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Castles of command and control

What has been your experience of engaging with public, voluntary and other services – to what extent did you feel they were designed to meet your needs? 

We have traditionally organised our response to social challenges in service silos that are accountable to ministers in Whitehall rather than by devolving real power to local public services and people.

Command and control management characterises the government’s approach to delivery and disenfranchises communities and those furthest from decision-makers.

I’m disheartened, but not at all surprised watching big bailouts, government response and the old unjust ways and inequalities being re-centred across sectors

Director of MAIA Amahra Spence

What we heard...

“We’ve moved to national command and control [during the pandemic], strategy has gone out of the window, and it’s become very reactive. We’ve had military type support, with accountants and managers becoming directors, mainly having the vacuum fill of central government gaps.”
Attendee at event for members of civil society organisations

“There is anger and trauma in communities, how can people protest safely? When people can't participate at a strategic level, people who have power and a voice retain it.”

Attendee at event for members of civil society organisations

“What I'm incredibly aware of through my career and for me as a person is this divide that exists between the world of public services, systems, institutions, and the world of citizens. It’s like two riverbanks with a fast-flowing river in between. There's a bridge over it. Some citizens go to work across the bridge in the morning, they put on a lanyard and they talk a different language and they become automatons... all the different institutions and the chief executives of those institutions look out from their castles across to the other castles. They might see the need to somehow work together, but they can't. Can we trust them if we come out of our castle, are we going to be shot down or are we going to be taken advantage of, is our budget going to be misused?”

Nick Dixon, senior advisor in person and community centred approaches, Greater Manchester


Stats and facts

  • 35 per cent of public investment is undertaken at a subnational (local) level compared to 60 per cent on average across the OECD. In terms of revenue, only 5 per cent are collected on a local level in the UK compared to 30 per cent on average across the OECD
  • Well over half the public are downbeat about the state of Britain – 56% think Britain is in decline, 63% think Britain’s system of government is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful, and 66% think most big issues facing the country today don’t have clear solutions.



Food for thought

“In a crisis, the default response of the British state is: command and control. Centralise power, organise everything on a big scale, impose “on-size-fits-all” rules. It happened on a massive scale in the two world wars, and it is happening again, on a lesser scale, in the current crisis.” 

Colin Talbot, Professor Emeritus of Government, University of Manchester 

“More than 150 organisations have warned ministers that a new law handing police tougher powers to crack down on protesters would be “an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens” 

'New anti-protest bill raises profound concern human rights groups say", the Guardian

Navigating change before the pandemic

  • Different starting points

    To what extent has your experience of Covid-19 been impacted by your own starting points or those of your local community?

  • Clouds of austerity

    How have the cuts in public funding impacted you, your family and your local community over the last decade?

  • Peaks of power and privilege

    What did power and privilege mean to you before the pandemic?

  • Old world inertia

    To what extent do you feel the pull of the old and the familiar in your own life and the communities and institutions that you are a part of?

  • Lake of latent energy

    Where were you seeing energy for change before the pandemic?

  • Castles of command and control

    What has been your experience of engaging with public, voluntary and other services – to what extent did you feel they were designed to meet your needs?