Budget 2021: a missed opportunity to make permanent the £20 increase to Universal Credit

Posted: 03 Mar 2021 09:50 AM PST

Ruth PatrickKayleigh GarthwaiteGeoff PageMaddy Power, and Katie Pybus comment on the government’s decision to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit by six months only. They argue that the increase should be a permanent one, as part of a broader commitment to reforming the social security system.

We’ve learned a lot over the past 12 months of the pandemic. About ourselves, our children, our local areas, but also, inevitably, about our politicians and government. We’ve learned that our government is sometimes willing to make bold policy decisions, such as the recent announcement of the extension of furlough into the autumn. As part of the 2021 Budget, Rishi Sunak promised that he would ‘do everything it takes’ to protect ‘lives and livelihoods’. His government’s budgetary measures simply did not live up to these words.

The decision Sunak announced to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit by justsix months is testament to this. Not only has the government missed the opportunity to properly invest in social security into the longer term, but they have also failed to extend the support provided through the £20 Universal Credit uplift to an estimated 2.5 million legacy benefit recipients. They have further failed by not acting to make those subject to the Benefit Cap eligible for support through the £20 uplift.

These failures on the budget are part of a broader narrative emanating from this government on ‘welfare’, which continues to rely on divisions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ populations, and shows an unwillingness to retire old (and arguably ineffective) policy tools, such as welfare conditionality. Both Sunak and Johnson have also shown an unwillingness to think more ambitiously and structurally about the social security system. They have been unprepared to delivery long overdue reform to address issues tied to adequacy and eligibility to social security support, whilst they have also failed to address the design limitations with Universal Credit, which negatively impact on the experiences of existing claimants, and the millions of households who have claimed as a direct result of the pandemic.

Through the Nuffield Foundation funded COVID Realities research programme, we are working in partnership with over 100 parents and carers living on a low-income, who are documenting their everyday experiences in online diaries and by responding to weekly video questions. The parents are also meeting up together in virtual discussion groups. In these monthly meetings, parents work with us to develop recommendations for change, recommendations which are rooted in their own experiences, that are all too often of insecurity, of poverty, and of a social security system that is failing them.

After the budget, some of the parents we have been working with gave their reactions to the decision on Universal Credit. Dorothy, a single parent to two children, one of whom is disabled, told us:

I am a bit relieved that they have extended the £20 UC payment, but I’m disappointed it is only for six months because I don’t think the pandemic is going to go away within six months. The cost of living went up so much from the pandemic and from having children at home. In my eyes, the pandemic is no way near over and the £20 just did not go far enough.

Aurora, a widowed single parent, spoke for many who do not receive the £20 uplift at all:

We as the poorest members of society cannot understand why we’ve been overlooked yet again. Why have we been ignored? We have already bared the brunt of austerity and continue to do so. That extra £20 would’ve been going towards feeding us or ensuring we were able to meet the increased costs the pandemic has inflicted on our lives. But we don’t receive it at all because our benefits are capped. I’m just thankful to Covid realities for giving us a voice when no one cared.

The Universal Credit decision extends and perhaps makes permanent the insecurity and anxiety that social security claimants face. Now, Universal Credit claimants must wait till the autumn to find out what will become of their £20 a week, which for many is the difference between keeping their heads above water, and finding it simply impossible to get through the week. Winter explained what this feels like and the difference the £20 currently makes to her family:

The proposed change [removing the £20 uplift] is the difference between paying our bills and not being able to pay some of them. And if [a] one off expenses crop up (like new shoes for kids etc) then you can’t cover it. Amy changes to benefits are very stressful.

From our work with parents and carers, we know how this financial insecurity intersects with, and is compounded by, the insecurity that we all face because of the conditions that the pandemic creates. We also know that the £20 uplift is not a panacea, and it is not enough: families with children urgently need help with the costs of their children, and to address the stubbornly high levels of child poverty. Lexie, who receives the £20 uplift explained:

The £20 is the bare minimum of help to be honest. I know that sounds ungrateful but £20 doesn’t cover much these days. By the end of the month, we are still choosing between eating and heating. We have always aimed to do better by our children than what we had but it’s almost impossible. No one in today’s day and age should be choosing between eating and heating.

As analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown, the £20 uplift to Universal Credit represents the first significant real increase in benefit levels in the last half century for families without children. However, and this is especially important, while a sizeable and significant increase, it has made ‘barely a dent’ in the decline in the real value of the social security safety net (excluding housing) for childless families as a faction of earnings levels, which has fallen almost continually for the last 50 years. The picture for families with children, the focus of our COVID Realities work, is more complicated; but there is a broader message that the £20 uplift is only a partial and limited corrective for decades of decline in the real value of social security, which hastened under the 2010-2019 Conservative-led governments, especially due to the freezing of benefit levels. Against this context, it was especially important to make the £20 increase a permanent one as part of a broader commitment to the social security system in the UK.

We have seen the possibility in their pandemic response for the government to be bold, to spend money, and to intervene to protect livelihoods. But there has been a failure to do this on social security, and this failure needs to be writ large in all the analysis of this budget, in the weeks and months ahead. It is a failure of ambition and a failure to do what our society so urgently needs.

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Note: The project on which the above draws has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.

About the Authors

Ruth Patrick is Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of York.

Kayleigh Garthwaite is a Birmingham Fellow in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology at the University of Birmingham.

Geoff Page is Research Associate at the University of York.

Maddy Power is a Research Fellow at the University of York.

Katie Pybus is a Research Fellow at the University of York.

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/budget-2021-20-uplift/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LSEGeneralElectionBlog+%28General+Election+2015%29

En Allemagne l’extrême droite refait surface

Depuis la fusillade raciste de Hanau, il y a un an, qui a fait neuf morts, et avec la multiplication des attaques, le pays a pris conscience des dangers du discours identitaire et de la menace terroriste, trop longtemps sous-estimée par les forces de l’ordre.

PAR STÉPHANE ROLAND INTÉRIM À BERLIN. Libération vendredi 19 février.

Hamza Kurtovic avait 22 ans. Il venait de finir sa formation de magasinier et s’apprêtait à démarrer son premier job à Hanau, une ville située à 20 kilomètres à l’est de la capitale financière allemande, Francfort-sur-le-Main. Ce mercredi 19 février 2020, il attend quelques amis à l’Arena Bar, situé sur la place Kurt-Schumacher. Mais il a la malchance de croiser sur son chemin Tobias Rathjen, qui vient d’exécuter cinq personnes quelques minutes auparavant dans un bar à chicha du centre-ville. Le terroriste lui tire dessus à bout portant. Hamza ne saura jamais pourquoi.

«Pour moi, la violence d’extrême droite, c’était loin. Je n’imaginais pas que cela puisse concerner un jour ma famille,témoigne sa sœur, Ajla Kurtovic, qui a appris la mort de son frère le lendemain de l’attentat. Tout à coup, on a été rattrapés par la réalité.»

Ce jour-là, c’est toute l’Allemagne qui est rattrapée par la réalité. L’attentat raciste de Hanau, qui fait neuf morts et au moins cinq blessés, traumatise le pays. «Ce fut une césure pour le vivre-ensemble et la cohésion sociale», a rappelé il y a quelques jours la chancelière allemande, Angela Merkel, devant les députés de l’Assemblée fédérale (Bundestag).

A l’époque, les Allemands prennent conscience que la violence d’extrême droite n’est plus seulement une affaire de «cas isolés» ou de «déséquilibrés», mais une menace pour une société qui compte aujourd’hui plus de 20 % de citoyens issus de l’immigration. «Pour la première fois, les responsables politiques qualifient cette attaque de “raciste”», remarque Matthias Quent, sociologue et directeur de l’Institut pour la démocratie et la société civile à Iéna (Thuringe). La violence d’extrême droite ne s’est pas seulement manifestée à Hanau. Ce sont 23 080 actes racistes, antisémites ou «dirigés contre le système démocratique» qui ont eu lieu en 2020 – un nouveau record depuis 2001. Selon les chiffres du gouvernement, 109 personnes ont été tuées depuis 1990 par l’extrême droite pour des raisons racistes ou antisémites. Selon les organisations non gouvernementales, ce bilan dépasse les 200 morts.

Balle dans la tête

Hanau est aussi le troisième attentat d’extrême droite en moins d’un an. Le 2 juin 2019, Walter Lübcke, élu proréfugiés du district de Cassel (Hesse), est exécuté d’une balle dans la tête dans son jardin. C’est la première fois dans l’histoire de la République fédérale qu’un représentant de l’Etat est assassiné par l’extrême droite. En septembre, la synagogue de Halle (Saxe-Anhalt) est attaquée par un néonazi le jour de la fête juive de Yom Kippour. Les fidèles auront la vie sauve grâce à la porte d’entrée qui refuse de céder aux tirs du terroriste.

«L’attentat de la synagogue était prévisible, insiste Marc Grünbaum, membre du Conseil de la communauté juive de Francfort. La société allemande a fermé les yeux trop longtemps. Ce qu’il y a de nouveau, c’est que la menace est devenue visible.»Horst Seehofer, le ministre fédéral de l’Intérieur, le reconnaîtra lui-même, et pour la première fois, quelques jours après l’attentat de Hanau : «Le plus grand danger pour l’Etat de droit et la démocratie allemande, c’est l’extrême droite.»

Cette menace a toujours existé. Mais elle n’avait encore jamais été nommée comme telle. Cette haine «ronge notre société depuis longtemps», insiste le leader écologiste Robert Habeck, rappelant qu’en 1980, un néonazi avait fait exploser une bombe à la porte d’entrée de la fête de la bière de Munich, faisant 13 morts et plus de 200 blessés.

L’émergence de l’AfD (Alternative pour l’Allemagne), première force d’opposition au Bundestag depuis 2017, a permis de libérer la parole raciste. Créé en 2013 par des eurosceptiques favorables au retour du Deutschemark, le mouvement est passé sous l’influence de l’aile nationale identitaire (völkisch), beaucoup plus radicale que le Rassemblement national (RN) en France ou le FPÖ autrichien. Pour Angela Merkel, l’AfD souffle sur les braises avec ses discours de haine. «Les paroles favorisent le passage à l’acte», dénonce la chancelière. «Mais l’AfD ne doit pas être considérée comme l’explication du problème. Elle a seulement rendu acceptable un discours d’extrême droite qui était considéré autrefois comme trop radical», insiste Nauel Franziska Semaan, experte dans la lutte contre le terrorisme à la Fondation Konrad-Adenauer.

Les Allemands prennent surtout conscience de l’aveuglement de leurs forces de sécurité. «Les auteurs d’attentat ont souvent été présentés comme des déséquilibrés ou des cas isolés, contrairement aux islamistes», fait remarquer Matthias Quent. En effet, la police criminelle allemande (BKA) n’a fiché qu’une centaine d’extrémistes de droite représentant un «danger pour la sécurité de l’Etat», alors qu’ils sont plus de 700 chez les islamistes. Plus de 1 200 extrémistes de droite fichés bénéficient encore aujourd’hui d’un port d’arme. L’auteur de l’attentat de Hanau détenait lui aussi un permis alors qu’il était fiché et qu’il avait effectué un séjour en hôpital psychiatrique.

Réseau «Hannibal»

L’influence de l’extrême droite au sein même des forces de sécurité est une grande source d’inquiétude. «Nous savons depuis longtemps que la police a un problème d’extrémisme», estime Tobias Singelnstein, spécialiste de la violence policière à l’université de la Ruhr à Bochum. Depuis un an, les procédures disciplinaires se multiplient contre les agents défendant des positions racistes sur des forums néonazis.

Plusieurs scandales ont également ébranlé la confiance des Allemands dans leur armée (Bundeswehr), notamment après la découverte du réseau «Hannibal», un forum entre néonazis et membres issus des forces de sécurité (policiers, militaires, membres des renseignements généraux, etc.). Le procès qui se tient actuellement à Leipzig (Saxe) contre un ancien soldat de l’unité d’élites KSK, accusé d’avoir caché des armes dans son jardin, marque la volonté des autorités de «tuer le mal dans l’œuf».

Jamais le ministère de l’Intérieur n’avait interdit autant de groupuscules néonazis que l’an passé : Combat 18, Nordadler («aigle nordique»), ou encore Sturmbrigade 44 («brigade d’assaut 44»). Pour ne citer que quelques exemples… Et 1 milliard d’euros ont été débloqués pour lutter contre l’extrême droite, avec notamment la création de 600 postes de «surveillants» au sein de la BKA afin de contrôler l’influence des néonazis dans l’armée et dans les administrations. «Les responsables politiques et les forces de sécurité ont tiré les leçons des attentats», estime Matthias Quent.

Dans les milieux culturels, on se félicite de cette réaction bien tardive des autorités. «Nous avons mis en place depuis longtemps des formations spécifiques pour les directions de théâtre afin de les aider à trouver une stratégie contre la menace d’extrême droite, explique Marc Grandmontagne, directeur de la Fédération des théâtres et des orchestres allemands (Deutscher Bühnenverein). L’atmosphère est devenue agressive depuis l’arrivée de l’AfD dont les élus sont présents dans les Parlements.»

Pour discréditer le travail des artistes, les membres de l’AfD remettent en question le financement des institutions culturelles. Ils harcèlent l’administration en déposant des requêtes sur tout. Ils réclament la nationalité des comédiens dans les théâtres publics. Leurs militants interrompent des représentations théâtrales en distribuant des tracts hostiles ou en huant dans les salles. «Ils ont fait une pause avec la crise sanitaire. Mais ils reviendront»,prévient Marc Grandmontagne.

«Élan de solidarité»

Quant à la société civile, elle ne veut pas rester muette face à la flambée de violence. «L’élan de solidarité a été exceptionnel après l’attaque de la synagogue», témoigne Max Privorozki, président de la communauté juive de Halle. «C’est une grande différence avec 1938 [année de la “nuit de Cristal”, ndlr], où les habitants applaudissaient devant les synagogues en feu. Cette fois, les gens sont venus nous soutenir et manifester leur opposition à la violence», constate-t-il. «Il y a eu un élan de solidarité exceptionnel qui nous a montré que la cohésion sociale était encore très forte», ajoute Ajla Kurtovic, à Hanau, dont la famille est originaire de Bosnie-Herzégovine. «La démocratie allemande a su montrer qu’elle était en état de se défendre», confirme Marc Grünbaum, de la communauté juive de Francfort.

Marina Weisband reste même optimiste. Cette Germano-Ukrainienne de confession juive a été la première représentante de la troisième génération de l’après-Shoah à prononcer un discours à l’Assemblée fédérale, le 27 janvier (date de la libération du camp d’Auschwitz), à l’occasion de la Journée nationale dédiée à la mémoire des victimes du nazisme. L’ancienne figure du Parti pirate se félicite de voir que «la société allemande et les forces de sécurité ont pris la menace au sérieux». «Un jour viendra où les policiers n’auront plus besoin de surveiller les synagogues jour et nuit en Allemagne, prédit-elle. Mais je ne vois pas encore ce jour arriver. La société continue actuellement de glisser vers la droite.»

Liberation

Short on detail but not on ambition: four problems with the new NHS white paper

Short on detail but not on ambition: four problems with the new NHS white paper

Bob Hudson writes that, on the face of it, the new NHS white paper’s recoiling from the primacy of competition and markets warrants a warm welcome. Yet reactions have been underwhelming because there is remarkably little detail on how this ambitious mission is going to work.

White Paper titles are rarely short on ambition; those concerned with the NHS never so. In 2010 there was ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS’ and now its successor is provisionally entitled ‘Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care’. The 2010 White paper failed notably to live up to its billing – indeed the new White Paper constitutes a direct assault upon it – but will this new version fare any better?

It would be harsh to fault it on ambition and good intentions, certainly few people will be unfavourably disposed towards innovation and integration. The market system is to be dismantled and collaboration is to take precedence over competition, though there is no proposal to make the NHS the preferred provider of NHS services. In its place there will be new NHS ‘provider collaboratives’ operating at scale and overseen by strategic commissioning groups that will replace the current multitude of local clinical commissioning groups.

These new ‘Integrated Care Systems’ (ICS) will aim to join up the NHS, primary care, local government and the voluntary sector in order to promote system-working at ‘place’ level, probably a local government footprint. Moreover, there will be a ‘duty to collaborate’ placed upon these local partners. New legislation will establish ICSs as statutory bodies and although a consultation on legislative options only closed in January, the die is cast. Several parts of England already have non-statutory ICSs in situ and the intention is that all of England will be covered by the new arrangements.

On the face of it, this recoiling from the primacy of competition and markets along with a rehabilitation of the role of the state might seem to warrant a warm welcome. Yet reactions have been underwhelming. The explanation for this lies in the detail, or lack of it, on how this ambitious mission is going to work. Four particular problems are evident.

Rewriting national-local balance

The 2010 White Paper, in its pursuit of ‘liberation’, provided a degree of independence to NHS Foundation Trusts, and established NHS England as an independent body. Now, these powers (and more) are reverting to the Secretary of State for Health who will also be in charge of every ICS, as well as acquiring new powers to take over public health functions from local government and transfer functions to and from specified arms-length bodies. Quite how the balance is to be struck between allowing local partners to act flexibly ‘in place’ and this arrogation of control to the centre is unclear and unsettling.

Failing to learn from experience 

The White Paper takes a traditional view within central government that organisational restructuring can solve problems. This flies in the face of evidence that past attempts to do so have underestimated the associated costs and disruption. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act abolished strategic health authorities and primary care trusts, created clinical commissioning groups and NHS England, and cost an estimated £3 billion. Now, it’s all change again despite having little to show for the previous exercise.

There is a similar failure to learn from experience with the legislative ‘duty to collaborate’ between the NHS and local government. There have been decades of such ‘mandated collaboration’ imperatives with little to show for the endeavours. The reasons for these failures – differences in funding, accountability, staffing and incentives – are well known but the White Paper has no suggestions for addressing them. Similarly, all other parts of the UK have already adopted their own versions of the ICS model and have messages to share that could warn of pitfalls for England, but the White Paper content suggests little interest in comparative policy learning.

Lack of transparency, accountability, and engagement 

Placing ICSs on a legislative footing should offer some clarity on accountability, but bringing organisations together into joint decision-making forums always renders them remote from public gaze. The White Paper offers few clues on how clarity will be brought into the new arrangements. It remains unclear what powers an ICS would have over an NHS Foundation Trust and even less so in relation to local authorities holding their own line of democratic accountability. Provider collaboratives between NHS providers might make sense but there is no word about how the relationship with providers of social care (almost entirely independent companies) or the voluntary sector will fit in to any arrangements. Indeed, it is not even clear what is meant by the key organising concepts of ‘place’ and ‘integrated care’. Even murkier is where patients, users, carers and the public fit into this grand scheme – something with which the NHS has always been notoriously weak.

Lack of understanding of social care 

Given the recognition of ‘care’ in the White Paper title and the emphasis on ‘integrated care’ throughout, there is remarkably little recognition or understanding of the sector. There are some minor proposals that are helpful, notably giving the Care Quality Commission new powers to assess the commissioning of social care, collecting new data on those who fund their own care and new obligations on assessment after hospital discharge, but these are small beer. Notwithstanding the award of a seat round the ICS table for local government, there is little to dispel the fear that social care is simply perceived as a handmaiden to the priorities of the NHS, especially the reduction of hospital costs. Not only will the local government voice be relatively weak, but the powers given to the Secretary of State could see councils losing control of their social care and public health services to the priorities of the ICSs. In such circumstances, it would no longer be clear what the purpose of democratic local government might be. Meanwhile the long-promised root and branch reform of social care has been yet again kicked into the long grass.

What needs to be addressed going forward

Given the political reality that the government will press ahead with the changes, there needs to be some attention paid to these dilemmas. First of all, the hidden wiring (if it exists) need to be brought into view. It is these practicalities that can make the difference between a successful shared endeavour and an acrimonious shouting match.

Secondly, all of the parties need to have collaborative capacity – the ability to enter into, develop, and sustain robust partnership working. NHS partners might have this but local government and the voluntary sector have been pared back to survival mode. Joint working has no qualities of spontaneous growth or self-perpetuation; it needs perpetual attention and support.

Thirdly, explicit measures need to be put in place to ensure ICSs have some accountability to those who use services and to the wider public. The most influential discourse in adult social care right now is around co-production – developing more equal partnershipsbetween people who use services, carers and professionals – but this seems like a foreign land to the White Paper. Some way has to be found to invest in building the voice of users, patients, carers and citizens into these new arrangements. And finally, given the enormity and complexity of the exercise, there needs to be a smart and accessible policy support function, possibly along the lines that were developed for the Care Act 2014.

Finally, the government needs to snap out of the idea that a policy lever can be pulled in Whitehall and things will magically happen across the length and breadth of the country. Shared endeavours work best when there is a negotiated relationship between all of the local stakeholders based upon a high level of trust and mutual respect. This alchemy is built locally from the bottom-up, not by edict from the top-down. The policy landscape is littered with the corpses of failed top-down experiments; this organisational re-set of the NHS is at serious risk of adding to the number.

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About the Author

Bob Hudson is a Visiting Professor in Public Policy in the Centre for Health Services Studies at the University of Kent

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy

Even in the absence of Cummings, the Johnson Administration will continue its mission of ‘draining the swamp’ in Whitehall

LSE British Politics and Policy

November 20th, 2020

Despite being closely associated with Dominic Cummings’s visions, the effort to de-privilege the civil service did not begin with him, but with the arrival of the Cameron Government in 2010, writes Patrick Diamond. The chasm between Ministers and civil servants is a long-term structural trend, exacerbated by alterations in the ideological nature of British Conservatism, and will continue to grow even without Cummings.

Dominic Cummings’ dramatic departure from 10 Downing Street inevitably stirred great excitement among political pundits and commentators in the Westminster village. It raised fundamental questions about the future character of the Johnson Administration. Among the most significant was whether Cummings’s historic project to fundamentally transform the British state was now over. There was speculation that shorn of its permanent campaign ethos, the Conservative Government would revert to a more measured governing style, striving to work co-operatively with the civil service, respecting constitutional convention, upholding democratic norms, while practising statecraft by consent. Many officials will desperately hope that Cummings’s demise amounts to the end of the ‘hard rain’ that has fallen on Whitehall since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Nevertheless, civil servants would be mistaken to assume that Conservative Ministers are about to revert to a more consensual governing approach where officials are free once again to ‘speak truth to power’. The growing chasm between Ministers and civil servants is a long-term structural trend, exacerbated by alterations in the ideological nature of British Conservatism. The influential ideas of the New Right in Britain and the United States attack bureaucrats as self-interested and incompetent, the very antithesis of the public good. Cummings’s rhetoric has inflamed tensions and certainly not helped matters. Yet he alone is not the driver of the growing division in the ‘governing marriage’ that characterised Whitehall since Northcote-Trevelyan and the Haldane report of 1918.

As Rodney Lowe and Hugh Pemberton outline in their masterful second volume of the Official History of the British Civil Service, six forces have propelled Ministers and officials towards divorce, while fragmenting and destabilising the system of government in the UK.

The first is the growing emphasis in the British state on prioritising a narrow measure of financial efficiency. The focus on cost reduction since the efficiency review led by Derek Rayner in the early 1980s led to a sharp fall in civil service numbers. Over the last decade, numbers have fallen further (although there has been a slight uptick since Brexit). Not surprisingly, the financial squeeze has left the civil service demoralised and weakened the fabric of the state.

The second is the related trend towards outsourcing. Service delivery has come to rely less on the public sector than on a multiplicity of private and non-governmental providers. Civil servants are the managers of contracts, commissioners increasingly detached from frontline implementation. More than ever, capital investment has depended on Public Private Partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative.

The third development concerns governance fragmentation. Compelled to operate within the ministerial fiefdoms of Whitehall’s departmental system, officials have struggled to work across boundaries to shape effective policies. Among the most far-reaching reforms was the creation of ‘Next Steps’ agencies in the late 1980s. Over time, three quarters of the civil service have been transferred to ‘arms-length’ agencies, entrenching the artificial separation between policy determination and operational delivery, making ‘joining-up’ all but impossible.

The fourth trend is centralisation. Policy-making influence in Whitehall has become increasingly concentrated. The growing power of the centre in Number 10 has encouraged group-think and hyper-innovation, marginalising the civil service. Yet paradoxically, the centre has become more enfeebled and brittle, lacking the necessary capabilities for effective decision-making, detached from the realities of ‘street-level’ service delivery.

The fifth accompanying shift is the politicisation of Whitehall. Among the most significant changes is the doctrine of ministerial supremacy. Rather than formulating policy through constructive collaboration between officials and Ministers, the ideas of politicians, often developed in the opposition years, have come to dominate the policy-making process. Ministers, after all, have a direct mandate and their views are held to encompass ‘the will of the people’. Yet side-lining civil servants has created a deliberation deficit which exposes Ministers to the growing threat of policy fiascos and blunders.

The final long-term change has been the ideology of the limited state. The position of the civil service was further undermined by the ethos of small government that prevailed after 1979. The role of the state was now to uphold private property rights and the basic liberties of the individual. Any constructive role for government in developing the industrial base, spurring economic growth and improving productivity was eschewed. This position amounted to a further attack on the efficacy of the public bureaucracy.

Even in the absence of Cummings, the Johnson Administration will continue its mission of ‘draining the swamp’ in Whitehall. There is a persistent belief that government, central or local, is inherently inefficient, even corrupt – underlined by the response to the pandemic. Ministers favour a market state where a politicised centre determines policies, while implementation is carried out by a host of non-state, usually private sector, providers. There will still be a NASA-style mission control centre, accompanied by White House-style press briefings. Civil servants will be further marginalised by trouble-shooting management consultants. The signature reform of the current administration in response to the governance fiasco of COVID-19 is to bring Public Health England, an operationally autonomous agency, under the direct political control of Ministers. For all the rhetoric about levelling-up the UK, there will be no renaissance in the status and legitimacy of the public sector.

Indeed, the effort to de-privilege the civil service did not begin with Cummings, but the arrival of the Cameron Government in 2010. Francis Maude as Cabinet Office Minister was explicitly charged with shaking up the permanent bureaucracy. The technocratic language of managerialism that characterised statements such as the Civil Service Reform Plan (2012) disguised a basic intention to end the civil service monopoly over policy advice. Maude sought to create a more ‘contestable’ policy-making machinery shaped by think-tanks, consultancies and policy entrepreneurs from outside the Whitehall system. Officials were ever more confined to the margins of decision-making.

These developments speak to a continuing ideological shift in state and society. Remarkably, government is still viewed as the obstacle rather than the solution to the great policy problems of the age.

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About the Author

Patrick Diamond is the author of The End of Whitehall (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and Associate Professor of Public Policy, Queen Mary.

LSE Blogs

Ultradroite : identitarisme et terrorisme brun dessus brun dessous

La menace représentée par les groupes identitaires en France est prise très au sérieux par les forces de sécurité, qui redoutent autant les actions violentes concertées, dont plusieurs ont été déjouées dernièrement, que le passage à l’acte de loups solitaires.

BORIS THIOLAY

Ils rêvent d’un Grand Soir de couleur brune. Ou d’une «Nouvelle Aurore», d’après le nom d’un groupuscule néonazi repéré dans les environs de Marseille. Surtout, ils fourbissent leurs armes pour déclencher une guerre civile raciale, et détruire un modèle républicain jugé incapable de défendre ses citoyens – comprendre les «Français blancs». Fabien Badaroux, l’homme de 33 ans qui a été abattu par la police le 29 octobre à Avignon, après avoir menacé un automobiliste maghrébin avec un pistolet (non chargé), s’était revendiqué de la mouvance identitaire. Il faisait l’objet d’un suivi psychiatrique. Alors qu’il avait longtemps adhéré au Parti communiste, il portait ce jour-là un anorak bleu arborant le logo «Defend Europe», un slogan de Génération identitaire (GI), le courant d’extrême droite radicale le plus visible en France. De plus, de la documentation néonazie et célébrant l’idéologie des identitaires a été retrouvée à son domicile. Une porte-parole de GI avait aussitôt déclaré : «Cet homme n’a jamais milité chez nous, personne le connaît.» Pour autant, l’attaque d’Avignon semblait être une réplique à l’attentat islamiste perpétré deux heures plus tôt par un Tunisien de 21 ans, qui avait assassiné trois fidèles catholiques de la basilique Notre-Dame, à Nice.
Dans une société traumatisée par les tueries commises depuis 2015 par des jihadistes aguerris ou des individus radicalisés, une autre menace, en miroir, inquiète les services de sécurité : des actions terroristes contre une mosquée, des musulmans, ou leurs prétendus «complices», fomentées par des partisans de l’ultradroite. «En dehors du terrorisme islamiste, qui reste la menace principale, les services de police et de gendarmerie craignent de voir se constituer des groupes prônant le suprémacisme blanc, ou le survivalisme, dans leur composante violente, explique à Libé Laurent Nuñez, le coordonnateur national du renseignement et de la lutte contre le terrorisme. Ces groupes cherchent à s’organiser, à s’armer, pour être capables de combattre une prétendue domination de l’islam sur le pays. Depuis 2017, cinq projets d’attaques émanant de cette mouvance ont été déjoués.»


RETRAITÉS, EX-POLICIERS ET MILITAIRES, CHASSEURS ET ADEPTES DU TIR SPORTIF

Parmi ces cinq complots, deux étaient en phase avancée. Le 3 novembre, à l’aube, les policiers de la Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure (DGSI) ont interpellé chez elle Delphine T., aide-soignante à la retraite, ainsi que l’a révélé le Point. Cette sexagénaire, domiciliée à Périgueux (Dordogne), pourrait être l’instigatrice d’un plan d’attaque contre Emmanuel Macron, contrecarré en novembre 2018 et échafaudé par les «Barjols», un groupe d’adeptes du survivalisme. Six hommes, qui évoquaient la possibilité d’assassiner le Président lors des commémorations du centenaire de la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale, ont déjà été arrêtés. L’un d’eux, Jean-Pierre B., retraité isérois de 63 ans, cherchait à se procurer un couteau en céramique, indétectable par les portiques de sécurité. Il avait été intercepté alors qu’il avait rallié la Moselle en voiture, en compagnie d’un complice.

Quelques mois auparavant, en juin 2018, un autre groupe d’ultradroite, l’Action des forces opérationnelles (AFO), était démantelé. Comme les Barjols, les membres d’AFO ne font aucune référence au nazisme ou au fascisme. Pour ces adeptes du «grand remplacement» – cette théorie complotiste selon laquelle les élites au pouvoir veulent substituer des populations venues d’Afrique et de l’Orient aux peuples européens -, l’ennemi est tout désigné : le «péril islamique». En réalité, ils visent tous les musulmans, envisageant des attaques contre des imams «radicaux», mais aussi des tirs et jets d’explosifs sur une mosquée, des agressions de femmes voilées… Jusqu’à l’empoisonnement des rayons d’alimentation halal dans les supermarchés de région parisienne… Pour cela, les membres de ce groupe paramilitaire clandestin s’entraînent dans une propriété dans l’Yonne. Ils cherchent à fabriquer du TATP, un explosif puissant, et veulent se procurer des fusils d’assaut. Le profil des recrues de l’AFO surprend les enquêteurs : beaucoup sont des quinquagénaires ou des retraités, des anciens policiers et ex-militaires, des chasseurs et des adeptes du tir sportif. Ces derniers tentent de faire des émules au sein de deux régiments parachutistes stationnés dans le Sud-Ouest. «Ces individus se considèrent comme la dernière partie saine de la société française. Psychologiquement, ils fonctionnent selon le schéma “militaire un jour, militaire toujours” ou “flic un jour, flic toujours”, analyse le politologue Jean-Yves Camus, spécialiste de l’extrême droite. Pour pallier l’insuffisance, la compromission et la lâcheté supposée des autorités face à la menace, ils sont prêts à reprendre les armes…»
A ce jour, 15 membres de l’AFO sont mis en examen pour «association de malfaiteurs terroristes» et sont en attente d’un jugement. Mais, selon nos informations, l’organigramme de l’organisation, récupéré par les enquêteurs de la DGSI, recensait quelque 110 membres, répartis en 10 réseaux régionaux et couvrant une soixantaine de départements. Certains d’entre eux avaient quitté le groupe avant les interpellations. Par prudence ? Par impatience de passer à l’action ? Parmi eux, un sous-officier de gendarmerie, organisateur, à ses heures perdues, de stages de survivalisme et de self-défense…

Mais alors, l’ultradroite violente, combien de divisions ? Entre 1 000 et 1 500 individus, susceptibles de se mobiliser et de mener une action violente, sont identifiés par les services spécialisés – DGSI et renseignement territorial, essentiellement. Parmi eux, «quelques centaines», détenant légalement une ou plusieurs armes à feu, sont fichés S (pour «Sécurité de l’Etat») et font l’objet d’un suivi renforcé. A ce noyau dur, il faut ajouter un millier de «sympathisants», repérés dans des manifestations ou sur les réseaux sociaux.
Surtout, la menace augmente et se renouvelle. Trois mouvements dissous en Conseil des ministres en avril 2019 (Bastion social, ainsi que Blood and Honor et Charlemagne Hammerskins, deux groupuscules skinheads néonazis) se sont reformés à l’échelon local, sous d’autres appellations, ou poursuivent plus sporadiquement leurs activités. Selon Mediapart, une procédure pour «reconstitution de groupe dissous» vise le Bastion social, ouvrant la voie à de possibles sanctions pénales. D’autres groupes émergent. Ainsi, «les Braves – Vivre européen», drainant plusieurs centaines d’adeptes, prônent le suprémacisme blanc. Son leader, Daniel Conversano, a édité l’an dernier une œuvre posthume de Guillaume Faye, théoricien de l’extrême droite radicale. Son titre : Guerre civile raciale. En attendant, comme d’autres groupuscules, «les Braves» s’entraînent collectivement aux sports de combat, organisent des stages d’été «enracinés»… Au cours d’émissions diffusées sur Internet, certains membres recommandent de s’armer, officiellement pour défendre leur domicile. «J’ai profité du permis de chasse gratuit [pour avoir le droit d’avoir une arme, ndlr]», dit l’un d’eux, goguenard. «Tu peux fabriquer tes cartouches toi-même», glisse un autre.

LIEUX COLLECTIFS OU COMMUNAUTÉS CONÇUS COMME DES «PARADIS BLANCS»

Les services de renseignement relèvent également une tendance à vouloir créer des lieux collectifs, ou des communautés familiales ou d’amis, conçus comme des «paradis blancs» avec une volonté d’autodéfense. «On note l’éclosion de petits groupes plus secrets, évoluant dans le suprémacisme, le survivalisme, avec des individus baignés dans la théorie du complot, le grand remplacement, relève un haut responsable du renseignement. Dans ces groupes, les appels à la haine et à la violence sont permanents et totalement décomplexés. Toute la difficulté est de déceler parmi eux celui qui est susceptible de franchir la limite.» «De plus en plus, le passage à l’acte violent sera le fait d’individus en rupture avec un groupe, souligne de son côté Jean-Yves Camus. Des gens qui trouvent que cela ne va pas assez vite, pas assez loin, et qui décident d’agir seuls. Un individu peut devenir plus dangereux que le groupe.»

La hantise des services de sécurité reste le cas d’Anders Breivik, terroriste norvégien d’extrême droite auteur d’une tuerie de masse (77 morts, 151 blessés) en 2011. Ou celui de Brenton Tarrant, responsable de 51 morts dans l’attaque de deux mosquées à Christchurch (Nouvelle-Zélande), le 15 mars 2019, aujourd’hui idolâtré sur les forums et réseaux de la mouvance. «A l’image de ce qui s’est passé avec les derniers attentats islamistes, on peut envisager, côté ultradroite, le scénario d’un homme seul, fragile psychologiquement, inconnu des services, qui, après s’être procuré une arme, décide de frapper, sans en avoir parlé à personne», relève Nuñez. Une menace quasi impalpable, nourrie de propagande haineuse, de fake news, et de failles identitaires.

Libération Jeudi le 19 novembre

A Montpellier, les leçons de laïcité du nouveau maire.

www.liberation.fr/france/2020/11/15/a-montpellier-les-lecons-de-laicite-du-nouveau-maire_1805680

Elu en juin, le socialiste Michaël Delafosse continue son travail de professeur d’histoire-géographie et enseigne trois heures par semaine. «Libération» est allé assister à un cours. Au programme : les Lumières, la tolérance, et le blasphème.

Les grandes tragédies accouchent de toutes sortes de douleurs. Chacun les évalue, les assimile en regard de sa propre expérience. L’assassinat de Samuel Paty a bousculé les consciences. La figure d’un professeur de collège convoque la mémoire du plus grand nombre. Les souvenirs des cours d’école refont surface. Comme après chaque attaque terroriste, certains politiques mènent leurs vendettas personnelles. Après le drame de Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines), la gauche s’est de nouveau interrogée sur son rapport à l’islam. Un après-midi, on a composé le numéro du nouveau maire socialiste de Montpellier. Et la discussion a vite bifurqué hors du terrain politique.

Michaël Delafosse, 43 ans, est également professeur d’histoire-géographie dans un collège de sa ville. «Je suis maire mais j’ai gardé une classe de quatrième parce que je ne voulais pas arrêter l’enseignement. C’est important pour moi. Forcément, lorsqu’un professeur de ma génération qui enseigne la même matière et le même programme que moi à des gamins d’un âge équivalent est tué, ça résonne d’une autre manière», lâche-t-il, froidement. L’édile de la cité héraultaise répète à plusieurs reprises : «Ça aurait pu être moi.» La conversation s’achève avec une promesse ; celle d’assister à l’un de ses cours.

Chevalier de La Barre

Vendredi 13 novembre : Michaël Delafosse accompagné de son «chat» (sa femme) dépose ses «loulous» (ses enfants) à l’école. Une habitude familiale. Le maire et la directrice d’hôpital s’organisent pour que la famille passe du temps ensemble. Chaque moment compte. Le professeur – qui enseigne trois heures par semaine – ne cesse de s’arrêter dans la longue montée qui sépare l’école de ses enfants de son collège. L’édile raconte ses plans pour la ville et bavarde avec les passants. Un cycliste, un parent d’élève ou un commerçant qui tire la langue à cause de ce foutu virus. Un sens du contact qui fait dire à ses opposants et ses amis que le maire a un côté «Chirac».

Les portes du collège «populaire» Fontcarrade s’ouvrent : les élèves masqués grimpent les escaliers dans le brouhaha. On s’installe au fond de la classe. Le cours commence. Michaël Delafosse enseigne depuis une vingtaine d’années. Le longiligne affiche le même look depuis ses débuts : costume et cravate. Une forme de «respect» pour la profession, justifie-t-il. Les élèves sont calmes, posés, tandis que l’enseignant ne cesse d’arpenter la pièce. Il ne donne aucun répit : «Merci de sortir le devoir que vous aviez à faire à la maison. Et je passe entre les rangs pour regarder.» Une biographie de Voltaire, au programme. Il circule entre les tables, lit au-dessus des épaules et parfois livre à voix haute une citation du philosophe. Puis, à la fin de sa tournée, il prend une craie et écrit le nom des penseurs majeurs des Lumières.

Les élèves ne découvrent pas leur existence. Montesquieu ? Une fille au premier rang dit : «C’est celui de la séparation des pouvoirs.» Rousseau ? Un garçon qui garde son manteau interroge : «Ce n’est pas celui qui parlait de l’école et de l’éducation ?» Voltaire ? Le mot «respect» revient souvent. Le socialiste préfère «tolérance». Michaël Delafosse invite un cas concret dans son cours : le 28 février 1766, le chevalier de La Barre, 19 ans, est condamné par le présidial d’Abbeville, pour «impiété, blasphèmes, sacrilèges exécrables et abominables», à avoir la langue tranchée, à être décapité et brûlé. Les élèves écoutent. Posent des questions sur le mot «torture». Le professeur n’esquive pas : il conte les «supplices subis» par le jeune chevalier de La Barre.

Polémique politicienne

La veille, attablé à l’heure du dîner en notre compagnie, il est revenu sur la mort de Samuel Paty : «C’était un vendredi, une élue de la mairie m’a envoyé la photo de la tête de mon collègue. Sur le coup je n’ai rien compris.» Ce soir-là, la colère gronde face à la barbarie alentour, puis l’émotion et la douleur, surtout. Pas question de participer à un hommage ou d’allumer des bougies, réagit-il au début. Les jours passent. Le courroux cède le terrain à l’envie de se rassembler. Place de l’Opéra de Montpellier, des collégiens, lycéens et étudiants ont lu l’article 11 de la Constitution avec l’artiste Grand Corps Malade.

Michaël Delafosse s’est toujours imaginé professeur d’histoire-géographie. Il ne sait pas trop pourquoi. C’est comme ça. Le socialiste – qui est engagé depuis la fac – a débuté en Seine-Saint-Denis. Il a fait des remplacements à Villemomble, Aulnay-sous-Bois et au Blanc-Mesnil. Les sentiments s’entremêlent. Il garde en tête les difficultés, la violence, les rires et les succès. Les défaites font également partie du jeu. «Comme les médecins ou les pompiers, on ne peut pas toujours gagner. De temps à autre, on voit un gamin sur le fil et il finit par tomber. Ce n’est jamais facile à vivre, parfois, on pleure ou on dort mal la nuit… mais c’est comme ça, c’est notre métier», conclut-il fataliste.

On tente de toucher un nerf avec une question sur la difficulté d’enseigner certaines matières dans les établissements des quartiers populaires. Il grimpe dans les tours. Michaël Delafosse lâche des «ignares» et «ignorants» au sujet des commentateurs sur les plateaux télé. Le professeur d’histoire-géographie livre quelques anecdotes, comme lorsqu’un jeune à Aulnay-sous-Bois lui dit que le 11-Septembre, c’est de la flûte : «J’ai pris le temps de lui expliquer après le cours, tranquillement, avec des faits, des images.» Il s’irrite encore : «Comment peut-on dire que nous ne pouvons pas enseigner la Shoah ? C’est faux. Evidemment, il y a eu des collègues en difficulté mais dans la très grande majorité des cas, les professeurs parlent de tous les sujets et il y a un dialogue nourri avec les élèves.»

A propos de dialogue, quelques voix s’élèvent à l’extérieur du collège. Une partie de l’opposition municipale reproche au nouveau maire son manque d’échanges. Samedi matin : la gauche tendance insoumise se pointe devant la gare Montpellier-Saint-Roch. La conseillère municipale Alenka Doulain et le militant Rhany Slimane décrivent Michaël Delafosse comme un politicard chevronné qui maîtrise principalement le sens de la communication. Selon eux, il marcherait sur les brisées de l’ancien bourgmestre (1977-2004) de la ville, décédé il y a dix ans. «Georges Frêche a imaginé Montpellier et depuis personne ne propose autre chose, Delafosse n’invente rien. Il veut tout faire comme lui», pourfend Rhany Slimane. Les deux trentenaires rappellent avec un petit sourire en coin que l’ancien hiérarque continuait, lui aussi, à enseigner durant ses nombreux mandats à la mairie.

«Espoir» et «gamins formidables»

Ces derniers temps, une polémique politicienne s’est invitée dans la ville. Le maire a mis en place, comme annoncé pendant sa campagne, une charte de la laïcité que les associations doivent signer avant toute demande de subventions. Un collectif, composé de citoyens et de politiques, a vu le jour pour s’opposer à cette convention. Ils y voient un index pointé en direction des musulmans. La loi 1905 suffit, rétorquent-ils. Rhany Slimane comprend la fronde : «C’est de la communication. Le maire a profité des attentats pour en parler partout dans la presse car c’est un sujet qui va dans le sens du vent.» Alenka Doulain poursuit : «Cette charte divise et c’est malheureux. Mais attention, nous ne sommes pas dans la démagogie, Delafosse peut aussi faire de bonnes choses comme le fait de mettre en place des aides aux devoirs gratuites pour les élèves, afin que l’Etat joue pleinement son rôle dans l’éducation.»

Le maire lève les yeux en l’air face aux accusations. Il propose un cours d’histoire pour rappeler les origines de la laïcité afin de souligner la place de la gauche. «Je ne m’attaque pas à une religion contrairement à une partie de la droite et de l’extrême droite. Chacun a le droit de croire ou non, de pratiquer ou pas, tant que ça reste dans la sphère privée. Je suis pour la tolérance et notre charte respecte la loi de 1905, dit-il avant de plonger dans l’eau. A la piscine, tout le monde sait que les shorts et les caleçons sont interdits mais il y a tout de même le règlement à l’entrée. C’est ce que je fais avec la charte, elle représente le règlement.»

A l’intérieur du collège, c’est plus calme. Le cours touche bientôt à sa fin. Michaël Delafosse propose à ses élèves de lire un texte de Voltaire. Le philosophe dénonce la «barbarie» de la France après la mort du chevalier de La Barre. En bas du texte, une note : l’auteur a écrit ce texte à Genève, en Suisse. L’enseignant explique que Voltaire a dû traverser la frontière car les risques étaient nombreux à l’époque. Il demande lesquels aux élèves qui lâchent en vrac des «torture», «guillotine», «prison», «mort»… «Censure», la bonne réponse, n’arrivera jamais. Le professeur l’explique rapidement et promet de revenir dessus la prochaine fois.

Michaël Delafosse range ses affaires dans son cartable. On fait le point avec lui avant que le professeur ne revête sa panoplie de maire. Lorsqu’on le lance sur la photo de classe, il rétorque : «Je ne regarde jamais la couleur de mes élèves.» Par contre, lorsqu’il raconte ses nombreuses anecdotes, il aime citer les prénoms pour en souligner la diversité. Le professeur fait des gestes de la main pour se replonger dans son cours. Il revient sur le moindre détail. Parle souvent «d’espoir» et de «gamins formidables» qui vivent parfois dans le «dur» à l’extérieur de l’établissement.

L’heure tourne. Michaël Delafosse lâche d’un air confiant : «Les élèves comprennent la complexité de l’histoire. Vous avez vu, aujourd’hui, on a parlé de liberté d’expression, de la pression du religieux. Ils savent tous que ça approche, que bientôt nous allons parler de ce qu’on a vécu en France ces dernières années et ça se passera très bien. En prenant le temps, on fait les choses comme il faut.» Dans une époque où la nuance et le temps long ont été remplacés par l’immédiateté ravageuse, l’élu s’interroge souvent face à la montée de la violence. Il s’inquiète aussi lorsqu’il pense à la crise sociale qui grossit. Le professeur, lui, est un poil plus optimiste.

Rachid Laïreche – envoyé spécial à Montpellier, Libération

Rule of law and COVID-19: the need for clarity, certainty, transparency and coordination

Joelle Grogan highlights some points of concern as regards the UK’s response to the pandemic, and advocates areas in which both governance and policy can be tangibly improved.

The promised six-month review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been completed, allowing for the extension of powers under the Act, just as a new three-tier system has been introduced in England, the Welsh Assembly adopted a travel ban from high-infection areas in other parts of the UK, highlighting a complicating factor in evaluation of governmental response to COVID-19 which is the divergence of regimes across the UK, as health policy is a devolved competence.

The scale, scope and impact of regulations limiting private and commercial life is unprecedented, and has raised numerous democratic, rule of law, and human rights concerns. There is no perfect legislative or policy response to the pandemic. There are, however, good practices and principles which can guide action and lead to a more effective response which have been observable globally. Central to any response to the pandemic is legal certainty, transparency in decision-making, clarity in communication, an early reaction, and coordinated strategy. Democratic oversight in the form of parliamentary scrutiny and external engagement can lead to better quality law and policy when governments adapt to criticism.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 notably did not give or extend specific lockdown powers to government. COVID-19 regulations in England have been introduced by government under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The Coronavirus Act 2020 did, however, extend powers to quarantine as well as to restrict or close premises as well as the power to prohibit any gatherings to Ministers in each of the UK’s constitutive governments. The six-month Parliament review was a concession accepted by government, against criticism of the length of the sunset clause (two years, with the option for Parliament-approved six-month extensions) in the Act. It allowed for a debate on the expiry of the Act. Despite many criticisms of both the framework of the act, and the use of powers under it, the vote in the House of Commons was overwhelmingly in favour.

However, six months from the introduction of the Coronavirus Act (and nearly nine months from the declaration of a global health emergency), Parliament is operational and far more is known about viral transmission, yet the inadequacy of parliamentary scrutiny remains. An overwhelming majority of the COVID-19 measures came into force either the same day, or within a day, of being introduced by government and without scrutiny (albeit subject to the affirmative procedure which requires parliamentary approval within 28 days). There is little justification where the underlying legislation allows only for measures to be introduced without parliamentary approval where the urgency demands it to be necessary. This is all the more concerning where, for example, self-isolation rules with fines up to £10,000 for breach were applicable within hours of being introduced.

A significant number of regulations have been announced first in press conferences, or to journalists rather than first before Parliament despite repeated censure by the Speaker and the opposition. Backbench MPs have also increasingly criticised the government for side-lining Parliament during the pandemic, and called for greater oversight and control over the use of powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The myriad of regulations introduced under these acts (and with very limited scrutiny) has translated into hypertrophied executive dominance but not necessarily better governance. Legal uncertainty has characterised much of the government’s COVID-19 response; the lack of clarity and the absence of long-term strategizing has also often served to undermine policy and compliance.

While lack of clarity was a point of criticism in a parliamentary committee report on the government’s COVID-19 response, a further point of criticism was that there were only a six-month reviews, and there was little provision for more frequent and thematic debates on individual measures. Of course the executive is typically best placed to respond quickly in the initial phases of emergency, but it is unjustifiable to continue doing so without scrutiny where pandemic management has moved from reaction to control. Beyond the point of legality and democratic legitimation of government action (Parliament, not government, is sovereign after all), there are clear and positive practical effects of having more and greater oversight. Debate and scrutiny allow for the identification and remedy of confusion, contradiction, or inconsistencies in the rules. This is even more pressing when the individual impact and restriction of personal liberties is so extreme. In good practice observed internationally, states which learn from error, engage with criticism, and adapt have higher levels of compliance and fare better.

Following initial responses to emergency, it is good practice for governments to use all available information to produce guides which communicate to individuals and businesses what is expected of them; what restrictions apply and do not apply; and when and under what circumstances or conditions the rules will change. This can help effective short- and long-term planning both for the government and for the public. The introduction of a new three-tier system in England (in force two days after being introduced) to replace the regime of local lockdown regulations operating since July 2020 is helpful and a positive step towards a coherent strategy. However, ongoing uncertainty as to what it means in practice, particularly in the complicated underlying regime of exceptions (and potentially exceptions to exceptions), compounded by uncertainty regarding the basis upon which areas will be moved from one tier to the next, risks a medium to high (or very high) level of non-compliance.

A foundation of public trust in government action, and corresponding compliance with COVID-19 measures, is transparency in decision-making. It should include publishing the rationale which underlies the introduction of restrictive measures (or for not introducing restrictive conditions against the advice of SAGE) is important for justifying the positions taken. Simply, it is far easier to follow a rule, when the reasoning underlying that rule is clear. The absence of information invites speculation and false assumptions. There is a clear need for a transparent process by which, for example, areas in England will be moved from one tier to another beyond this being ‘subject to review’ based on ‘a rise in transmission’.

Beyond clarity, certainty, and transparency in legal measures and policies, a final aspect underlining the most effective and sustainable long-term policy in tackling COVID is coordination. This is not as only between central government, devolved administrations, and regional authorities, but beyond that to the international sphere. As all states face a common challenge, there is a wealth of comparative experience from which to draw the best practices in tackling a global health emergency.


Note: the above is based on the recommendations within J Grogan and N Weinberg, ‘Principles to Uphold the Rule of Law and Good Governance in a Public Health Emergency’ RECONNECT Policy Brief.

About the Author

Joelle Grogan is a Senior Lecturer in law at Middlesex

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/rule-of-law-and-covid19/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LSEGeneralElectionBlog+%28General+Election+2015%29

The Conservatives are shrinking the state – to make room for money and privilege

Boris Johnson’s talk of restoring sovereignty is a lie. He is handing democratic power to economic elites, not the people. George Monbiot writes in the Guardian 14th October 2020.

The question that divides left from right should no longer be “how big is the state?”, but “to whom should its powers be devolved?”. In his conference speech last week, Boris Johnson recited the standard Tory mantra: “The state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it.” But what he will never do is stand back and let the people get on with it.


The Conservative promise to shrink the state was always a con. But it has seldom been as big a lie as it is today. Johnson grabs powers back from parliament with both fists, invoking Henry VIII clauses to prevent MPs from voting on crucial legislation, stitching up trade deals without parliamentary scrutiny, shutting down remote participation, so that MPs who are shielding at home can neither speak nor vote, and shutting down parliament altogether, when it suits him.


He seeks to seize powers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: the internal market bill appears to enable Westminster to take back control of devolved policies. He imposes the will of central government on local authorities, refusing to listen to mayors and councils while dropping new coronavirus measures on their cities. He claws back powers from the people, curtailing our ability to shape planning decisions; shutting down legal challenges to government policy; using the Coronavirus Act and the covert human intelligence sources bill to grant the police inordinate power over our lives.


His promises to restore sovereignty are lies. While using the language of liberation, he denies power to both people and parliament. He promised to curtail the state, but under his government, the state is bursting back into our lives, breaking down our doors, expanding its powers while reducing ours.


Instead, he gives power away to a thing he calls “the market”, which is a euphemism for the power of private money. This power is concentrated in a small number of hands. When Johnson talks of standing back and letting the private sector get on with it, he means that democratic power is being surrendered to oligarchs.


Under the Conservatives, the state shrinks only in one direction: to make room for money and privilege. It grants lucrative private contracts to favoured companies without advertisement or competitive tendering. It gifts crucial arms of the NHS to failed consultants and service companies. It replaces competent, professional civil servants with incompetent corporate executives.


We need a state that is strong in some respects. We need a robust economic safety net, excellent public services and powerful public protections. But much of what the state imposes are decisions we could better make ourselves. No Conservative government has shown any interest in devolving genuine power to the people, by enabling, for example, a constitutional convention, participatory budgeting, community development, the democratisation of the planning system or any other meaningful role in decision-making during the five years between elections.


The Labour party’s interest in these questions is scarcely more advanced. The 2019 manifesto talked of “urgent steps to refresh our democracy”. It called for a constitutional convention and the decentralisation of power. But these policies were scarcely more than notional: they lacked sustained support from senior figures and were scarcely heard by voters. During his bid to become Labour leader, Keir Starmer announced that “we need to end the monopoly of power in Westminster”. He called for “a new constitutional settlement: a large-scale devolution of power and resources”. Since then we’ve heard nothing.


When challenged on its policy vacuum, Labour argues that “the next general election is likely to be four years away … There’s plenty of time to do that work.” But you can’t wait until the manifesto is published to announce a meaningful restoration of power to the people, and expect it to be understood and embraced. The argument needs to be built – and Labour local authorities, by developing powerful examples of participatory politics, need to show how Starmer’s promised new settlement could work. Instead there’s a sense that the parliamentary Labour party still sees its best means of enacting change as seizing a highly centralised system, and using this system’s inordinate powers to its own advantage.


For many years, Labour relied on trade unions for its grassroots dynamism and legitimacy. But while the unions should remain an important force, they can no longer be the primary forum for participatory politics. Even at the height of industrialisation, when vast numbers laboured together in factories and mines, movements based in the workplace could only represent part of the population. Today, when solid jobs have been replaced by dispersed and temporary employment, and many people work from home, the focus of our lives has shifted back to our neighbourhoods. It is here that we should build the new centres of resistance and revival.


Starmer has so far shown little interest in reigniting the movements that almost propelled Labour to power in 2017. But even if Labour wins an election, without a strong grassroots mobilisation it will struggle to change our sclerotised political system. Any radical political project requires a political community, and this needs to be built across years, not months.
The popular desire to take back control is genuine. But it has been cynically co-opted by the government, which has instead passed power from elected bodies to economic elites. The principal task of those who challenge oligarchic politics in any nation is to offer genuine control to the people, relinquishing centralised power and rewilding politics. Yes, the state should stand back. It should stand back for the people, not for the money.


• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/14/conservatives-state-money-privilege-boris-johnson-power?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

What has gone wrong with England’s Covid test-and-trace system?

It was supposed to be ‘world beating’ but experts say it is having only a ‘marginal impact’

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondentPublished: 19:57 Tuesday, 13 October 2020 Follow Robert Booth

When the NHS test-and-trace system was launched in late May, Boris Johnson promised it would help “move the country forward”. We would be able to see our families, go to work and stop the economy crumbling.

In the absence of a vaccine, the prime minister’s “world-beating” system would be worth every penny of the £10bn funding that Rishi Sunak announced in July. The chancellor said it would enable people to carry on normal lives.

Now as pubs are ordered to close, extended families are forced to stop meeting and intensive care beds fill up fast, the government’s Sage scientific advisers have concluded NHS test and trace is not working.

Too few people are getting tested, results are coming back too slowly and not enough people are sticking to the instructions to isolate, they say.

The system “is having a marginal impact on transmission”, as a result, and unless it grows as fast as the epidemic that impact will only wane.

So what’s going wrong?

Over centralised from the start … 

Tasked in spring with rolling out millions of coronavirus tests, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, opted for a centralised system using private firms. The business consultancy, Deloitte, was handed a contract to help run testing through local drive-in and walk-in test sites, with swabs being sent for analysis at a network of national laboratories, many also outsourced. Serco was also handed a deal to run contact tracing, subcontracting work to other firms as well.

The stakes for their success were high. An Imperial College study found if test and trace worked quickly and effectively, the R number could potentially be reduced by up to 26%.

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Local directors of public health knew this from experience of tackling sexually transmitted diseases and food poisoning outbreaks, but their role was limited, leaving many exasperated that they were being cut out.Advertisement

As the system got up and running over the summer, ONS surveys of the virus prevalence suggested NHS test and trace might only be picking up a quarter of actual cases.

In July, one of the system’s senior civil servants, Alex Cooper, admitted privately the system was only identifying 37% of the people “we really should be finding”. The clamour from mayors and local public health officials for a bigger role grew.

Finally this week the government admitted cities and regions should be given help to do more.

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“We’ve always known that there was a need for a local element of test and trace, as a centralised system does not have local expertise and is not able to cut through the harder-to-reach communities,” Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, told the Guardian this week.

The strain on a the centralised system has been clear. Sarah-Jane Marsh, director of testing at NHS test and trace tweeted last month: “The testing team work on this 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. We recognise the country is depending on us.” She is about to stand down after less than six months in the post.null

Laboratory bottlenecks

Website warnings that no tests were available exposed the testing crisis to the British public on an almost daily basis this summer, especially in September when schools went back.

Dido Harding, the system’s head, said last month the number of people wanting tests was three to four times the number available. National “lighthouse” laboratories in Milton Keynes, Cheshire, Glasgow and Cambridge, had hit capacity.

More than a quarter of people attending 500 local testing centres after being in contact with someone who had tested positive, were simply turned away because they did not have symptoms.

The scale of the task was shown when Harding told MPs around half of the available tests were being used by NHS patients, social care and NHS staff.

Such was the strain that tens of thousands of tests had to be sent for processing abroad.

And the need for testing will only increase.

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Johnson has promised daily testing capacity of 500,000 by the end of this month. On Tuesday it stood at 309,000 .

Already a long way off from the target, the system will come under greater pressure over the coming weeks. On Tuesday, the government finally said visitors to care homes could be tested regularly to try and end the isolation caused by their visits to loved ones being banned. There are 400,000 care home residents.

Slow results

New laboratories in Newcastle, Bracknell, Newport and Charnwood should open within weeks and they can’t come soon enough. As far back as May, Sage experts said the speed of results had a significant impact on the reproduction rate of the virus. Turnaround times should be 24 hours or less and it was “essential” this capability was reached by the autumn/winter flu season.

Johnson pledged in on 3 June to “get all [non-postal] tests turned around in 24 hours by the end of June”.

But for the last week of September, the percentage of test results returned within 24 hours in the community testing was no greater than a third. Nearly nine out of 10 Covid-19 tests taken under the system used by care homes in England were returned after 48 hours in September. Kathy Roberts, chair of the Care Providers Alliance, told MPs on Tuesday she doesn’t have confidence in the government’s test-and-trace strategy.

“The percentage of returns is still too low,” she said. “It has improved for people on discharge but not for the workforce.”

Last month Greg Clarke MP, chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, asked Harding if the failure of the testing system was “driving the increase in the pandemic”.

“I strongly refute that the system is failing,” she replied.

Tech problems

The data blunder that caused nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases to go unreported in England last month when they disappeared from an spreadsheet, was not an isolated IT problem. The government’s first attempt to build an app to track infections was abandoned in June after months in development.

A new approach is costing an estimated £36m in development and running costs in the first year. The app allows users to check into venues and receive alerts if they have been close to someone infected, as long as the infected person tells their app. But it has yet to find its feet.

For a while people tested in NHS and PHE settings could not input their results, meaning thousands were being missed. A function which is supposed to alert people when they have been in a place where there has been an outbreak has only been used only a handful of times, despite more than 16 million people downloading the app.

Some employers have also been asking workers to turn the app off. 

Contact tracing

Figures suggest contact tracers working through the national system have been less successful than local council officials. The percentage of people reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts hit its lowest level since June at the end of September, with performance worsening steadily over the month. It means about 25% of contacts are not reached at all.

There have been embarrassing reports about contact tracers making no calls for days on end, some catching up on Netflix while being paid to do nothing.

By contrast local public health officials, some setting up their own call centres and redeploying environmental health officers and sexual health experts with local knowledge and properly trained in the job, reckon they are tracing close to 100% of contacts.

The difference mattered particularly in north-west England, where the virus took hold this summer and south Asian-heritage communities proved harder to reach. Ministers finally agreed to share real-time data with local authorities in August but only after several councils threatened to break ranks and set up their own locally-run system.

Local health officials complained the centralised system failed to join the dots on linked infections. For example, it might spot 40 cases in one postcode – but wouldn’t quickly grasp that the cluster was linked to a specific workplace, event, or pub.

“Local residents recognise and can relate to their local council, which is not always possible with a national system,” said Ian Hudspeth, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board. “Council staff can go to people’s homes to make sure they are aware of what they need to do.”

People struggle to self-isolate

Sage estimates that at least 80% of a case’s contacts need to isolate for the system to work.

Last month, however, it found rates of full self-isolation were below 20% and particularly low among the youngest and the poorest people.

A study stretching from March to August, found only 18% of 1,939 people with symptoms stayed at home and people facing greater hardship were less adherent.

Ability to self-isolate was three times lower in those with incomes less than £20,000 or savings less than £100, according to a third study.

Additional reporting: Josh Halliday

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/13/what-has-gone-wrong-with-englands-covid-test-and-trace-system?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

A reformer from a bygone era: What the Cummings saga tells us about British governance

Patrick Diamond writes that the Cummings coronavirus row has wider implications for the machinery of British government. These revolve around the status of political advisers and the future of Cummings’s state reform visions.

As the row over Dominic Cummings’s breach of lockdown rules escalates, threatening to engulf the entire Johnson Administration, it is worth reflecting on the implications of the dispute for the future of British governance more generally. The big questions that arise go beyond the details of Mr Cummings’s breach and the fundamental principles of propriety, truth, and integrity in high office. They concern how the machinery of government is likely to develop in the future.

The first implication is what this case tells us about the status of political advisers in British politics. The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers published by the Cabinet Office is clear that the purpose of political advisers is ‘to add a political dimension to the advice and assistance available to Ministers’. According to the official constitutional rationale, special advisers protect the neutrality of civil servants, undertaking tasks of a political nature which – if performed by officials – would undermine their ability to serve future governments of a different political complexion. Civil servants claim to welcome the presence of special advisers who provide knowledge and insight on issues of future policy, while offering steers on the political views of Ministers. The benign interpretation is that the British system of government cultivates a mutually beneficial partnership, a ‘governing marriage’ between Ministers, officials, and political appointees.

Certainly, there have been controversial special advisers before, many of whom were forced to resign because they breached the unwritten rule that political aides must never become the media story – the most pertinent recent examples being Theresa May’s notorious aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Yet Timothy and Hill were, by and large, backroom operators who were fired ultimately because their boss was politically weakened in the aftermath of the 2017 general election debacle. Without question, it is an important moment in the development of the British political system that a special adviser such as Dominic Cummings is able to hold their own impromptu press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, taking questions from journalists while holding court in front of the world’s media.

Indeed, paragraph 14 of the Special Advisers Code states that, ‘Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy, through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets. They must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks, and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department’. The function of advisers is, ‘to represent the views of their Minister to the media’, rather than to justify their own actions or personal behaviour. In this extraordinary situation, Ministers are being sent onto the airwaves to defend the position of a political adviser. This is a remarkable moment.

The implications of Cummings’s media appearance will be far-reaching. We have reached a critical juncture, constitutionally a point of no return. There is likely to be growing pressure for special advisers to give testimony where they are involved in public controversies, notably to parliamentary select committees. Cummings’s actions will bolster the arguments of those who insist special advisers have a malign impact on the conduct of government, reducing civil servants to the status of ‘passive functionaries’ and politicising public administration. Cummings is a well-known critic of the British civil service. He regards the permanent bureaucracy as slow-moving, unimaginative, cumbersome, detached from seismic shifts in the world of technology and ideas. Cummings’s explicit goal is to ‘drain the swamp’ of the Whitehall bureaucracy, moving towards a ‘them and us’ model where civil servants no longer offer advice, but merely do what Ministers tell them. Civil servants become the implementors of policy rather than the initiators of policy; delivery agents, not ministerial advisers with the capacity to ‘speak truth to power’.

The second implication of the dispute is what the row tells us about the status of the institutional innovator and disrupter in the system of government. It may well be that Cummings’s mission to rewire the British state while radically recasting the Whitehall machinery is dead in the water. His ideas about how to reorganise the state machine might be deemed necessary for an age of disruption, but he will find formidable forces of conservatism in the government machine ranged against him, just at the moment his political capital is depleted badly. One difficulty is that Cummings is attempting to orchestrate change from the centre in 10 Downing Street. In the British system of government, it is departments that usually reign supreme. Departments are the centres of decision-making power, autonomous territories where policy is formulated, budgets are allocated, and implementation is co-ordinated. Even nominally powerful prime ministers with landslide parliamentary majorities such as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair discovered that departments have the capacity to thwart the will of the centre.

Another problem is that resistance to fundamental change in the government machine comes not only from civil servants, but Ministers themselves. Away from the highly politicised centre of power in Number 10, Ministers by and large work closely with their officials who they regard as problem-solvers, Machiavellian fixers, loyal courtiers, and expert bureaucrats who know about how to drive through change, navigating the byzantine rituals of Whitehall. The tension is even more acute in a Conservative government, where traditionalists favour the preservation of existing institutions, upholding the long-standing Northcote-Trevelyan principles of impartiality and merit-based appointment. At the beginning of 2020 when Cummings went public with his plan to recruit dozens of ‘weirdo’ data scientists into government supplanting ostensibly ineffectual civil servants, a Cabinet Minister told The Times:‘One of the big problems with [Cummings’s] pull the pin out of the grenade, drop it in the bunker, and see what happens approach is that it is so destabilising…we take several steps backwards before we’ve even started’.

In the world after the pandemic, it is very probable that the debate about state reform in Britain will take a quite different direction to that envisaged by the Cummings’s prospectus. The state is back as an economic actor, and as such, thirty years of antipathy to government as a force for good may be waning. It is public servants who have ensured that furlough wages and benefits are paid on time, while businesses are protected. Discussion will centre on how to restore the capacity of government to tackle major challenges from strategic risks such as future pandemics and climate change, to the long-term implications of the crisis, notably tackling public health inequalities while repurposing institutions. Unquestionably, the overly centralised nature of the British state will come under renewed scrutiny. In this climate, Cummings may well appear a reformer from a bygone era.

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About the Author

Patrick Diamond is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Queen Mary, University of London, and a former Government Special Adviser.

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