Public Knowledge in Britain
Part II looks at other forms of public knowledge in Britain and their erosion since 2010. Across a variety of sectors, the coalition and then Conservative governments have applied a mix of severe cuts, covert privatization measures and market-inspired public sector reorganisations. In each case, both the transition and its wider impacts have been obscured, with public debate squeezed, official statistics buried and government and corporate spin liberally disseminated. In the case of legal aid and libraries, the pathways and outcomes are simple: severe cuts, with the mass of ordinary citizens being deprived of legal and other forms of public knowledge. In education, the story is more complex. Large parts of the higher education system have already been privatized. The academisation of schools suggests, like the recent restructuring of the NHS, that full-scale marketization of education may not be far away. Ironically, marketisation in this case does not equal greater individual and organisational choice and autonomy; instead, it seems to be leading to more centralised government control.
Chapter 7 asks: What exactly is happening to our school system since post-2010 administrations began forcing through a mixture of academisation and centralisation? What does it mean for children and teachers, and where is it all leading? Ken Jones sketches out the bigger picture, one in which education is increasingly driven by a conflicting mixture of private, market-led bodies and state-set targets and audits, with prior educational ideals dropping down the priority order.
Next, in chapter 8, Andrew McGettigan explores the economic and financial logic through which the UK Treasury has justified transformations in the funding and financing of higher education (HE) in the UK. Following the tripling of university fees and the botched introduction of an unsustainable loan system, the government has made further attempts to make HE ‘a market’. The Treasury in particular looks at education as a form of ‘human capital’ and wants to redirect student and HE institutional choices towards a logic of investment and future returns.
One of the most controversial sets of cuts imposed by the coalition government was to legal aid provision and related legal services. In chapter 9, Roger Smith asks: Quite apart from the social consequences of this move, what are the larger economic outcomes of it? He makes the case that a clear discussion of this question has been obstructed by noise from all sides, but dominated especially by official sources. In the process, the true direct and indirect costs, both financial and social, are being obscured. Equally concerning, the great gains of the ‘welfare rights’ movement, as they related to the justice system, are now being cast out altogether.
In chapter 10, Ian Anstice offers an overview of how local library services across the United Kingdom have been affected by cuts. As he explains, although only 10 percent have been axed since 2010, the hidden real-terms cuts go far deeper. Services and provisions offered have been drastically reduced and reshaped in a number of ways that only partially paper over what is happening. As with other public institutions, such cuts, tacitly supported by the coalition and Conservative governments, have undermined the very principles upon which local libraries were built.