The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Professor Catherine Staite

Something very bad is happening to our country. The sense of solidarity and common humanity that has helped our complex society to function is being eroded.  Empathy has fled and so children escaping the terrors of war are feared and despised, not welcomed.  We are peddled the old lies that immigrants are dark strangers who cause our problems, even though they are net contributors to our economy, as well as essential to endeavors as diverse as the NHS and agriculture. Hate is becoming embedded in political discourse, encouraged by the tabloid press and has unleashed shocking levels of bullying, racism and misogyny.

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Can High Speed Two Bridge the North-South Divide? Weighing the Evidence

Rebecca O’Neill

The Government recently announced its preferred route for Phase 2 of HS2 from Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds. This news will be welcomed by many in the North of England who believe that the new high speed rail line will bridge the ‘North-South divide’, referring to the cultural and economic differences between the South of England, in particular the South East, and the North. Currently, the gap between the two geographical areas in terms of life expectancy and economic trends has grown to the extent that they are almost separate countries.

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‘Secret plans to close hospitals’: the perils of centralism

Catherine Staite

The Kings Fund’s warning, that there are ‘secret plans’ to close hospitals, comes as no surprise to local government. A number of local authorities, including Birmingham City Council, Sutton and Camden have decided to publish the NHS’s ‘Sustainable Transformation Plan’ (STP) for their area, against the wishes of the NHS, because of concerns about lack of transparency and particularly the lack of engagement with communities about the best outcomes.

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Keeping it simple

Claire Baxter

Sally Philips’s recent documentary about parenting a child with Down’s Syndrome explored the ethics of antenatal testing, but I couldn’t help being drawn to the back story; the families’ experiences of public services.

Earlier this year I managed a small charity, School for Parents, on an interim basis. It provides weekly classes for children with disabilities, teaching groups the skills others take for granted such as moving, communicating and eating.  During this time Dr Anne Emerson of the University of Nottingham conducted research to understand the experiences of the parents.  This provided a valuable opportunity to explore how families we worked with encountered public policy and services, and to appreciate the role university research can play.

What did I learn?

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Local government re-organisation: the debate that goes round in circles

Catherine Staite

I do like the unitarisation debate. It has everything going for it. We’ve heard all the arguments countless times, so there are no surprises. It’s been running for so many years that it’s become a constant in a time of great uncertainty. Quite comforting really.

In 2008/9, I was part of the team that was asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the 2009 unitaries, in terms of their financial health, service performance and effective community engagement. The aim of the ‘Form and Function’ study, commissioned by DCLG was to answer the question ‘do unitaries perform better than two tier areas?’ We were asked to compare the performance of the new councils with the four, two-tier Pathfinders. Do you remember them? They argued that they could achieve all of the benefits of re-organisation without any unpleasant side effects, like change.

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Elected Mayors and Combined Authorities: the exchange of power and influence

Catherine Staite

The West Midlands Combined Authority is consulting on the way in which power will be distributed between the CA and the new, directly elected mayor, who’ll be in post from May 2017.

The current proposals, which are pretty much in-line with those being consulted on in Greater Manchester and the Sheffield City Region, are that the mayor will have the powers delegated by central government, that the Leaders of the councils that comprise the Combined Authority will be part of the mayor’s cabinet, thereby retaining significant control over the powers they’ve already pooled and there’ll be some joint areas of responsibility.

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