More un-needed "investment"

In another example of the government seemingly having more money to spend than sense, private nurseries are being forced out of business due to an oversupply of places created by state-funded nurseries and day care centres. The Government is opening hundreds of children's centres providing full day care. By 2010 there should be "one in every community".

Tax & Spend

It is being reported that in the first few weeks of government, Gordon Brown has announced a total of 40 government initiatives at a cost just shy of £40bn!  A pretty hefty sum in just a few weeks - confirming that his grip on government spending was tight even when Blair was in power given that he has so much to "spare" now.  It also goes to show what a meddling and micro managing PM he is going to be - just as he was as a chancellor. 

Government targets corrupt police work

While on the subject of government targets, there are according to police figures on-the-spot fines for crimes such as being drunk and disorderly, destroying property and shoplifting are being issued at a rate of one every three minutes!  What a violent country we live in.  Who would have thought that things are so bad that the police are forced to hand out these on the spot fines every three minutes.  Just as well they are so easy to hand out...

Shifting the goal posts

As has long been known, Britain is highly unlikely to meet its renewables targets of 20% set by the EU for 2020.  So how do our civil service advise ministers to sort it out?  "Wriggle out of it"!  A briefing leaked to the Guardian has said that getting to 9 per cent from the current level of 2 per cent would be challenging and that a figure of about 5 per cent was more realistic.  As a result, officials from the former DTI suggest “statistical interpretations” of the target be used so that Britain could sidestep its commitment.  "Statistical Interpretation" - that is Wh

Policy Announcements, Friday 10 August


  • The government has unveiled new proposals to use innovative design to tackle crime. Four UK designers will join the Design and Technology Alliance and work with the Home Office to make products harder to steal. Home Office minister Vernon Coaker called on businesses to ensure their products did not provide opportunities for thieves. The scheme forms part of the government's anti-crime strategy announced by home secretary Jacqui Smith last month.

The great big PFI scam

Private Funding Initiatives (PFIs) - the best way to finance a major project at the same time as keeping the risk away from the taxpayer.  In theory.  The latest example of where the taxpayer always gets shafted in the end is the new build in PFI schools.  In a report today, MPs said that half the Government's £45 billion investment that was financed by PFI was a "risk" which could result in local councils paying over the odds for new schools.  The problem lies in the length of the contracts.  PFIs are usually signed for 30 year periods.  If a school closes before the contract

It's not charity if the Government makes you pay for it

One of David Cameron's big ideas, perhaps the biggest in his "sociocentric paradigm", is to rely on the voluntary sector to deliver more of the services currently provided by government. It seems, though, that this is less a big idea, and more an enhancement of the extensive use that this Government already makes of charities.

We learn today, from coverage of a National Audit Office report in the FT, that 12 of the largest charities receive £700m a year of taxpayers' money between them from "several thousand different funding streams", and that they invest considerable resources (£381,000 each per year on average) "simply managing these multiple sources of money". All charities combined "received £10.7bn of public money in 2004-5".

It is hard to know whether to be more critical of the unbelievable bureaucracy that can produce thousands of funding streams, the waste and distraction that must stem from managing this, or the broader issue that what makes charities what they are is precisely that they are not beholden to government and serving the government's purpose, and that making them clients of the state threatens to gradually turn them into little more than extensions of the Greater Bureaucracy.

Certainly we shouldn't underestimate the bureaucratic impediment and distraction. The FT reports that "charities complain that the public sector is a difficult customer, often demanding masses of information and paperwork when tendering, not paying the full cost of services or staff provided and requiring burdensome compliance procedures. Contracts can be too short and include inappropriate terms and conditions."

But on balance, it's the latter that matters the most. In coopting their services, Labour and the Conservatives are in danger of corrupting them, and killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

[The title of this entry is a reference to a quote from P.J. O'Rourke, which you can find here]

Education stagflation?

A lot of commentary today on the results of Key Stage 2 tests of 11-year-olds' abilities at the "Three Rs" (Reading, Writing, Maths and Science). As a statistical observation, the problem appears to lie particularly with the Writing part of the "Three Rs". 33% of children did not achieve the standards in Writing (and possibly some of the others too). Only 7% seem to have reached the necessary standard in Writing but failed on one or more of the other elements.

I'd be interested to know to what extent language played a part in this, but the much greater success in reading than in writing suggests it is not just a question of language. Dyslexia ought to have impacts on both reading and writing, and is anyway pretty thoroughly detected and allowed-for nowadays. Is it problems of coordination (hand-to-eye)? Or could it be problems with imagination and application? If the latter, are the quick-fix adrenalin-buzz and hypnotic effects of computer games and TV in some way related? Or is this to make the false assumption that things have got worse? In recent years, results indicate that things have been getting better, but we know to be sceptical about grade-inflation - even the Government has admitted it has been occurring.

Or is it about self-motivation and -discipline? Reading, maths and science are all about responding to questions or performing tasks as instructed. Writing requires you to work out what you want to say and the best way to say it. It is (in the ghastly lingo) more proactive and less reactive than the others. Could we be knocking up against a simple constraint in the range of human natures and abilities, that some people prefer to follow than to lead, and that this may mean that some people are irredeemably poor at expressing themselves?

Whatever the causes, critics ought to remember that they can't have their cake and eat it. It is inconsistent to complain about grade-inflation one day and lack of sufficient improvement the next. For myself, I am more concerned about grade-inflation, so in a perverse way, the fact that there has been little overall improvement this year is reassuring. Unless, that is, we have education stagflation, where falling standards and inflating grades result in apparent stasis masking chronic decline.