On sex pests and cover ups

NoIt seems we can hardly move for news of sex scandals and allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour at the moment. The cases may be in different sectors – the media, politics, the church – but they share two common characteristics. The first is that at the centre is a man who was powerful in his own organisational context. That power may have been a product of formal position. It may have been the product of particular skills and expertise. Or it may have been the product of perceived popularity and broader socio-political connections. The second characteristic is that the alleged behaviours took place some time ago, and may have taken place over an extended period of time.

This leads to a third characteristic – related to the second – that in at least two of the cases there are plausible claims that people within the organisation knew about the issue or had suspicions but these were not treated seriously, reported formally or investigated adequately, and the whole issue was covered up. And, once again, as has been apparent since Watergate, the cover up can do just as much damage – albeit damage of a qualitatively different type – as the original offences.

You could also add a fourth point, which is that once the news story broke the primary focus soon shifted from where it should have been – establishing the nature of the (alleged) behaviours and their impact on the victims – to the organisational implications. The length and breadth of the cover up is of more interest to the media than the consequences of harassment or abuse for those it afflicts. For the BBC and the Liberal Democrats this is explicable because the Savile and Rennard cases offer opponents and critics fresh ammunition with which to carry out a new round of attacks. It may be explicable, but that doesn’t make it right. [Read more...]

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Is Cameron’s missing majority really the root of his problem?

Over at the Telegraph today Benedict Brogan posted an interesting piece under the title David Cameron isn’t a winner – and that’s where his problems begin. The thrust of his argument is clear from the title: Cameron’s failure to secure any sort of majority last May fundamentally weakens his position. Cameron is aware of this, Brogan argues, and that awareness infuses the whole business of government.

On closer inspection the rest of the piece turns out to be a rather loose collection of observations regarding things that are going wrong or not working very well. Or, as Brogan styles it, ‘the incidences of chaos are multiplying’. Anyone keeping even half an eye on the way policy is developing would agree that incidents that could appropriately be described as chaotic are not hard to find. But has Cameron’s lack of a majority got anything to do with it? [Read more...]

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Magical markets and medical muppets

You don’t come across that slightly touching, naive market fundamentalism quite as often now as you did a few years ago. The financial crisis and its aftermath has increased the circumspection of some market advocates, at least for the moment. One place you do sometimes come across the dogmatic view of markets is among those who live in former state socialist and communist countries. The other would appear to be the Coalition government.

I quite regularly have the opportunity to discuss the relative merits of the state, the market and points in between with citizens from transition and developing economies coping with the legacy of state socialism. While some have a sophisticated understanding of the issues, others could perhaps engage with the complexities a bit more deeply. There is a strand of very simplistic thinking which sees the public sector as fundamentally corrupt and markets as a solution to most of society’s ills. The former view may be born of bitter personal experience, but it is treated as an inherent characteristic. Markets, on the other hand, have almost magical properties.  They are the repository of dynamism, entrepreurialism, efficiency. Markets are reified and deified. The idea of private sector inefficiency, monopoly or villainy doesn’t compute. Even when the post-transition society they live in might reasonably be characterised as a kleptocracy.

So what about the Coalition? [Read more...]

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Is a two-tier service a good thing?

I must have been looking the other way. An article in today’s Observer (which appears online under a different title here) mentions that back in December the Government withdrew the so-called Two-tier code for public service employment (as notified here).  The code is designed to stop the emergence of a two-tier workforce. It regulates the benefits that employers providing outsourced public services should offer their employees. Basically it says that they should offer employees terms and conditions, including pension provision, similar to those available to employees in the public sector. It has been replaced by a more flexible voluntary guide called Principles of Good Employment Practice. The logic is that the Government wants to have a more diverse landscape of provision and the two-tier code is considered a barrier to small or mutual or charitable providers entering the market.

Is this a good or a bad thing? [Read more...]

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Should we be concerned about the Government’s attempted quangocide?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 13/01/11]

Quangos – Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations – occupy a strange place in the British political landscape. They tend to proliferate because governments can’t resist seeing new commissions for this or advisory panels for that as essential, while rarely deciding that existing bodies have outlived their usefulness. Yet, the term “quango” inhabits the same discursive space as “bureaucracy”. There is an engrained association with waste, inefficiency, red tape and pointless interfering. In many people’s minds, and frequently in political rhetoric, “quango = bad” by definition. (For a discussion of a similar equation regarding bureaucracy, see here on my blog.) So, the story goes, quangos need to be treated with suspicion and reined in whenever possible. [Read more...]

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Frickin’ Bureaucrats

The current government is engaged in substantial reorganisations in many parts of the public sector. Frequently these changes are not following up on commitments made at the General Election. Some embody changes that were, indeed, explicitly ruled out. But I think we’ve now learnt the value of such commitments emanating from the mouths of politicians. Some might say zero. It would be fairer to say they are of indeterminate value – is this a commitment they are intending to keep or one being offered for short term electoral advantage?

The other day I was reading comments generated by a relatively positive blog post at Liberal Democrat Voice on the restructuring of the NHS. In a response to comments the author of the blog post noted the reform as “passing power from a national bureaucracy to locally accountable organisations”. That particular phrase is worth unpacking. It taps into the prevailing discourse that uses the term ‘bureaucracy’ as a pejorative. We’ve had governments for thirty years, influenced primarily by the simplistic nostrums of public choice theory, railing against the inefficiencies of bureaucratic administration and ‘red tape’, usually accompanied by a presumption in favour of marketization or some form of hybrid network structure. There is similarly a strand in the literature on private sector organizations that has described or prescribed – it is never quite clear which – the arrival of the post-bureaucratic organisation. [Read more...]

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easyCouncil? Not so easy cuts

Barnet council is in the vanguard in the pursuit of significant changes and savings in service delivery, under the headline grabbing tagline ‘easyCouncil’.

Reports today that its programme of change will cost more this year than it will save should fill no one with great surprise. For several reasons.

[Read more...]

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