Everyone must climb their own ladder – The State’s ladders go only half of the way up

New Year Resolution. Reward ambition, pursue excellence and abhor mediocrity https://bit.ly/2LAbIyL It’s not enough just to be concerned for the disadvantaged. Other people matter too.

The Media Report the News, but do they miss the Big Story? 101 cyclists killed last year, 18,220 seriously injured. Don’t just blame drivers.

 ‘We’re careful, say drivers who speed and jump traffic lights.’

The headline for the news report in The Times on 19th November 2018 came above the results of a survey by the charity Cycling UK that found that ‘cyclists and motorcyclists were 63 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than car drivers.  On 22 November we find this ‘Some 18,220 cyclists were injured on the road last year, with 101 being killed.’

The report on 19 November said “Nine out of ten drivers described themselves as “careful and competent”, although 58 per cent admitted to going through amber traffic lights as they turn red. More than half (52 per cent) admitted ignoring 20mph speed limits and 57 per cent said they do the same for 30mph roads.”

But does that mean that drivers are to blame?

Another headline that caught my eye was: – ‘Councils blow £100m in special needs battle.’ Councils have spent about £100million fighting parents seeking support for their disabled children in tribunals, yet the authorities lost nine in ten appeals. This was followed by: ‘The figure of £100million was calculated by the Special Needs Jungle website, using data from the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice for 2014 to this year. There were 4,725 appeals in 2016-17.’

The Times Leader headline was: ‘School Bullies – Local councils are erroneously withholding help from special needs children.’ The closing paragraph – ‘This decision is costly, both in terms of the legal fees councils are now paying, and the problems they are pushing into the future. More importantly, it is immoral. Children with special needs do not deserve punishment. Councils should rethink their priorities.’

Is this all due to austerity and cuts?

But let’s get back to ‘cyclists and motorcyclists were 63 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than car drivers.’ Blood on the roads, and much work for a cash strapped NHS and its A & E units that they could well do without.

What does this tell us? Simply that urban cycling in the UK is highly dangerous. The mothers who don’t let their kids cycle to school are right. Sunderland is much wiser than Newcastle. As I drive past my old school on Humbledon Hill to my weekly Rotary meeting, there is no cycle lane where once I cycled. Gateshead is wiser too. Outside the Sage, the International home for music and music discovery enjoyed by thousands, there are no cycle stands. The access roads there are too narrow and hilly to accommodate cyclists, let alone a cycle lane.

OK, try and make cycling a bit safer if you can, but the unguarded moment – for anyone, cyclists as well – can be fatal. The millions of pounds spent on 20 mph signs to make roads safer for cyclists hasn’t even scratched the surface of the problem.

So, what of the response from the Department of Transport today? A two-year action plan to make cycling and walking the ‘natural choices’ for all short journeys by 2040, which encourages the reporting of anti-social driving but not anti-social cycling. They advocate penalties for drivers if they don’t keep their distance when overtaking cyclists, but what about cyclists overtaking motorists, and damaging wing mirrors?  And there is no mention of compulsory insurance for cyclists.

They are stuck with the Infrastructure Act 2015, with the government’s ‘Cycling and walking investment strategy’ for England. ‘This is the first of a series of shorter term, 5-year strategies to support the long-term ambition to make walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys by 2040.’ 

The root cause is never addressed, letting cyclists think that they have an equal right with other road users to drive on a narrow, busy, congested urban UK roads and, for everyone else, a responsibility to ensure their safety; claiming at the same time, that it is healthy to breath in toxic fumes from slow moving traffic.

Promoting it on busy urban streets is totally misguided, trying to make it safe is a futile hope. For all those who have been killed or seriously injured their ‘human right’ has been a curse not a blessing.

That is why I tell the story of the proposed cycle lane for Gosforth High Street in Newcastle. This is where it started for me. A black line on a map!


The cycling lobby, Sustrans, hired by Newcastle City Council to bid for the money to pay for cycle lanes draws a straight black line to show where they will go. That was the easy bit. They totally ignored the road conditions, their narrowness, the bus lanes, bus stops, pedestrian crossings, roundabouts and road junctions, and congestion. So, we end up with non-continuous cycle lanes, like bits of spaghetti on the landscape, and the charade of pre-determined consultation.  Sustrans, as a cycle lobby is totally over the top, but as a road planner totally useless.  The coming autonomous, electric car is not even in their line of vision.

Likewise, giving the right of children with special needs to go to mainstream schools and closing 100 special schools was a curse and not a blessing. That the number of prescriptions of Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has increased from 700,000 to 1.5million in a decade is a sobering fact.

This story has been on my website for over ten years. The Times Educational Supplement reported the rehearsed reading of my play Death of a Nightingale at the New End Theatre in London but when they realised that it was all about the closure of special schools, became silent. Meanwhile the Stage Magazine chose a Trot to review it, using acid not ink.

This is the story the media has missed since the 1980’s and ’90’s.

It is the story of dashed hopes: the hope that a civilised State will provide for children with Special Educational Needs under the umbrella of individual mainstream schools. The hope that it will enable you to cycle safely wherever you want to go. The hope that by giving you the right to these things, they will all happen.

They never see the multiplicity of special educational needs – never see the multiplicity of road users and the variety of road conditions. They never see the impracticability of their dreams.

Meanwhile, they denigrate the dignity of difference, while hailing ‘diversity’ and the ‘pursuit of excellence’ – both at times totally incompatible with equality.

But the really big story is more than that.

For some people the word impracticability does not exist; for lawmakers it is supremely irrelevant. The word impracticability is not in their vocabulary. They borrow, print or steal the money. And the latest wheeze? Quantative easing – so nothing is impossible. They mean well, but create absolutely nothing, only hopes and rights.


Please share with your colleagues and friends.

The Mandarins in Whitehall – A Voice from the Past. Does this explain the Grenfell Tower Inferno?

Below is not so funny!

Tidying my office and binning old paper I came across this cutting from The Times dated7 August 2006. I will let extracts speak for themselves.

 Whitehall remains closed to outsiders and needs radical change, report says.

By Bill Sherman, Whitehall Editor

 Catching the eye first:

 Performance is poorly managed and often goes unchecked. In short, there is trouble at the top.

This is how it begins:

 The “Sir Humphrey” culture lives on in Whitehall’s ivory towers, with top officials un-accountable, underperforming and lacking professional skills, a report published today claims.

In a devastating critique, the influential Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) calls for a radical shake-up of the way Whitehall is “governed”, to improve policy delivery to avoid another Home Office meltdown.

Later on:

The 4,000-strong senior Civil Service is badly managed and fails to work effectively across departments “It lacks a strong centre able to think strategically … or drive standards up” the left-wing think-tank says. “Performance is poorly managed and poor performance too often goes unchecked,” it adds. “In short there is trouble at the top”.

 But the IPPR came under attack from the FDA, the Union that represents top civil servants, who accused it of using old data to make unfair attacks on the Civil Service. “There is a danger of descending into a search for scapegoats when problems emerge,” Jonathan Baume, General Secretary of the FDA said.

 The Report, which is based on interviews with permanent secretaries and ministers over nine months, calls for an end to the convention of “ministerial responsibility”, where the politician takes the flak and officials remain unscathed.

 Ministers should take responsibility for policy decisions but the Civil Service should take the blame for delivery failures, with new structures to hold both ministers and officials to account, says the IPPR.

 And later on, again:

Despite numerous reform programmes instigated by a series of Cabinet Secretaries, “the pace of change in Whitehall is glacial”, says one minister cited in the report.

 And the nub of the matter:

Only a third of senior civil servants hold professional qualifications and few outsiders make it to the top ranks of Whitehall, with the “job for life” reigning supreme. Most staff have no experience of service delivery and few have skills in corporate services such as HR, finance and technology. 


Officials are often let off the hook after delivery failures with a minor reprimand from the Commons Public Accounts Committee. “The Public Accounts Committee can be very difficult, but it is not hard-edged accountability … we are not fired as the result of a bad performance; indeed, appearing before the PAC doesn’t change the price of fish,” said one permanent secretary.

Accountability is the missing ingredient:

Another permanent secretary said “As a group, permanent secretaries have managed to duck accountability” …. Ministers were even more scathing “The most fundamental problem with the Civil Service is that it is not accountable to anybody,” one minister says…. “There is simply no price for failure in Whitehall” says another.

In 2006 new Building Regs substituted data testing for laboratory testing of flammability and highly flammable tiles on Grenfell Tower were not  banned then and have not been banned since. Does this help to explain why? Click https://bit.ly/2IrwTjg

Does this also explain why Ombudsman aren’t?

Please copy to your friends & colleagues