Friday, 31 July 2009


The controversy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission continues to fill the column inches.

I do not claim to know what the real issues are, other than what I have read, but there are some very telling comments being made.

Take the view of outgoing commissioner Ben Summerskill that: "Trevor is a brilliant communicator . . . but he has not been successful in running the commission . . . it's an issue about old fashioned management."


A failure of management does appear to be at the root of many of the EHRC's problems, as it's audit travails and resignation of its CEO show.

But this level of management should not, if my understanding of quango operations is correct, be the day to day concern of Trevor.

Has he been sticking his nose into the affairs of officers a bit too much, or have officers not had the strategic direction and support that would empower them to do their job properly?


Has anyone else heard the cock crowing in Ladywell? I think it's somewhere up Chudleigh Road.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Oh, Fred. Freddie. Why did it have to end like this?

Whether he was a great cricketer, or simply a very good one doesn't come into it. He's Fred. A huge, immovable lump of Englishness. A boozer, a bowler, a batsman.

I'm happily hetrosexual, but Fred's enormous frame almost excites me. Just to see him charging into bowl raises the hackles in a way I can remember no other sportsman can.

Well we ever see his like again?

Thanks for the memories, Freddie.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


One day to go. I have - twice - been offered tickets for the first test in Cardiff. They have been turned down because the inlaws have decided to visit. This has made me very happy indeed.

With the series no longer on terrestrial TV I expect to be spending a lot of the coming weeks in pubs, but with the exception of the Coach and Horses none of the local boozers have Sky.

Perhaps the Ladywell Tavern should invest in a big screen for the duration of the summer?

For now I will console myself with the memory of one of the greatest sporting moments it has been my privilege to have seen live - Gary Pratt's run out of Ricky Ponting.

People's Day

Well, I'll be watching the Brockley Ukelele Group.

Monday, 6 July 2009

End of the Quangos

Quangos need looking at. So says David Cameron, whom, we must assume, is blissfully unaware that Maggie promised the same, and so did Blair.

New Labour's beef was the supposed anti-democratic tendencies of the quango state, and its solution was devolution. By accident or design, this is what happened, at least in Wales, where the Assembly government brought functions such as tourism and arts in house. Something similar may have happened in England, but the voters decided that they didn't want regional government.

Cameron echoes Labour's democratic argument, saying that too many quangos are responsible for making policy. He has a point, but it only goes so far. Civil servants are, in many cases, the very worst people to be solely advising on policy. The cult of the generalist, and the relatively closed world of Whitehall sees to that.

In any case, civil servants and politicians will often need to call on expert advice, and often you want that to be arms' length from the state. So I can see a case for retaining NICE, or even the Advisory Council on Historic Shipwrecks

It's interesting that the Tories have begun to attack quangos. The previous tactic of alleging public spending was not delivering service improvement has been shelved - too vulnerable to Labour charges that the Tories will cuts schools and hospitals. But they still want to reduce the tax burden and attack the government. Quangos is the key to this.

It is fraught with difficulty. Maybe not politically and in the short term. The argument resonates with the public, and that is perhaps why right wing commentators are linking quango CEOs pay and benefits with the MPs' expenses row.

But will it deliver the savings the Tories seek? Unlikely. The Tories will find they need independent advice, and that function will remain.

As for executive and regulatory agencies, the question is not whether these functions are best done by a quango or directly by local or central government. If the Tories want to see savings then the question is whether the function needs to be done at all. Hiding behind the quango issue is the decision over whether or not particular services and functions should be cut.

The quango debate is, to an extent valid. Are certain functions of the state best undertaken directly or at arms' length? That is a question about efficiency and effectiveness, and sometimes democracy too.

For all Cameron says, this is not what the Tories are about. Unable to press home the attack on public spending in the manner of their choosing, they are doing so obliquely with an assault on the quango state. Politically, this is likely to be highly successful. In reality, though, the next Tory government will get nowhere the public sector savings it dreams off through shutting some quangos. Indeed, the bleating about "efficiency savings" across government has already begun.

However it is dressed up, cuts are coming.

Banal comment of the week

Razia Iqbal on BBC news reporting on the Gormley take on the 4th Plinth:

"As the Facebook generation know, everything can be art".