How the MSc Public Management course has helped me professionally: A graduate’s experience one year on

Luke Bradbury

In December 2021, I had my graduation ceremony at the University of Birmingham having completed the MSc Public Management course run here at INLOGOV. It was a very enjoyable experience but was also sadly, due to COVID-19, one of only two occasions in which I had the pleasure to visit the campus. Seeing as it’s now been over a year since my graduation, I thought it would be a good time to share my experiences so far as a Birmingham graduate.

Specifically, I want to reflect on how the Public Management course has played a role in some of my professional endeavours since last year. I’d love to say that I walked straight into a graduate job the day after graduating; indeed, many of my fellow course mates were already working as professionals in the public sector and I’ve no doubt that their successes on the course will have paid off tremendously in their continued career progressions.

In my case, I was not yet certain what the future would hold. Since 2018, I had done a mixture of part-time and ‘bank’ work as a housekeeper for my local care home which was always handy during holiday periods and in-between my undergraduate and postgraduate study but was also a job I genuinely enjoyed. It also provided an important area of study for my postgraduate dissertation which I have spoken more about in a previous blog. While of course this healthcare role did, by its very nature, overlap with some of the research themes of the Public Management course – for example, the notion of ‘street-level bureaucracy’ or the role of front-line workers in policy-making and public service delivery – I was keen to see how the material I had learnt about transcends across other areas of the public sector.

I soon found myself in my first graduate role as an Evaluation Advisor for the Office for National Statistics (LinkedIn also helped a lot in securing this position for any new graduates reading!) The primary responsibility of this role is to support the work of analysts – that is, those advising on evidence-based policymaking in government – by ensuring that the best methods and data are used for informing important decision-making processes. Within the first few days of starting the position, I found that the skills I had learned and utilised during the Public Management course were already proving useful. For instance, I was asked to assist in identifying and reviewing existing cases of good practice for a piece of government guidance written by the Analysis Function – a sort of ‘literature review’ if you will, and akin to the necessary steps taken when completing a final dissertation project as expected on the Public Management course. I remember thinking, “Hey, I’ve done this before!”.

But this was just one of several transferable skills I had learned about and used during my time at INLOGOV, and which were also proving applicable to this graduate role. Leadership is a fundamental ‘behaviour’ that is essential to the role. In its broadest sense, this means being able to set direction and to motivate a team to work collaboratively with other government departments and stakeholders to establish common practice based on robust analytical methods. I would argue that this firstly reflects some of the themes of the leadership theories covered in the Public Leadership syllabus (for example, setting shared group objectives in behavioural leadership theory and the emphasis placed on encouraging and inspiring others in transformational leadership theory). But secondly, these leadership skills reflect the aims and objectives for students undertaking the Public Management course which, amongst many other things, involve building the knowledge and skills necessary for leading in a public capacity. That is, to be able to take some of the concepts of these leadership theories and apply them in practice.

Certainly, the ability to link theory to practice and having a strong capacity for critical enquiry are attributes which are central to the research ethos of INLOGOV but have also greatly informed my practice as an Evaluation Advisor where I am often tasked with reviewing evaluation concepts and methodologies and critically analysing their applicability to the wider strategic goals of the Analysis Function. This also relies heavily on the ability to communicate strategy to the team and can therefore often be a test of public speaking skills. Looking back, I remember a seminar for the Public Management and Governance module in which we were encouraged as a class to engage in group discussions, to reflect on our reading of the literature and to exchange knowledge with peers. As well as providing the opportunity to critically engage collectively with the course material, this session really aimed at boosting our self-confidence in public speaking which has certainly been an invaluable skill both academically and in the workplace.

To sum up, the skills which are taught on the Public Management course are qualities which are not only designed to help you successfully complete the course, but they are also transferable life skills which will be advantageous in all your future career endeavours as I found myself soon after graduating. I look forward to seeing how these skills will continue to have value long into my career.

Luke Bradbury graduated from the MSc Public Management in 2021 and is now Evaluation Adviser for the Office for National Statistics.

Further information on the MSc Public Management and part-time programmes are available here:

Information on the Executive Apprenticeship in Public Leadership and Management is available here:

Responding to National Populism

Picture credits: and

Jon Bloomfield

The playwright David Edgar and I have written a two-part essay for Byline Times which was published before Xmas. It focuses on the role of two distinct web-sites – ‘Unherd’ and ‘Spiked’- in shaping the debate on culture wars and promoting national populist ideas across British politics. Here is a brief summary of the essay, full links below.

So, now the dust is settling, what is the ideological future of the Conservative Party? With kamikaze supply-side Trussonomics so thoroughly discredited, will Rishi Sunak and his – relatively – big-tent Cabinet return to a 2020s version of Cameronian fiscal austerity? If so, what happens to the Johnsonian cocktail of high public spending and social conservatism which proved so palatable to the voters of the Red Wall? And what is the role of online ideologues – notably writers for the websites Spiked and Unherd – in the battle for the party’s soul?

British national populism has proved much more than just a short-term political tactic, unexpectedly successful in the Brexit referendum and re-conceived as an election-winner three years later. Like the free market ideologues of Tufton Street, national populists are organised into influential groups of intellectuals and political campaigners who have gained considerable reach into mainstream media. The role of The Spectator is well-known but this article focuses on the profound influence of two websites: Unherd and Spiked

What makes these sites so significant and successful is that many of their lead writers originate not on the right but on the mainstream and indeed the far left, and now promote ideologies that seem contradictory but – in practice – are increasingly allied.

The emergence of national populism has seen strange, paradoxical political alliances emerging within the two main political parties exemplified by the Red Tory and Blue Labour tendencies. Even stranger has been the ideological overlap between the website of a formerly Marxist, now right-libertarian think tank and the main online home of anti-liberal communitarianism. So why – on the issues that are tearing Britain apart – do Spiked and Unherd appear to be bedfellows?   

Both are prolific sites supplying a daily flow of political and cultural commentary. Spiked is an outgrowth of the  Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which developed an increasingly eccentric version of Trotskyism with its magazine Living Marxism. Launching the website Spiked in 2000, its cadres – including former RCP guru Frank Furedi, polemicist and now Brexit-supporting peer Claire Fox, and Munira Mirza, later to become Boris Johnson’s policy chief  – continued the RCP’s trajectory towards anti-statist, economic libertarianism while retaining its original Leninist discipline and capacity for harsh polemic. 

Unherd has more conventional origins within the Conservative party.  Its founder Tim Montgomerie set out its stall in Prospect arguing for a “social Thatcherism,” which would re-balance “from a conservatism of freedom to a conservatism of locality and security.” Montgomerie argued that within the Conservative Party “the magnetism of national sovereignty has finally overtaken the magnetism of free markets.” However, Unherd has also attracted former left polemicists, including ex-Labour-supporting, Prospect-editing journalist David Goodhart – now ‘Head of Demography, Immigration and Integration’ at the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange; academic turned national-populist advocate Matthew Goodwin; trade union activist and anti-woke campaigner Paul Embery; and the ex SWP-flirting, Tory-convert vicar Giles Fraser. 

The reason for this unexpected cross-fertilisation of ex-Trotskyites, traditionalist Tories and communitarian, socially-conservative Labourites is their ideological alignment on many of the key cultural controversies of the day. A fervent commitment to Brexit and belief in the unreformed UK nation-state are central, but what gives the two platforms their raison d’etre is the consistent vitriol directed at the mainstream left and the new social movements that have emerged around it over the last few decades. A bitter animosity against social liberalism and a caricatured ‘woke’ left is their most distinctive, current and common thrust. Their ideas – particularly on multiculturalism and the ‘woke agenda’ – have been eagerly lapped up by the mainstream right-wing media. 

Within the Sunak government, in their various ways Kemi Badenoch, Michael Gove and Suella Braverman are all signalling their wish to return to the national-populist ‘culture wars’ agenda. Like their counterparts in Europe and the US, the national-populists want to roll-back the advances that have been made in the past 50 years. The likes of Spiked and Unherd are crucial propagandists in this battle. In particular, these two sites have mounted a consistent assault on progressivism on the major social and cultural issues of the day: climate justice, feminism and anti-racism. On three of the great social issues of our era – climate change, women’s inequalities and structural racism and discrimination – the editorial lines of Spiked and Unherd are marching in lockstep, deploying similar arguments and even phraseology, to minimise the issues or to deny that there’s any problem.

National-populism has its own logic. Mobilising ethnic nationalism; arousing fears about race and religion; attacking social liberalism; overtly or covertly promoting the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory. All lead in just one direction.

This is a moment for liberals, progressives and the Left to wake up. 

It’s time for them to draw on their own history and re-build the alliances that have led to so much social and economic progress in the past.  In the more variegated, less homogenous world of 21st Century capitalism, finding the ways to navigate common ground between movements and build cross-class alliances is more important than ever.

The provocations of Spiked and Unherd stand in the way. At a moment when the hard-Right is showing a readiness to indulge in racist and nationalist politics reminiscent of dangerous eras of the not-too-distant past, it is time for progressives to prioritise unity, rebuild alliances which have done so much good in the past, and direct their firepower at their main opponents.

Red Tory to Blue Labour – How Spiked and Unherd are Keeping National Populism Alive – Byline Times

Fighting Back Against National-Populism – Byline Times

Jon Bloomfield has been involved with the EU’s Climate KIC programme for over a decade, helping to develop educational and training programmes and experimental projects which help companies, cities and communities to make effective transitions to a low carbon economy.

Japan’s Coming of Age Day

Picture credit: Dick Thomas Johnson

Chris Game

A sentence or so of explanation. This blog was going to be an evaluation of the Government’s stuttering, end-of-year progress on levelling up.  However, I’d barely started it when I realised that Japan’s Coming of Age Day – Monday 9th to be precise – had crept up on me and was already being celebrated by Japanese municipalities while I’d been looking the other way. It’s a far more inspiring topic, deserves to be better known about than it is here in the UK, and, with this being a particularly significant year, I’d resolved to write something about it. Hence the dramatic handbrake turn and the absence of further mention of levelling up … at least the concept of which will still be with us in the months to come.

As a nation, the UK’s recognition of Coming of Age – a young person’s transition from child to adult – is staggered, complicated and, perhaps consequently, downplayed. In this we are not alone, although our ‘celebration’ of it is at the crappier end of any world scale. Nor is it primarily what this blog’s about, but here are a few signpost reminders, mostly applying UK-wide, but some England-specific.

Age 10 – full criminal responsibility; Age 12 – 12A category films without an adult; sign your own passport; Age 14 – part-time employment OK, but ‘light work’ only; seat belt-wearing your responsibility; Age 16 – since 2008, the UK-wide “age of (sexual) consent”; the term itself rarely features in statutes, but it covers pretty well anything, with anyone, so long as partner(s) too are 16+ and do indeed consent. You can also buy aerosol paint, non-alcoholic drinks and liqueur chocs, join the armed forces – with parental/guardian consent – change your name and leave home without consent.

Age 17 – donate blood, drive cars, small goods vehicles and tractors. Age 18 – the biggie: you’ve officially “come of age” and are now an adult, as opposed to, legally, an ‘infant’. It’s THE ‘Age of Majority’ since the 1969 Family Law Reform Act reduced it from 21. You can do or have virtually the lot, from alcohol and the armed forces to tattoos, weapons and gender change – including, of course, VOTING, thanks to the remarkably pioneering 1969 Representation of the People Act, and, since the 2006 Electoral Administration Act, actually standing for and becoming an MP, mayor or councillor.

The two key concepts, as emphasised, are the Age of Consent and the Coming of Age, both of which have changed within my adult lifetime and also vary considerably from country to country, even across Europe. Ireland’s age of consent, for instance, is 17, Turkey’s 18, and Italy’s 14, or 13 if your partner is under 18.  Japan’s – remarkably, although it’s not what this blog is primarily about – remains, at least for the present, at 13, as it has done since 1907, when women’s life expectancy was 44 and legal marriageable ages were 17 for men, 15 for women. These latter ages, however, were raised in 1947 to 18 and 16, again in 2022 to 18 for both, and it seems likely the age of consent will soon be raised nationally to 16, rather than leaving it entirely to the interpretation of the 47 prefectures.

What has already changed in Japan, however, and what prompted this blog is coming of age, and consequently its celebratory Coming of Age Day. One of the many striking contrasts between Japan’s culture and ours has been their 7-year gap between Age of Consent (13) and Coming of Age (20), and our 2-year gap. It started to narrow in 2018, when Japan lowered the age of adulthood from 20 to 18, to take effect from April 2022 – which brings us to Japan’s exceptional Coming of Age traditions and ceremonies, dating back apparently to the 700s.

Exceptional to us, that is. Numerous cultures have broadly equivalent but culturally particular Coming of Age celebrations – Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, American legal-car-driving parties, and of course Ethiopian Naked Bull Jumping (it’s a real thing, check it out!). The Japanese seem at least fairly unusual, though – and the reason for my bothering you with it – in the formal involvement of their local municipalities/prefectures in these ceremonies and celebrations. 

On what since WWII has been a national holiday, each municipality will organise and issue formal invitations to a Coming of Age Day ceremony/celebration in the city hall, community centre, or other suitably sized venue for the local young women, wearing very formal (montsuki) kimono, and young men, mostly nowadays in formal western suit and tie. This will be followed typically by a family visit to a local shrine and prayers for success in the young people’s new adulthood – see the fine selection of pix in the Guardian’s World Gallery, with plenty of mentions of this year’s Tokyo Temple and Yokohama Arena ‘ceremonies’, though not really of the respective municipalities’ core roles in their organisation.

Back in 2000 that organisation was made slightly more straightforward by the change in the January dates of Coming of Age Days – from the 15th, whichever day of the week it was, to the second Monday, whatever the date. The reason, possibly guessable by anyone familiar with the more charming (or perhaps imitative) aspects of Japanese culture, is Happī Mandē Seido – the ‘Happy Monday System’, aimed explicitly to place as many public holidays as possible on Mondays, in order to give those five-day-week working citizens more three-day weekends – modelled on the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act in the US. So now the Japanese not only have a ‘Respect for the Aged Day’, but make it easier for the forgetful elderly by having it always on the third Monday in September – this year the 18th.  

This year, however, that slight Coming of Age simplification has been massively outweighed by the complication of the afore-mentioned lowering of the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 coming into effect – trickier enough even at first sight, but even more so in practice. It’s not just the considerably bigger numbers; even more so the fact that the newly qualified 18- and 19-year olds are in the middle of tedious stuff like taking university admission exams, applying for jobs – oh yes, and emerging from a nationwide Covid lockdown.

My impression, and that’s all it is, is that municipalities have done their own thing: some retaining the traditional ceremonials for the 20-year olds, others having three, with separate ones for the 19- and 18-year olds later in the year. And, having comfortably exceeded 1,000 words, and just hoping that was a bit more fascinating than levelling up, I shall now close, Forrest Gump-style: That’s all I have to say about that!

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.

Local government should welcome Gordon Brown’s private bills proposal

Phil Swann

Streamlined access to local legislation must be available to help struggling councils to improve rather than rewarding those that have already done so, writes a PhD candidate in central-local government relations at INLOGOV and former director of Shared Intelligence.

In 1926 Winston Churchill, then chancellor of the exchequer, successfully opposed a private bill promoted by Bristol Corporation to establish a municipal bank in order to stop “all kinds of incompetent town councils”, particularly “socialistic” ones, from running banks. He did so despite the fact that the bill was supported by his Conservative colleague and former mayor of Birmingham Neville Chamberlain, who argued that Birmingham’s municipal bank had encouraged thrift and home ownership.

It is interesting to reflect on this dispute (not the last between these two political Titans!) in the context of the move by Gordon Brown’s Commission on the Future of the UK to promote the use of private bills by local councils. Raising the prospect of “the great cities of England” exerting similar powers to the Scottish and Welsh governments, the commission recommends a new, streamlined process enabling councils to initiate local legislation in parliament. This, the commission argues, would give councils an ability to secure the powers they need and to have a direct relationship with Parliament.

Evading centralising tendencies

It is undoubtedly the case, as the commission argues, that private legislation provided a vehicle for innovation in Victorian local government in the face of the social, economic and physical impacts of the industrial revolution. 

The genesis of public health lies in local legislation as does the creation of public utilities to provide gas, electricity and public transport. It was the ability of local corporations to promote private legislation that fuelled Joseph Chamberlain’s ambition to turn Birmingham Corporation into “a real local parliament”. Private acts were also used by enterprising councils to evade the centralising tendencies of successive governments in the second half of the 19th century.

It is also the case, however, that by the inter-war period private legislation had become a feature of the tensions in central-local government relations rather than necessarily being a solution to them. The resources and ambition required to draft and promote private legislation reinforced a growing divide between “advanced” or “progressive” councils on the one hand and “backward” or “penny-pinching” councils on the other hand. This reinforced differences between the major cities and smaller towns and rural areas. The widespread use of private legislation also contributed to the ad hoc and complex structures and powers of Victorian local government.

Significantly these trends were reflected in the justification for increasing central government intervention in local politics. In the 19th century there was a shift in ministerial focus from corruption to efficiency and action to bring “backward” councils up to the standard of the “progressive”. The first half of the 20th century saw a financially driven move to rein in the most innovative councils and drive improvement in the poorly performing ones. The dispute between Churchill and Chamberlain over the Bristol bank bill is an example of this.

Clause acts and adoptive acts

Despite these warning notes from history, the ambition of the Brown commission to enable local leaders to have access to a streamlined process to initiate local legislation should be welcomed. Many of the problems that emerged when private legislation was a common feature of local government could be overcome if it was explicitly seen as a way of testing new legislative powers prior to wider adoption – genuine pioneering.

Two other legislative devices deployed in the Victorian period could help to secure this approach if they were refreshed alongside a revival of local legislation. The first device is a clauses act, the prime example being the Town Improvement Clauses Act 1847. It brought together the provisions most commonly inserted in and effectively deployed through local legislation. Clauses acts, each of which would relate to a particular service area or initiative, would both streamline the legislative process and avoid unhelpful adhockery.

The second device, which takes this a step further, is the adoptive act. This is a piece of legislation which has been through the parliamentary process but which comes into effect only when it is adopted by individual local authorities. Acts of this type could make powers that have been successfully adopted by one authority available to be adopted by others without requiring local drafting or taking up parliamentary time.

Earned autonomy?

One other issue which requires attention is whether there should be a link between an ability to initiate local legislation and a council’s perceived performance. A sustained thread running through central-local government relations since the 1830s is the view that that councils should not benefit from new powers or responsibilities until they have met certain conditions or achieved a certain standard.

Joseph Chamberlain, who made extensive use of private legislation in Birmingham, took a different view. In 1877 he argued that “whatever the defects” of a council “I defy you to make a better one for the place except by gradually increasing its functions and responsibilities and so raising its tone.” No earned autonomy for Chamberlain!

If the increased use of local legislation is to help achieve the ambition set out by Brown and his commissioners, it is essential that streamlined access to local legislation is available to help struggling councils to improve rather than as a reward for having done so.

This article first appeared in the Local Government Chronicle on 13th December 2022.

Phil Swann is researching a PhD on central-local government relations at INLOGOV

Professor John Stewart – a personal tribute

Emeritus Professor John Raine

My first encounter with John was in 1978 while I was working as a public finance researcher at the Department for the Environment’s Building Research Establishment.  John had recently served as a member of the Layfield Committee on Local Government Finance, and was subsequently commissioned by the Department as one of four leading thinkers to prepare scenarios for the future of local government in England & Wales – John’s assigned subject being the future financing of local government.  The four commissioned scenarios were then presented and discussed at a special conference to which I was privileged to attend, and where John delivered one of the most fascinating and inspiring talks that I had ever heard.  I followed up by reading a number of John’s academic and practitioner-oriented journal articles, all of which I found really thoughtful, elegantly written and refreshingly original. 

So, when in Summer 1979 I happened to spot an advertisement for a lectureship in public policy at the Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham, (and knowing this to be the department of which John was Head, and with it now becoming clear that the future for public policy research within government would be more limited under the new Thatcher government at Westminster), I had no hesitation in preparing my application.  I was pleased to be shortlisted and all the more so when, on entering the interview room, I found that my Appointments Board would indeed be chaired by JDS.  He led the interview process in his typically gentle, respectful but deeply interested and enquiring manner, and that evening I was absolutely delighted to be offered the post – one that seemed such a perfect fit for me – focused on the interface between theory and practice in public policy and administration, and particularly dedicated to the local level.  Indeed, INLOGOV proved to be an institution in which I quickly felt much ‘at home’, and where I happily spent the succeeding thirty-six years of my career – including eight as head of department, (and where I continue to enjoy helping out on a part-time basis after formally retiring in 2015). 

Very shortly after my induction at INLOGOV came the new Conservative government’s ‘Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, 1980’, a huge piece of legislation and one which heralded a number of significant changes to the financial arrangements for local government, though sadly not those that John and the Layfield Committee had so carefully advocated.  Instead, the new Parliamentary Bill sought to introduce a raft of new strictures and restrictions on local authorities, including on council direct labour organisations, their town and country planning powers, their financial powers and much more besides.  Being the new member of staff, John asked if I might organise and lead a series of seminars and conferences on the new legislation around the country.  And this I did, commencing with a major conference in London, with the then Secretary of State, Rt Hon. Michael Heseltine, as the key-note speaker.  Undoubtedly, however, the high note of the conference was the contribution made by John himself, who delivered a masterly critique of the Bill’s proposals, greatly appreciated by the packed conference hall, and surely providing the Secretary of State with a very clear message about the reaction of local government to the changes he was intending to make. 

Thereafter, and once the Bill had become an Act of Parliament, INLOGOV became hectically busy running courses and seminars on the new legislative requirements and providing consultancy support around the country as local authorities began instituting the various changes now expected of them.  It was, for INLOGOV both an exciting, and financially very positive, time, although for local government it could only be seen as a significant lurch in the direction of a new, more centralist, era.  John, however, remained characteristically cheerful and positive – continuing to present the case for localism, and with an increasingly large evidence-base that he was now accumulating from all his visits to local authorities around the country and further afield. 

John was always very proud of the Institute he had founded at Birmingham and cared deeply about its fortunes, his staff and their work.  His office door was rarely shut, and he walked the corridors on a daily basis engaging in depth with everyone whose door happened to be open or whom he encountered in the corridors or in the kitchen area.  He actively encouraged staff to drop into his office for chats and to stay and talk with him for as long as they could.  He maintained a deep interest in all the work of staff and in their welfare, and he was always able to make helpful suggestions as to policy issues on which they might wish to pick up, about papers they might like to write, or seminars they might perhaps take a lead in arranging.  In my experience, so often his conversations would begin with him asking ‘Well, how’s John?’ and then followed on with ‘And how’s the Institute?’ – genuine questions that reflected his on-going affection and care for the organisation he had founded and for the team he had brought together to share in his mission. 

He was indeed an inspiration not only to all his staff but to the thousands of individuals in local (and central) government with whom he interacted, whether as teacher, researcher, consultant, adviser or simply friend.  For his lectures he would typically position himself on the corner of a desk at the front of the room, with his script invariably comprising a single sheet of A4 with perhaps just three or four key words scribbled in one corner as his prompt.  His time management was immaculate.  He always managed to pitch his talks superbly for his different audiences, always leaving plenty of time for discussion and debate – for his responses to questions were always as inspiring and thought-provoking as the preceding input. 

He also greatly enjoyed his travels around the UK, visiting almost every local authority (by train, for he did not drive), and then, after each visit, preparing and circulating to all Institute staff as well as his visit hosts a summary paper of all that he had learned and reflected upon as good and less good practice and about the key issues for further consideration and reflection.  Moreover, his productivity in writing for publication (often as co-author with his longstanding academic colleague, Professor George Jones at LSE) was hugely impressive, with regard to both the scholarly and professional journals, as well as through his considerable output of single and joint-authored books.  Indeed, he provided a model for us all at INLOGOV in balancing so effectively his commitment to the pursuit of scholarship in public administration with the other important role for the department in promoting better practices and increased effectiveness within our public service organisations. 

At a personal level, I was also especially appreciative of all John’s support and encouragement when, at a time of crisis for the Institute, in 1995 – following the sudden and untimely death of Professor Kieron Walsh, who had only very recently assumed the Directorship of INLOGOV – I was invited to take his place as Director of this most special of Institutes.  In the subsequent five years, John was a wonderfully inspiring mentor for me, and someone to whom I often turned for his wise counsel and judgement on organisational leadership issues.  May he rest in peace and may INLOGOV continue to flourish and cherish his legacy.

John is Emeritus Professor at Inlogov.

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