Latest from our Blog

Joan_Bakewell_4x3.jpgJoan Bakewell on why the government must both extend and expand its public consultation on the future of the BBC 

The future of the BBC hangs in the balance, and the government is gunning for it. It has given plenty of warning over recent months, headlined in The Daily Telegraph: Tories go to War with the BBC. I suppose it was decent of them to give us notice. Now we have to mount a defence of this outstanding British Institution, which I believe to be one of the pillars of civic society.

Plenty of people agree with me, especially the public. The government has made a big play of wanting to consult all interested parties. They have declared proudly that there is an 18 month window of opportunity for interested parties to make their views known. There are no parties more directly concerned than the viewers and listeners themselves, who through their license fee pay for what they get. The BBC belongs not to the government, nor the state – but to the public. People need to make their voices heard.

This is not made easy by the government. On 16 July, the Department for Culture Media and Sport issued a 74 page glossy document called BBC Charter Review: Public Consultation. Its first page tells us the consultation continues until 8 October. Just three months – and those summer holiday months, too – for the public to get its act together and tell Ministers it really thinks. The only other way to make your thoughts and feelings known to the government is provided by the BBC itself. The BBC Trust website is running questionnaires and the BBC will be holding seminars around the country. How much bolder and more trusting than the government, whose meagre three month consultation suggests they might be planning to go ahead with change whatever the public wants or says.

Why does any of it matter? The BBC will surely stagger on as it has when under attack from previous governments. Besides, there’s plenty wrong with it. I know that: I work for it. It is overloaded with management, people with lengthy acronyms whose job is never quite clear. Its governance needs revision, too.  Even the Chairman of the BBC Trust thinks so. So yes there’s plenty of room for improvement.

But funding the BBC adequate to the needs of this global institution should not be subject to mean-spirited cuts imposed by a governing party that complained of bias during the election. A party whose wealthy donors often own rival media enterprises, and whose philosophy is to cut down to size any British institution that doesn’t conform to the neo-liberal model.  

The BBC deserves more than to be on the receiving end of the whim of a passing party of government. Its reputation for decades has been and remains the envy of the world. Its World Service is the one source of honest reporting that can be trusted in many of the world’s desperately divided countries. It supplies – without the irritating interference of commercials – work that is both the pride and inspiration of our cultural life.

I urge the government to honour its pledge to consult the public more widely, by extending and publicising its consultation document. Make it known in schools and factories, churches and mosques, to the WI, the Scouts and Guides, local communities and libraries. These are the people who have come to take the quality and reliability of the BBC for granted. It is their BBC. Let their voice be heard.

Baroness Joan Bakewell is a journalist, broadcaster and backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 9th September 2015   

Let the people be heard

Joan Bakewell on why the government must both extend and expand its public consultation on the future of the BBC 

SimonHaskel.jpgSimon Haskel on the faults already emerging as we move towards an age of productivity

For the second time this week, the Lords has a debate on productivity and the economy of the future. It’s not clear if this is because of a muddle or it is intentional. I hope the latter as it is such an important topic and one that I have raised again and again for some years.

Let’s start with the government’s recent paper on productivity. It certainly presses most of the right buttons. But like many previous efforts, it is destined to achieve little. Why? Because it mentions everything but prioritises nothing; remembers everything and learns nothing.

If we want to move on from an age of austerity into an age of productivity, management and leadership must be prioritized. The first task must be to encourage a culture of productivity – both in business and government. Without this, much of the work that government does on infrastructure and housing, and in science and education, will be wasted. This now has added urgency because in the next twelve months productivity has to make up for the gap between the recently announced withdrawal of in-work benefits and the rise in the minimum wage. 

After the age of austerity, the strength of our economy will lie in our ability to adapt to and take advantage of the multitude of new changes coming at us from many directions. Our ability to manage these will be crucial.

To start with, business markets and government services can be transformed in months as new applications and ideas reach millions of people in days. 

Many jobs have been or are being redefined. Many people are employed part time or work over the internet. In Europe alone, there are some 20,000 freelancers registered with Upwork – a portal that facilitates this kind of business. 

We have all read about skill shortages. By introducing a training levy do we presume that the direction of travel is that business and industry should deal with skills themselves? Is this why larger government contractors now must have apprenticeships?

Ministers are clearly unsure about this policy because they have announced the creation of seven new national colleges for particular industries, including nuclear and high speed rail, with employers expected to contribute towards the capital costs. Resources meanwhile, are being poured into university technology colleges, while FE colleges which offer the more expensive training and vocational qualifications have had their funding cut. All this serves to do is confuse those students looking for technical education and training for a career.

Some companies have reviewed their governance in terms of stewardship, as promoted for example by Tomorrow’s Company

In an interview with The Financial Times last October, Larry Page forecast that these new technologies will make businesses not 10% more efficient, but 10 times. At present we have a growing system where public administration, business and trading, shopping and entertainment, travel and leisure, running our offices, our homes and health all depend on computers dealing with one another. Sometimes we are the only human in the loop but this is what the age of productivity will eventually look like. 

Because productivity has become disconnected from pay, rates for the latter have hardly gone up during the past five years. In an age of productivity, the benefits must balance out and boost both prosperity and equality. Failure to do so will mean that the age of productivity pursued to its logical conclusion will create an unequal society, the likes of which we haven’t seen for generations.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 9th September 2015

Future imperfect

Simon Haskel on the faults already emerging as we move towards an age of productivity

PhilHunt2014.jpegPhil Hunt on why the UK government must help drive a Europe-wide gas safety campaign

It cannot be seen, smelled or tasted but official figures show over 4,000 people every year are diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, with a resulting 40 deaths. A figure that is likely to be a gross underestimate.

The poison arises when there is incomplete combustion, such as when gas, oil or wood does not burn properly. As the related All-Party Parliamentary Group point out, in the home this is most commonly caused by appliances and flues that have been incorrectly installed, not maintained or are poorly ventilated.

Although the problems have been known for years, government action has been frustratingly slow. Today in the Lords however, a small bit of progress is being made. Regulations are being debated which requires landlords in the private rented sector to ensure that a carbon monoxide alarm is equipped in any room which contains a solid fuel burning combustion appliance. Welcome as this is, much more needs to be done both in the UK and Europe if the public are to be protected from what is a preventable form of poisoning.

First though, we need to get to grips with the scale of the problem. Carbon monoxide has to be suspected before it is tested for. This doesn’t always happen – even with unexplained deaths. The APPG suggested in 2011 that all coroners post-mortems should routinely test for carboxyhaemoglobin levels and if necessary record death as a distinct category. So far, Ministers have ignored the recommendation.

The government also needs to do much more to make people aware of the need to install, maintain and service fuel burning appliances in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Plus insist on the installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detection in homes and businesses where such fuels are used.

The situation in Europe is also worrying – something illustrated vividly by the tragic deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd, who were just seven and six years old when they died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler while holidaying in Corfu in 2006. Eight years on, the inquest into their deaths reopened in Wakefield and in May of this year the jury concluded that the children had been unlawfully killed and that the travel company responsible for the holiday, Thomas Cook had ‘breached its duty of care’.

The extent of the problem throughout Europe remains unclear, with each individual case presented as a tragic occurrence rather than part of a systematic failure. Work commissioned by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) from John Gregory, a CORGI gas safety expert shows ‘a lack of legislative consistency’. Regretfully, the UK government has opposed the introduction of European Safety Regulations. The European Commission meanwhile, having launched a Green Paper on the safety of tourism accommodation services, will now not be taking it forward.

There is clearly an urgent need to build a Euro-wide carbon monoxide safety campaign – something that our government could help drive. Too many people have died from this largely unknown and silent killer. How many more deaths have to take place before decisive action is taken? 

Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordPhilofBrum 

Published 7th April 2015

Silent killer

Phil Hunt on why the UK government must help drive a Europe-wide gas safety campaign

More Blogs >

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.