Tuesday 31 March 2009

New deal of the mind

Perhaps the most innovative and interesting response to the recession so far from outside government is the New Deal of the Mind project.

This began as a New Statesman article by Martin Bright in January.

If this [recession] turns out to be as deep and long as some now suspect it will be, there will need to be some seriously creative thinking, a "New Deal of the Mind" to equip people who work with their brains or in the creative industries for the challenges ahead. Clearly, this would not be cost-free, but if ministers have decided to go down the route of work creation backed by borrowing, they should at least do it with some imagination and flair.

But, as does not often happen with commentary pieces, there has also been a sustained follow through to try to make the idea a reality, leading to a launch discussion at Number 11 Downing Street last week, on which Lynne Featherstone and Martin Bright have blogged.

Matthew Taylor believes the ideas need to be more focused to become a serious runner, and particularly need to avoid becoming just a general pitch for greater arts funding. No doubt he is right about that, but it is also striking how much momentum and progress has been made in just a couple of months. And Matthew has come up a particularly interesting example of the type of project which would meet the needs of the moment and merit support:

Why not create a national scheme to give newly redundant regional journalists, and those emerging from journalism course with no chance of a job, start-up funds to create strong community web-sites ... Assuming the site developers work from home and can use shared resources developed by the national body, a year’s set-up cost (enough time to see whether the site can succeed), including basic pay for the person running the site, would cost about £30k per site ... So, a pot of about £30 million could fund a thousand community web-sites adding real social value, employing at least a thousand workers with valuable skills and offering some great opportunities for graduates and school leavers. What’s more, this spending can be fast and direct.

Youth unemployment - including graduate unemployment - is going to be one of the most urgent issues of 2009 and 2010, and this strikes me as precisely the sort of response that is needed.

(PS: Rather more parochially, Martin is not happy about the Observer letter challenging Nick Cohen's claims about the liberal-left betraying liberal Muslims. There was an interesting panel at the Orwell prize shortlist: David Davis and Douglas Murray from the right. For the left, Frank Field and Nick Cohen! Nick was looking to start a new spat or three, as you can see for yourself on YouTube. New olive branches please!)

1 comment:

Stuart White said...

On the topic of the Orwell prize, I think I am actually in sympathy with the substance of Nick Cohen's remarks. I think Nick and Christopher Hitchens are far from being today's Orwells - but I did feel Nick, albeit incoherently, was onto something here in terms of asking what the point of a prize dedicated to Orwell ought to be about. But maybe this my sour grapes - they never even longlisted my book on 'Equality' in 2007!