Friday, 3 October 2008

Honours and the great blackberry hunt

Disaster . I arrive in Charlbury and my blackberry goes dead during a phone call . I have left the charger in London . Horror strikes as I realise that a weekend of no emails and phone calls looms. So I set off in search of someone who might have a blackberry . I try the local pubs; I am greeted with a mixture of bemusement or horror. Blackberries grow on bushes up here . Why would I be wanting to pick them in the dark . And why with a charger ? So no joy . And then it is off to find the one and only local public phone . It looks decidedly disused .I feed it large sums of money which it eats with alacrity. People walk past and stare at this solitary figure , puppy in arms in a phone box. Sad.

The hunt resumes in the morning , and this time with success as I find someone in GWP , a mining consultancy . Joy unalloyed . Yet perhaps the news , relayed quickly to my staff, is not as warmly greeted ? Gone the thought of a Friday without insistent emails from the Boss.

Anyway I discover that my Blog is now being read in Charlbury . The proprietor of the excellent Evenlode Books , a marvellous little bookshop , indeed a minor national treasure these days ,has put a link on his site to other Charlbury bloggers . So when I go to buy a loaf in the other minor Charlbury national treasure ,The Good Food Shop , I am warmly greeted with the news I have another reader!

I enjoy Desert Island Discs. This morning it was Miriam Margoyles. A star. I have followed her career since the early days when , 36 years age, she signed my nomination papers to stand for Lambeth Council in Clapham Town . My other proposer was none other than the formidable authoress Angela Carter. Clapham is like that ; full of assorted literati and glitterati. The rest is history as I was elected , rather a surprise to me as I only stood at the last minute! Miriam is such a treat this morning. The voice and the mimicry , and her ironic self detachment mark her out as a real marvel.

I have received a letter telling me the Cabinet Secretary has approved my appointment to the Honours Advisory Committee for another 3 years. I have been on the committee that makes recommendations on Honours for local government , the police and fire services and the voluntary sector. It is an interesting appointment and one I take very seriously as it has huge responsibility to ensure effective and proper recommendations.

The Honours system is wrapped up in more secrecy than it need be ; yet that is often only a perception The reforms of the system introduced a few years back were aimed at making the system more open . It meant that the committees that make all the recommendations were opened to non executives to bring in outside skill and knowledge to supplement that of the Permanent Secretaries and others who had been the lead members making the decisions. It is easier than people think to make a recommendation and I have encouraged my members to put people forward they think deserve national recognition.

I am a strong supporter of the system . Indeed I am an opponent of those who argue fora change of name from" Empire " to something else. This is a system that brings enormous joy to the many in the sector who are recognised for the contribution , usually largely voluntary , they make to the nation and to society . To receive an Honour from the Monarch is a source of enormous pleasure and pride to those fortunate to be selected . I know this from my good friend the Talented Mr Fielding who was awarded an MBE after he had become the first non Japanese person to win the international aikido championships .

As well as the many brilliant examples of voluntary work and contribution I also believe that those professionals who work in our sector should be rewarded too .So I have argued for effective recognition of the many talented CEOs and workers in third sector bodies. They deserve recognition in the same way that Police Chiefs or Local Council CEOs get recognised .One of the criticisms made is that people sometimes just get the gong as part of rations . I know , from the very strong scrutiny that every individual honour gets ,this is wrong and does not happen .We are always clear that we want to award for more than just doing the job . There needs to be a real personal commitment and achievement . But I also agree with the Prime Minister , who has argued for more recognition of the "unsung heroes". People who selflessly contribute to society over the years.

So I encourage acevo members to make recommendations _ and you can do this as well . In fact it is easier than you might think . There is even a form on the Government website under "Honours ". If I had more dexterity on the blog I would put in a link.....go for it.


Rob Greenland said...

Interesting post Stephen, and entertaining as always. I'm afraid I can't share your enthusiasm for the status quo when it comes to the honours system.

I know that you want a better Britain as much as I do. Do you not recognise that a system for recognition, based on outdated, class-based premises, is completely anachronistic? It does nothing in my opinion to help us to build a better Britain.

Instead it alienates the majority of us - and helps to maintain current inequalities. Of course, I'd stick with the system if I were you, as you're clearly well on your way to a Knighthood. Good luck to you, but I for one don't share your enthusiasm for the system.

More thoughts on this subject here:



Anonymous said...

I too am not convinced that having monarchic patronage bestowed upon us should have any part in a modern Britain.

Recognition from peers, from people that really know what has been done and achieved - if any external reward at all is required - would surely have a far greater currency.

Now having the chance to refuse an honour.....

janet f said...

Honours - although tempted to try to work out how confused you must be on this subject (given your variety of references to your younger and more radical days) I'll stick with your comment on the perception of many of the public that these are given to many 'as part of the job' (I'm in this camp).
It must be a responsibility of those who give out these honours to ensure that there is better communication about what valid extras were done by those receiving them - 'services to local government' doesn't really suggest that 'services to local residents' was the reason?
By the way, I still come down in favour of keeping them but think that there's still a long way to go - until the population as a whole recognise them for what they, hopefully, are then there'll continue to be debate like this (debate which demeans those who fully deserve these honours).

Rob Greenland said...

I don't really think the debate demeans people who receive honours. I think it is fair to question the honours system, and you can do that without making a judgement about people who receive the honours. I'm sure many people who receive honours deserve them fully. I would argue that others don't - and that in their current guise they are still too closely tied to the "Establishment". Far too many people still end up with a Knighthood or similar seemingly as a right of passage following a life in the civil service. Surely that demeans the honours system more than this debate?