Localism: ‘It’s like letting go of your toddler’s bike’ says Mandarin


Dame Helen Ghosh DCB is, I’m sure, a very fine civil servant in may ways, but sensitive to others perspectives she’s clearly not.

Speaking at the NAO Conference on Performance yesterday (22 Feb 2012) Dame Helen was explaining how the Home office was attempting to devolve more powers to police forces, when she came up with an interesting insight into how Whitehall sees ‘localism’

She was trying to describe the need to “let go” and came up with the following metaphor, borrowed she said from a Downing St Spad: “it’s like when your teaching your child to ride a bike. You take off the stabilisers and at some point you have to let go of the bike and let them ride off. You know they may fall off and bloody their knees, but you just have to do it.” (I’m not sure that’s the exact quote, but it’s the gist of what she said).

Unfortunately Dame Helen had left before I got to speak. When I did I pointed out that she had chosen a somewhat unfortunate metaphor as an explanation of how Whitehall was ‘letting go’. I can’t imagine many Chief Constables being delighted at being compared to a toddler learning to ride a bike.

Remember, and to be fair to her, Dame Helen was quoting a Downing St adviser. But in a way that makes it worse, because it suggests this view may be widespread in Whitehall. If so, there is clearly a very long way to go before Whitehall undergoes a ‘localism’ cultural revolution, if it ever does.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government at the University of Manchester, England.
This entry was posted in Public Administration, Whitehall. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Localism: ‘It’s like letting go of your toddler’s bike’ says Mandarin

  1. Rick says:

    Colin, I’ve only just seen this but it did give me a laugh this morning. I think it probably reflects the prevailing attitude in Whitehall.

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