New Deal of the Mind

Went to Xmas drinks with the Trustees and others involved in New Deal of the Mind. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is – is it the result of Martin Bright’s original article in the New Statesman titled ‘New Deal of the Mind’ which laid out a brilliant vision for creating work or training for an army of young people so that rather than become a lost generation without jobs or hope in this dreadful recession – they would be charged with projects throughout the land taking living histories, recording the recession – and many other such programs.

The New Deal of the Mind came into being and now exists to enable young people to find work or apprenticeships or training in the creative fields. If you want to get involved – just let me or Martin Bright know.

I was so enthusiastic about New Deal of the Mind – that I am now one of their Patrons. You can see a short film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDlOCs3_ZBs

Bloody squirrels

Lynne Featherstone feeding birds with Tim WebbWas away with the birds again today – when Tim Webb from the RSPB came to put up some bird feeders with me in my garden.

None have yet come to inhabit the bird box I put up a little while back – but I think it probably takes a while. And a bloody squirrel has just nicked one of the fat balls I hung from my tree.

My wire bird feeder is more squirrel-proof – so must get some more food to put in that. If this goes on – I will soon be bird-watching!

P.S. Further to my earlier blog, over on the Spectator Martin Bright writes on the New Deal of the Mind gathering himself.

A New Deal of the mind

Will Martin Bright’s vision of inspiring, encouraging, skilling and putting to useful purpose the generation of young people who will emerge from education to unemployment be realised?

I was immediately inspired myself by Martin’s big idea when I originally read his piece in the New Statesman. Called ‘The New Deal of the Mind’ this brave and visionary project would scoop up this potentially lost generation and create a version of Franklyn Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 30’s. It would see an army of young people employed in projects to record, write, film, photograph, design and record aspects of our lives, the recession, living histories, archives and so on – creating a legacy for future generations from this era whilst battling the scourge of unemployment in current times.

Since I first read about the New Deal of the Mind, I have been pushing the idea whenever I have had the opportunity. And today – the stellar gathering at 11 Downing Street (hosted by Mrs Darling) demonstrated that this is an idea which has grabbed hold of everyone’s imagination.

I can’t even begin to describe the guest list – other than the head of any arts, music, film etc organisation you can think ofwas there – from Sir John Tusa, Alan Yentob and Sir David Putnam to Michael Wolff, Sir Christopher Grayling and Mark Thompson (and loads more). As for Secretaries of State – we had two – James Purnell and Andy Burnham who both verbally gave their support and said they were both thinking along these lines anyway.

The event was kicked off by Martin describing the idea – and then we heard from Alan Brinkley, Professor of History at Columbia University who is an expert on Roosevelt’s New Deal and gave us the history and analysis of it.

Then it was opened for discussion to the floor – and the great and the good all agreed it was a brilliant idea. There seemed to be some debate as to whether this army could be achieved in existing structures with existing funds (benefits, money already earmarked for apprenticeships etc) or new money. There was agreement that whatever shape this took, who ran it or who funded it – that this needed to be done fast, as locally as possible and without endless hoops to jump through. It has to be simple.

Admiration for the idea was fulsome – but it took Trevor Phillips (Equality and Human Rights Commission) to put money on the table with the challenge for others to do same and for a partner to come forward to set up a project. It will be interesting to see if the others come forward – or if everyone just waits for someone else to do it!

The other person who particularly impressed me was the woman from the Heritage Lottery who said she was interested in partnering on the archiving idea. I hope all the others are fired up by the meet-up and put what were a range of splendid desires into reality.

Congratulations to Martin who is driving this ferociously and relentlessly forward. It takes someone with passion to push this forward – and this is a critical period where everyone has said yes – great idea. Now his challenge is to make it happen.

Cambridge University pay continued…

I see the news of the Cambridge University unequal pay issue also reached the student press.

My efforts on this issue have reached Cambridge’s ears and the Director of External Affairs is seeking a meeting with me. So full marks to him for a quick approach. We will meet in a week or so. I have no doubt there are rafts of ‘reasons’ as to why there is a gender pay gap (and Cambridge is not alone in this regard). The even more depressing aspect though, is Cambridge’s response to the figures – which is basically that women are on the lower paid rungs of the greasy pole – as if that was OK!

Anyway – point is – I am not an investigator – which is why I have asked the Equalities Commission to investigate the situation. That, after all, is their job!

Over on the Spectator, Martin Bright, in his blog calls me redoubtable (love it) for unearthing this report – but ‘unearthing’ is not really how it happened. The report, as I understand it, was completed last year but only saw light of day on 18th February when the Council at Cambridge discussed its findings. Whether it was sat on until then or simply that is the way things are done at Cambridge – I have no idea. What I will say for Cambridge however, at least they have produced a document voluntarily which does look at the pay – which is more than can be said for many.

One of the underlying issues equally damaging to sorting out pay issues is the habit of gagging staff. Gagging clauses have themselves been severely criticised within the university – see the debate on the web here, especially in the speech of Dr Cowley (near the end). This is the most relevant bit:

To finish I would like to make a suggestion. While the white paper makes a great deal of academic freedom, it’s not clear that the HR Division itself is really in favour of freedom of speech. As part of my concerns over the white paper I have tried to talk to members of staff, here and elsewhere, who have been dismissed, or ‘persuaded’ to take severance or early retirement. I have found it difficult to find out what happened because of gagging clauses. In a University that believes in freedom of speech they are an affront. Even the HEFCE does not seem too keen on them, at least in the case of Senior Staff earning more than £70,000.

Institutions must not agree to confidentiality clauses within any severance agreements except where it is necessary to protect commercially sensitive information. Commercially sensitive information does not include information on the details of the severance package itself, nor generalised clauses whereby individuals undertake not to make statements that might damage the reputation of an institution. However, there may be exceptional cases not covered by commercial considerations, where it is in the public interest to include a confidentiality clause. In these circumstances the institution must consult with me as HEFCE chief executive, in my capacity as Accounting Officer, before agreeing to such a clause.

The University should have similar restrictions on confidentiality clauses, but for all staff.

Anyway – as I said – will see what the Director of External Affairs says when we meet. And then I should hear back from the Equalities Commission as to their take on this. They are already investigating the financial sector – so don’t see why they shouldn’t put our Ivy League universities on their list too.

However, when the Equalities Bill hits the Commons (predicted April-ish) the nation will find that the Government is still clinging to a voluntary code for pay audits. That will so not work. Pay audits must be mandatory. Whilst Cambridge has at least produced this document voluntarily, on the whole we have seen how well voluntary codes usually work – for example in the banking sector – not! Whenever I tackle Harriet Harman on this issue – she says basically if companies don’t improve in five years then the Government will look again at making pay audits mandatory. Always jam tomorrow for us girls – 30 years since the Equal Pay Act and we are still waiting – and it is an inequality that is totally unacceptable and compounds with many other inequalities that women still face.

I fear that much in the Bill is going to be watered down anyway. There were lots of ominous bits and pieces in the papers last week saying that any policy elements that cost will have to go! Denied of course by She Who Would be Prime Minister!

A brilliant idea

I am jealous! Martin Bright of New Statesman has come up with a brilliant idea that I wish I or my party had thought of first. You have to read the piece. Read it! It is called ‘A New Deal of the Mind’:

The government’s job creation plans are inspired by FDR’s New Deal. But ministers have ignored its most lasting legacy: the boost it gave to writers, artists and intellectuals.

Just before the Second World War, the Works Progress Administration, one of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes, published a series of statistics about what it had done to get America back to work. In the previous three years the WPA had built 17,562 public buildings, 279,804 miles of roads, 29,084 bridges, 357 airports, more than 30,000 dams and 15,000 parks.

Although nothing on this scale has been considered for Britain as we head towards the second decade of the 21st century, the rhetoric of Labour’s interventionist approach to the crisis is pure FDR. Ministers seem to be wavering between calling it a “Green” New Deal or a “Hi-Tech” New Deal, but the centrally funded work-creation schemes take their inspiration from Depression-era America. That much is certain.

And Bright goes on to propose five key actions that we could take as a nation that would, using intellect, vision and arts, change the future for decades to come.

Ken Livingstone and Dispatches

I guess a lot of people watched the Dispatches program on Monday night – Martin Bright’s the Court of Ken! I watched it myself at about midnight on Monday. Hadn’t realised when they interviewed me (for an hour) that I would have such a starring role! Usually when you do these things (or my experience anyway) is that you end up on the cutting room floor.

What is quite interesting is the atmosphere that surrounds all of this as well. I gather that many people won’t speak on the record of what they know – for fear of reprisals. (If you find me in the Thames with concrete boots…………..). However, I am relative small fry in this. And I’m glad in that Ken is being put under the spotlight for the things he does. My view in general is that if there is evidence – which it appears there is – then appropriate authorities need to take action to bring the villain to account – be that Ken, the LDA, Lee Jasper or whoever – or clear them if the charge can’t stick.

When this started with the Andrew Gilligan stuff in the Standard – no one probably thought that it would rumble on. But as it has progressed, there seem to be more and more evidence.

So the cross-party referral of matters to do with the LDA for independent inquiry by the District Auditor is important in itself.

I don’t think it ends here. Ken may try to diss everyone and everything and assert that there is nothing here but people with agendas against him. I don’t have an agenda against Ken. I spent the early years of the Assembly fighting shoulder to shoulder with him – for the congestion charge and against the PPP for example. But – public money is being spent – and power must not be abused.

Ken Livingstone and racism

Listened to Mayor Livingstone on Nick Ferari this morning.

Ken really does have no shame. With all the muck flying about the London Development Agency (LDA) – known colloquially as Ken’s Bank – around LDA funding and the behaviour of the Mayor’s Policy Adviser, Lee Jasper – a decent Mayor would engage properly with the allegations.

But – hey – cheeky chappy believes he is right whatever the situation. Evidence: see yesterday when he said that the investigation into the LDA funding was ‘independent’ – and then the financial officer of the LDA at an evidence session before the London Assembly spilled the beans, saying it was an internal investigation.

Anyway – Nick F was suggesting to him that the coming edition of Dispatches on TV Monday night – in which I make a brief appearance – has allegations both about his personal habits and professional ones. Instead of dealing with the issues Ken – par for the course – goes for the program’s maker, Martin Bright. Ken says Martin Bright is doing a hatchet job on him – and it is because he has an agenda about Muslims in Britain.

Ken’s cry of racism against people who don’t fawn at his feet demonstrates quite clearly why he isn’t fit to be our Mayor. This sort of politically convenient wheeling out of racist charges also does damage to the very real and necessary battle against racism – because it devalues the term. Shame on you Ken.

My first political memory

Given Iain Dale has tagged me to blog about my first political memory – I cannot resist. The only hesitation I have – is that it somewhat reveals my advanced years!

The first time politics impinged on my secure little childhood was when I was watching television in our lounge in the flat in Highgate that I grew up in – Highpoint. I can’t remember whether they interrupted the TV or whether it was just on the news – but the newscaster in super-serious tones was talking about something to do with Cuba and nuclear war.

I can’t say I truly understood the the whole scenario as I was aged 10 when the crisis began on October 15, 1962. The USA had reconnaissance photos showing Soviet missiles being built in Cuba – hence it became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The ante was upped, tensions rose and on the point of nuclear war – letters exchanged etc and Krushchev agreed to dismantle the installations on the basis that the US would not invade Cuba.

As I said, most of this passed me by – but I remember being scared by the news. I understood the danger – and I guess it was the tones of the newscaster and the muted exchanges by my parents. It was this singular event that opened my understanding that the world was not stable and that my world somehow depended on men in foreign countries not taking leave of their senses. Clearly – not a lot has changed!

So – not a British political awakening – but certainly an early understanding of international politics!

In turn – I will tag Will Howells (thanks for filming my conference diaries!), Stephen Tall (man in charge at this year’s Lib Dem Blog of the Years awards – and winner last year), Matt Davies (Haringey colleague – councillor for Fortis Green), Martin Bright (of the New Statesman and a constituent of mine) and Paul Walter (the ultra-prolific Lib Dem blogger).