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Monday 16 July 2012

Completely normal Olympic deviants

The recent Olympics debacle brought about an interesting omission. According to culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, it was "completely normal" for a contractor to fail to deliver on a major project.

It probably wasn’t the best phrase of words to capture the understandable difficulty of organising security for the Olympics. But there is a greater ring of truth about what is deemed as acceptable.  

For too long, it has been ‘completely normal’ for large providers to fail to deliver. For years, we’ve been watching the ‘usual suspects’ – the Job Centre Minuses, the Further Dis-education colleges, the ‘Prime Turkey’ contractors - miss the mark in achieving real education and employment outcomes for young people, but continue to devour funding contracts to do more.  For years, we’ve watched and waved large cruise ship charities offload the same old cargo of goods and ply the same waters of disadvantaged thinking without changing course to bring back fresh ideas, find different lands, or rescue the local charity canoes capsized in the sizeable backwash of their egos.

What is completely normal about all this is our failure to change what is acceptable as the norm. None of this has to be this way. Only a country devoid of intelligent leadership and enterprise could possibly manage both large scale unemployment and staff shortages at the same time.  It is not completely normal – it is what we have made normal.

Let’s make a list – and, believe me, in my world, a list is a last resort.  Let’s make a list of every current project, provider, institution, service, where we expect things not to work or be solved just because they are complex or challenging. And then let’s think about harnessing the energy and talents that are being wasted in communities up and down this country to solve those issues. 

What we will find is that we have normalised systems of failure. We have structured failure into the operating software our lives, accepted it as the limit of what we can achieve, and created commissioning and contracting conditions to sustain failure as a positive outcome.
How ironic it is, on the eve of the Olympics, when we are meant to marvel at humans pushing the boundaries of what is physically possible, that we are so ready to accept the limits of what we deem mentally impossible.  It is not so much a question of Olympic security that is the issue at stake here, but how we choose to invest in and utilise the resources we have available to secure our future.

Every day, it has been completely normal, under this and every Government I can remember, for people to struggle.  For young people, and for old people, to lose what counts in their lives, at the same time as others gain more than they could ever possibly need, without adequate checks and balances between these extremes.   What we might calmly pronounce as ‘completely normal’ in our society  - that a TV actor pretending to be a nurse will be paid more than a person who can actually nurse - is a choice we have made that demeans our humanity. If this is what is normal, then it’s time to wallow in that other great English gift: to be a positive deviant.  We need an army of them.  ‘Advantaged thinking’ Olympic deviants deployed in every local authority, every national charity, and every normally-failing Government provider, to breakthrough what we have 'accepted'.  And it certainly won't be a contract for G4S...

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