Industrial accidents in Bangladesh are another symptom of an unequal society

Contributed by Palash Kamruzzaman, Research Fellow

This article first appeared in The Conversation, September 21, 2016

Bangladesh, once dismissed as a “basket case” for development, has made remarkable progress in many aspects of human and economic development in the last couple of decades.

The people of Bangladesh are a key element in this remarkable advancement. They work hard on scarce farming land, risk their lives in ready-made garment factories and other labour-intensive industries, and take on low-skilled jobs abroad to send money home.

But as well as being one of the key drivers for making Bangladesh an emerging success story, the general population is the group that often pay the heaviest price for development.

Death and destruction hit workers at factories in Rana Plaza in 2013 (official death toll: 1,126) and Tazreen Fashion in 2012 (official death toll: 117). The latest addition to this grim list is the explosion at a packaging factory Tampaco Foils in September 2016, where the reported number of dead people was 34, with many others critically injured.

It seems that people die in large numbers in Bangladesh, especially in industrial accidents. Accidents do happen but when such a trend persists it is worth questioning the social structure behind it.

Any of these incidents, in an advanced democracy, would have resulted in a major governmental shake up. Sadly, in Bangladesh, this is not the case. Apart from a bit of rhetoric about investigations, a few messages of sympathy from political leaders, and some compensation packages for victims’ families, no meaningful changes follow.

This clearly highlights a significant lack of democratic accountability – and a poor state of national law and order.

Investigations into these accidents take years. Perpetrators are often never brought to justice and issues are swept under the carpet thanks to political patronage and high level connections between the worlds of business and politics.

Understandably, delays in justice also prompt fears of denial of justice. It remains to be seen how long it will take to investigate what happened at Tampaco Foils and whether anyone will be held accountable. The owners of Tazreen fashion were only formally indicted and ordered to stand trial for negligence after nearly three years (the case is still continuing).

The Bangladesh paradox

Power, money, and political connections can offer a form of indemnity for some. High profile cases in other crimes such as murder in which perpetrators remain at large or are yet to be brought to justice also loom in the public consciousness for their connection to power or wealth. As a consequence, a sense of lawlessness is growing in Bangladesh.

Ordinary people seem to accept that fairness in trials and justice for them are highly unlikely. In fact, the state of disillusionment in the justice system is so high, that some people don’t even want the pretence of justice to play a role in their tragedies. One university professor, the father of a murdered publisher, recently declared: “I don’t want justice”. This is a shocking development for any society in the 21st century.

Bustling Dhaka. Shutterstock
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The Bangladesh paradox, in which its visible successes exist so visibly next to its social failures, deserves to be analysed. While the country is definitely making great progresses in some areas, it is also true that there is a democratic deficit, politics is dysfunctional, corruption is rife, and public accountability is low. Nepotism and political allegiance matter more than anyone’s capability and merit.

Tragic accidents in labour-intensive industries do not lead to positive changes because power, money and political connections suppress opinions and oppress the victims. The poor continue to die in their hundreds and thousands, and suffer ill treatment and a lack of job security. This subjects them to further poverty and a precarious future.

The apparent inevitability of major accidents is embedded in an emerging social structure that protects the elites, and pays little attention to the safety and lives of the poor. Social justice does not exist.

And when social justice does not exist, it is sometimes replaced with a cold and hostile environment which can breed even more lawlessness and violence. In light of recent terrorist activities in the country (in which the government has denied any international involvement), one also wonders whether home grown radical terror groups are just the latest destructive force borne out of the current socio-political state of the country.

Contact

Author – palash.kamruzzaman@southwales.ac.uk

 

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Is Bangladesh descending into lawlessness?

Contributed by Dr Palash Kamruzzaman, Research Fellow, University of South Wales

This piece first appeared in The Conversation, 30th November, 2015

An Italian priest has been wounded by gunmen in Bangladesh, the latest in a wave of attacks on foreigners there. Only weeks before, an Italian citizen working with a development organisation was shot in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone – one of the most heavily guarded places in the country. A few days later, a Japanese citizen was murdered in northern Bangladesh in a similar style.

The motives for these murders are not yet clear, but political leaders have rushed to suggest who could be behind these killings without presenting any credible and concrete evidence. Another spin-off of these events is to create an atmosphere of panic, which has been greatly heightened by Islamic State (IS) apparently claiming responsibilityfor these incidents – including the bombing of a Shia procession on 24 October 2015.

Initially, the government of Bangladesh denied it was aware of any such threats, but it soon transpired that some foreign consulates did actually inform the government about credible risk against Western citizens in the country.

Broadly speaking, security is a major issue in Bangladesh, with several murders reported in the national newspapers every day. Many of these murders are taking place because of political rivalries, extortion, and everyday quarrels – and alarmingly, a great many of them never see anyone brought to justice.

In 2012, a journalist couple were murdered in their bedroom, and the murder of an innocent man by the student wing of the ruling party was captured on live television. In 2013, a young student was said to have been murdered by the relatives of influential members of the ruling party.

Then 2014 saw the sensational “seven murder” case. Members of the country’s special elite forces were apparently involved, allegedly taking a bribe from the mastermind of the incident. Some of the violence has been religious, too: in the last two years, a number of secularist bloggers have been killed by Islamist extremists.

And in the meantime, no-one has yet been brought to justice for the 2013 disaster at Rana Plaza in which over 1250 workers died.

Don’t go there

As is all too common in Bangladesh, the investigations into most of these cases are still dragging on after an agonisingly long time. The failure to secure justice for these incidents and thousands more like them creates a sense of lawlessness, where local gangs, muggers, and terrorist groups feel that with strong political patronage and power it is possible to get away with serious crimes, including murder.

This has all hardly flattered Bangladesh’s image, and the consequences have already been humiliating in many ways. In autumn 2015, Cricket Australia (CA) cancelled a scheduled tour in Bangladesh citing credible threats by militant groups against Westerners. The CA raised the security concern and delayed the team’s departure while working on a “revised security plan” with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and top level Bangladeshi security forces.

The uptick in attacks on foreigners only made the situation worse, and the tour was finally cancelled despite Bangladesh offering VVIP security (given to the visiting Presidents of other countries) to each player. The Chief Executive of the CA said that in the end, it was simply not possible to proceed with the tour, because:

The safety of our players and officials is our highest priority. We had hoped the security concerns would fade, but unfortunately the advice we have received from government, our own security experts and independent security advisors has clearly indicated that there are now high risks to our people should they make the trip.

Soon after, the South African Women’s cricket team cancelled their Bangladesh tour too, and a number of foreign textile buyers and research teams have also written off their planned visits. Most of the Western embassies have warned their citizens to be careful.

Crying wolf

Paradoxically, this is nothing less than blowback from years of cynical propaganda on the part of Bangladesh’s leaders, who deliberately maintain this culture of impunity and denial. They have also used brazen fearmongering to score political support from the rest of the world.


Chaos reigns. joiseyshowaa/flickr, CC BY-SA

Let’s not forget that the present government’s mandate is questionable in the eyes of many; at the last election more than half of its MPs were elected unopposed, and only a reported 5% of voters turned out. And yet its senior figures maintain that their government has to remain in power to stop ill-defined “militants” overrunning the country.

The unresolved murders of foreign citizens have simply given them more fodder for this self-serving rhetoric, even though what they most clearly demonstrate is the impotence of Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies.

And on October 24, amid the heightened tension and ramped-up security, a Shiite procession was bombed, with two people killed and over a hundred injured – even after national newspapers published stories saying the government had in fact predicted just such an event.

There are, of course, a range of groups in Bangladesh espousing violent fundamentalist ideologies, and over the years, scores of people have been arrested for militant activities – including suspected members of IS and al-Qaeda. But the state has never been able to prove that a genuine offshoot of IS or al-Qaeda is actually operating in Bangladesh.

Nonetheless, the government’s fearmongering seems to be serving it well, and its complacency has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This sense of lawlessness, coupled with a tense political environment in which governing and dissenting parties both resort to violence, means that Bangladesh is becoming a highly conducive environment for radical terrorism.

Superficially reinforced security and policing is all very well, but if the law and order situation does not improve and exploitation of a culture of fear continues, Bangladesh might become a story of the boy who cried wolf.

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Thailand Flood Hacks. Plastic Bottles, Expatiation and Innovation

Contributed by Chris Bolton from the Good Practice Exchange, Wales Audit Office

Everything is wrong with this picture. There is no cat I’ve ever known that would permit me (or anyone else) to:

  1. Put a vest on it,
  2. Sew plastic water-bottles into the vest, and
  3. Sit around to have its picture taken wearing the offending garment (it does have its back to the camera though).

 

Thai Flood Hacks. To be fair to the cat these were unusual circumstances and this may have been a concession until normal ‘cat like’ behaviour could be resumed.

The floods that inundated Thailand in 2011 were a disaster that caused death, suffering and huge economic damage. In response to extreme circumstances people will often do extraordinary things to save lives or make everyday living a little bit easier. Necessity, frequently is, the Mother of Invention.

To help share the knowledge about some of the clever solutions that people created a site called Thai Flood Hacks sprang up in 2011 (link here). Basically people ‘hacked’ what they had available and used it for variety of purposes to alleviate the dangers posed by the rising flood waters. The ‘hacks’ covered a numbers of areas including:

  • protecting life (plastic bottle vests for cats and dogs)
  • protecting property (huge plastic bags for cars) and
  • getting about in the flood water (modified vehicles and plastic bottle boats).

Two things stand out for me on the site; just how much you can do with a plastic bottle and, the emergence of exaptation.

 

What is Exaptation? The most basic explanation of exaptation (I understand) is: something that has been created for a specific purpose, is picked up and is used for a completely different purpose.

The idea originates in biology and was first introduced to me by Dave Snowden who has written about it here.

Examples from biology include the idea of feathers, originally developed as a cooling mechanism, before being exapted for the purpose of flight.

Another good example is the electromagnetic radiation that ‘leaked’ from early radar equipment, melted the chocolate bar in Engineer Percy Spencer’s pocket, and was eventually exapted into the microwave oven. You can see the full story in the video below.

 

Video Link: Radar – Father of the Microwave Oven

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h1ESUz2H3E

 

When you look at the Thai Flood hacks site you can see some very clear examples of exaptation, things successfully used for purposes they were never intended for. It’s not all imaginative uses of plastic bottles. Protecting your car from the floodwaters by driving it into the large plastic bag your sofa was delivered in is genius.

 

You can do anything with a plastic bottle. I’ve got to talk about plastic drinks bottles for a moment. If you have looked at the Thai Flood Hacks site you will see they feature a lot. I suppose that once you’ve made the link between the need to stay afloat and the abundance of plastic containers that hold air, there is no end of uses you can put them to.

The fun with plastic bottles doesn’t end there though. I’ve been browsing the internet for ‘interesting / alternative uses for plastic bottles’. There are absolutely dozens of things you can do with a plastic bottle and a little imagination. Have a look at this article on life hack.org; 30 Ways to Upcycle Plastic Bottles, lots of alternative uses, but are they really exaptation?

 

The Trouble With Exaptation. The problem with exaptation is that it is incredibly difficult to plan for. How do you know that electromagnetic radiation is going to be useful for warming your lunch? How do you make that leap between having a drink of water and tying the empty bottles onto the side of your dog?

A lot of exaptation comes down to about four things as far as I can understand; deep curiosity, wide diversity, the willingness to experiment and acceptance of mess and failure:

  • Deep Curiosity. Continually asking the question why and looking for new answers might just lead you to the answer you never thought of.
  • Wide Diversity. The more sand you sift the more likely you are to find a diamond.
  • Experimentation. When you spot an opportunity, test to see if it might work.
  • Accepting the Mess. This is unlikely to be a process where everything goes to plan and often fails.

 

I spoke about this challenge at the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community recently where I offered a few suggestions around how you might ‘normalise innovation’ and have a better chance of spotting exaptation opportunities. These included:

In addition there is some work happening at the Cynefin Centre in Bangor University to put some structure around the area which has been called; Managing for Emergence or Managing for Serendipity. More of that in future posts, but this slideshare from Marc Rettig on Managing Emergence gives a good idea of some of the challenges.

 

In Summary

  1. Necessity can be the Mother of Invention. Extreme situations can lead to some incredible innovations and exaptation.
  2. Exaptation is difficult to ‘manage’. How do you plan for the unknown? Is it possible to create an environment where exaptation flourishes?
  3. Activities like hackathons and crowdsourcing can create the environment where ideas flow and there is opportunity for expatiation to emerge. The trick is recognising it.

 

Chris can be contacted on Chris.Bolton@audit.wales, Twitter – @whatsthepont

 

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Disability, Well-Being, and False Consciousness: Conflicting Approaches to Rationality and Reasonableness in Moral Discourse and Promoting the Social Model of Disability

Summary of argument

Broadly speaking, two approaches to rationality and reasonableness in moral discourse, can be found in recommendations for radical political change. These approaches reflect conflicts between analytical and continental philosophy and their different interpretations of ‘false consciousness’ (i.e. what are viewed as mistaken beliefs concerning the ‘true interests’ of oppressed or marginalised groups).1 However, the recommendation here is to hold this conflict in tension, recognising that this pulls radical politics in opposite directions, particularly when applied to disability issues and how the social model of disability is understood and promoted.

 

The analytical approach

Risking oversimplification, analytical philosophers tend to reflect the political, economic, and social goals of modernity and the European Enlightenment derived from certain assumptions about the role of rationality and reasonableness in moral discourse. Their main claim is that using rationality in logical argument and scientific enquiry, combined with an appeal to reasonableness when defining the parameters of moral engagement with other human beings, provides a secure foundation for understanding human progress and human relations in various social, economic and political spheres. Radical politics, born from this approach, emphasises the importance of using standards of rationality and reasonableness as a universal moral yardstick for critiquing oppressive and exploitative regimes. For example, this might include measuring the extent to which oppressed and disadvantaged groups are exploited under certain social and economic conditions through examining and scientifically measuring their diminished access to opportunities or ‘life chances’.

 

The continental approach

Continental philosophers, on the other hand, are generally more sceptical about the possibility of making these kinds of objective claims for rationality and reasonableness in moral discourse. The use of rationality and reasonableness, despite its apparent benign character in underpinning a moral critique of existing regimes, is regarded as potentially oppressive and exploitative. This oppression and exploitation occurs because the very categories of rationality and reasonableness are defined and imposed through dominant institutional norms and practices. The imposition results in many groups being social excluded and marginalised if they do not conform to the so-called universal criteria of rationality and reasonableness which falsely underpin a set of ‘ideals’ about what is a ‘best’ or ‘better’ life to maintain and pursue. Consequently, the radical politics, born from this approach, promotes these marginalised identities as a challenge to these dominant norms and practices, not by appealing to rationality and reasonableness, but rather through promoting methods of social and political assertion and engagement which variously challenge these ‘ideals’.

 

Contrasting attitudes to false consciousness and well-being

From the above we can see that many analytical philosophers promote a version of ‘false consciousness’ based on an objective description of what is viewed as ‘true’, with this truth being considered universally comprehensible, given it can, in principle, be understood by every rational person. This claim for objectivity provides a universal moral yardstick to measure and critically evaluate the normative deficiencies of the world we presently live in, which leads to an objective description of a ‘better world’ and what can best enhance an individual’s and/or group’s well-being. Moreover, any objective description of this ‘better world’ will tend be future-orientated insofar as it not only allows for the depiction and objective description of a future ‘better world’, but also recommends moral and political strategies to bring this ‘better world’ about.

 

In contrast, continental philosophers tend to promote ‘false consciousness’ as a denial of the positive and life-enhancing aspects of marginalised ‘subjective identities’ as these occur presently and so underpinning their well-being as it is presently experienced. This contemporising of subjectivity and well-being, which include many of the beliefs persons who are marginalised have about themselves, are positively asserted now as a radical alternative to presently occurring dominant norms and practices. Therefore, positively promoting these marginalised identities, reflects a force for change that is often beyond what can be rationally or reasonably comprehended by dominant groups. This is because the latter groups are committed to exclusionary paradigms which maintain particular logical structures for interpreting the world that are opposed to these radical critiques, and, in the process, falsely ‘legitimate’ the exclusion of minority groups based on the view that the present experience of members of these groups are necessarily diminished or ‘less than ideal’.

 

Two interpretations of the social model of disability2, well-being and false consciousness

The first interpretation of the social model of disability can be called the Politics of Disablement (POD) interpretation. Its central claim is that the opportunities of disabled people are reduced, not by their medical condition, but as a result of social causation processes which unjustly exclude disabled people from valued community activities, routinely enjoyed by non-disabled people. The POD interpretation will therefore compare the ways in which disabled people are unable to access social, political and economic resources on the same basis as non-disabled people. This state of affairs is understood by the POD to be unreasonable and unfair based on identifying what are seen as ‘objective measures’ of discrimination which are said to unjustly reduce the opportunities of disabled people.

 

Consistent with the arguments so far, it can be seen how the POD broadly reflects the analytical approach, for it uses objective and universal understandings of rationality and reasonableness as a template for increasing the future expectations and opportunities for disabled people, anticipating, by implication, that disabled people’s ‘objective’ well-being will be enhanced as a result.

 

However, there is a second interpretation of the social model which highlights, not so much the social causation of ‘objective conditions’ which unjustly undermine the capabilities and expectations of disabled people, but instead focuses on the ‘social construction of disablement’ (SCOD) as a particular kind of mis-description of presently occurring ‘subjective states’ or conditions. The central claim for the SCOD interpretation is that in a disablist society dominated by the medical model, disabled people’s subjective experiences and identities as disabled people now (which include the beliefs disabled people have about themselves), are defined or socially constructed as ‘less than ideal’ or ‘dysfunctional’ compared with the prevailing ‘universal norm’ of non-disablement. This social construction of disablement is, in turn, seen as oppressive and discriminatory.

 

Concluding thoughts

Following the other arguments presented here, it can be seen how the POD and SCOD interpretations broadly reflect the analytical and continental approaches to philosophy outlined above. The former interpretation stresses the ‘objective conditions’ of disabled people which diminish the well-being of disabled people now, and so looks forward to a future where the objectively measurable capabilities of disabled people are enhanced by a more inclusive and participatory society free from unfair discrimination against disabled people. The latter interpretation, on the other hand, stresses how the ‘subjective conditions’ of disabled people as these occur now challenge dominant medical norms and practices which define disability and necessarily ‘deficient’ and ‘dysfunctional’.

 

It is clear that these two different interpretations of the social model and, more broadly, the two different approaches to reasonableness and rationality in moral discourse, are conflicting. The argument here though is that we should not respond to this conflict by recommending an either/or choice between these two approaches. Instead, we should combine them, but recognising that these pull radical politics in opposite directions. However, this strategy will help us make better sense of the Disability Movement’s political demands and what it regards as ‘false consciousness’ of the medical model – that is, a consciousness which diminishes both the present experiences and future opportunities of disabled people.

 

This is a summary of working paper given at Treforest Campus, University of South Wales – November 23rd 2016 – Steve Smith – Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Policy

Notes

  1. Also see David West (2010) Continental Philosophy – An Introduction – 2nd edition (New Jersey: Wiley), for an excellent introduction to this distinction between analytical and continental approaches in philosophy.
  2. Also see my exploration of these two different interpretations of the social model in S.R. Smith (2009) ‘Social justice and disability: competing interpretations of the medical and social models’ in Kristjana Kristiansen, Simo Vehmas, and Tom Shakespeare (eds) Arguing about Disability: Philosophical Perspectives (London: Routledge). And see my arguments in S.R. Smith (2011) Equality and Diversity: Value Incommensurability and the Politics of Recognition. (Bristol: Policy Press).

 

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Local Government in Wales – Services and not Structures

The structure of local government in Wales is once again on the agenda and there is talk about the existing 22 councils and whether they need to be re-organised. This topic goes back a long way, possibly starting shortly after the 22 were put in place in 1996. Questions about whether local authorities were too small to deliver services including education, whether there should be 22 heads of service across Wales and whether the best leaders were in place were all being asked about local authorities in Wales.

The size of public organisations including local authorities is an important issue. However, in relation to size of public organisations and their effectiveness, the jury is still out. Bigger organisations do not necessarily deliver better services no more than smaller ones. No one size fits all. There may be a range of factors supporting and promoting effective services and these will also include leadership, expertise and the demand for the service, for example. Sometimes, government looks more favourably on ‘big is better’ and sometimes ‘small is closer to people and better for democracy’.

At this point in 2016, with all the demands on public organisations including local authorities and finances are really stretched, Ministers will look back and wonder why reorganisation hasn’t happened. For now, a full scale re-organisation is off the agenda. It’s too expensive, too much of a distraction and public want the focus to be on services and not structures.

Instead and building on existing good practice, local authorities will do what they have been doing for some time – building up effective joint working around service delivery. It is reduced budgets, cuts in funding and a desire on behalf of local politicians and officers to keep up services have both been a big driver of this change rather than politicians in Welsh Government.

Welsh government is now keen for this joint working to go much further.
The local government cabinet secretary Mark Drakeford laid out his vision for the future of local government in Wales on Tuesday last and said the current 22 councils would remain in place unless there were cases where authorities wanted to merge voluntarily. In relation to the delivery of services, the Minister is keen on an approach were cities and regions are responsible for services including strategic transport, and economic development, with organisations similar to health boards in Wales delivering other services including education and social services. Local authorities will be strongly encouraged to deliver services jointly and work even more closely with other bodies including health, police and the ambulance service.
Clearly, then the agenda is much more regional for the delivery of key services. Over the next five years, I think that a new pattern of local government will emerge and there will be joint heads of service across two or three councils in some areas of delivery and maybe even a shared Chief Executive or two. A few councils are likely to merge voluntarily.

A big issue for the future is integration with other services and not just local government – police, fire and rescue, ambulance, housing, health and so on. Joint working arrangements to deliver services will become the norm and these will be different across Wales. It is services which interest citizens more than structures.

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Who Governs our Schools?

The governance of our schools and our children’s education has been under the spotlight over the last month, as Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced proposals to alter the current system.

 

It is pleasing that the new Education Minister has chosen the reform of school governing bodies as one of her first initiatives in the improvement of education in Wales. Effective governance is an important part of successful schools.

 

For years, school governing bodies have been made up of a range of different members including head teachers, teachers and non-teaching staff, parents and other members of the local community. Staff members and parents on governing bodies are currently elected.

 

When we look at the future make-up of these governing bodies and how they might be reformed, there are two big issues that we need to consider.

 

The first of these concerns who sits on governing bodies. Currently, the number of people from each of the groups is determined by the size of the school. A smaller school will have a lower number of parents and community representatives on their governing body, when compared to a larger school.

 

The new proposals for governing bodies will allow schools to have a greater flexibility in determining how many parents, staff and community representatives sit on a governing body. This is to be welcomed. It will give schools more of a say in deciding what is right for them.

 

The second issue to consider is the contribution and skills which individual members of a governing body bring to the school.

 

In Wales, the ‘stakeholder’ model of governance is currently used, where each governor will contribute their particular interests.

 

 

Parents will bring with them a knowledge of the school through their children, their children’s education, and how the school fits into their local community – they may even have been a pupil there themselves. Community members can add expertise from their employment, volunteering, public office or private sector backgrounds.

 

The changes suggested by the Minister indicate that schools should continue to be governed on the basis of this ‘stakeholder’ approach but with a much sharper focus on the skills that they have within the governance field. This is called the ‘stakeholder plus’ approach to governance.

 

The continuation of the ‘stakeholder’ approach to governance in Wales is in sharp contrast to the ‘skills based’ approach operating in the academy schools in England. Here, lawyers, accountants and other professionals are appointed to sit on governing bodies and the contribution which others bring in is not valued.

 

This means that parents who may have the greatest knowledge of schools, and arguably the highest level of interest, are being left out. Retaining the stakeholder approach in Wales is therefore a positive decision as parents have the depth of knowledge and an interest in schools performing at their best.

 

The Minister’s new proposals, which will be consulted on in the autumn, will mean that schools in Wales will have greater flexibility in terms of the number of people who can sit on the governing body. Even more interests can be represented as the formula which determines how many governors of each type must sit on a governing body may be removed.

 

There is also an intention to bring in short term co-opted members to assist a school when it is dealing with a particular specialist issue – something that I am sure schools would find useful.

 

But how will the proposed changes to governing bodies benefit our children’s education?

 

The new proposals are primarily focused on getting governing bodies to better lead schools and this should in turn mean that the education of pupils is improved.

 

On the basis of the ‘stakeholder plus’ model, having the right governors in place for each school is likely to assist school improvement and the achievement of pupils. Schools with the weakest governance will not be as successful.

 

They don’t just need to be the right people, they also need to be able to challenge head teachers and schools to deliver against important issues such as pupil performance, employability and key skills. This is essential if schools are to have robust and effective governance structures in place.

 

Improving governance is just one part of making schools better for pupils in Wales, but it is a good place to start.

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What next for local government in Wales?

Now that the re-organisation of local authorities has been put on hold with the election of the new government in Wales, where next for local government?

In the previous Welsh government, it was felt that structural reform was necessary to drive forward on efficiency and cost savings. This view was set within the background of the Williams review of public services in Wales where it was highlighted voluntary collaborations and partnerships did not go far enough. The Local Government Bill suggested reforming the existing 22 authorities to 8 or 9 new ones to ensure that services were not duplicated, to reduce staff costs particularly at the highest levels and most senior posts and to deliver better collaboration. Ultimately, the purpose of re-organisation was to deliver more effective services with the best outcomes.

With the new government in May of this year, priorities may have changed a little. There are new Assembly Members who are probably unwilling to tell their electorates that their local authority is to be re-organised. There is also the maths to think about – the minority Labour government has 29 members and with the ‘appointment’ of Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats to join them to make 30, this number does not allow ‘unpopular’ legislation to be approved. Plaid Cymru or UKIP do not have local government re-organisation as a top priority.

So, where next?

The new Minister would be well advised to identify the effectiveness of the existing collaborative arrangements across local government. Where they are seen to be working and delivering services effectively, good practice should be encouraged to be taken on in other areas. This will mean that authorities will all be responsible for the same services legally but delivering different ones in practice. One authority may take on the delivery of social services for another area or the library function for a range of authorities. These collaborations may also be with third sector voluntary bodies where the function or service is delivered by outside bodies (maybe even private sector ones).

If Welsh government moves in this direction, the key framework which has to be got right is governance. Good governance will involve ensuring responsibility, the agreement of key performance measures and what effective service delivery will look like. Delivery can be undertaken by the best service providers from across the sectors.

Effective services must come first and structural reforms if they are needed, second.

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Governing Public Services in England and wales: A Move from the Stakeholder Model Could further the Democratic Deficit

This blog entry was first published by the LSE Policy and Politics Blog –

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/51885-2/?utm_content=buffer94b1b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

A great deal of attention is given to roles of both Chief Executives and members of the Senior Management Team in many organisations, yet the work of the governing board is frequently neglected. Comparing England and Wales, Jacqueline Baxter and Catherine Farrell argue that we’re witnessing a shift away from the predominantly stakeholder model of board membership, which could potentially further the ‘democratic deficit’ in the governance of public services.

Entrepreneurship and democratic deficit

There is little doubt that public services in the UK and internationally are facing unprecedented challenge, not only in terms of how they are governed and led, but equally in terms of how far they represent and respond to stakeholder needs. Government emphasis on innovation, transformational leadership and the introduction of new entrepreneurial approaches – many of which mirror private sector strategy, are creating unprecedented challenges for governing boards and their executives. These complexities, combined with the need for governance to be responsive and pro-active, have led the UK government to place a great deal of emphasis on policies which look to increase skill sets on boards whilst also making them ‘appear’ and act in ways that are more responsive to stakeholders.

Officially, it falls to the board to lead and set the strategy for the organisation and the service, and set parameters for the overall operation of the organisation. Often called the governing board, the board of trustees, the governing body, the authority or just the ‘board’, members are charged with leadership, strategy and monitoring activities to ensure that the organisation is working towards its mission.

Looking more closely at four services across England and Wales: health, fire and rescue, education, and policing, it is clear that a number of changes have taken place since 2010. In Wales, these changes are less marked in the devolved services of health, education and fire, and rescue than in the services of their counterparts in England. In terms of policing, clearly the big shift has been to the elected model of governance.

A tale of four services: policing, fire and rescue, education, and health

A great deal of research focuses on the ‘democratic deficit’ and ways in which public participation in every area of public life is apparently on the wane. It highlights that there is a deficit and it is articulated in myriad of forms, including voter disengagement, variation in volunteer levels and a move towards populist and radical right parties and a rejection of the kind of democratic public participation seen in the era of post-war consensus. So too the rise of neoliberal modes of thought and the popularity of ‘command and control’ deliverology policies based on targets and performance measurement, combined with increasingly harsh regulatory regimes to create high risk environments for public service organisations. From this, an emphasis on ‘professional skills’, particularly those from the business world, has assumed primacy in the recruitment strategies of boards in English education.

The Welsh education system has not been subject to the same radical policies as its English counterpart and its model of school governance continues to combine an emphasis on skills with equal stress on the importance of stakeholder representation. This is in contrast to England where independent academies and increasing numbers of federated schools (more than one school governed by the same board), have placed pressures on boards to operate at a high level in a high stakes environment. Similar patterns are replicated in health which was devolved in Wales from 2003. Although the English model was originally established to increase public participation and stakeholder engagement, there are only two lay members on Clinical Care Commissioning groups and these are largely there due to their professional skills in areas, for example, accounting, HR or other specialism.

In the case of police, there has been a marked contrast in the ways in which they are governed since the system of elected Police and Crime Commissioners was introduced. Although the system was premised on the need for ‘greater transparency’ and ‘responsiveness to local issues’, the practice has revealed that it is far from democratic. There are several main reasons for this: lack of representation of women and ethnic groups; weak legislative powers of the panel set up to hold Commissioners to account; and very poor voter turnout at the 2012 elections.

If government plans go ahead there may also be divergence in the governance of the fire and rescue service in England and Wales. Currently, the service is governed by an authority which is stakeholder focused and made up of a number of elected members. In England, if government proposals go ahead, the service would be brought under the auspices of Police and Crime Commissioners despite the not inconsiderable issues with the present model and no evidence that the 2016 elections will provoke more public participation than the last. There are no plans for the model to be adopted in Wales though there may be a review of the governance of the service.

There is little doubt that we are witnessing a shift away from predominantly stakeholder model of board membership to appointed or elected models of governance. This is particularly relevant in England where sweeping legislative changes have made board governance a high risk activity – when boards fail the media are swift to apportion blame, exemplified by a number of recent cases.

Shifting governance has important implications for accountability and scrutiny and raises questions around who actually owns our public services. The government emphasis on choice and cost effectiveness is giving rise to more public-private partnerships, outsourcing and increasing levels of commissioning are creating complex multi-level systems of governance which demand skilled and practiced board members. The same challenges are also making regulation of such organisations and their governance highly complex, increasing the likelihood of error or board failure.

Although the merits of professionalizing boards are clear, there are democratic downsides – the FTSE 100 project exemplifies some of the challenges of ensuring adequate representation on ‘professional boards’ particularly in terms of women, ethnicity and disability. There is no reason why public sector boards which adopt similar professional models of governance should not experience similar problems and there is ample evidence that they do. In addition to this, appointed and elected trustees, or governors, means that fewer people are involved in key decisions within services with the risk of ‘squeezing out’ community and wider stakeholder interests. There are also considerable issues with investing huge power in the elected model of governance as these individuals have gained their roles with little democratic involvement from the electorate.

Public service governance in England and Wales is undergoing change, and what these changes will bring in the longer term is yet uncertain. What is certain is that the tensions between functionality and effectiveness and democratic representativeness of public services in both countries is increasingly apparent and the long term effects of the diminution of the stakeholder model can only said to be contributing to the ‘democratic deficit’ that places citizen representation and governance in an increasingly invidious position.

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Note: The article represents the views of the author and not those of the British Politics and Policy blog nor the LSE. Please read our comments policy before posting.

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About the Authors

jacqueline-baxterJacqueline Baxter, is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at the Open University

 

 

c.farrellCatherine Farrell is Professor of Public Management at the University of South Wales

 

 

(Featured image credit: woodelywonderworks CC BY 2.0)

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Well-Being and Six Features of the Human Condition

Introduction
The concept of well-being is very slippery having many different meanings and applications. Moreover, with politicians and governments increasingly using it as an adjudicating value for how policies should be formulated and implemented (including, most recently, the Welsh Government’s Social Services and Well-being Act 2014), it has become especially important to take a step back and assess what well-being means exactly, and how this value relates to who we are as human beings. It is in this light that WISERD recently hosted a workshop on well-being at the University of South Wales, raising important questions amongst academics, practitioners, and policy-makers, about its meaning and measurement. My observations below summarise the main points in the paper I presented, entitled: ‘Six features of the human condition: a conceptual mapping exercise for competing understandings of well-being and some implications for public policy.’

First, I described six features of the human condition which I contended are common to us all, so bearing on questions concerning human well-being. In short, drawing on the wider well-being literature in philosophy, I argue that whatever conception of well-being is used, all must accommodate these six features of the human condition – though, I argued, the precise relationship between these features vary, depending on the position taken.

Six features of the human condition
Embodiment: We are physical creatures who relate and connect with the world through bodily sensations; via our senses – touch, sight, hearing, taste; our experiences of pain and pleasure; our emotions – joy, happiness, anger, sadness, fear; our physical needs for food, water, shelter, rest, warmth; our numerous wants, desires and aversions; and, our feelings towards others – such as pity, compassion, disgust, love, and hate. Whatever our embodied responses, conceptions of human well-being should, I propose, acknowledge this physicality.

Finiteness: We are limited by beginnings and ends – less abstractly, we are necessarily bounded by our existence or survival, the parameters being our births and deaths; our inability to be in two places and times at once; our limited capabilities constrained by social and physical environments, and so on. These constraints, derived from our finiteness, make us vulnerable to harm, disappointment, failure, conflicting choices, and error when calculating what is best for our well-being to pursue. However, being limited in these respects (and others beside), also shapes our life experiences, paradoxically, enabling us, as subjective differentiated persons, to enjoy and become immersed ‘in the moment’ and so be ‘attuned’ to our lives.

Sociability: We learn language and communicate with others, becoming members of social groups. These groups generate social rules of behaviour which delineate arenas of well-being, as different ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ are created through social cooperation. These memberships also lead to reciprocal exchanges, which, should be accounted for, to understand how well-being is best promoted. Therefore, conceptions of well-being only focusing on individual endeavour and accomplishments are likely to be inadequate given this condition of sociability.

Cognition: We also understand, rationally calculate, and can be reasonable toward others. Human cognition is clearly mind-orientated, exercising logic, gather information and evidence, and engaging in, what we might be described as, creative imagination – via our imagination we can, for example, picture new possibilities for the future, and remember the past. This ability is also crucial in understanding how well-being, most notably over life-times, is best promoted.

Evaluation: It matters to our well-being that we successfully accomplish goals and ambitions, and these goals and ambitions are valuable to us. Value is understood in terms of what is worthwhile (pastimes, career options, other lifestyle choices), but also refers to moral principles – what is considered right, wrong, just or unjust. Consequently, we evaluate what we do and achieve, and so not merely count our successes, with both success and positive evaluation enhancing our well-being. Value is also derived from exercising self-knowledge – being true to ourselves, or authentic, as it is sometimes called.

Agency: As individuals and/or as members of groups, we, as stated, set goals and have plans and ambitions considered valuable or worthwhile. This implies a degree of agency, where, to lesser or greater degrees, we choose from alternatives, and so become authors of our own actions and life-plans. These alternatives, for sure, are restricted by social, political and physical environments, but, despite these restrictions, we all have options, allowing us to accomplish goals, however limited these might be. Moreover, our choices reflect desires which are shaped by information concerning these desires, so becoming “informed”. Informed desires cohere with wider understandings of what is best for us, reflecting the pursuit of our more important goals and ambitions.

Given this brief outline of these six human conditions, what are some further implications of these features for understanding well-being; how might we use these features to understand better the philosophical debates concerning well-being and their application to social and public policy?

Exploring some philosophical terrains and implications for policy
Even if all six features of the human condition are accommodated for in any conception of well-being there is still considerable scope for debate concerning how these features precisely relate. Kantians, for example, are likely to establish our capacity for agency and cognition as a foundation for understanding and promoting well-being, tending to view well-being as, at best, an inclusive or transparent value. Consequently, well-being for Kantians is usually enhanced by successfully pursuing valuable, rational and reasonable goals, but is not best, or commonly, pursued for its own sake.

Classical Utilitarians, and those from a Humeian persuasion, alternatively, view well-being as based on embodied experiences, with these experiences understood, at least primitively, as subjective and individual. For Utilitarians and Humeians, subjective well-being is more likely seen as a primary value, and although may be constrained by agency, cognition, evaluation, and sociability, is usually promoted within public policy as a relatively substantial, even dominant, end. Other policy debates also ensue concerning, for example, the significance of a person being present-orientated in her pursuit of well-being, as distinct from a rational evaluator of her life overall.

Communitarians, and most feminist, post-modern and post-structuralists writers, would likely view well-being differently again, emphasising the human feature of sociability as a better platform for understanding well-being. Public policy should, in turn, focus on the social groups we belong to, and on how our realities are constructed by, for example, shared language-use and other social behaviours. In short, well-being is viewed primarily as a social product, derived from collective endeavours, with the business of public and social policy being to facilitate these activities.

Conclusion
Of course, these brief sketches of the philosophical terrain and their application to public policy are bound to oversimplify issues and over-polarise debate, given many positions are taken in between, plus many others beside. Nevertheless, my contention is that describing these features of the human condition at least define some general territories of discussions about well-being – for example, highlighting the relationship between subjective and objective accounts of well-being, experience and evaluation/life-satisfaction accounts, and the various ways in which individual and collective/group endeavours relate and are both promoted.

Written by Steve Smith, University of South Wales, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, steve.smith@southwales.ac.uk) – Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Policy

This blog was first published in Issue 12 October 2015 ‘Celebrating the first year of WISERD Civil Society’

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A Swing to the Left for Labour

A big change has happened for the Labour party with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the UK party. Clearly, the ideological space that he is taking the party into is the left of the political spectrum with an interest in a range of areas including quality public services, accessible housing for all and  improving the lives of those living in poverty. Not for a long time has there been this clear division ideologically between the two biggest London parties with contrasting views on the market solutions to problems in society and the role of government.

 

With the UK Labour party now operating in the left ideologically, the Labour parties in Scotland and Wales are likely to have more in common with it. As the National Assembly elections approach in May 2016, Labour in Wales will seek to capitalise on the success of its policies in Wales which have not promoted market solutions or significantly reduced public services in ways that have happened under the coalition in England. These will include the rejection of academy schools and the wide scale contracting out of local government services. Coping with less public resources year on year will be blamed on the London Government.

 

An interesting issue will be the impact of Labour’s re-emphasised position in Wales on parties such as Plaid Cymru which also operate in the left ideologically. Politicians might have watched the election night disaster for Labour in Scotland in May 2015 of this year and wondered if it could happen in Wales. Could Plaid Cymru have the same success in Wales in the May 2016 elections?

 

With its reignited position in the left ideologically, my view is that Labour will continue to be strong in Wales. Supported by the UK party and its left wing focus, Labour will be in a better position to sell its policies to the people of Wales.  Having the same UK and Wales policy agenda and putting this to the electorate leaves Labour in Wales in a strong position.

 

The big question is – has Jeremy Corbyn saved the Labour party in Wales?

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