Professor John Stewart: the nation’s teacher of local democracy

Jason Lowther

Everyone in or with links to the Institute of Local Government Studies was saddened this week to learn of the death of Professor John Stewart, who from 1966 developed Inlogov to focus on UK local government and made an enormous and lasting contribution to the development of local government, local governance and public administration scholarship over several decades.

I had the good fortune to meet John last year when, following the death of his wife, Councillor Theresa Stewart, he kindly offered his research library to the department.  We had a lovely afternoon recalling the earlier days of Inlogov, developing the first courses, contributing to the insightful Layfield Commission on Financing Local Government, travelling all over the country to review training and development needs in hundreds of councils, and leading thinking on the sector through articles in both the scholarly and professional journals. 

John was a strong advocate of local government as community leadership at the heart of a vibrant democracy – rather than a mindless channel of central government’s directives or a mere provider of various local public services.  He and his co-authors often led the thinking in key areas.  In the 1970s, he promoted the development of corporate planning and management in local authorities bringing synergy to the various service areas.  In the 1980s, he asserted the value of the public good in the face of New Public Management’s push to convert public service into private consumption.   He argued that developing Quangos for specific services was creating a late twentieth-century version of the fragmented local public service world of the Victorian era.  In the 1990s, he challenged the narrow consumerist Citizen’s Charter approach and instead asserted the importance of citizens’ rights, participation and accountability.

In 2014, John published his reflections on the past four decades in local government.  He argued that the problems facing the economy, society and the environment need effective local responses:

Local government can draw on its own and its citizens’ ideas and aspirations, but this genuine localist approach cannot be achieved in fragmented and imperfectly accountable structures over-controlled by central government. The lesson of the last 40 years is the need for a learning government that welcomes diversity. All can learn from the relative successes and failures of diversity, whereas too often centralism builds uniformity from which all that may be learnt is general failure.

As well as research, John developed a strong teaching capacity in Inlogov.  He created residential courses, held at Wast Hills House outside Birmingham, which had been given to the University by the Cadbury family.  It was adapted as a residential facility with 25 bedrooms and a range of teaching rooms.  These courses became the essential preparation for local government officers with ambitions to become chief executives.  Much of the work on the courses was in small groups, which led to many lasting friendships between future senior local government officers and chief executives across the country – providing an essential support network for those in these tough roles.  The Local Government Training / Management Board later commissioned John to visit almost all English local authorities and many in Scotland and Wales, assessing their capacity and recommending approaches to develop this further.

In addition to his remarkable 36-year writing partnership with LSE’s late Professor George Jones, John nurtured and collaborated with successive generations of scholars including Bob Hinings, Royston Greenwood, Stewart Ranson, Rod Rhodes, Kieron Walsh, Chris Skelcher, Steve Leach and many more.  A few weeks ago, I invited some of his former colleagues to contribute some reflections for a potential collection of some of John’s works.  I was delighted by the speed and warmth of the responses, typical examples including:

John was the nation’s teacher of local democracy. He was a remarkable man, a gifted and inspiring leader at the Institute and across local government

John Stewart was the most significant British thinker on local government in the last half of the twentieth century. He was the key influence on several generations of local government workers

He argued that the narrative that users of public services should be treated as self-interested customers ignored their role as citizens with a wider interest in the welfare of their community

His wonderful insight helped so many people to be massively more effective than many of us thought possible

The most negative thing I ever heard him say about an idea was ‘I don’t think we can make that a priority’”

I’ve not known such intellect, such tolerance, generosity and encouragement from a mentor. This must have been the same for many who have come under his giant but gentle wings

John and George [Jones] formed a partnership whose writings proclaimed the case for local government for almost forty years. They were doomed, like Cassandra, to have their warnings ignored. But John’s influence on the management of local authorities endures.

Outside his professional life, John was a loving husband, father and grand-father.  Following his death this week, his grandson Henry published a lovely thread on Twitter outlining some of John’s achievements and recollections from friends and colleagues. 

It is immensely humbling to inherit the guardianship of one of John’s creations, Inlogov.  I will close with another quotation, from my colleague Emeritus Professor John Raine this week:

His legacy in shaping the policy and practice agenda of local government in the UK, as well as on the development and sustainment of INLOGOV as the premier research and teaching centre for local governance, will surely endure.

Jason Lowther, Director – Inlogov

25th November 2022

Schools and local authorities – where next?

Edwina Grant

Recently, politicians at Lancashire County Council have reflected on the national picture regarding the ambition of the Department for Education, contained in the White Paper on Education and the subsequent Schools Bill.  The Bill aims to move all schools to become academies and to allow councils to open a Local Authority-established Multi Academy Trust (MAT), although some would argue that this was technically possible before.

The government’s aim to ensure that by a notional target of 2030, 90% of pupils meet the expected standard in maths and reading at Key Stage 2, and that the national GCSE average grade in both English language and maths is increased from a 4.5 to 5.  It sets out its strategy of delivery: “ensuring excellent teachers, supporting teachers deliver high standards for all pupils, deploying targeted support for those who need it most, and ensuring a stronger school system”.

Key policies to achieve this include the ambition that there will be a fully Trust led system with a single regulatory approach, through growth of strong multi-academy trusts.  The Bill envisages the establishment of new multi-academy trusts (MATs), encouraging existing and new MATs to expand and allowing trusts to be established by local authorities.  The notional ambition is, that by 2030 all pupils will be taught in a strong MAT, or their school will be planning to join one.

The White Paper was released in March 2022 and subsequent Schools Bill was introduced to Parliament in May 2022.

At Lancashire County Council, we have a good relationship with our local authority-maintained schools, with single academy trusts (SATs) and with multi-academy trusts (MATs).  We have prioritised the core responsibilities for local authorities on promoting the children’s right to education in terms of admissions, challenging exclusions and supporting alternatives and working with our schools collaboratively on behalf of young people with special educational needs.  We became even closer as a result of the challenges of the Covid pandemic.  The Schools Bill, however, is a challenge for us, as at the time of writing, 560 of our 628 schools are local-authority maintained.

There are obviously options for us.  Firstly, to continue the status quo and to let the market take its course.  Secondly, to proactively manage the market by working closely with the new regional Department for Education teams to ensure that our local authority voice is heard as more schools are encouraged to join MATs and indeed, more MATs, as yet unknown to us, are encouraged to join our school landscape.  Thirdly, to express our ambition to establish a local authority maintained multi-academy trust.

After much deliberation, including briefings and discussions with all our councillors, and close consultation with the regional office for the Department for Education, we considered that options 2 and 3 should be explored further.  We are actively strengthening our existing relationships with MATs and trying to understand who the new players might be in our bordering geography of which, given the size of Lancashire, there will be many.  We have also submitted an expression of interest to establish a local authority established multi-academy trust specialising in special education.  We decided on the special education specialism as we have a high level of strength in that sector, and also an existing deep relationship on a pupil level with the children in those schools.

The outcome is yet to be decided but thinking about the next steps has brought us closer to key questions about our existing commercial activity with schools in our authority.  Will the new MATs who take on existing county schools still buy our services, and if they do, in what volume, given the financial pressures ahead?  How do we shape our local elected councillor involvement to ensure the democratic voice is heard, and how do we advise and support the multi-academy trusts so that they fully understand the community context of our local offer for the most vulnerable families and their children?

Time will tell, but this is potentially the most interesting change since the implementation of the 1988 Education Reform Act, which reduced the powers of local authorities over schools.  As I was an education officer in Lancashire at the time, I can attest that it took enormous amount of goodwill from both councillors and officers to realign our systems and our structures so that our schools could get the best of that significant change.  To think back on that time now, that schools previously did not have full control of their budgets, seems strange.  I hope that another 30 years on from now, we will be able to reflect as positively on the changes ahead of us.

References:

Edwina Grant OBE is Director of Education and Children’s Services for Lancashire County Council.

Transitional safeguarding – putting children first

Cllr Ketan Sheth

Picture credit: https://drugpolicy.org/issues/protecting-youth

Most of us can remember as teenagers those exciting moments of independence, of achieving the landmarks of adulthood; perhaps learning to drive; our first relationship; our first job. These landmarks all signify moments of increasing maturity, of independence, but each of these landmarks remind us that there is no one moment of independence. We don’t flip a switch to become a grown-up – one day a child, one day an adult. Maturity is a gradual process, a high wire that we walk where most of us benefit from a safety net of parents, family, friends. 

For our most vulnerable children and young people too, there isn’t a switch and sadly too often they don’t have the safety net they need. There is now much more emphasis on the transitional period so that services extend from aged 16 to around 25. There should not be abrupt changes to a service just because someone reaches the age of 18, with its attendant risk of falling between the gap where services don’t always join up!

In recent years, safeguarding children and adults has become increasingly complex, with risks such as sexual exploitation, gang and group offending and violent crime challenging the children’s and adults’ safeguarding workforce to identify opportunities for innovation. The notion of transitional safeguarding is an emerging one, not currently widely applied in policy or practice. Its implementation requires changes in policy and practice and across systems involving all agencies. 

However, some local authority areas, like Brent, are already innovating and creating opportunities for more flexible and bespoke support, and providing valuable experiences for young people at a key point in their lives. This makes sense in most circumstances, but keeping vulnerable young people safe as they transition from adolescence to adulthood challenges us all to remember that becoming an adult is a process of transition, of many moments. 

Transitional safeguarding is an emerging area of practice where we challenge ourselves in public service to make sure we keep that safety net in place; that we help keep safe and promote the well-being of our young people when they need it most, regardless of the artificial barriers of age, and including during those important times of transition to adulthood. 

Supporting young people’s safety and well-being during the transition to adulthood is not only morally and ethically important, but it is also important for the future health of society and future generations. Young people may experience a range of risks and harms which may require a distinct multi-agency safeguarding response, and safeguarding support should not end simply because a young person reaches the age of 18. Investing in support to address harm and its impacts at this life stage can help to reduce for the need for specialist and statutory intervention and criminal justice involvement later on in life.

In Brent, my scrutiny committee recognises the importance of taking this holistic, broad view for our Brent young people. We believe we are well placed to be at the vanguard of these developments, with promising pilot work, in collaboration with partner organisations, already completed to change and enhance services; and my scrutiny committee are recommending that Brent develops a council-wide approach to transitional safeguarding by working with those young people who need us most.

And most importantly, I think that everybody has a valuable contribution to make to the transitional safeguarding agenda to help improve our practice for the better outcomes of all our most vulnerable young people; and indeed, the service is there when they need to use it.

Cllr Ketan Sheth is Brent Council’s Chair of Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee 

Policy problems are complex. So what?

Koen Bartels, Selen Ercan and John Boswell

Image: Robert Couse-Baker

There is no denying that we live in complex times, featuring a global pandemic, climate change, and structural inequality. Complex problems are often incredibly difficult to address. Policy makers, practitioners and scholars have known this for a long time. In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber introduced the term ‘wicked problems’ to describe problems that were so complicated and ambiguous that those involved could not even agree on what the problem exactly was, and how a good solution would look like. Twenty years later, Jan Kooiman argued that the governance systems in place to address these complex problems are equally complex.

Yes, policy problems are complex. So what?

We are not asking this question out of apathy. Instead, we want to find out what it actually means to call policy problems ‘complex’. What difference does it make to those involved to call a problem complex? How do they make sense of complexity and deal with it? In what ways can we understand and study complexity? And is it possible to somehow solve complex problems? These were the kind of questions we addressed during this year’s section ‘Navigating Complexity in Policy and Politics: Prospects and Challenges’, which we co-convened at the annual ECPR conference 2021.

Panels explored complex problems in different policy areas and contexts including ecological sustainability, criminal justice and urban transformations. We have learnt, for example, how Roma migrant women navigate and reorganise their everyday lives when their husbands ‘disappear’ to jail, leaving them in a tremendous state of uncertainty posed by highly discriminatory criminal justice system. Another panel speaker revealed the practical consequences of the complex child protection system in Chile: this system led to tragic policy failures that destroyed or even ended children’s lives. Several presentations explained how governance systems ‘locked in’ the status quo continued to frustrate policies and efforts to promote sustainability.

This year’s section also featured a roundtable on Nicole Curato’s recent book Democracy in Times of Misery. We had the opportunity to ask Curato questions about her ethnographic work in the Philippines, and the ways she uses normative political theory to make sense of the emerging democratic practices in the aftermath of natural disasters. As we heard from Curato and other contributors of the roundtable, one key challenge for democracy we identified is to listen to the ‘unspeakable tragedies’ taking place in the world and celebrate the ‘humble victories’ through which citizens reclaim public space.

What emerges as an important avenue for better understanding complexity both from the panel discussions and the roundtable on Curato’s book is the need to focus more on the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. Shifting the focus from the trade-offs policy makers face when dealing with complex policy problems to the ways citizens experience complexity can offer novel ways of comprehending and addressing complexity. One of the panel speakers explored how citizens make sense of austerity and the ways this influences their political views. Another panel speaker explained how a focus on people’s experiences of the area in which they live can help understand how to best give shape to economic development policies, such as the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda.

Similarly, a focus on the everyday practices of policy makers can cast new light on how they deal with complexity. One panel speaker for instance explained why they publicly remain proponents of collaboration to deal with ‘wicked problems’, despite their privately held ‘wicked thoughts’ about the frustrations and limitations they experience in practice. If you must know, they do it to get access to other actors, build alliances, infiltrate networks, or channel conflict. So, by acknowledging the complexity of policy problems, policy makers can justify inaction or reinforce the status quo.

Methodological innovations, such as ‘Trajectory-Based Qualitative Comparative Analysis’, can help to trace the complexity of urban transformations. While action research can help to foster joint learning about how to work with, rather than control or resolve complexity. One participant wrote in her paper: “We are drowning in the ocean of theories and case studies of water governance, but why does it not match up with the successful implementation of those goals?” There is an important role here for policy analysts to foster learning and change in collaboration with stakeholders. In fact, many presentations demonstrated significant (untapped) potential for helping to harness the complex problems they identified.

We might even say that, like the weather, many participants were talking about complexity but not doing anything with it. Nearly everyone evoked the notion ‘wicked problems’ to frame their research, but relatively few actually used looked at the world in terms of complexity. Complexity theory is one of the major innovations of the past decades in the Social Sciences and has also gotten a foothold in the field of Public Policy. It views the world in terms of complexity that cannot be controlled or known objectively. Like the flight patterns of a flock of birds, the world is unpredictable and emergent. We need to accept this and make sense of the ‘complex adaptive systems’ that take shape (and are constantly changing) in interaction between webs of interdependent actors. This, again, asks for stakeholders to engage in ongoing learning and adaptation as they collaboratively confront the complex problems they face in everyday practice.

Koen Bartels is Associate Professor at INLOGOV and Co-Convener of the ECPR Standing Group Theoretical Perspectives in Policy Analysis

Selen Ercan is Associate Professor at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra, and Co-Convener of the ECPR Standing Group Theoretical Perspectives in Policy Analysis

John Boswell is Associate Professor at the Centre for Citizenship, Globalisation and Governance, University of Southampton and Co-Convener of the ECPR Standing Group Theoretical Perspectives in Policy Analysis

Decarbonising Transport: How Can we Work Together to Make an Impact?

Dr Louise Reardon

With the COP26 climate change conference only days away, the media is awash with pieces on the challenge we face and the policy options available (or not) for us to meet our net-zero commitments. One of the areas needing significant attention is transport.

Transport contributed 28% of total domestic Green House Gas emissions in 2018, making it the UK’s largest emitting sector. To date the sector is proving a tough nut to crack, with transport emissions 4% higher now than they were in 2013 and only 3% lower than in 1990. To be on track we need an annual rate of emissions reduction of at least 6%. We therefore need bold and significant action.

While electric vehicles have been the primary focus of central government attention and are an important part of the policy mix, many experts have highlighted how they alone will not be enough to achieve the sustainable transition we need. We also require significant behaviour change (shifting from car use to walking and cycling for example) and less travel full stop.

Easier said than done. Our current CREDS research is identifying the multitude of different ways organisations are (and can) work together to decarbonise transport at the city level and their views on the barriers and opportunities for affecting change. Some of the issues arising are cultural (the car as a status symbol for example), some are institutional (lack of capacity to focus on decarbonisation, for instance), and others political (will the electorate support this?).

Whatever the issues, no two towns and cities will have the same mixture of challenges, solutions and therefore pathways to a more sustainable transport system. Moreover, the reasons why we travel in the first place (and the means of doing so) are a result of complex intersections of social, economic and political factors. To change this system therefore requires a multitude of coordinated interventions, including action from individuals and a diverse range of institutions all pushing in the same direction.

With that said, it can be hard to know where to start. While the climate change challenge is global, there is real opportunity and need to act locally on transport to make significant progress. While many rightly turn to their local authority for action, it is unrealistic to think they can act alone, especially when many of the changes we need to make may be potentially controversial (at least for some).

To help identify ways forward we will be hosting a webinar (on 11 November) as part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science. Two inspirational panellists – Karen Creavin (CEO, The Active Wellbeing Society) and Chris Todd (Director, Transport Action Network) – will join us. Both of whom, in their different ways, have sought to transform our transport system to a more sustainable and fair one and have plenty of insights to share.

The session will be interactive, aiming to get a real conversation going about the strategies we can employ to make sustainable transport a reality. It’s free to attend and we’d love to hear your views and insights. You can register here. Do join us!

Louise Reardon is Associate Professor of Governance and Public Policy at INLOGOV and currently leading the CREDS funded project Facilitating Policy Change towards Low-Carbon Mobility, in collaboration with INLOGOV Lecturer Timea Nochta and Li Wan, University of Cambridge. You can also follow Louise on Twitter @LouiseReardon1

Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and me

Chris Game

If only Birmingham weren’t in Tier 3 … I could prop up bars in city centre pubs, casually conversing with fascinated fellow-drinkers: “You know that Kamala Harris, the American Vice-President-elect – yeah, the one wearing the Elvis-style white trouser ‘power suit’ for her victory speech.

“Well, I was a professorial contemporary of her Dad, Donald, at California’s prestigious Stanford University, don’t you know?  Thanks, mine’s another Plum Porter.”

Sadly, with Plum Porter purveyors currently closed, I’m driven to search for alternative captive audiences.  However, in contrast to bits of the current series of The Crown, this boast, while it may not ‘ring true’, actually IS true.  Before coming to INLOGOV in 1979 my employers for the previous five years were indeed Stanford – the posh, private, but definitely prestigious university north-westish of Silicon Valley.  

At least, that was Kamala’s Dad’s main workplace – I said ‘contemporary’ not ‘colleague’!  Mine was Stanford’s British Studies Center – note the spelling – at the also posh but less sunshiny Cliveden House on a National Trust estate near Maidenhead, where some hundred or so American students would come to spend two or three semesters of their undergrad years.

And the ‘Professor’ bit?  Well, as everyone knows, almost all US university academics have that generic title. ‘Full’ Professors are the real deal, while my Cliveden colleagues and I were ‘academic personnel’ – but on envelopes from HQ ‘Assistant Professors’.

It’s been mildly disquieting to see some UK universities going down the ‘Assistant Professor’ route – Warwick, for instance – but I’m not in the least bitter. I just regret not saving at least a few of those envelopes, because in four subsequent Birmingham decades I never managed even that.

Jamaican-born former economics Professor Donald Harris is/was at the distant other end of the scale: an Emeritus Professor since retiring early from Stanford after an exceptionally distinguished career and numerous international academic awards.

Here’s the thing, though.  Harris joined Stanford in 1972, yet in my creepily retained 600-page 1974/5 Stanford University Bulletin we Clivedenites and our taught courses all get several individual mentions, yet Donald not one.  Which, for apparently “the first Black person to receive tenure in Stanford’s economics department”, seemed rather odd.

Still, it provides a link to his elder daughter’s string of ‘firsts’ that actually prompted this blog: the first major personal career choice made by the first woman, first African American, and first Asian-American US Vice-President-elect.  California-born – for those, like President Trump, still questioning her Presidential eligibility; and her name, incidentally, pronounced not at all like ‘Pamela’, but ‘Comma-lah’ – from the Sanscrit for lotus flower.

Which is also relevant, because Kamala’s parents divorced when she was just seven, meaning she and her sister, Maya, were brought up largely by their Indian-born mother, Shyamala Gopalan – a bio-medical scientist, whose career in breast cancer research was every bit as outstanding as her husband’s, but who in 2009 would die of cancer herself.

It was her mother’s acceptance of a research post at McGill University Hospital in French-speaking Montreal that chiefly determined that Kamala went first to a French-speaking elementary school.  Then her mother moved the family again, so Kamala could attend Westmount High School, Quebec’s only public school offering so-called Advanced Placement courses for potentially university/college credit.

That university/college choice in by now the early 1980s, though, was definitely Kamala’s. After several majority-white schools, and her parents working in eminent but predominantly white institutions, she sought a wholly different experience. Young, gifted and black, she would live, learn, socialise, and at times protest against South African apartheid, with black students in a black university in a black city.

She would therefore attend one of the hundred or so HBCUs – Historically Black Colleges and Universities – and arguably the most renowned: Howard University in Washington DC, the African American community’s ‘Chocolate City’. And a short subway ride to both her current Capitol Hill workplace in the Senate and her future one in the White House. Back then it was no part of any life plan, but it can serve as a useful putdown today to those who accuse her of being ‘not really black’ or ‘not black enough’.

In the early 1970s Stanford University – students and staff – was unmistakeably Californian and white.  But I remember quite early learning of and being fascinated by the whole HBCU concept – partly because of the then still relatively recent appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first African American Supreme Court judge.

The HBCU initialism itself – not technically an acronym – is comparatively recent, a product of the historic 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Higher Education Acts. But the Black Colleges themselves date back in some cases 170+ years to before the Civil War and abolition of slavery.

Even following abolition, certainly in the Southern states, there was a century of institutionalised racial segregation of housing, medical care, employment, transportation and, of course, education.  And even universities and colleges that didn’t completely bar African Americans usually applied tight quotas, with all the other manifestations of discrimination.

One of those barred was future Justice Thurgood Marshall. He had applied to the University of Maryland Law School and been rejected through its segregation policy effectively banning blacks studying with whites.  He therefore attended and graduated with distinction from, yes, Howard University Law School – and later successfully sued Maryland for its discriminatory admissions policy.

Quite a role model, had Kamala been looking for one at the time – just as she surely will be to this and future generations of aspiring university students, female and male.

 

A version of this article appeared in The Birmingham Post on 26th November 2020.

Photo

Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.