Thursday 1 July 2010

Bad Behaviour

An optimist about human nature, and most Liberals are, would quarrel with Douglas Hurd's famous admission that prison is "an expensive way of making bad people worse." Rather it's an expensive way of making badly behaved people worse behaved. It is nevertheless refreshing, if somewhat of a surprise, that it's a Tory justice minister, Ken Clarke, who aims to put an end to the competition to appear tougher on crime than the other lot, and to use more intelligent and effective ways of changing the behaviour of criminals.

However, we have to ask how this squares with the promised cuts in the public services, not least the threatened 25% cut in the budget of the Home Office. The Probation Service is already grossly understaffed, the vital Prison Education Service already desperately underfunded, and at present there are often insufficient prison officers to allow prisoners to be let out of their cells to attend classes.

The circle could be squared if fewer people are put in prison (at a cost of £38 000 a year, more than the school fees at Eton), the present plans to build more prisons abandoned, and the money released put into these more productive avenues. But that would transfer public money, not cut it. There is a need for "joined up thinking" here.


  1. Peter, excuse me for this long and totally off-subject comment on William Hague's speech yesterday in which he expressed his astonishment "that the previous Government failed to give due weight to the exercise of British influence in the EU. They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we now face a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU. Since 2007, the number of British officials at Director level in the European Commission has fallen by a third and we have 205 fewer British officials in the Commission overall. The UK represents 12 per cent of the EU population. Despite that, at entry-level policy grades in the Commission, the UK represents just 1.8 per cent of the staff, well under the level of other major EU member states. As a new Government we are determined to put this right.”
    This is indeed a problem: recruitment of Brits to the Commission has fallen off a cliff in recent years for four main reasons. 1/general British negativity to Europe and hence a career in the EU, 2/lack of language skills: proof of ability to use a third EU language is now required before first promotion - a very tall order for Brits given the dismantling of foreign language education in recent years. 3/ the 2004 regulations ('the Kinnock reform') designed to 'deprivilege' Eurocrats which has had the effect of making Commission terms and conditions unattractive for British civil servants and others in mid-career, due to lowish starting salaries and slow promotion. 4/recruitment recently has been largely limited to the new Member States (but worryingly the recent 'open' competiton attracted disproportionately few British candidates).

    There are no easy answers to the first three problems: it will be interesting to see what practical steps the government takes to address them.

  2. Your third point gives the lie to the idea that working for the EU is an atracive gravy-train. Having spent the last 11 (sic) years trying to improve on my schoolboy French, and still being not very good at it, I see the requirement for a third European language as a considerable obstacle. Unfortunately , as you point out, recent government "reforms" giving a lower priority to language teaching are something of an "own goal." I'd very much like enthusiasm for Europe to increase, but the whole topic was off the agenda in the recent election, and as yet shows little sign of returning. Maybe Hague's speech is a step in the right direction.