Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Burnham's bad hair day and Bob's demise

My friend Julie came over this weekend and offered me some top tips for my blog. As she is the International Editor of the UK’s favourite celebrity magazine I thought I’d pay attention. She loved the personal stuff, thought the politics were interesting, if a little long (sorry) and said I needed more photos – what do you think? All comments welcome!

I caught a good radio piece on Saturday, arguing that women are losing out on the top city jobs during the recession. This reflects conversations I have had recently with leading ladies within the third sector where we have noticed that several big jobs for which we know outstanding women who have applied, have concluded with the appointment of less obviously qualified men. I am sure the chaps gave outstanding performances but I can't help but wonder why the scarcity of jobs is appearing to lead to the boys competing more successfully? Are we being peremptory? Time will tell, but as we head into what could be the whitest, most male dominated parliament in a generation I don’t think the third sector can sit on its laurels.

This weekend, catching up with reading, I read the Guardian interview with Shirley Williams. She’s a woman I admire. I loved her frank admission that she is always late. I am an offender in that department, much to my husband’s frustration. In my case it comes of having absolutely no sense of time and in trying to do too much. I thought her take on the politics of globalization was spot on; as was her characterisation of a UK unable and unwilling to see itself as part of Europe never mind a wider world; and it was interesting that she confessed that she had been reticent to fight for the leadership in either the Labour Party or the SDP because she was awed by senior male colleagues. She now regrets thinking she wasn’t good enough. I wonder how many women end up saying the same thing. Sadly too many, I suspect.

Monday failed to get out of the stalls as Sam’s chesty bug meant he was too ill to go to school. Chris and I drew straws, as we do whenever the children are sick, and I stayed at home. Sam and I watched the new Star Trek movie which was absolutely fab whilst I kept up with emails, which were dominated by the kerfuffle Acevo (where I am Deputy Chair) leaders are having with Health Secretary, Andy Burnham.

The background is that in September Mr Burnham surprised us all by reversing government policy, in a speech where he announced that the NHS would only consider outsourcing services if they were in difficulty and no public sector provider could be found. This flew in the face of everything government had encouraged social enterprise to do since 2005. It also had the effect of making only the unions happy. The line the papers took (Guardian yesterday, Times today) is that Labour is capitulating to the unions because they are bank rolling their election campaign. I’m not so sure. Fundamentally the search for quality and competative price in the NHS is an unstoppable one, as is the creation of a new generation of public service employees who either work for themselves or private companies. The government knows this, they have been supportive about the move and nothing else has come out since Burnham’s speech, so in my opinion they must simply have been having a bad hair day!

As for the unions, namely Unite and Unison, they think they don’t want social enterprises touching the NHS because the alternative is a status quo. It isn’t. The choice is the third sector or the private sector. Standing still isn’t an option and so far no party spokesperson (with the exception of Andy Burnham) has said it is. I have a Masters in Industrial Relations and I was a union FTO (Full Time Official) both here and in the US for nearly 5 years and it grieves me to find myself in opposition to the labour movement. I firmly believe in employee representation, I have got very cold on a number of picket lines outside garment factories in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, for instance, and I know what I am talking about when I say that social enterprise offers employees as strong a voice as any other organisational model, including that of the public sector, and in no way precludes trade union representation. On the contrary, we welcome it.

Bob - post attack

Shock , horror. Whilst looking after Sam my East Sheen allotment neighbour Ben called to say my site had been vandalised (above). Bob, our handmade and rather beautiful scarecrow, had been pummelled and knocked to the ground and the contents of my shed, including next year’s seeds (I hope it isn’t an omen), had been thrown in the water butt. Poor Bob. I wonder what goes through a person’s head when they are beating up a scarecrow?!

I loved Grumpy Old Women on the Beeb last night. They scoffed at the idea of working mothers “having it all” which I wasn’t so keen on, but then the wonderful Germaine Greer, patron saint of Women with Attitude, told us that the only thing women have all of, is all the work. Love it. India Knight lamented the war between working mothers and so-called stay at home mothers, which I too feel sad about. I think it comes from the natural tendency of women to feel guilty and inadequate. It’s a total waste of energy. I think we should unite against our detractors and defend the right of all women to choose their own paths. I just hope more of us crunch the gravel to top jobs.

Talking of hair, for those who've asked, my hair, post straightening, has perked. After 3 long days looking like the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales, with hair as “smoothe as a strike of flex” (for which read lank), I’ve now returned to something approaching normality- a blessed relief!

1 comment:

  1. Allison, the concern of the labour movement is public services will suffer as social enterprise is liable to VAT, and there are transaction costs invovled in creating markets which might mean funds are diverted from frontline services.

    Democratic participation of employees and service users, yes - but not the stealth privatisation of services.

    We need to expand social enterprise into the private sector to challenge the power of big business, not convert our public services into commercial operations.