From education to employment

Looking Back at the Week that Was with FE News!

The future of Britain’s public sector is a question that leaves the public consciousness approximately as often as reality television is not raised in public house conversation.

It would appear that an increasing number of people have accepted the inevitable truth of economics and horticulture combined ““ money does not in fact grow on trees. This could in matter of fact prove to be the saving grace for our wooded friends everywhere, as the hordes of credit card sufferers end the madness of a headlong rush to the New Forest complete with chainsaws and specimen bags that look awfully like the swag bags from the greatest of black and white cops “n” robbers films. In this sense the current approach to finance both personal and public could be compared to the Dark Age solution to witch craft ““ noone will ever be certain just how many people were thrown off a cliff to find out if they could fly, and hopefully millions fewer trees will be needlessly torn down in the search for the font of all credit.


This may seem to be random rambling inspired by strong sunshine or a eventually doomed experiment with not drinking coffee for a weekend. But there is some small kernel of method to the madness. For instance, our instinctive surprise that there is a limit to the money that charges about in the ethereal world of public finance mirrors our attitude towards personal financial responsibility, and this is a subject that not only directly affects Further Education but in fact is something FE might consider addressing as a matter of some urgency.

Let us take, as an example, the concept of partnerships in the public sector. After all, this is very much the topic of the hour. Earlier this month, at the Future Services Network’s Three Sectors summit, the Prime Minister described an enhanced role for the third sector in working with the Government to deliver public services. This will be a role that allegedly takes the public services to the public. Yes, there it is again, public facing service provision. Without dwelling on what a bad idea it would be for train drivers to try this approach to their service provision, let us proceed.

The New Frontier

Tread carefully, as there are certain to be motion sensors and hidden cameras watching your every move! We approach a mysterious new body, an organisation thet rests in dreams and whispers ““ yes, the Third Sector. Forgive the dramatic license, but it does bring to mind the Government agencies created in myriad Hollywood films that contain thousands of dedicated top of the line professional secret agents and assassins who can all be foiled by a laughably simple ruse. To put it another way ““ the general awareness of the existence of and purpose of the third sector is a more closely guarded secret (more through accepted ignorance than anything else) than any security service.

The new Minister for the Third Sector, Ed Miliband MP, seemed to be focussing on the need for change. Something of a running jump before walking, perhaps; but it is important to bear in mind that the Government does have an obligation to convince the electorate that they asked for what is happening. Mr. Miliband phrased it thus: “The relationship between government and the third sector is evolving as public service delivery changes to better meet the complex needs and rising expectations of individual users.”

But no, toddlers, please do not run screaming for the shadowy safety of beneath the beds! Mr. Miliband continued, describing the potential for the third sector to make it all better. He said: “The third sector is uniquely positioned to make sure that local users experience public services that are specifically tailored to meet their needs. The role of the Government will be to enable voluntary organisations to deliver services in partnership with the public and private sectors, bringing with them a more intimate knowledge of user needs, the ability to engage hard”“to”“reach groups in society, and the capacity to innovate in response to unique local combinations of delivery challenges.”

All’s Well”¦

This is all very well and good. But it fails to address a real problem ““ that we as a society have no concept of money. We do not appear to understand how to spend within limits, how to maintain the economy at a level permitting consumer purchasing to grow in steps not leaps and bounds. We do not know how to control visible and invisible inflation so that there is less need to borrow money that doesn”t exist, which debt is immediately used as a form of collateral to be traded on by the banks who do not possess the money with other banks doing the same.

Similarly, public sector finance is clouded in the same form of unreality. It is as though the entire observing public elected to lace their drinks with a little something to make them believe that what they learnt in primary school mathematics ““ no matter how little that might have been ““ was actually a big fat lie. Two added to two makes four”¦no, no! Lies, all lies! It also, of course, becomes a matter of motivation”¦private investment and outside involvement in the public sector will be motivated by their own interests.

The simple truth is that public service demands have not grown per person; we do not as a population expect more from our public services. We expect the same standard of service and the same level of delivery; the trouble is that the amount of money required to maintain the current level of service provision is in excess of that which the public are willing to pay. Therefore, we prefer to believe that the money will simply float through an open window. The blunt truth is that this will not happen; private finance and investment will be brought in just to tread water.

Both in the effect it will have on FE and the effect that FE can make for this transition; let’s make FE tackle the problem of how to make a population realise that if you put £1 into a piggy bank, the chances are that that will be all that is in there the next day.

Jethro Marsh

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