More thoughts on #FutureEducation and @EveningNews #SaveOurFuture campaign

The Evening News has run another interesting article today about Future Education, which shows that a council funded report recently praised Future for providing “good value for money when compared to other specialist provision.”

The article refers to the fact that the council has awarded another contract to another provider – but this seems to be a bit of a red herring.

My understanding is that the county council put two contracts out to tender. Future Education spent the best part of a year preparing its submission for one of those tenders – only to see the council withdraw that tender at the last minute. The effect is to withdraw funding from a charity that, as the Evening News makes clear, has helped numerous young people and benefited the whole community.

The issue is not whether the council has chosen a good provider for the second tender (it is not even about how unfairly it has treated Future in the process). The real issue is that the council is not showing sufficient commitment to a grass-roots organisation created by people living in the community that it serves: an organisation that supports families as well as children.

I am all for efficiency in public services but we also need to support local communities that try to solve their own problems. That doesn’t mean funding every local initiative, regardless of effectiveness. However when a group, such as Future Projects, has a proven record of successful delivery over 10 years it seems shortsighted to jeopardise its existence.

Not only does this decision undermine the good work of Future Projects (including its other community activities – as reported elsewhere by the Evening News) – it also sends a very bad signal to other communities. Effectively it says: “Don’t bother trying to do this yourself because ultimately your council will impose a solution – because big brother knows better than big society.” That can’t be right.

[Note: I tried to post this response on the Evening News website but the comment function does not appear to be working.]

Open letter to Norfolk and Norwich MPs – #SaveOurFuture

Open Letter to Chloe Smith MP, Norman Lamb MP, Keith Simpson MP, Henry Bellingham MP, Richard Bacon MP, Brandon Lewis MP

Dear [Name of MP]

Please will you join other Norfolk and Norwich MPs in supporting the Evening News Campaign to save the ‘Future Education’ service run by Future Projects?

Future Education (set up some 10 years ago by Dawn Jackson MBE) is a great example of the ‘big society’ at work. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, recently praised it, saying: “The success of this project is testament to the dedication of many people. It is a great example of how communities can pull together to improve the quality of life on their own doorstep.

Sadly, Norfolk County Council has decided to contract-out the work of caring for vulnerable children to a large charity from Surrey. Although, superficially, it may appear more efficient, it is unlikely to be able to match the depth of service provided by Future in Norwich (which works closely with families as well as children).

Norfolk CC’s decision effectively sounds a death knell for a vibrant, grassroots, community-led project. That sends out a very bad signal to other, similar, local initiatives – that no matter how hard you try, councils will ultimately impose a solution on you. That in turn threatens David Cameron’s idea of the ‘big society’.

As David rightly says: “We know instinctively that the state is often too inhuman, monolithic and clumsy to tackle our deepest social problems. We know that the best ideas come from the ground up, not the top down. We know that when you give people and communities more power over their lives, more power to come together and work together to make life better – great things happen.” Future Education is one of those great things.

Please join the campaign to #SaveOurFuture because local people feel passionately about this issue; the facebook page has already gained around 500 followers in just a few days. They are looking to their elected representative to bring pressure to bear on Norfolk County Council to reverse its decision and maintain funding to Future Education for the long term.

Thank you for your help, support and understanding.

Kind regards

Huw Sayer

@HuwSayer

PS: For more on this subject, please see my previous post.

#FutureEducation matters to #Norwich – it’s not just about money.

On 24 July 2011, the @EveningNews ran an important article about the Future Education project, following Norfolk County Council’s decision to put the contract out to tender (and then awarding the contract to a provider from outside the East of England, rather than continuing to support a local community initiative – effectively withdrawing funding for Future Education) – please take time to read the article – then show your support for Future Education by ‘liking’ their facebook page.

You can’t outsource community

If you are on twitter – please use it to spread the word (particularly if you know any big names who might lend their support) because, as I said on facebook: “We need local, grass-roots organisations staffed by people who live in, work in and understand their communities to provide these sort of support services. Not corporate-charities with high paid executives who cannot connect with the most vulnerable in our society.”

I was particularly struck by some of the comments on the Evening News article that suggested that problem children are the fault of bad parents and that the state shouldn’t pick up the pieces. I know that is a common view (particularly with the more sanctimonious readers of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph) – however I don’t believe it should go unchallenged. As the Home Secretary Theresa May, on a recent visit to the project, said: “The success of this project is testament to the dedication of many people. It is a great example of how communities can pull together to improve the quality of life on their own doorstep.”

Here’s the reply I tried to post to those comments (unfortunately the EDP’s comment system doesn’t seem to work that well, so this has yet to appear on the site).

It’s not all about parenting

Some people really should read the article and find out more about Future Education before passing their blinkered judgement.

First thing to realise is that Future Education is supported by a charity that is trying to ‘pick up the pieces’ on behalf of society and an education system that cannot cope. All it is asking for is some of funding that state schools (the ones that have failed these children) take for granted.

It is narrow minded to assume that all children with social and educational problems are the product of bad parenting – genetics and other circumstances play their part – not every child fits neatly into the standardised education system. Many talented people have struggled to cope with the rigours of school (often dropping out in high school) and yet have gone on to lead successful lives (look them up on the web if you don’t believe me).

While ‘bad parenting’ may be a factor in some cases, that doesn’t mean society should punish the children. In fact, it is in society’s best interests to invest more at this stage – to prevent these children becoming ‘bad parents’ in their turn. If you can rescue a child from this downward spiral (which can often lead to a life of crime, more dysfunctional families and greater harm to the community) then that has to be a good thing for society as a whole.

Presumably, those who say we shouldn’t expect the state the ‘pick up the pieces’ still ‘expect’ the state to provide police for their protection, an NHS for their well-being, and a transport system for their convenience. If so, they should understand that the state plays many roles in a civilised society. If we abandon people just because of ‘bad parenting’ then our tax bills will quickly rise to pay for such shortsightedness.

What can we do to help?

As mentioned above, one of the main things you can do is to help raise awareness of this issue with friends, local politicians, and community leaders. Start by liking the Future Education facebook page – and sharing it with your facebook friends.

If you use twitter, please tweet about the issue and ask others to do the same. You can share short links to the facebook page and the Evening News stories to give people more information. You can also point them to the Future Projects website. Future Projects is behind the successful Future Radio community station in Norwich and the #BeYourFuture project.

When tweeting, please use the hashtags #SaveFutureEd and #Norwich because this makes it easier for other supporters to see your tweets (I have been using #FutureEducation but have just seen that the project team are using #SaveFutureEd so let’s stick with that) – we can then all retweet them (which amplifies the message).

If you have time to write or email a polite message to your MP and councillors that would also help. The more we talk about this, the more likely it is that the council will listen.

Thank you

@HuwSayer