Friday 15th February, 2013: As the new draft history curriculum revives the battle over the past, Robert Tombs explains that beginning with British history is a good start. But, he warns, no curriculum can, or indeed should, cover every detail. This curriculum does either too much or not enough.
The proposal is for a curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 3 focused on the whole history of Britain from the Stone Age to the election of Margaret Thatcher, then crossing the Channel to end triumphantly with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The focus on Britain (mostly England) will arouse passionate opposition from many school and university teachers, and from many commentators, and I am afraid that this document will be grist to their mill.
Friday 8th February, 2013: The NHS can't change, says Tony Hockley, the health economist, as the latest Report points the finger at the failures in Stafford Hospital.
The level of outrage shown in response to the Francis Report belies one fact: that so much has been known about widespread failures of NHS care for a very long time. Will this, the latest report, lead to the systemic failure being tackled, rather than treating it as yet another local failure. As far back as 2009 I drew attention to the NHS’s own Ombudsmen who described aspects of NHS care as “an indictment of our society” in my Politeia study on the direction health policy should take, A Premium on Patients (Politeia 2009). I described the NHS as technically efficient, but socially deficient. Francis, too, points to a long and alarming catalogue of past reports of shameful treatment of patients despite a “plethora” of preventative checks and balances. It shows just how poor the state is at managing healthcare that one of the causes of the disaster of Stafford Hospital was the hospital’s ultimately successful pursuit of Foundation Trust status; so-called “earned autonomy”.
Friday 1st February, 2013: 'Criminal Record' may be a misnomer, and our approach to CRB checks and cautioning must change, says Simon Reevell MP,
The use – or misuse – of Criminal Records made headline stories in 2012 when it emerged that police trawled the Criminal Records of those who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster, to discredit the innocent victims or lay a false trail. This week as the use of criminal records are again in the news, the MP, Simon Reevell – a barrister by profession – warns against the approach. Not only may the word 'criminal' be a misnomer but the wider approach to CRB checks and cautioning must change.
This week two items made the news.They may appear to be only loosely connected, but are in fact far more closely linked. They concern the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks which allow potential employers or the leaders of organisations to establish whether or not an individual has matters recorded against him on the police national computer.
I use the phrase ‘matters recorded against him’ because it is not simply a record of criminal convictions. This distinction is important because it may also include cautions. In fact, the increased use of cautions is the second matter in the news in recent days.
Historically a caution could perhaps have been thought of as a form of slap on the wrist. However a caution today is recorded in a similar manner to a criminal conviction and so can have the same impact or operate in the same way as a CRB check. This is unfair. Why? Because of the manner in which all too frequently they are administered.
Friday 25th January, 2013: GDP figures for the fourth quarter of 2012 were released on 25th January. Sheila Lawlor reflected on fact that the economy has declined by 0.3% on The Guardian website.
The quarterly GDP figures tell us little we don't already know. December GDP is down by 0.3% on the previous (albeit Olympic-boosted) quarter. The UK economy is in the doldrums, more so than those of Germany and the US, though less than the eurozone's.
And, if further confirmation were needed, today's figures come hot on the heels of the December borrowing figures of £15.4bn, which mean UK borrowing may exceed the limit set for this year (£108bn) with December's borrowing up on the same month last year.
The figures matter only in one sense: politically. Critics will use them to demand a slowdown on deficit reduction and a more fiscally lax approach. Indeed, they have already done so. But they are wrong. More time is needed to reboot an economy which lost its way, by fuelling unsustainable sectors with unsustainable public and private spending, at a time of historically low interest rates and low inflation. The chancellor intends, as he told his Davos audience yesterday, to hold firm. It would be even better if he aimed at lower levels of public spending and tax along with making the structural reforms which have brought crisis economies rapidly back to growth.
Friday 18th January, 2013: The Prime Minister proposes a ‘fresh start’ on the arrangements which govern Britain’s relations with the EU. He intends to emphasise the importance, for this country, of free trade and seek to repatriate powers which more properly belong to the UK. But, as the economist Prof Tim Congdon warns, we may have to look beyond the single market and the body of EU law and directive, to negotiate a free trade agreement with our European neighbours.
Over the historical long run Britain has been a champion of free trade. To their credit most Westminster politicians are today in favour of free trade between Britain and the European Union’s member states, and see this as the vital part of the larger relationship with our neighbours. But that admirable belief has made these politicians vulnerable to a trick of words and led them into a serious misunderstanding.
The phrase ‘the single market’ has been part of the lexicon of European integration since the 1980s. Indeed, the Single European Act of 1986 was marketed to the then Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcher) and her supporters on the basis that it facilitated ‘the single market’. The phrase has a clear connotation. A nation that belongs to and fulfils the conditions of the EU ‘single market’ thereby achieves free trade with other EU member states. By implication, EU membership is desirable if both the ‘single market’ can be retained and the many acknowledged disadvantages of membership can be somehow jettisoned. These acknowledged disadvantages include the intrusive and burdensome regulations contained in the massive corpus of EU legislation known as the acquis communautaire. Even worse is Britain’s subjection to the European Court of Justice, a foreign court with foreign judges, in disputes relating to the acquis. The ideal would surely be for us to combine ‘the single market’ (which we want) with escaping from the acquis , the ECJ and the associated mistakes (which we don’t want at all). Of course, the word acquis is French and in this context it could be translated in several ways. But it can be characterized, in a nutshell, as ‘the body of foreigners’ law that the UK must accept under the terms of its current EU membership’.