Could the Government of National Unity please strive to be more unified?

There have been interesting conversations and responses following the last blog posting on the mess left at the Isle of Man’s Department of Education and Children by the recently sacked minister Peter Karran.

Particularly interesting was the Twitter debate that ensued following the news included in the updated version: that two of the 11 state-run nurseries handed over to private operators to run, while imposing charges on what was previously a free service in those facilities, would not be opening their doors to any children at the start of the next school term due to a lack of uptake.

If you want more on that then please read the End of Term Report… posting that is linked at the bottom.

It is interesting to observe that, even in his brief time as Education Minister, Peter Karran didn’t have a great deal of support from his cabinet colleagues. One minister was later revealed to have leaked a document to opponents of Karran’s mission of destruction on early years education.

That minister kept his job, much to the outrage of Karran’s dwindling band of followers, but the truth is that if Chief Minister Allan Bell sacked every cabinet member who leaked something to the press or the public, then he’d have no ministers left.

Other ministers are doing little to hide their lack of regard for their now former cabinet colleague and, as for the initial three DEC members who had the misfortune to work under him, well some interesting things are coming out about how Karran chose to run a department.

It seemed that formally telling department members their responsibilities was not something he regarded as a priority.

At the bottom of this article I’ve posted a link to the select committee evidence given by Dudley Butt, who resigned in protest at the pre-school cuts, and Zac Hall, who was later sacked for failing to support Karran on the same issue.

It makes clear there were other options open.

It also makes clear that there was some playing of politics in the Council of Ministers.

We shouldn’t be too surprised at that. Running a government is a political game. But most of us would prefer the games that are played not to have such a devastating effect on the futures of our children.

One of the providers who have stepped in to offer reduced services in the place of the pre-schools provided by the state has revealed a major drop off in numbers.

It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. From being provided teacher-led nursery education for free, parents are given the option of fewer hours, reduced teacher cover, if any, and to have to pay for that.

It doesn’t take a mastermind to work out the impact.

But it is infuriating to see the evidence this need not have happened.

A better minister may have been able to navigate a more sensible route than the one Karran has set education on.

But a more sensible approach from the start by the chief minister’s ‘Government of National Unity’ would have helped.

The Budget at which these changes came in was held in February. The government was only formed in October.

What has become very clear in education is that cuts have been rushed and badly prepared, with extremely damaging consequences already.

What was apparent at the time of the Budget was that, in a period when it was accepted government had to make savings, it was almost a case of every department for itself.

It’s an open secret that, in wealther times, departments would have to find extra items to spend money on for fear of having their future budgets cut.

That’s an unhealthy situation and the February budget left me with the distinct impression that this time we had every department making cuts, but keeping those cuts to the minimum.

There was no suggestion of an holistic approach in that one department could perhaps identify further cuts than had been demanded of it, to possibly allow a crucial health, education or social care service to be ringfenced and retained.

It’s hardly surprising. given the speed with which the new government wanted to show its intent and prove it was not afraid of the ‘tough’ decisions.

February is also the traditional time for the Budget and, to some extent, I think both Bell and Treasury Minister Eddie Teare wanted to lay down a marker.

Problem is, it came across as hurried and not well thought out across the board (the diesel locomotive purchase mentioned in previous submissions being just one example).

Easy to say with hindsight, I know, but I remember saying something similar at the time: why wasn’t February used as an ‘interim budget’ and a second Budget, with the austerity measures required, set for October?

That would have given the Department of Education and Children time to avoid the disastrous course it took (possibly because Karran’s self destruct button was always going to get pressed before the summer recess).

It would have given time for the government to decide as a whole where cuts should be made with an holistic approach to their value rather than arbitrary savings figures given to departments.

For instance, whatever happens with Chris Robertshaw’s welfare escalator plan for social policy reform, the fact a major consultation is now taking place means it isn’t being rushed.

The possible corporatisation of services has been flagged up but, again, it’s not happening straight away.

So why was free pre-school provision allowed to fall, particularly when the previously set Tynwald policy was to seek to expand it when the economic position was right?

Ministers are starting to admit that, even if you continue to argue (wrongly in my opinion) that the cut was the right one, the speed with which it was implemented has made it worse.

So how was it allowed to happen,?

The link here to the select committee evidence (there are other hearings that have taken place, if you want to check out further Hansards) suggests that other options – I would argue better ones – were ruled out mainly by the minister, but the government allowed it to happen.

http://www.tynwald.org.im/business/hansard/20002020/saprc120621.pdf

We need a much better approach in future.

Twitter: @Norbertsdad

Update

Rather spookily, two days after this post, the Chief Minister was on the radio distancing himself from the Government of National Unity concept that he announced when he unveiled his cabinet last year.

I think it shows that he is aware people are unconvinced about the message and also are somewhat sceptical about how joined up the current approach is.

http://www.energyfm.net/cms/news_story_224801.html

Link to end of term report on Peter Karran: https://norbertsdad.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/tynwald-end-of-term-report-f-for-the-erstwhile-education-minister/

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About Paul Speller

Writer, journalist, husband, dad.
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4 Responses to Could the Government of National Unity please strive to be more unified?

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