7 November 2009

Revolving Doors and Revolting Publics

The outcry against our politicians, which has been focused on their scandalous expenses claims, is surely a result of the growing sense that they are a class apart. They work hand-in-glove with the 'captains of industry' to ensure that our legal, economic and social structures work for the benefit of this tiny minority - and against the interest of people and the planet.

I spent some time this week responding to the consultation document on the Research Excellence Framework. This is the structure that will decide how valuable the research produced in our universities is, and therefore how public grants and promotions will be allocated between researchers.

We have moved on from the judgement of our peers about the quality of our work to a system of impact assessment. This might not be such a bad thing, since it encourages academics to think beyond their ivory towers. But the indicators used to measure impact are frightening, focusing heavily on the ability of academics to generate patentable scientific ideas that can be sold to support industry.

Close relationships between 'industry' (undefined) and academia are encouraged - including secondments. Academics who take a critical view of the business community, or who see their research as a service to the citizen, will receive short shrift in the next round of spending allocations. This is a natural consequence of the shifting of universtities out of Education and into the Business department. The taxes paid by citizens are now used to subsidise research that businesses will later exploit to increase their profits.

The forthcoming report of the Public Affairs Select Committee raises related concerns about the influence of industry lobbyists on legislation. PASC notes that 'Ministers can, within all existing rules, use their former ministerial position to help them to gain access for private interests' and has 'specific concerns about former Ministers who take up paid employment after they have left ministerial office but while they remain Members of Parliament paid from the public purse.'

Examples cited include that of Stephen Ladyman, who left the Department of Transport and accrued a consultancy with the road-pricing company ITIS. Lord Bach, Minister for Defence Procurement, moved into 'industry' working for Selex Sensors and Airborne Systems, and then came back through the revolving door to a job as a government whip. And king of the dungheap you will be unsurprised to hear is Tory Blur himself, who is receiving expenses from the British government to tour the Middle East apparently to spread peace but opening doors for the expansion of Tesco in the area as a nice little sideline.*

Thanks to Barbara Panvel for these examples. A new website tracking government corruption will be established soon and will be linked from this blog.

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