My Email to the Cabinet Secretary on New Civil Service Requirement to Clamp Down on Free Speech

Simon, (simon.case@cabinet-office.gsi.gov.uk)

There has been recent extensive press coverage (esp. in Telegraph‘ (de-paywalled link) of a ‘Senior Cabinet Office Official‘ sending a memo setting down severe restrictions on Government Networks asking for restrictions critical of government policy.

‘An “official-sensitive” email circulated across Whitehall warned that invitations should not be issued to individuals who have “spoken against key government policies”.Officials were told to carry out “due diligence” checks on speakers, including examining their social media posts….

The warning comes ahead of a new Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy being overseen by Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister [recently widely reported as threatening to withdraw levelling up funding from constituencies of MPs who voted against the social care settlement amidst a JR n its legality for partiality] , which Tory sources see as an opportunity to help eradicate “woke and politicised” practices in Whitehall.The note, sent by a senior Cabinet Office official, states: “We recognise that it is not always clear to determine whether an activity is deemed political or if an individual has spoken against key government policies. “This is why all cross-government networks must carry out due diligence checks on all speakers invited to events, and the content of any events and communications to ensure impartiality.”The memo continues: “Networks and their members must complete such checks to avoid any invitations being issued to individuals and/or organisations that have provided commentary on government policy, political decisions, approaches or individuals in government that could be deemed political. ‘

In terms of impartiality how can those criticizing government policy be deemed not impartial whilst those lauding it to the high-most or staying stum be deemed apolitical.  This is a travesty of the notion of impartiality for which the civil service used to be famous for.  If you did not know of this email you must intervene and withdraw it, if you did you must resign; otherwise rather than being an impartial civil servant offering firm but fair and impartial advice you have become a crude apparatchik camping down on free speech and dissent contrary to every principal of English Fair Play and Free Speech and the hard won but fragile political independence of the civil service.   It is impossible to reconcile this memo of partiality falsely dressed as impartiality with the contents of the civil service code regarding giving evidence and all sides of an argument, to speak truth to power.

As the first Queen Elizabeth who founded the civil service as we know it stated:

This judgment I have of you: that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift, and that you will be faithful to the state, and that, without respect to my private will, you will give me that council that you think best.

Please have a quiet work in the ear of Steve Barclay and the PM so this insidious drift toward orbanization of the English Body Politic ceases and you are not judges by history as the public servant that let this drift slide without resistance. 
What is worse the ‘due diligence’ sections tries to get the whole civil service to spy starzi style on the whole social media output and free speech of speakers.  How profoundly un-british – may I remind you that despite the views of the Lord Chancellor the right to free speech is a human right enshrined in British Law and those who believe in the rule of law, rather than arbitrary executive diktats, should uphold it.

Finally I note that all talks to Government Networks are under Chatham House rules, under which on many occasions I have advised governments fo all colours on my own specialism.  The ’embarrassing leaks’ for these briefings were by those contemptuous of these rules.  Please apply equal discipline on those who wish to shut down such discourse.

Andrew Lainton

Sheffield

07398453105

Government threatened to Withdraw Towns Fund and Levelling Up Cash from MPs that Voted Against Owen Pattenson Sleaze Amendment

Con Home

Paul Goodman

The application for judicial review [Good Law Project] is headed: “Alleged threats to deny funding from constituencies depending on vote of Owen Paterson MP amendment”.

The claim central to both is that Conservative backbenchers were threatened with the withdrawal of Towns Fund and Levelling-up Fund money if they didn’t voted for the so-called Leadsom amendment.

You will remember that this was the Government-backed proposal to postpone a vote on the Standards Committee’s recommendation that Paterson be suspended from the Commons for 30 days.

As I wrote, there is no doubt that – before the Paterson vote, please note – some MPs were told that Towns Fund or Levelling Up Fund money would be withdrawn from their seats only then to be told that it had been restored.

Treasury sources confirmed to me that in at least one case Steve Barclay said that money would be withdrawn and that Rishi Sunak then restored it.  The original decision does not in itself imply improper conduct.

For there’s nothing necessarily wrong with such decisions if they’re made on objective, clear and defensible grounds.  Were they made to punish backbenchers, that would of course be a very different matter.

…were any MP to put the allegations raisd by either of us on the record, those claimed to be responsible for issuing threats would potentially be in very serious trouble

Criticise Government Planning Policy – Your Now Banned from Speaking to Civil Servants

One of the hallmarks of Government Planning Policy is no-one agrees with it in its entirety. Its eternally and inevitably contested space. Even exceptionally well connected SW1 dumbtanks with Govy on speed dial spend all their time writing reports criticising government policy.

Across Whitehall there are many ‘networks’ of civil servants – for Economists, Planners, LGBT civil servants, Jewish Civil Servants etc. They provide a vital means of cutting through departments silos and allowing staff to keep up with the latest ideas.

Hence the widespread alarm at the following memo from a ‘senior cabinet office official’ banning ‘woke’ speakers. ‘Officials have been told to carry out due diligence checks and examine the social media posts of anyone invited to speak at internal events’

So those groups campaigning against government policy be a breach of impartiality whereas those campaigning for it are not? This is partisanship dressed up as ‘neutrality’, the further orbanisation of public bodies; which can be defined as political projects to undermine the he institutional quality of democracies by denying independent non ruling party voices access to public jobs, the media and access to public funding, so as to deligimise all arguments against ruling party dictats.

What is worst is there now appears to be a cabinet office starzi set up to trawl through social media posts of government critics, and what is full on east German Communism, trawling in the whole of the civil service to spy on their contacts to look for social media criticisms.

This memo is clearly contrary to the civil service code. Did the cabinet secretary see it and approve it? If they did the hard won independence of the civil service is over and the cabinet secretary should resign.

This is particularly chilling in the Planning sphere where there isn’t a single group that hasn’t criticized government planning policy in one way or another.

The Conservative Party’s Supporters Dramatic Shift On Climate Change – What Should Planners Make Of It?

Planner’s of course have to work with cllrs of every party whatever their own views. After all local planning authorities often switch control course midway through a local plan – which can be ‘cough cough ‘challenging.

I thought I had got used to what a typical rural conservative lead member was like (and by conservative I also mean the local independent who (prince style) formally known as Conservative). Old school, tweedy, polite, gentleman or womanly, funny, wise, skeptical of certain environmentalist claims though concerned about stewardship and countryside ways, and easy to get on with as long as (like family) you avoided discussing politics, foreign affairs, race, religion or anything controversial with them.

How stereotypical – today as many surveys are showing the conservative party base has totally shifted showing their number one POLITCAL concern is climate change. Their demographic and spatial base has shifted too. You never today see a 1950s style blue rinse, Mary Whitehouse supporting cllr.

Of course climate change is in the news everyday. The Charles Moore/Andrew Neil/Spectator old school may grumble about the shift; but they have lost the game. Go to any County Council or District Council controlled by Conservatives (or anti development indys formally known as Conservatives) and you will typically get as long as the council rules allow speeches on climate change. If Boris was kicked out tomorrow that perhaps is his main political legacy, from Green Crap to Green Obsession. Dishy Rishys time has come and gone – the Conservative Party will never again vote in as leader someone who presents themselves as a 1980s style media slick Thatcherite.

This poses a challenge to Green Eco-lefties. such as me, whose main narrative was that to save the planet you had to defeat those on the right whose greed was destroying us. That narrative, at least in its crude form, no longer works. Its a bit like the plot twist in so many thirds acts of movies; when whom you thought was the baddie turned out they want to team up with you to defeat the surprise real baddie.

So unpredictable times. Just a thought provoking blog to stir comment and thought. Planners have interesting times. Without new methods the risk would be to default to the default line of least resistance: planning is too hard, local plans are going to be too late, constraints are too great, objections are too much so lets build less. That would be a climate disaster and there are ways and methods out of this. A topic for another blog.

The Insulate Britain Planning Wicked Problem – and How to Fix It

The well meaning activists of Insulate Britain are gluing themselves to everything. I sympathize, I am a former 1990s ecowarrior who used to camp out at Twyford Down and Gargoyle Wharf (acting as Planning Advisor to George Monbiot of all people). I even had my former idol and friend Murray Bookchin (the Marx of Green Lefties) write a whole book condemning my deviationist views – Monty Python Peoples Friends of Judea style. See this critical appraisal by my friend and fellow 1990s rabble rouser Damian White.

Its a tough problem. What planning theorists like me call a Wicked Problem. A problem so entangled and complex, unlike ‘tame’ problems’, they are like a Gordian Knot, with no known or easy solutions, other than not hitherto considered radical action.

Lets look at the Insulate Britain problem through this lens. The problem is insulating all badly designed leaking and creaky old buildings in the UK has been estimated at 2 trillion pounds (figure from my friend Rico Woj I haven’t checked it). We used to think that the problem with poorly energy insulated old buildings was to tear them down and start again. The problem we now known from many studies is embodied carbon, even building a new carbon friendly in operation building involves huge carbon costs in construction.

So this is a classic ‘wicked problem’ . A solution that is prohibitively costly vs a solution that doesn’t work. We have no currently viable and deliverable solution to the carbon outputs of existing buildings.

I believe there is a systematic and repeatable solution to many if not most wicked planning problems. We simply as a species need to learn and repeat and teach what that methodology is. After it clicked for me what that method was and how to repeat it I enjoyed great professional success as the go to person to solve impossible problems in impossible timescales in my own sphere of expertise ‘urban planning’. I even gave a highly successful lecture tour in England, flying in for the purpose, on my future book (which I will never have time to finish) on the method applied to the problem of strategic planning. There are too many problems in the world requiring too much effort to be selfish. We must open source and spread the solutions.

What made it click for me was the ideas of five great thinkers.

The first was the late guru of project management Ernst Goldratt. His ideas are complex and rich but the basic idea is you isolate problems in time and space so the constraints on problems can be bypassed and resolved. What I call in my never to be finiished book, making the problem tractable.

Secondly the ideas of Harvard University Planning theorist Lawrence Susskind, founder of the Consensus Building Institute. What he taught me is is that even the toughest problems, like whether or not or where to build a nuclear power station, can be made tangible. By tangible I mean a problem being well defined and understood so a problem is capable of goodwill, compromise and negotiation. These two concepts, tractability and tangibility can make wicked problems solvable, but a third method is needed to achieve this.

The idea is big world problems are unsolvable and overly wicked and small world problems are not. This concept has been expressed by many different thinkers in many different ways but the most influential is Stanly Milgrim. The idea is that big world problems are too complex to model and hence solve. but too simple models are overly simple in that you learn nothing from their overly simple results. So the idea is you make big world problems tangible and tractable by the concept of ‘simplify, simplify, simplify’ but no so much that you remove the benefit of learning through testing a model of a complex system in terms of the unpredictable results and emergent behavior of its complexity.

This is where the fourth great thinkers ideas ill refer to today comes in. Gerd Gigerenzer his studies have shown that “less is more” in solving complex problems, indeed we have evolved to do that, make better decisions with less effort that is, where heuristics make with less effort. Has he famously countered to Richard Dawkins we don’t do complex differential equations in our heads when running to catch a ball. Instead we adopt fast and frugal rules. What Gerd calls Ecological Rationality, which displaces the dead and dated concept of rational choice theory which has held planning theory back for over 70 years. The old and still dominant idea was that you have to gather as much information as you can to make made a sound decision. A decision rule that meant if you were a lion you would starve to death as you would never go for the kill ( a concept by the way that explains what local plans are so slow, too much information literally kills you).

The fifth and final big idea is complementary to that of ecological rationality. That of ecological design, from Sim Van Der Ryn. The basic principle is simple ‘Nature’s geometry is an important organizing principle for ecological design’ so if evolution has already solved a practical design problem from there you should start.

Lets apply these ideas to the Insulate Britain Wicked Problem. How do we make the wicked problem tangible and tractable? How we apply the principle of ‘simplify, simplify, simplify’ and learn from how nature has already solved this problem?

From an ecological perspective its a simple issue. What is a good insulator and what isn’t? When you have surfaces which aren’t air or water tight air or water conducts all the heat away. When you learn anything about building physics you come across the ideas of Wolgang Fest of ‘passivhaus‘ which much simplified is make buildings less leaky and airtight so they don’t conduct away heat. The problem we have with older buildings is that we have leaky and drafty buildings. Adding massive amounts of rockwool and other expensive 1970s energy crisis solutions is that don’t treat the cause they treat the symptoms, and at great financial and ecological cost.

The simplified decision space then is simple, how do we cost effectively make non airtight buildings airtight?

There is much mocking on the ecological left of ‘technocentric’ solutions as opposed to ‘behavioral’ ones. Its my old sparring partner Murey Bookchin’s critique of techno-futurism run riot. Its better the poor starve and die they say in the pursuit of saving the planet. But lets be clear, John Kerry is right on this one; 2/3rds of the solutions to climate change haven’t been invented yet. So how do we as a species learn how to invent these solutions better? After all I remember well promoting renewable energy in the 1970s and 1980s, when I begged my dad to take me to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales and now how these ‘hippies’ have started ideas which now creates the cheapest by far form of energy.

Back to airtightness, what we need is some kind of cheap and universal ‘building condom’ to secure airtightness. I don’t know precisely how that might work, forms of glue you spray on, intelligent materials that self adjust to windows and door spaces, however once defined as tangible and tractable the tough problems become solvable.

So here’s the big idea. An international competition with a 100 million pound prize (Gove’s money of course) for the best solution for the retrofitting airtightness problem. Lets get Branson, Muck and Bezos back to a planet earth sized problem. After all its a lot cheaper than 2 trillion. That would sure lead to many many radical solutions.

Why I’m defending @Geoffrey_Cox MP as an Outstanding Constituency MP

Geoffrey Cox’s Politics are not my own. Many MPs have to be professional and represent the interest of Constituents whose views they disagree. A unique aspect of British Democracy is how good constituency MPs represents without fault or favor EVERY constituent, including those of opposite political views. I know this from one very wet summer living in Bideford where it rained every day all summer except one and local residents viewed this as normal (I hated it). Geoffrey Cox came into the office I was working in, with his agent, almost playing a part of Charles Laughton acting as a Barrister, full of blowhard charisma and instantly dislikable. But like many who write to their MPs or visit their surgery I was in private torment facing a Kafkaesque desperate situation and having nowhere else to turn apart from my MP.

The problem was I had recently returned to the UK from abroad and my Daughters passport had expired and I had tried to renew it. Which became a farce as the passport and its privatized agent VIA had lost all the papers (twice), I had every page of her old passport scanned and notarized by the foreign office in Beirut – which then lost all records of the case, and then returning to the UK the airline lost the suitcase in which my daughters passport was in – the Passport Office refusing to renew the original passport because there was no physical passport – they amazingly refused allow the passport number and photos of the passport as proof. The email addresses they gave were wrong (send only), as were the phone number (10 hours a go ringing unanswered). All of this, and the passport office ignoring a supreme court case on illegals actions in such cases, had trapped her outside of England for four years.

Desperate at this Kafkaesque turn of events I had no choice but to turn to Geoffrey Cox however much I instinctively disliked him. His response astounded me. Lets be clear, most of my time these days as a senior figure in UK town planning is writing briefings for Counsels opinions to barristers and receiving them. I have the greatest respect for their skills and know backwards a blowhard from an outstanding silk. Cox proved to be an outstanding silk who is clearly and obviously vastly underpaid. He wrote an outstanding many page letter in only a couple of days to the Head of the Passport Office, and cc’d to the Home Secretary, demanding action, leading to a quivering, pathetic, inaccurate and defensive response only a couple of days later.

The letter didn’t solve the problem, but it unlocked channels of communications that eventually led to my daughter then a full passport in all of SIX years after the renewal application. She now has just started big school in England her home country which she has been blocked for six years visiting. She is doing very well, voted head of school council and chief prefect by the entire school body despite being in year six only three weeks after starting, and her form teacher telling me she hasn’t made any friends and doesn’t talk to anyone (which tells me how much he notices about soft power in schools). I hope and I’m sure she will grow up to be an international lawyer earning several millions a year, after all even the Virgin Islands deserve proper legal representation. Sir Geoffrey your a star, and your silly critics can all go and royally fuck off. This is not at all like the diminutive MPs, however tall, of North Shropshire; Barrister MPs are different and their experience outside parliament vastly enhances legislative scrutiny. Sir Kier should prosecute a few more tough murder cases these days, he would be a vastly better leader of the opposition.

God Had an Off Monday – The Flood, Parting of Red Seas, Destruction of Sodom & Gommarah – now Coming Soon to ‘Biblical Scale Destruction’ :- expanding Maidstone by less than 10%.

To add to the all ‘housing is evil’ hyperbole that simply discredits those who fail to make good planning arguments and just use Chicken Little language that will just leave planning inspectors sighing in exacperation.

Kent Messenger

Villagers in Lenham have said “enough is enough” as they warn a 5,000-home village could cause “environmental destruction on a biblical scale”…

The villagers are angry at the council’s continued inclusion of a 5,000-home garden village at nearby Lenham Heath in its Local Plan Review.

SOHL said the borough council’s plan represented “environmental destruction on a biblical scale.”

She said: “Maidstone council has already wasted over £50,000 of our money on a superfluous public relations company trying to persuade us the garden village is a good idea. And it’s spent an eye-watering £564,000 so far on developing its vanity project.

The borough argues that it is obliged by the Government to meet its housing targets, and that a garden village, which is large enough to finance mitigation measures, is a better way to do that then many scattered small-scale building sites.

Actually which of the beauty contest Garden Communities Maidstone studied take forward is a tough question that will dominate their EIP. Careful planning argument please not the ‘end is nigh’ biblical speechifying reminding you of the late Reverend Ian Paisley.

Finally a report on a Jobs Led Housing Need Method – and what it means – vastly more Green Belt Loss in the Midlands and the North – Naïve new SoS Govy Welcomes it Warmly

The Building Back Better Commission – a self appointed and self interested group of North of England based Housebuilders have issued a rather good report.

A bit of background. Many times on this blog we have reported on the perverse results of a purely housing led and projecting trends based standard method, when in growth areas you need a jobs led projecting plans based forward looking method. A good example being the inconsistency of PINs at Local Plans LPIs, allowing jobs led at Doncaster but not at Darlington. Is one a growth area in need of levelling up and the other not? The reasons is the useless fudginess of NPPG saying growth areas can be an exceptional circumstance but not defining where growth areas are. Since when was growth and levelling up the exception rather than the rule?

I wont go through the commission’s method, which is based on extra homes needed to fill extra jobs, and the internal net migration needed to fill those jobs.

Lets look at the result:

To get to a levelled-up world under this scenario over 30 years, Birmingham would need 12,430 net additions per annum, compared to only 4,829 per annum under the standard method, or an additional 7,600 homes per annum. Next is Manchester, followed by Bradford, Liverpool, County Durham and Barking & Dagenham in London. Again, this is not saying that building this number of homes would deliver levelling up, it is saying that levelling up in the manner described would necessitate this number of homes being built.

Thats 372,000 houses additional for Brum over 30 years, the Size of Milton Keynes, for a city where an inspector has found its need cannot be met without Green Belt Loss.

So for local groups on the edge of Margate, Reigate, Tonbridge Wells or wherever saying ‘why cant this growth go to levelling up areas’?, well it maybe should be the housing has to go somewhere and of those top 6 areas only Liverpool has additional brownfield capacity, over and above the ridiculously backfired urban uplift (no single policy change ever has led to such an acceleration of proposed Green Belt loss). So what they are saying in ‘northern oiks, stay up north and don’t build in the Surrey and Kent Green Belt but in the Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Brum Green Belts’.

Seeing an opening from a naïve new SoS keen to grasp any straw from revolting Nimby Constituencies that looks levelling up the BBC members must think ‘keerching’ we finally can get those optioned Green Belt Sites outside the South East released.

Planning is hard. People migrating to a job must come from somewhere. Because the standard method is not a standard model (and by definition therefore becomes a mathematically inconsonant mispecified model); we need a standard model based on mathematically consistent (in accounting terms where losses and gains balance) economic growth scenarios by region (its how the Irish do it), and the per LPA numbers should return back to strategic planning per functional economic region. A clumsy fudged spreadsheet just cant cut it.

Gove – Planning Reforms have been “mischaracterised” by many people.

Michael Gove has insisted that the government’s controversial planning reforms have been “mischaracterised” by many people.

The housing secretary, answering questions in the House of Commons yesterday, spoke publicly for the first time about the reforms, which have been dubbed a ‘developer’s charter’ by opponents.

Gove appeared keen to present his impending overhaul of planning policy as an improvement on existing proposals, rather than a complete scrapping of the reforms.

He said: “It is only fair to say that the planning white paper was mischaracterised by many.

“There is so much that is good in it, but it is important that we listen to concerns that were expressed in order to ensure that an already powerful and compelling suite of proposals is even more effective.”

Gove had earlier said he was currently considering all the responses to the white paper and will make announcements “on the next steps in due course.”

The controversy was blamed by many for the Conservatives’ shock by-election defeat in Chesham and Amersham earlier this year.

Gove also said in yesterday’s debate that “many people would welcome new housing development enthusiastically” if they had the assurance of knowing that there was “sufficient investment in infrastructure” so that there was not additional pressure on public services and utilities. He said this has been incorporated into the government’s thinking on planning reform.

Is Rishi Announcing New Money for Brownfield Housing in Budget or Doing a Grant Shapps and rebadging old Programmes

The latter. The 400m Brownfield Fund to Mayoral Combined Authorities plus 100 million elsewhere announced in 2020 one year spending review (but 4 year programme), totals 4bn over 4 years. Over the 4 years of the 2021 CSR the 4bn leaked to BBC today amounts to eeer 4bn. In other words not a penny extra for brownfield housing. Pretending to switch priorities, no switch.