Justice Minister addresses CentreForum and the Prison Reform Trust

19 November 2014

Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP, Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties, delivered a speech to CentreForum and the Prison Reform Trust which outlined a liberal approach to reforming criminal justice and penal policy. The full text of the speech is below.

Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2014: The Big Interview with Baroness Kramer

The Big Interview with Baroness Kramer

Partner: The Transport Hub

Sunday 5th October

The Q&A session with Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport, began with a question about aviation policy and building a new runway. Baroness Kramer was unable to answer the question because it might compromise the independence of the Davies Commission. She was able to speak about reducing aeroplane emissions by 50% by 2050, and the possibility of bio-fuels. Bio-fuels are problematic in that they divert food crops into fuel crops. Kramer said that the technology has a long way to go to solve this, and we have to take a stand with our European partners to reduce emissions. 

An audience member raised the concern that HS2 will never get past Birmingham. Baroness Kramer replied that we are past the point of no return for phase 2. She said that passenger demand for train routes is escalating rapidly, and we are out of train paths. Phase 1 of HS2 is crucial for providing the capacity we need. North of Birmingham the role of HS2 changes – it’s not a commuter route. The midlands and northern cities see the potential to use HS2 as the underlying infrastructure framework for an economic renaissance. The south of England cannot be the single source of economic prosperity, and connectivity is key in changing this – including east to west lines. Baroness Kramer is increasingly working with communities, asking what support they need to drive economic growth. 

Baroness Kramer continued by explaining that Phase 1 will start on the ground in 2017, within the next Parliament, and open in 2026, costing £17.5 billion in total, which is financeable on an annual basis. She asserted that there has been a re-commitment to infrastructure by the coalition government. For instance, they have spent £24 billion on roads – sums not seen in a generation. Baroness Kramer said we have suffered from not spending, just maintaining our roads. 

The next question asked was whether consumers could expect lower fares from an inefficient Network Rail. Baroness Kramer agreed that Network Rail needs to become more efficient, and she has confidence in its recent leadership. For years we weren’t bringing through the management chains the engineering expertise that you need, and we are now playing catch up. The travelling public are using trains in growing numbers, and they are getting more punctuality and reliability after a cultural shift towards customer service. 

When asked about re-nationalising the Network Rail debt, Baroness Kramer responded that many people have a rosy view of British Rail, and she does not want to see a return to those accounting standards. She added that she is very concerned that we continue to finance for five year periods, showing commitment to the industry rather than the stop/start method of chancellors in the old days. There should be an arm’s length relationship between the government and Network Rail.

Baroness Kramer told the audience that the Department for Transport was more collegiate between Tories and Lib Dems that other departments. She believes that the Lib Dems have made sustainability a much larger part of the picture – it has become conventional wisdom, and also provoked a change in thinking in the private sector. She added that the Tories have got the cycling brief, but the coalition put £374 million into cycling, and the benefit to cost ratio of projects that facilitate cycling are enormous.

By Harriet Davison

Mental Health Commission Launch

“The Pursuit of Happiness: A New Ambition for our Mental Health”

Tuesday 8th July 2014

The Royal Society


  • Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP (Commission Chair)
  • Angela Greatley, Chair, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dr Mike Shooter, President, BACP
  • Professor Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workplace Effectiveness
  • Dr Ian Walton, Sandwell GP and IAPT Lead
  • Chair: Duncan Greenland, CentreForum

Coverage from the launch of the Mental Health Commission can be found on CentreForum's youtube channel or by clicking on the individual videos below.

1. Introduction

2. Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP

3. Angela Greatley

4. Dr Mike Shooter

5. Prof Stephen Bevan

6. Dr Ian Walton

7. Question and Answer



How can we unlock citizen creativity to strengthen communities?

Creative Citizenship, with its emphasis upon creativity, innovation and the civic potential of online media, hints at new ways forward for long-established political ambitions to stimulate economic and cultural activity at the community level.  Labour’s Third Way; the Conservatives’ Big Society and the Liberal Democrats’ Open Society are way-markers on this journey, though each of these approaches has had their critics.

To coincide with the Creative Citizens conference at the Royal College of Art on the 18th and 19th September, CentreForum have launched their contribution to this dynamic area of policy development. 

 September 2014.

Author Stephen Lee.

Regional Challenges launch


The launch of CentreForum’s report ‘Regional Challenges: A Collaborative Approach to Improving Education’, Intercontinental Westminster. 

Morning Speakers

  • Chris Paterson, Associate Director, CentreForum (Chair)
  • James Kempton, Associate Director, CentreForum
  • Graham Stuart MP,  Chair, Education Select Committee
  • Rt Hon David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools

James Kempton, co-author of the report, talked about the importance of narrowing the performance gap between schools in London and other regions and the role of regional challenges in doing this. The report drew on lessons from London Challenge and nine emerging challenge initiatives around the country to identify key elements that should be considered: defining the problem and focus; and issues around scale, mandate, external challenge, and approach.  He also talked about the recommendation that government should be proactive in facilitating challenges to be set up through a national programme offering organisational and financial support.

Graham Stuart MP welcomed the report. London Challenge coincided with an increase in high-performing immigrant children, Teach First, corporate-led initiatives and improved primary education, and a debate will continue about the significance of different factors surrounding the reversal of London’s schools’ standards. He acknowledged the importance of bold local experiments in school improvement, which do not replicate London Challenge but identify the elements of London Challenge that were most effective.

Two key factors will help ensure the success of ‘regional challenges’, Graham Stuart said. Firstly, schools need to be incentivised to participate, possibly through a dedicated funding stream and ‘Excellent Leadership Awards’. Secondly, it is vital that we have the right resources where they are most needed. This means taking advantage of the quality and capacity already within the system, and ensuring that outstanding practitioners share their expertise. Currently, there are no national leaders of education (NLEs) in some authorities, as well as huge divisions of quality within regions. We must place system leaders where they are lacking, and encourage existing leaders to work in areas of most need.

David Laws MP also welcomed CentreForum’s report and the two other recent reports on London Challenge as providing a “long overdue” focus why London was doing so well.  He said he broadly supported the first four recommendations but he questioned the value that would be added to a local area strategy by a central mandate. He noted that the government selecting areas to support implicitly means selecting areas not to support which might equally need help to improve. He has been pleased to see local areas coming forward with their own challenges, and felt that the Department for Education needed to reflect on how it could best support those challenges. 

The Minister shared the lessons that the government has drawn from London Challenge that are being built into the national strategy for education. He first recognised that funding matters, and advocated schools in disadvantaged areas directing their ‘pupil premium’ funding towards ‘regional challenge’ initiatives. Secondly, he emphasised that we must be intolerant of weak leadership in schools, and unafraid to put in new governance where it is needed. Ensuring that success is spread across the country requires tough accountability (including for academies), as well as collaboration between schools. Finally, David Laws recommended a refusal to accept mediocrity, and stated that schools must work with local businesses and parents to raise aspiration. 

Afternoon Speakers 

  • Professor David Woods, London Challenge & London Leadership Strategy (Chair)
  • Michael Cladingbowl HMI, National Director, Inspection Reform, Ofsted
  • Rebecca Earnshaw, Director, Schools NorthEast
  • Simon Faull, Project Director, Somerset Challenge
  • Dr Vanessa Ogden, Headteacher, Mulberry School for Girls (Tower Hamlets)

David Woods opened the afternoon discussion with a number of thoughts on what makes a ‘regional challenge’ successful. He underscored the value of clear and relentless focus on which aspects of standards we aim to raise. This followed into his emphasis on the importance of external challenge and the benefit of outstanding schools supporting other schools, constant focus on improving teachers, and mobilising the wider community. 

Michael Cladingbowl pointed to evidence that the blight of underachievement is present in pockets of the entire country, reminding the audience that, as CentreForum’s report emphasises, access to a good school depends largely on where a child lives. There are nine local authorities in the country where all children go to a good or outstanding secondary school. But there are thirteen local authorities where fewer than half of children go to a good school. Michael Cladingbowl pressed the need for deprived areas to get good teachers, and solve issues of teacher retention. These are problems that will be changed over time, and the eight-year length of London Challenge was critical to its success. He outlined Ofsted’s assessment of the present situation as follows:

  • The aim is not so much to fix regional variation, but as to focus on individual schools. 
  • Need for a systematic means of ensuring isolated and deprived areas getting access to high quality teachers.
  • Need to share best practice, underpinned by fierce ambition for our children.
  • Need to be flexible to specific needs of children and of local areas.
  • Three cornerstones are: credible people, useful data, teacher retention.

He ended with the assertion that improvement cannot be left to chance, and we need to invest in people to succeed. 

The need to invest in people was driven home by Rebecca Earnshaw, Director of Schools North East, a school-led organisation working to develop the ‘Great North East Schools Challenge’. She pointed out that in Lord Adonis’ review of the North East economy, education was at the heart of his plan for the region. Rebecca Earnshaw disagreed with David Laws’ earlier response to CentreForum’s recommendation of a government-supported regional initiative. She argued that despite enthusiasm and cultural unity, it had been difficult to begin a bottom-up approach in the North East, and that support and funding are needed from Westminster. A top-down scheme would supplement the transformation already taking place in the North East. 

Simon Faull followed, describing Somerset Challenge, the school-led initiative that he directs. It is within a single local authority area, with 39 of 40 schools involved – voluntary participation, but with clear requirements. He stated that the scale made sense working within the distinctive culture and common identity of Somerset. Pragmatically, the small scale meant that they could self-lead, and proceed with the project within a term. Simon Faull acknowledged that the disadvantages of this bottom-up approach included a lack of external push, but he felt that the right timing and strong leadership have been driving factors in its success. 

Strong leadership was also identified by Dr Vanessa Ogden as the key to success – both from head teachers and the civil service. Having written her doctoral thesis on urban leadership, with reference to ‘London Challenge’, Vanessa Ogden is currently chair of ‘Somerset Challenge’. She noted the importance of “practitioner buy-in” to the success of ‘London Challenge’, and that active recognition was pivotal – the NLE model was a product of this learning. She emphasised the need for political support, which provides the ability to make connections between schools, and funding for this collaborative work. If all our regions are going to be equally successful, this support needs to be continual. 

Issues raised in audience/panel discussion

General discussion focused particularly on the specifics of ‘getting the best teachers to the worst schools’, and lack of incentives currently in the system for this. There was concern that many NLEs could do more to lead beyond their own school.   One approach might be for Ofsted to reward system leadership with in the inspection framework. The discussion led to general consensus that people need to be supported on their way to great leadership, and areas that struggle to attract established leaders should focus on ‘growing their own’.

Report by Harriet Davison