Archive for May, 2010

Target-based management takes a first knock.

May 25, 2010

This item appeared in Children &Young People Now a few days ago

Councils welcome abolition of Comprehensive Area Assessments
Children & Young People Now 20 May 2010,

The Local Government Association has welcomed government plans to scrap the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) saying the move will free up councils and enable them to better deliver frontline services

John Seddon, the prominent management consultant with a background in clinical psychology, who has been a consistent critic current British management thinking, such as the  NHS modernisation agenda and ISO9000, cannot conceal his glee:

Celebrate the end of CAA, by John Seddon
Posted in: PF blog

10:03 am, 24 May 2010 | John Seddon

The new government has abolished Comprehensive Area Assessments. Hoorah. Public servants will be breathing a sigh of relief now that the burden of self-assessment, a costly exercise in representation rather than accuracy, has gone.  The public couldn’t care less and those of us who know the ratings were at best spurious and at worst plain wrong will be pleased if the Audit Commission has its power to pontificate on management methods removed. CAA’s demise should herald the end of the era of compliance.

It represents an important opportunity for public service managers. They should assert their right to make their own decisions about how they are judged as managers. Matters of methods and measures should be their choice – that’s  why they are employed. Many have already stood up to the Audit Commission, with evidence showing how following the Audit Commission inspectors’ guidance, nay obligations, created poor service and higher costs.

Responsibility, promised by the new government, is the foundation for innovation; it should be the hallmark of the new era. Those who have eschewed the Audit Commission’s bullying have not only argued with the inspector’s judgements, they have shown how better methods and measures have led to performance improvement of extraordinary proportions. To give just one example: housing repair costs halved while making extraordinary improvements to service (all repairs completed in three days or on the day required by the tenant).

Innovation will flourish in the new era provided the psychology changes from compliance to responsibility. But, no doubt, many will fear a ‘loss of control’. They should appreciate how the regime of compliance has driven our services out of control. And they should take comfort in the fact that the era of responsibility will make any weak managers easier to root out; with CAA and the other centrally-promulgated requirements, managers only needed to comply to be hidden. We should not fear loss of control, we should celebrate getting control in the right place.

Professor John Seddon is an occupational psychologist, researcher, and authority on change in the public sector. He is MD of Vanguard, visiting professor at Cardiff University Business School and author of several books including “Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, the Failure of the Reform Regime and a Manifesto for a Better Way” and “Delivering Public Services that Work”.

This is not, in my opinion, the beginning of the end management by targets. It must be remembered there at least a generation and a half which has been trained in nothing else and whose raison d’etre resides in mantaining it as a model for years to come.


An adieu to the philistinism of New Labour.

May 23, 2010

Robert McCrum has written a rather good epitaph for New Labour in today’s edition of The Observer

 In retrospect, New Labour was a largely philistine movement with no interest in history (treacherous) or literature (elitist). Its epitaph must be Shelley’s on Ozymandias: “Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

……………. An administration committed to closing down our civil liberties had no interest in opening up the people’s imagination with freshly minted words 

Terror suspects and Human Rights.

May 19, 2010

Both the country and the government were once again discussing the question of how far and to whom human rights should again when yesterday two terror suspects, Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan, successfully appealed against deportation to Pakistan.

 A special immigration court, chaired by Mr. Justice Mitting, and basing its judgment on to which the accused were denied access, said that while  Mr. Nasser was an al-Qaeda operative, neither man should be deported.

 But in both cases, Mr. Justice Mitting said it would be wrong to return the men to Pakistan because:

….there is a long and well-documented history of disappearances, illegal detention and of torture and ill-treatment to produce information, a confession or compliance.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, got the nub of the dilemma we face, when she said: “It’s no surprise that on the day that this issue about deporting a terror suspect comes up that people start wobbling over the Human Rights Act.

“But here’s the thing – sending people to torture is not just unlawful, it’s wrong.

The belief that it is categorically wrong is one from which we cannot waver, no matter how tempting it may be to do so. There should be no excuse for it, not even the one that the people being sent have been found guilty -as nether of these men has  – by a properly constitituted court of law.

The Democrat peer Lord Carlile has to be “sending out the wrong messages” when he said that “we do not want people who have been held to be terrorists walking our streets.” He should have said that we do not want people found guilty in the courts walking the streets.

BA and the unions – the bigger picture.

May 18, 2010

Writing in, today’s edition of The Guardian, Michael White has some pertinent observations to make about yesterday’s High Court ruling which prevented BA cabin crew from taking strike action.

A clever-dick lawyer on the airwaves today was solemnly warning trade unionists that they must be more careful in the way they comply with labour laws governing strikes – as “part of the price they pay for some of the privileges they have”.

M’learned friend was talking in the context of the latest court ruling that blocked the proposed 20 days of strike action by the Unite union’s BA cabin crew – the 5,000 members of the Daily Mail-reading Bassa section who are fighting an uphill battle to preserve their pay and conditions.

What a load of pompous self-serving nonsense! I hope BA didn’t pay him for this stuff. He’ll be persuading chief executive Willie Walsh to let him try to injunct that Icelandic volcano next. After all, it’s been disrupting BA flights too.

What happened in Mr Justice McCombe’s court yesterday – now subject to an attempted appeal today – was as foolish and wrong as the union says it was: a “landmark attack” on its right to take industrial action.

In his judgment –and in mine – the injunction was wrong because:

…..what it does is throw into stark relief the increasing difficulty facing unions seeking to use their legal rights to withhold their labour. In a free society, that’s wrong and I am disappointed – rather than surprised – that the civil liberties lobby does not display alarm today. As I type the issue is not on the front of Liberty’s website.

White is not necessarily on the side of those who are proposing to take strike action, but he recognises that that this is not really the issue.

Do I think the strike is a smart thing to do by staff whose terms and conditions are better than those of many rival airlines at a time when the industry is in deep trouble around the world for a host of reasons, not all of them volcanic? No. But that’s not the point. In Willie Walsh they face a tough manager who says he does not want to break BA’s unions but makes a good stab at sounding as if he does – as Dan Milmo explains in today’s Guardian.


Grievance needs to have an outlet – however irritating and inconvenient to customers – or it will develop into more damaging trends. Among other things this government was elected to show more sensitivity to civil liberties than the last lot.

Ending complicity in rendition, torture, bugging and the denial of bed and breakfast to gay couples are all part of that agenda, the part that most exercises the imagination of middle-class campaigners. But trade union rights matter too.

I do not believe that this government will be willing to show any great sensitivity to union rights, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt – for the time being, at least.

I have done the state some service, and they know’t.

May 14, 2010

In Wednesday’s edition The Guardian, Madeleine Bunting writes that she considers   Gordon Brown a politician for a bygone age .

Unlike Blair, Brown will not now slip off to lucrative jobs with financial institutions. It is a measure of the man that we believe his comments that he would work in the charitable sector if he does, indeed, leave politics. His commitment to public service has never been narcissistic, but driven by his intense Presbyterian sense of duty. His has been an old-fashioned faith much misunderstood and much despised in an age of narcissism.

This is all for the history books now, but it is important that Labour understands its own history because that is part of how it will explain its future. A media have hounded a principled, if flawed, public servant. Now he’s gone perhaps they can begin to consider whether any human being can match up to their grossly inflated expectations.

Indeed, there is much in what Bunting  says. I may be wrong, but I suspect that part that when history comes to judge him, it will be more willing to forgive him his mistakes than we are at the moment. Many of the things he was mistaken about – that banking would sensibly regulate itself, for instance – we were mistaken, to a greater of lesser degree, too. That’s to some extent is why we are unforgiving.

Peter Porter (1929-2010)

May 14, 2010


© Image by Richard H Smith

Clive James pays tribute to his friend the poet Peter Porter (1929-2010) in an obituary that appears in the current Times Literary Supplement

After the fat lady sings, what happens?

May 10, 2010

I note John Naughton’s rather cryptic comment on reading Jonathan Freedland’s column in today’s issue of The Guardian.

  Brown waits for Birnam Wood
Nice Guardian piece by Jonathan Freedland

As for personal ambition, the virus that brought down Macbeth, those looking kindly on Brown said he was cured of it. “I'm past caring,” he mused privately on Friday, when asked about his own position. They point to his statement accepting that Clegg talk to Cameron first, all statesmanlike and above the fray, as if he had made the emotional shift from combatant to referee.

Others see the weekend’s events rather differently. The less charitable version pictures Brown in the No 10 bunker, scheming to cling on. It cites the late-night calls to Clegg – although those who heard them insist they were calm and businesslike – imagining a fevered Brown stabbing jotting pads with his thick pen, totting up the assorted minor parties to see if he could somehow reach the magic number that spelled power.

That the PM saw Clegg again today, in a clandestine meeting at the Foreign Office, confirmed Brown was far from ready to surrender. Instead, this man of uncanny resilience was clearly planning one more resurrection.

Which version is true? Is Brown now the becalmed statesman, planning his exit, or the bloodied survivor, determined to fight on? The likelihood is that, when it comes to Brown – the most psychologically complex figure to inhabit Downing Street since Winston Churchill – the answer is both.

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

I have some misgivings about its being over even then. The more one thinks about it, the more one begins to realise that the Liberal Democrats have most lose out of any partnership. 

 One strongly suspects that the people who voted for them this time – I was not one of them in the end –  will feel, with mighty good reason,  that they have been cheated by any deal that Mr. Clegg might do.

My voting dilemma????????

May 6, 2010

The Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, writing in his New York Times blog,  sums up the dilemma facing the more thoughtful voters very well. 

May 4, 2010, 3:27 pm

Why Endorse The Tories?

Yglesias is right,. For sure, Gordon Brown — like the Rubinites* here in America — made the great mistake of buying into the promises of high finance. But is there any doubt that a Tory government would have done the same?

And I understand the sense that Labour has been in office too long. If I were British, I might well consider voting Lib Dem

But in the current crisis, Brown’s policies have been sensible, whereas the Tories wanted to slash spending in the face of recession, which would have been disastrous. And The Economist agrees — then endorses the Tories.

Is The Economist of the belief that there will be no future crises? That this gigantic failure of judgment in the face of a defining moment for economic policy offers no hint about how well the Tories will perform in dealing with other issues?

It’s utterly bizarre.

It’s frighteningly bizarre, I would say.

* see Robert Rubin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.