Needed: Structural Reforms for Governing the United Kingdom

By Barbour, Patrick | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Needed: Structural Reforms for Governing the United Kingdom


Barbour, Patrick, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The author argues that the current system of government in the United Kingdom is failing because of structural flaws that operate regardless of which party is in power. In a provocative article that is centered on facts rather than on ideological discussion, he makes his case as to how the current system of government is failing, and explores the fundamental causes of the failure and the principles that he believes will need to apply in any reform.

Keywords: United Kingdom: Governmental structure and failure; Causes of U.K.'s governmental failure; Reform principles.

Accumulating evidence is demonstrating that structural flaws in the government of the United Kingdom are causing politicians, regardless of party, to fail to prevent the country's slide into third-rate status. Ministers now have impossible jobs. An objective appraisal of the performance of successive governments shows that the structural dislocation has caused ministers to fail to provide good-quality services at reasonable cost, to improve the quality of life for the U.K.'s citizens, and to serve the poor and disadvantaged.

This article will consist of three parts. First, the author will review the accumulating evidence of failure. This will be followed, second, by an inquiry into the fundamental causes of that failure; and, third, by a discussion of the principles that will be needed for reform.

I. The Evidence of Governmental Failure

In Education:

A high standard of education is no longer being provided, with the result that a large segment of the population is slated for low-paid manual work with little opportunity for upward mobility. The country is coming to lack the highly qualified people it needs to compete with lower-cost developing countries.

Much can be seen from the facts that are available about the poor progression of students at different ages. According to the Department for Education and Skills, 25 percent of 11 -year-olds leave primary school without sufficient ability in reading and writing to succeed at the secondary school curriculum.1 When students are three years older, the then 14-year-olds fail in almost 30 percent of the cases to reach the expected levels in English, Math and Science to enable them to pass the GCSEs.2 By the time they are 16, almost 60 percent do not achieve a GCSE grade C or better in the three core subjects of English, Math and Science.3

The result is that after eleven years of state education at a cost of over 75,000 British pounds per child, pupils are leaving school functionally illiterate, innumerate and unskilled. Forty percent do not achieve at least a C grade in GCSE English.4 In 1999, approximately seven million adults in England could not locate the page number for plumbers in an alphabetical index to the Yellow Pages.5 Forty-seven percent are unable to achieve a grade of G at GCSE Math.6 The OECD finds that Britain has the second highest level of low-skilled 25-34-year-olds in the thirty countries of the OECD - twice the level of Germany or the United States.7

There are signs that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the country to operate effectively. Even prospective teachers show considerable weakness: their average attainment when entering a B.Ed course is less than three grade Cs at GCE ?-level.8 The Times reported last year that slightly more than half (52%) of would-be prison officers failed a simple literacy and numeracy test.9 A report in The Daily Telegraph in 2006 told how 33 percent of nurses completing their training failed to achieve the 60 percent pass rate in basic English and Math tests, despite having GCSEs in those subjects.10 Here are three of the typical questions the nurses were asked:

"How many minutes are there in half an hour?" (Multiple choice: a. 15; b.20; C.30; dA5.)

"Which of the following times is the same as 8pm? (Multiple choice: a.1800 hrs; b. 1900 hours; c.2000 hrs; d.2100 hrs.)

"What is the correct decimal nomination for six hundred and fifty pence? …

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