Thursday, 18 April 2013

Days out and about


“You’re not getting up are you?” whispers Lin “What time is it?”
“Six-thirty. I want to see the sunrise”
Amy has told me a theory. ‘It’s proved’ the more intelligent stay up late and sleep late. I being the converse, as she says, “Draw your conclusions, dad”
“But I’m not especially unintelligent am I? I’m not like your mum with money and technical things but…”
“You’re more educated, not more intelligent”
“Ah I see. My long words and circuitous writing”
I go to bed these last few nights later than my grandson but I leave Amy, Guy and Lin around the supper table, first reading then falling asleep to the mumble of their conversation over cards. We’re still lighting the stove at night as the sunny days with the north wind grow cool by sunset.
Before the sun rises I stand on the balcony gazing toward the outline of Greek and Albanian mountains and the sliver of metal sea between them and the dark of the island, listening to the muted discordance of cockerels. barking dogs and occasional scooters, small objects dashing back and forth - insects, swallows and floaters inside my eyes. I slip quietly through the French windows down the side balcony stairs through the veranda door to the kitchen from where I can come and go by the porch door not to wake the sleeping house. I shave and make a cup of tea to take upstairs where the new sun is making long shadows. Yesterday I persuaded Amy to try cutting my hair.

“I’m tired of this mane. Can you trim it away?”
It’s a weight off my head, for all her raggedy effect.
We had lunch on the balcony, a cold box to keep our ice for water and wine and pop, and an umbrella for shade – fresh bread, cheeses, salami and a feta salad with onions, olives, cucumber and tomato and separate lettuce.

Later the big blue bowl we use for carrying the washing served as a pool for the baby.
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We went, on Tuesday, to Kanoni, walking down steps to the café beside the sea with few customers to disturb us and just one plane taking off, sheltered from the fresh breeze that ruffled the water between us and Pontikonisi. Lin who studies the prices on menus assiduously indulged me for once when I said “Eat and drink what you like, money’s no object”.
We shared a Greek salad, Lin doing the dressing with salt and pepper and more oil than vinegar while I stab the squares of feta with a fork to spread its taste; a beefburger with bacon and cheese for Lin, souvlaki for Guy, calamari for Amy and I, and several plates of chips, plus coke for Guy who’s driving and for Lin and for me, a large dark Corfu beer in a fluted glass and Amstel for Amy; water and a cheese toastie for Oliver. The food was kindly and efficiently served. As our eating slowed the large agreeable Labrador bitch Lola joined us, optimistic for scraps.
"Here comes Hoover" said Guy
We’d planned to go on to Mon Repos but our meal went on too long. Also, I was tartly reminded, in the morning I’d cycled down to Ipsos – to do email and sit in Summer Song's cockpit and admire Dave's work on her - such a pleasure freewheeling through the olive groves – and coming back later than I’d said on the note I’d left on a table in the sleeping house. The long ascent to Ag Markos was no problem; my chest is clear, the antibiotics (and contentment) having cleared my bronchitis.
By the sea near Vlacherna Monastery below Kanoni

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A letter from Jan:
9/4/13 Simon. Read your description of your experience with the Greek health service with great interest. Interesting to see how European countries apply charges. On localism…re-assuring to see that others share our general wish to see much stronger localism (as long as this is based on stronger local democracy. The two are not identical).These are some of the ‘vehicles’ I have referred to previously to drive this agenda forward. I think it is important that Local Authorities (LAs) engage with these as long as they have a clear agenda of their own and a ‘narrative’ of their own commanding strong local support…However, there are some important omissions in all these articles.
Firstly, there  are no analyses or comments on the link or otherwise between localism and democracy and how this will work in practise and to the benefit of the locality. This is important, otherwise it may be perceived as merely one bunch of seedy and discredited politicians trying to grab power for themselves from another bunch of seedy and discredited politicians. You can well imagine how sections of the press and TV would portray this, aided and abetted by those opposed to it, hence why I carp on about a ‘narrative’ all the time, especially a ‘bottom-up’ one.
Secondly, there is no attempt to bring into the debate the civic pride and public service dimensions we've talked about. These are crucial elements in any narrative as they are linked to culture and behaviour i.e. the how (being ethical, incorruptible, objective, transparent, open, accessible, selfless, etc). It’s in this context that your suggestion about bringing in an ethical dimension to the reading and carrying model is so crucial. I'm still thinking about what that would look like both conceptually and practically, but agree with you that ‘critical incidents’ form an important part of it in terms of bringing together both skills and behaviours (these are of course overlapping). This is why governance is so important.
Thirdly, there's no mention of how LAs can develop a much stronger independent tax base, without which local democracy cannot flourish. It is noticeable that this topic is avoided – a lot of moaning but no serious attempt to offer an alternative to the present distorted system. Given that there are so many models on the continent which could be tailored to our circumstances this is a grave omission. Is this the Stockholm syndrome again, or are we incapable of rising above the parent-child model of licenced localism?
Fourthly, there is no attempt to offer a view on who localism applies to and who the ‘drivers’ will be (LAs?). The new feudal elite does not belong, nor is it attached to any locality, flitting between the financial capitals of the world…yet the decisions made amid this elite can have huge impacts on communities (e.g. closing or opening factories) Where do we place these people on the localism-democracy map? At the other end of the social scale there is a class now being referred as the ‘precariat’ (in older days we referred to the lumpen proletariat) whose connectivity with their localities is slim. In most case non-existent. What role, if any, do these people have in localism? Passive recipients? This latter class is growing and is likely to do so in the future.
I am trying to absorb the impact of all the benefits changes coming in this April (e.g. Housing Benefits, Council Tax Rebate, Social Fund). Fiendishly complicated, but people in the know seem to agree that the further down the economic food chain you are the worse off you will be. It will place LAs directly in the firing line, paradoxically through being given more devolved responsibilities. Is this localism or an imposition or even an abandonment - devolved functions for implementing national policy deemed difficult, controversial, unpopular, can hardly be seen as devolved democracy, especially as there appears to be strong political motives to ‘dump’ toxic issues on LAs. All governments have indulged in this. This is no more than local administration of central policy, making LAs the agents of central government, drawing them closer into a centralised system and, in the process, becoming more dependent on central government and less autonomous (there are a few LAs who are resolutely fighting this, e.g. Leeds City Council and the implementation of the new Housing Benefit). Others seem to relish being the local agent of government.
Despite endless grumbles, there has been very little serious debate among LAs about the above issues, let alone achieving a common ground or a common ‘manifesto’ for how to move forward in re-calibrating the relationship with central government. I accept this is very difficult given the numbers involved, the big differences between LAs and the ineffectiveness of the LGA. The debate seem to centre on narrow issues of functions and where they should be located within the overall central/local spectrum. In recalibrating this relationship we also need to recalibrate local relationships. LAs will need to become very different to just being local councils which, at the moment, are desperately trying to find a new role and purpose for themselves in the new political climate. They are (as I did ) seeing this from ‘inside the box’. I think we need to take a step back and look at concepts like local democracy, representative democracy, democratic accountability, participatory democracy, to identify building blocks for future direction and build up an evidence base for these, but, most importantly, identify the political vehicle for driving the necessary changes through. The obstacles are enormous but worthwhile conquering.
I fear many LAs are actually in denial about the big picture; certainly in public where they adopt a (commendable) ‘we can do it’ attitude (with grumbles) without really tackling head-on the fact that the tectonic plates of LAs are being rolled back, and at best a minimalist or residual role (the new poor laws or local agent for government?) is being prepared, based on ideology not evidence.
No amount of being able to prove yourself will change this significantly. Yes, there are new powers and responsibilities but this feels a bit like handing over the responsibility for the restaurant menu and orchestra play-list to the passengers of the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg, when new skills and strategies are required to reach port or at least survive to fight another day. How would you incorporate this into the three dimensional model of carrying-reading-ethical, and how would this ‘play’ in the managerial-political relationships? Fascinating.
I have droned on too long. Hope you are enjoying Corfu. I am now reading  the second volume (out of 3) of Professor Evans’ History of the Third Reich; strongly recommended, especially seeing how politicians-managers-professionals interacted and related to each other during the Wiemar Period and subsequently during the Third Reich, and the role the two latter groups played in ‘delivering’ the worst crimes in history (often willingly and enthusiastically or through cynical self-interest or indifference; coercion playing a surprisingly small role for most, other than as a powerful backdrop) - a salutary lesson which should be compulsory in all management and professional training, and one that proves how important the ethical dimension really is and how easily it can evaporate. On that cheerful thought I‘ll finish. Best, Jan
11/4/13 Dear Jan. I’d like to make up a list of about a dozen (maybe less to start) ‘critical incidents’ that might be drawn from the settings we’re striving to map. 'For instances' help develop narrative and v.v.
You may recall what my critical incidents looked like. We need some from rather different political-managerial-professional settings...I try to get the people who are experiencing these to give me the basic story which I can turn into something that is more general; which poses a dilemma and calls for a judgement - about action or inaction - based on what is read and what is carried.
I would draw some of these from experiences in the Handsworth community. Have you any one sentence settings I could develop and refine? I’d like some that touch on benefits complexity, on the parent-child relationship and the Stockholm syndrome that you suggest characterises central-local relations, also the effect of actions by the new ‘feudal elite’ on a local population; also something that addresses the ‘precariat’ (from inside)…
On a related point, the understandings that can develop inside a working political-management relationship represent one of the most reliable classrooms for politicians and managers working in government. I hear rather little on the process of ’negotiating the overlap’, yet it’s through such negotiation that individuals and organisations develop agency (i.e. capacity to understand and act in the world; take part in governance). Current trends encourage political deskilling. Deep desperation and misery and rage is kept just at bay through compensatory ‘bread and circuses’ and anaesthetising media; drugs (of many kinds), and a high level of intelligence-gathering by the police in which many of us participate as part of our commitment to ’social cohesion’.
Possible criticals: 1. Story of a failure of care for a neighbour in connection with an outlandish building extension into a next door garden, 2. Local volunteer group unable to bid for local work because of the increasing complexity and scale of procurement rules by local social housing agencies, 3. Local volunteer group unable to use power tools (normal domestic DIY tools most individuals use in their homes and gardens like mowers, hedge trimmers, strimmers and hand drills) as a result of stringency of health and safety rules and need for expensive training - a difficulty which local councillors admit themselves unable to ease or even negotiate. Many such local handyperson services now becoming defunct because regulatory framework favours much larger organisations. Why could not LA help form a co-op or syndicate of small volunteer groups? There are also problems created by expense of checking criminal records of anyone employed in local voluntary work as well as complicated sets of rules (all entirely reasonable in view of events) re protection of children and vulnerable people. Schools, nurseries and care homes can no longer use volunteer help with garden clearance, waste removal etc., 4. Local councillors ineffectual at getting information about grant frameworks for localism or clearly favouring issuing of neighbourhood funds to party political patrons. Could be an ethnic dimension to this problem; one of perception, perhaps, rather than reality but damaging to social cohesion, 5. Local council explores setting up fair-loan bank for the poor and other groups that would make good use of low interest loans delivered fairly, but finds the idea impossible because of banking rules. This problem made greater because credit unions are finding it increasingly difficult to survive (many declaring themselves insolvent) under new legislation intended to ensure propriety of such local ‘banks’, 6. Local groups unable to tap into rural parish funds as the process is tightly influenced by a clique of villagers who have known each other for many years, 7. XY council under financial pressure has cancelled free waste disposal permits for volunteer groups so that they can no longer remove waste cheaply after garden clearance, fly tipping clearance and street and park litter picks, 8. (Can you do one on effects of departure of a large local industry to another country?), 9. Local committees are being ill-attended because ’they seem unable to make decisions’; unable to summon senior officers or councillors to explain city wide/county/district wide strategies and budget procedures (e.g. decreasing local transparency spreads despondency as new feudalism takes hold), 10. Local groups frustrated with ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘so-called local democracy’ start to ’take the law into their own hands’. Play on links to ‘intelligent criminals’. Greece’s fascist party - Golden Dawn - now demands proof of licence to trade from ‘foreign’ market stall holders, and issues free food etc. but only to those of their racial preference (i.e. not black)…. how am I doing? Come up with a few more - starting with one liners. I realise the ones I’ve come up with in a few minutes are all pretty negative. We need some hopeful ones don’t we, even though of course there should always be a political-managerial-professional dilemma of some kind? Best S
15/4/13 Simon. I think the critical incidents in your attachment are excellent. They stand on their own merit in terms of being topical and universal and as such they can be applied to a range of contexts. As well as testing reading and carrying (i.e. political nous and skills) there is an underlying theme of morals and ethics which needs to be ‘tested’ strongly. This  can be wrapped up around the notion of governance. In theory many of your critical incidents should be ‘resolvable’ through adopting a governance approach to underpin the reading and carrying aspects. The reality of course is more messy than that, but that's part of the learning.
In many authorities especially in the North, but not exclusively so, I believe there is now a possibility that we are moving away from a ‘managing the overlap" model of political-managerial relationships to a ‘maintaining the bridge’ model. To illustrate: it has been calculated that the new welfare reforms now being introduced will remove £19 billion from the economy. Northern England will be hit the hardest; the worst affected being places like Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Glasgow, whereas Cambridge, Surrey, the Cotswolds, will see the lowest financial impact. The three worst affected regions are the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. A similar pattern exists in respect of the Local Government Grant distribution creating a ‘double whammy’ whereby the combination of welfare cuts and local government cuts impact disproportionally on the most deprived areas and widens the gap between the best and worst local economies (north/south divide).
These are not only economic issues. They are political and ideological in that they are underpinned by the fact that the negative impacts are felt by individuals and communities outside the government's own political heartland; by a policy objective aimed at rolling back the public sector and penalising (almost demonising) the poorest and most vulnerable people as a means (incentive) to force (encourage) them  to come off benefits or obtain as little as possible.
These developments will seep into political-managerial relationships and place them under strains proportionate to the impact of the ‘double whammy’. The gap between political aspirations, which in theory are almost unlimited, and managerial reality and deliverability - rapidly becoming even more constrained - will, unless some fundamentals are attended to, widen more and more as the ‘double whammy’ impacts.
There is a danger that the ‘overlap’ maybe about to be overtaken by an ever growing ‘gap’ which needs to be managed in a different way to the ‘overlap’, hence my phrase ‘maintaining the bridge’. In this context, as political ambitions are floundering and managerial manoeuvrability diminishing, the ethical dimensions may be tested to breaking point and beyond. Governance may no longer be able to patrol the boundaries of what is acceptable or not, or the boundaries themselves may shift either deliberately or imperceptibly.
On a more positive note, would it  be possible to turn all these developments into a ‘Dunkirk spirit’ in political-managerial relationships? (the ‘enemy’ being the government). I have my doubts, for reasons mentioned in my previous e-mails i.e. parent-child relationship, licenced localism, Stockholm syndrome)...It would be good to draw out some of these issues in the application of your critical incidents…It is at this level, in the  granular structure of local communities, that LAs have to deliver if localism is going to have any relevance. You have posed some meaty issues here. I think it may be a good idea to put these in the context of The Localism Act which provides  among other things ‘new rights for communities and individuals’, including: right to challenge, right to bid, right to build. I enclose a report on this (On the Ground: Localism in Practice. Final Report, March 2013. Ed Poulter, Rural Policy Officer, Yorkshire and Humber Rural Network), which you may find interesting. It seems to indicate that co-operation and relationship building are better than competition and confrontation (how quaint and old-fashioned!).
It is at this granular level that the ‘intelligent criminal' and/or extremist organisations (very often the same people) can take hold, as a vacuum is created by the rolling back of the public sector. There is a challenge for LAs here, but more so for local communities and local organisations. Can they fill the vacuum? Do they have the resources (compared to the ‘intelligent criminals’)? As you say ‘how can democracy and transparency survive?’…I wonder whether it would be possible to include some of these dilemmas and challenges in your community based critical incidents. I think LAs have been oblivious to the possibility of vacuums being created and filled by highly ‘undesirable’ elements or pent up local frustrations spilling over and then being manipulated (e.g. Golden Dawn). Given the dramatic increase in food banks in certain localities you can see that vacuums are being filled. Others may be less benevolent. At the other end certain communities are almost immune from any of the current policy developments. In fact given the continuing rise in billionaires some are benefiting.
As you know I am reading Professor Evans’ trilogy on the Third Reich. What is striking and frightening is how quickly and comprehensively the Nazi Party was able to ‘incorporate’ almost  all local organisations, clubs, associations, interest groups of all types. None of these were political in any form and had long histories in their communities, but within a short period they became tools of the government. The role of public servants and local authorities is fascinating…I am not suggesting that we have reached a similar stage here or that this is likely in the foreseeable future but there are lessons to be learned for any serious supporter of localism.
The so called impossible can and does happen. It was impossible for banks to bust but they did. It is impossible for countries to go bankrupt but they do.
I think there are a number of ways the new feudalism can manifest itself in a locality (e.g. no physical presence at all or living separately with likeminded people). In general terms we are dealing with people who determine the following: a) Relocating a company overseas (e.g. Dyson to China), b) Overseas buy- up (e.g. Cadbury's), c) New local development but overseas buying (e.g. IKEA having their goods manufactured in China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, etc.) creates some local employment in local outlets, d) Repatriation of profits and no tax paid in Britain, e.g. Starbucks, Amazon, etc.)
Given the high priority LAs place on economic development it is important to factor these dimensions into political-managerial relationships. As LAs are trying to argue the case that they should be at the forefront of economic development at local level. They need to understand these forces and have strategies for them. The overriding characteristic of the new feudalism is inequality on a scale not previously heard of for a very very long time.
A metaphor for what we are talking about can be found in football, especially in the top division. Originally the teams were factory based (e.g. Arsenal, Man U), then, becoming locality based teams owned by local business people and consisting of mainly local players, so the teams were integrated into their local communities and were part of them. This has turned into multimillion PLCs trading on the stock exchange owned by foreign multi-billionaires from Russia, Thailand, USA, Brunei - some of whom hardly ever come to Britain let alone attend matches, though they appoint chief executives and managers, many of whom are foreign and very few, if any, from the local population. They have huge TV income and sponsorship deals. Sponsored players come from all over the world. They are paid salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most people. They live miles away in gated communities among likeminded people and drive to and from their training grounds and stadiums in cars worth hundreds of thousand. They do bring money into the local economy and many of them will do good deeds in their spare time or as part of their sponsorship agreement.
Put simplistically, something similar has happened to the economy in general. If so, what sort of localism are we talking about - transparency and accountability combined with powers (mainly but not exclusively economic) to improve quality of life, and powers to determine or have a real say in taxation policy at local level? This is a tall order. Since the Poll Tax debacle no political party or politician dares raise the issue of local taxation. It is seen as an out of bounds toxic issue; but without some real economic clout localism is dead in the water - no more than pressure groups chasing government or any other vested interests for a few economic crumbs. I hope this makes sense and that it is of use to you. Enjoy Corfu…See you when you are back. Best Jan
Dear J. I suspect that as April's welfare reforms begin to bite, we will encounter, even more than usual, the ugly habit of demonising the poor - about which I know no better remark than this - from the great American writer, Herman Melville, who spent time on a US warship in the 19th century and encountered the justification of the officer class for flogging the lower deck. Such cruelty was essential given the dangerous and depraved behaviour such punishments were designed to quell.
Depravity in the oppressed is no apology for the oppressor; but rather an additional stigma to him, as being in large degree, the effect, and not the cause and justification of oppression’ Chap 14 ‘White Jacket
18/4/13 Simon. At least there are some authorities who are doing the right thing by their residents and put words into action. this is encouraging for Localism. Some will criticize this as political stunts by mainly Labour authorities and I suspect some legal challenges will follow but at least some are prepared to take independent action and not roll over and have their tummy tickled by central government. This really sums up the current sad state of affairs between central and local government Best Jan
From the Local Government Chronicle 18 April 2013:
Councils are introducing a raft of schemes to protect residents from the threat of eviction resulting from the government’s welfare reforms. Greenwich RBC announced this week that it had given 31 residents council jobs rather than see them fall into arrears because of the £500-a-week benefit cap and the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. The new employees were selected because they were considered to be among the hardest hit by the changes. In total, up to 250 residents could be helped by the scheme, which aims to fill cleaning, bin collecting and town centre management posts. Greenwich leader Chris Roberts (Lab) told LGC the council’s scheme aimed to help residents affected by the benefits cap.
“The starting point is that we want to prevent people from being trampled on by the government’s policy,” he said.
Other initiatives have seen councils reclassifying properties in a bid to help residents avoid the bedroom tax, under which claimants’ housing benefit will be cut if they are deemed to be under-occupying their homes.
In one of the largest reclassifications to date, Nottingham City Council plans to redesignate all of its 1,019 two-bedroom high-rise flats as one-bedroom properties.
This follows Leeds City Council’s proposal to apply a one-bedroom reduction in its redesignation of more than 800 homes. Peter Gruen (Lab), executive board member for neighbourhoods, said the scheme would “mean the households affected [by the removal of the spare room subsidy] will not have to find additional funds”.
Brighton & Hove City Council’s minority Green ruling administration plans to introduce proposals under which no resident would be evicted from their home as a result of rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax. Liz Wakefield (Green), chair of the authority’s housing committee, said tenants would be allowed to remain in their homes if housing officers were satisfied that they were “doing all they reasonably can to pay”.
However, some councils have rejected schemes similar to the one rolled out by Greenwich. Adam Walther, a policy officer at Tower Hamlets LBC, told LGC the council had discussed a scheme “on the same lines” as Greenwich RBC’s plan. However, Mr Walther said it was rejected because it was considered to discriminate against residents who would lose less money or none at all under the reforms. “But it’s good that Greenwich has tried this approach because other councils will be interested to see how it goes,” Mr Walther added.
Amber Christou, head of housing services at Swale DC, said her authority had also discussed creating jobs for residents who would be hardest hit by benefit reforms. “There are some cases where it would be cheaper to employ someone than to deal with the consequences if they didn’t find work and presented themselves as homeless,” she said “I’m not sure whether we’d do it, but it’s an idea we’ve discussed.”
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Lin and I have now taken Oliver on two long walks round the village along quiet roads beyond its houses, past blooming wild flowers, banks of honesty, fresh green verges - already being keenly strimmed by the Demos to avoid future fire risk as summer approaches - and abundant blossoming Judas trees.

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