Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Game is Up

I slagged Nick Clegg off the other day for a fairly bland speech to ACEVO members in Sheffield. However, this week he launched an excellent new tax policy for the Lib Dems. Tax cuts and smaller government. He's not the only one saying this. Alan Milburn, ex Health Minister, has called for a cull of Whitehall of 25% of headcount.

The idea here is not to create a nasty 19th century state but to recognise that the state has had its day (well, its century actually) as lead agent in public service provison.

Life for me throws up regular examples of why Nick Clegg and Alan Milburn are right.

Last night I was Guest of Honour at the AGM of a growing charity called Out and About. Based in Suffolk, they deliver exciting options for young disabled people. Their CEO, Steve Allman is a fantastic young talent who wants to grow it from its current £1 million to a multi-million outfit working right across the Region. I am so excited about Steve that I have just agreed to mentor him during the next year or two. He really is that good.

After my talk, Steve showed me round the building which Out and About share with Connexions. Till a year ago, Connexions was an independent company, a bit like a social business, albeit state-funded. Then it was taken in-house as part of some warped idea that this would somehow achieve joined-up-ness with the rest of the Council's derisory offer to young people.

One of the most depressing outcomes of this forced-takeover (this has happened everywhere) was in the internet cafe or Infobar which is jointly run by Connexions and Out and About. Once a thriving place, this is now much quieter and less well used. Why? Because the council says its OK to go on most sites except...get this...Bebo, MySpace and Facebook.

Now, I am not particularly `down with the kids' but even I know that young people essentially live their lives through such sites. Apparently, Steve tells me, the council are worried about their liability if a kid ends up being groomed by a paedo on one of their PCs. Their concern about a `Kiddy Fiddler on Council Laptop' headline outweight all others. Even for the kids themselves who end up using other facilities, presumably with no limits at all on viewing. But this is OK because risk to the council has been eliminated.

It is this sort of specious logic that makes so many people want to stop paying so much tax to organisations that think its OK to behave this way. Yet this is what happens when you give the state the right to become a monopoly. It serves its own interests, not those of the people. Or the kids, in this case.

While I am sure you get a bit of this in the third sector, its not nearly so pervasive and the lack of monopoly means organisations not delivering soon get found out. And I know for a fact that Steve would lift this ban immediately were Connexions outsourced to Out and About.

Now there's an idea...

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