Tuesday, 25 June 2013


How is it that the same ideas become widespread over the whole of Western society? There are differences in application, but the same language exists. For instance: Where did this idea come from that Governments should work with stakeholders in order to arrive at policy? The first time I remember the term, it was Tony Blair who used it and it seemed to suggest we all had a stake in our society. Actually, it did not mean that at all.

We read in Scotland that:

`The Children and Young People Bill will be introduced to Parliament in 2013 and will set out fundamental reforms to the way services for children and young people are designed, delivered and reviewed. The Scottish Government conducted a large-scale series of national engagement events to discuss the proposals for reforms with a wide range of stakeholders.`

Democratic Audit asks the question:
 `Who and what are 'stakeholders'?  Public bodies and consultants fall over each other to assert that they take into account the views of stakeholders and consult thoroughly with them over policy and its implementation. At first glance this approach might seem a hallmark of open, consultative government. Surely those most involved in a particular area have the knowledge that is needed and should have a say in decisions likely to impact directly upon them? Up to a point, yes. But there are problems with the growing emergence of 'stakeholder-ocracy' that seems to be developing.` 
 `First, in a democracy, everyone should have an equal opportunity to participate and to have their views taken seriously, regardless of whether or not they are deemed a stakeholder. Second, there are difficulties of definition. There is no clearly set out view of what a stakeholder is, how someone or something gets deemed to be one, and what entitlements this status entails. Because of this fuzziness those who do the consulting are able to exercise much discretion over who (and who not) to consult, over what and in what fashion, and even to disguise who gets that exalted status.
And as we have recently discovered we are not even allowed to know who all the stakeholders are. Democratic Audit is currently appealing against a decision not to release under the Freedom of Information Act details of the stakeholders for departments who were consulted as part of the Cabinet Office Capability Reviews of departments. Given this reticence, 'stakeholders' increasingly come to resemble the closed policy circles of the great and good of old - at least we usually knew who they were.` Stuart Weir & Andrew Blick (Cambridge & London, Democratic Audit):

In the case of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill the vast majority of stakeholders who were consulted were from the third sector whose funding has been increased by the Children`s Minister. So it is no surprise that most were in support of the new bill.  

Table 1: Number of responses by category of respondent
Third Sector 104                              35%
Local Authority Departments 26        9%
Education Bodies 25                         8%
Health Bodies 21                               7%
Multi-Agency Partnerships 17            6%
Justice Bodies 10                               3%
Unions 8                                             3%
Academic Institutions 6                      2%
Others 24                                           8%

Total organisations 241                 81%
Individuals 57                                   19%
Total 298                                        100%
NB Percentages may not total 100% exactly due to rounding.

Then it should be noted that `Seventy two per cent of those who provided a view agreed with the proposal that there should be a point of contact for children, young people and families through a universal approach to the Named Person role.` But very few of the 72% who agreed with that were individuals.

According to the government website this means: `Every child in Scotland will have a Named Person whose job already involves working with children.  After birth - where a midwife will have a role - the Named Person will normally be a health visitor until school age.  Thereafter to 18 (or when the child leaves school) the Named Person will normally be a head, deputy head or guidance teacher.  They will be the first point of contact for children and families, and can be called upon when there is a concern about a child`s or young person`s wellbeing that is not easy to address.  Also the Named Person will be in a position to spot concerns at an early stage.

 There is no doubt that mass surveillance of the population is what this bill is really about, and had parents been consulted the figure of 72% in favour of the Named Person proposition would surely have been different. Surveillance of the population is being pushed through in other ways by the UK government.
Chancellor George Osborne is proposing to target 400,000 high-risk families with early morning calls from government agents to get parents to job interviews. (No mention that they will have to find those job interviews themselves) There is no recognition that his austerity measures and cuts in services are failing to provide jobs with a living wage and are stressing vulnerable families. Instead families are to be blamed and harassed for their predicament.  The thinking is similar to the Early Years Collaborative.

Sky news reports that: Spending cuts will tip another 600,000 children into poverty by 2015.  Perhaps George Osborne consulted the wrong stakeholders when he assured the public that this was the beginning of a recovery. Or maybe he was talking about a recovery for a different set of stakeholders. There`s no doubt about it, some stakeholders get an easier time than others and they`re the ones close to Government who formulate the policies. 
Jean Robinson, writing in AIMS Journal explains why child protection interventions often prove damaging to families.  It is revealing that the risk to the wellbeing of families and children of unnecessary interventions is seldom considered, but it is real.  Insisting that there should be a Named Person for all children whose role will be to collect data and look for `concerns` is going to stress a whole society.

It`s a tragedy so few were consulted when so many are going to be affected.

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