The Class Ceiling – Posh Boys (and Girls) Still Rule OK

When Tory MP Nadine Dorries described her Prime Minister and Chancellor as ”two arrogant posh boys” it prompted me to start thinking about my own experiences of class in British society over the past half century.

My conclusion – there is, still, a ”class ceiling” in British society. True, it is weaker than it once was but it still exists, especially in some of our major institutions. Continue reading

There is no such thing as a free lunch, unless you’re running a state funded academies trust that is. In which case you can free everything.

I have been predicting for ages that some of the current (and previous) Government’s reforms like NHS Foundation Trusts, Academies and ‘Free Schools’, and the soon to be Community Commissioning Groups, will undermine financial control and audit in these publicly funded agencies.

In June 2010, for example, I wrote that “Many of the much derided ‘bureaucratic controls’, now so often lambasted, grew up in the first place to prevent corruption and abuse.” Ripping them up was bound to be hazardous, and so it is proving. Continue reading

Jeremy Hunt (DCMS) debacle raises again the issue of Civil Service Reform

This week saw an extraordinary outburst from the most recently retired Head of the Civil Service, Lord Gus O’Donnell. He said, on the BBC, “”When governments go through difficult patches you are looking for who you can blame. The issue comes up of ‘well, let’s try and blame the Civil Service’. It does not usually work and I don’t think it will work this time either.”

Now I am not one of those who would blame the Government’s current ills on the Civil Service, or at any rate not entirely. Most of what has happened to them has been because of crass and rushed policy-making on the hoof, without proper thought and analysis. Certainly sometimes Civil Servants have failed to say “no, Minister” when they should have, but Ministers have only themselves to blame when things go wrong. Ministers who allow official or unofficial advisers to run amok, as in Defence or now DCMS, can hardly blame the Civil Service for not stopping them (even if the CS should have).

But that does not exonerate the Civil Service. I have been saying for years that our supposedly “Rolls Royce” Civil Service has deep flaws in its institutional make-up. Continue reading


One of the things that distinguishes top Universities around the world is that, certainly in democracies, they are usually power-houses of public policy ideas.

True, in recent years in some countries Universities have been squeezed out by (sometimes very well funded) Think Tanks and governments that regarded ‘liberal’ or ‘leftie’ academics as more of a problem than a help (especially in the UK and USA). Of course, there are plenty of right-wing academics, so this was always a false view, but it did squeeze some University-based ideas out of the policy communities. Continue reading

‘Collective irresponsibility’ as Coalition starts to seriously disagree – between and within Parties

Just 15 months ago I spelt out in an article for Public Finance how much of strain trying to stick to Cabinet ‘collective responsibility’ would put on the Coalition government. I suggested that the Coalition would have to come up with some way of ‘agreeing to disagree’ as coalition governments elsewhere in Europe manage to do. Continue reading