Flow of Ideas
An Educational Mansion House for Business


Glenn Rikowski, London, 8th August 2007



The Dazzling Money Mansion – Which Education Must Protect

Shortly before he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave the Chancellor’s speech to the Mansion House that had been part of his duties for the previous nine years. The Mansion House speech is delivered to City of London folk: big financiers, major movers and shakers in the London Stock Exchange, and City of London dignitaries (the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs and the like). After spending the opening sections praising the achievements of the City of London’s record as the world’s leading financial centre, Brown spent nearly two-thirds of his speech on education (Brown, 2007). He appeared to be setting out his stall on this topic, promoting Britain as the ‘education nation’ (Ibid., p.6). Brown argued that Britain needed to become ‘world class in education’ (p.3). However:

“But if we fail to equip people successfully for the future and then as a result of them being left behind by our competitors, they start to see themselves as the victims not beneficiaries of globalisation, I have no doubt that open markets, free trade and flexibility will be challenged by protectionist pressures. Indeed this is what we are already seeing in the USA, parts of Europe and Asia. So the choice is for me clear: invest in education, to prevent protectionism” (Brown, 2007, p.3).

Thus, for Brown, education has the crucial role of bolstering and justifying the Money Mansion: the House of UK Finance Capital – and all that goes with it; hedge funds, bank mega profits, private equity, CEOs and some senior managers of finance houses attaining bulging bonuses and the clout to manoeuvre tax breaks. Education must also soften the blows of globalisation and increasing income and wealth inequalities, it seems. Brown is concerned that ordinary folk might become perturbed and perplexed at the colossal incomes of fund managers and other money and value shifters. Hopefully, if education can drag a few more people into the financial nirvana, then, according to Brown, calls for curbs on the power of finance capital in British society might be muted. For: “Only with investment in education can open markets, free trade and flexibility succeed” (Brown, 2007, p.5).


World Class Labour Power

Brown went on in his speech to argue that other countries are ‘not standing still’ – and he gave examples of what some of our competitors are up to in education (2007, p.3). Indeed: ‘The global competition to create highly skilled, value added economies is fierce and can only get fiercer’ (Ibid.). Education has to generate the quality labour power to enable the UK to compete, argued Brown. For Brown, there is a global “skills war”, in which we must be victorious; in this way education and learning are sacrificed in the quest for success for UK businesses in the cut-throat world of global capitalism.

However, Brown realises that it is not just “hard skills” that employers want, but “soft skills” too; that is:

“…good behaviour, decent manners, the ability to communicate well and work in a team – these soft skills that help a young person’s character develop, that are critical for their employability, and are the essential complement to the hard skills they gain from higher standards” (Brown, 2007, p.5).

What Brown is arguing for here is that the quality of labour power churned out by schools and colleges must be enhanced. Labour power, the capacity to labour, is not just about “skills” and forms of knowledge and competences, but also incorporates work attitudes, social attitudes and personality traits (see Rikowski, 2006). Brown announced the establishment of a new business-led organisation to oversee the development of higher quality labour power via education and training in his Mansion House speech: the National Council for Educational Excellence (NCEE) (Woodward, 2007; and Brown, 2007, p.4). Leading players in the NCEE include Sir Terry Leahy (Tesco), Sir John Rose (Rolls Royce) and Confederation of British Industry Director-General Sir Richard Lambert, plus Damon Buffini – a private equity operator. Part of the NCEE’s role would be to give advice and debate on how education spending per state pupil could reach that of private schools [1], and how education could take up 10% of national income – two specific education targets Brown announced in his Mansion House speech. But Brown has invited in representatives of capital who have all played a part, in their own practical ways, of creating an economy where greater income and wealth inequalities prevail. Thus, people who are part of the problem are brought in as catalysts for a solution!


No Turning Back

In the weeks leading up to Brown’s Mansion House speech he received warnings that he should backtrack on Blair’s ‘reforms’ once he became Prime Minister. Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON said that Brown and New Labour were ‘drinking in the last chance saloon’ as far as job cuts and privatisation of public services were concerned (in Taylor, 2007). Prentis argued that ‘privateers and management consultants’ should be ‘given their marching orders’ at the union’s annual conference. Yet Prentis and some other trade union leaders have been calling for a halt to the business takeover of public service for many years now, to little effect.

Brown appears to have no intention of turning back. His commitment to Academies [2] is secure, and his Mansion House speech was ‘his strongest endorsement yet’ of the Academies programme (Hall, 2007). Brown also announced that he would make it easier for universities and colleges to set up academies, and that they would not have to pay the upfront £2 million as sponsors (Elliot, Webster and Hurst, 2007). Whilst this could be seen as back-tracking on Academies – which were supposed to be ‘independent state schools’ sponsored by business folk, charities and religious foundations – in fact it is mere expediency. Now that Brown has committed himself to Blair’s target of 400 Academies he realises that following the ‘cash-for-honours’ scandal (which involved some Academies) business sponsors might be in short supply. It also adds academic kudos, and hence for Brown hopefully diffuses some of the protests against these schools.

He also implicitly endorsed the development of federations of schools in his Mansion House speech. As I have argued previously (Rikowski, 2006), federations of schools can be viewed as being part of a project of creating ‘brands’ and ‘chains’ of schools – something business interests have been keen on throughout the New Labour years.

It seems that there is no turning back for Brown regarding bringing business interests into the schools system. Indeed, through the NCEE it appears that he is giving business a more overtly strategic and policy-making platform for schools than Blair ever did. His Mansion House speech can therefore be viewed as creating an ‘educational mansion house for business’ interests in general, and finance capital in particular. It opens the schoolyard gate a little more to those pursuing the business takeover of schools.


Notes

[1] Education spending per pupil is £5,500 in the state sector but £8,000 in the private sector (Woodward, 2007b).

[2] See Rikowski (2007, Note 3) for a summary of the nature of these schools.


References

Brown, G. (2007) Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, to the Mansion House, 20th June, HM Treasury, at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/newsroom_and_speeches/press/2007/press_68_07.cfm

Elliott, F., Webster, P. & Hurst, G. (2007) Pupils need lessons in soft skills to raise standards of behaviour, Chancellor says, The Times, 21st June, p.4.

Hall, B. (2007) No retreat on school reform, pledges Brown, Financial Times, 21st June, p.2.

Rikowski, G. (2005) Federation Starships? The Evolution of Federations of Schools in England, a paper resented at the Education Studies / Education Policy Research Seminar, University College Northampton, School of Education, Yelvertoft 209, 24th February, online at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=The%20Evolution%20of%20Federations%20of%20Schools

Rikowski, G. (2006) Education and the Politics of Human Resistance, Information for Social Change, Issue No.23 (summer): http://libr.org/isc/issues/ISC23/B3%20Glenn%20Rikowski.pdf

Rikowski, G. (2007) Brown’s PFI Monster Creates Education Spending and Policy Crises (in Three Parts), London, 31st July, online at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Brown%20PFI%20Monster

Taylor, A. (2007) Brown warned on public sector, Financial Times, 20th June, p.2.

Woodward, W. (2007) Brown plans to help universities aid city academies, The Guardian, 21st June, p.1.


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