops – and good places to eat. There is a even a graphic novel shop.

Over the summer I have joined the Ashburton Pool Cafe group set up to ensure the pool’s future – its a hidden asset to the town – an open-air pool surrounded by grass and a play area but difficult to find. Expensive for Teignbridge to fund it is only open for a couple of months and shuts tomorrow on the 9th Sept until next year. The cafe has been a way of getting more people to use the pool and has been a lot of fun. I shall miss making pizza twice a week!!!

Report on DWP procurement recommends locality commissioning

5 Sep

Image My recent report on the Work Programme procurement model incentivises large companies at the expense of smaller, local more innovative suppliers, many of whom are suffering cash flow problems. 

The DWP Work Programme Procurement :delivering innovation for efficiencies or for claimants is available on looks at the impact of the procurement model on the capacity of more innovative suppliers to appropriate, response and holistic services to long term claimants. It’s conclusion is that the ‘payment by results’ and two-tier model of prime,large contractors and specialist subcontracors looks neat from a policy maker’s perspective but is not delivering results and is frustrating both large and small companies

Within recession finding a job is difficult even for those with experience and extremely difficult for anyone who is vulnerable and is a long term unemployed claimant. What makes a different to those outside of the labout market is a whole range of services and easy access to new experience and training- such support is best provided by local agencies working together with the third sector(vol orgs) and local training providers and business.

The Work Programme is driven from the top through a vertical supply chain that makes such local integration extremely difficult. Local consortiua in Manchester and Cornwall complain that prime contractors are ignoring the significance of their inter-agency support and innovation. Existing innovative agencies have found that becoming a sub-contractor does not ensure work and many with contracts are suffering cash flow problems because their contribution to a person’s development is not paid for until a clamiant remains in work for  over 12 weeks.

There are many suppliers who remain very committed to the programme and are doing good work but few smaller contractors are able to function in a way that delivers more innovative services. Financial incentives and this type of supply chain are devised to persuade large companies (prime contractors) to carry the risk of lengthy delays – moving the financial risk of the programme from the taxpayer to  large companies with considerable financial assts. The size of their contracts and poor results have resulted in a lot of very negative press publicity.

However, the problem is not just with a few large companies creaming off huge contracts but with the government procurement practices and commissioning frameworks which allow this to happen.

This report analyses the whole system and way that the procurement model is affecting the capacity of smaller, enterprises to delive integrated and holistic personal services. And as such is relevant to the public procurement of personal services generally. The two-tier model which is geared towards contracting with fewer and fewer large companies at the expense of local suppliers in all sectors- the current public procurment model is actually undermining locality innovation and thereby locality resilience among the unemployed and small business and the third sector.

There has to be a better way of supporting people back to work that through a two-tier procurmment model. The report recommends locality commissioning  and the devolvement of DWP funds to locality partnerships which have integrated strategies for enterprise and training and development. 

The Greek tragedy continues- perhaps locality innovation and sustainable development might work better than ‘austerity and sustructural reform and

14 May

The News continues to be frustrating because so few people appear to have anything to say about how to help the Greek people or anyone suffering from ‘austerity’ – It was interesting that as Michael Portillo treked between Germany and Greece in a TV programme last week he could find hardly anyone in either country who wanted to leave the ‘euro’ –  if he’ d been touring the UK finding UKIP members would not have been difficult.  This is a conundrum for the British who do not have the same commitment to European Project.

The question of how to both stimulate an economy through investment in people and be part of the ‘euro’ determined by the Germany economy is difficult to answer. Most leaders appear to be commentators rather than leaders – good at analysing the state of play rather than coming up with serious alternatives and options for both sides to contemplate.

Will Hutton ( Sunday the Observer) at least outlines the dynamic in a way that acknowledges both the strength of popular anger in Greece, Spain etc and the Germany fear of inflation and frustration with those less able to organise themselves.

The lack of imaginative leadership in this situation appears to come from the fact that perhaps some of the solutions involve changing the way business and international finance works, which only the technocrats have full knowldege of but little interest in changing. Perhaps understanding how Germany itself works could be instructive.

I sense that Will Hutton’s knowledge of Germany underpins the fact that he can see possible alternatives. For instance, Germany values skills as well as HE, has locality investment banks that take a longer term view of investment return and value local SMEs and local governance. I’d like to know more, because in the UK we do not value these things and assume that the social values, local connections and human development are not teh concerns of business or finance, and that social investment comes when individuals want to be philantropists rather than because social values and economic interests are embedded in how business and the banks works.

Perhaps, its time to promote the good sense of Germany’s local goverance and atttitudes to education and training.

I’m trying to make sense of the dynamics at work here and transactional analysis might help.

Austerity is never going to help Greece and the parent (Germany) has to work out whether it wants to ban one of its children or help it grow?. Greece is paying the price for its own poor leadership and governance, especially in the regions where hopeful, young civil servants leave after  six monthes and escape to the States because nepotism rules not good governance. Its not austerity that Greece needs but good leadership, administrative capabilities and a confidence in a more sustainable economy. If couched in this way perhaps the frustrated parent might give way and finance not ‘structural reform’ but locality innovation, SMEs and governance.



Are we serious about socialising business?

25 Apr

There is a good post today on the Guardian Leaders’ Network on gulf between the government’s rhetoric about the John Lewis model and Mutuals – few public servants are coming forward to take over services and those that start the process are withdrawing when they discover its difficult, hard work and investment is hard to find.

Transforming public services:is the feeling mutual?

Anyone who has been involved in setting social enterprises knows that it isn’t easy. Policymakers from all Parties tend to gloss over the complexity of implementation, the fact that demands champions, perseverance and the ability to persuade others to get involved, invest and work collaboratively.   Women are good at the latter but often lack the contacts and experience in raising finance.

Where is the finance?

On an other track-

Innovation prizes are speeding ideas and innovation both locally and internationally – A friend Helen Storey, a real innovator has been nominated for her and Tony Ryan’s  Catalytic Clothing by the Conde Nast Innovation and Design Awards. Catalytic Clothing has sprung from a project on sustainable fabrics and the fashion industry which Helen used to be part of. You can vote for her on