Public administration and policy – a summary of my first 4 months of blogposts

Someone tweeted that regular bloggers needed to summarise all of their blogposts lest they get lost. So here goes:

Things started slowly as I tried to get my head around life outside of the civil service – what do you do with an ex-civil servant? (Especially one with a dragon fairy). History vs economics – a wingtip to the two subjects I have university-level qualifications in, was an observation on how today’s politicians seem to be devoid of presence, personality, calibre and competency to deal with the economic crises that we are going through. Too many of them seem to be anonymous when compared to the big historical figures of yesteryear.

Trust in our professions was a short article moaning about (self-inflicted) low levels of trust in politicians and other professions, combined with a glimpse into how social media could be used to help restore that trust – in particular through increasing the public’s understanding of the professions and what they do.

The link to the old railway map in the post Trams, trains and old railway maps is by far the most popular link that readers of this blog have clicked on – over 150 click-throughs in less than four months is quite impressive. This was a precursor to the post In praise of public transport, and its follow up post  Open data for transport infrastructure planning.

I wanted to avoid comment on the summer riots early on – knee-jerk reactions and all that. Instead, I wrote In defence of community development officers because they were and are some of the people who have to pick up the pieces on the front line. The same was true for the post  Can we have our playgrounds back please? which looked at how children are being locked out of, or ‘built out of’ playgrounds. Finally I bit the bullet and wrote Restoring the peace, followed by A failure of the political establishment and A challenge for the civil service. In between all of that I asked @CllrKerriPrince – an elected town councillor while still in her teens, if I could re-post her blogpost How should adults communicate with young people? Later on I blogged about giving young people hope in the face of the economic and housing crises that they – and the rest of us are facing.

With growing numbers of new politics watchers following Puffles, I updated guidance on how to write to MPs and departments – with a view to getting a decent answer – Something that I originally wrote for UKUncut when I was still in the civil service and protecting Puffles like a hawk. This was also followed up by a post on The Press Complaints Commission and Leveson with my thoughts on how the mainstream media should be regulated – posted a few months before Leveson got going.

I’ve sort of kept tabs on select committees ever since joining the civil service, but they have come into their own in recent years – first of all the banking crisis, then with the hacking inquiries combined with the more powerful and independent select committee chairs. My first blogpost on select committees was made prior to attending two events in Parliament. I wrote An audience with the Hansard Society following the first select committee event as a follow-up, swiftly followed by The Impact and Influence of Select Committees, and a further follow-up post at the end of October. Reporting on the events in one select committee was this astonishing piece where a serving civil servant was compelled to give evidence under oath as the Public Accounts Committee fired a broadside at HMRC.

Not wanting to be stung by newspapers was one of the reasons for launching a baby dragon fairy onto Twitter rather than myself during my civil service days. Because the conventions of social media have not been set, for me it is all the more important that employers – in particular the public sector, set firm but common sense guidance. Hence me asking what are the rules of social media for public sector workers? (in particular where accounts blur the professional and personal) followed by a link to a superb piece of guidance from the Department of Justice in the State of Victoria in Australia.

As more water flowed under the bridge from my departure from the civil service, I started feeling a little bit more confident at sinking my teeth into issues that I care about and things that alarmed me. When big business got too close was one such issue where I tore into proposals to give the biggest firms a ‘ministerial hotline’. There are some similarities with the concerns I raised about the London 2012 Olympics and sponsorship arrangements.

One of the posts that really polarised opinion was on Teacher training in further and higher education. Should academics who deliver lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials be compelled to undertake teacher training in the way that further education lecturers now have to?

Anyone who goes into Parliament these days cannot help but notice the hordes of sharply-dressed advisers, lobbyists, minions, hacks, wonks and other types that inhabit the halls of power. Having spoken at a number of ‘paid for’ conferences, I asked whether ordinary people are being priced out of policy-making. I can’t pretend to find ordinary conferences particularly enjoyable. I’m not the passive type – I like engaging with people. The standard “here’s a panel of experts for you to ask questions of” doesn’t really do it for me. Hence why I wrote an article In praise of unConferences.

I started sinking my teeth into the issue of the costs of training and education because of the massive hike in fees from the Open University. My gripe is that the burden of training and education is falling more and more onto individuals – which gets greater as the demand for higher skills grows and also due to the move away from a job/career for life. This was swiftly followed by me tearing into politicians over university tuition fees, chronicling how the political establishment ensured that we moved from a system of grants and free tuition to one of sky-high fees and loans.

The post Should ministers have political spokespeople? was of interest to…absolutely no one, but asked whether there was a role for political spokespeople who could throw the party-political handbags at other politicians in the media without having to worry about political impartiality, leaving ministers to get on with the job of running their departments and being accountable to Parliament, and ensuring civil servants did not get embroiled in party political spats.

One of the big themes of public administration and policy-making is the issue of Accountability, which I wrote about soon after the Public Accounts Committee holed HMRC below the waterline. Despite this, I felt compelled to write in defence of the civil service – in part because no one else seemed to be speaking up for public servants. It’s not just in the UK that there has been failures of accountability – it’s been a global problem too.

Most recently I wrote about ministerial initiatives and pet projects – something that ministerial reshuffles are toxic for. My pet project is the Oxford-Cambridge transport link, having endured a shocker of a coach journey. You could say the use of digital and social media is another pet project – hence posts on Culture Hack Day – Cambridge, Open data for transport infrastructure planning and my response to the question “When will Twitter start impacting on elections?”


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