Author: Mick Fletcher

Mick Fletcher worked in the Further Education sector for over 40 years, initially as a lecturer and then as a local authority officer, before becoming a researcher and policy analyst at a national level. For the last twelve years he has been a freelance writer, researcher and consultant specialising in vocational education and skills policy.

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Highway holdup for Somerset cyclists

Mick Fletcher
group of cyclists on Brean Way cycle-path

Slow progress on cycle-paths One of the reasons that progress in developing a network of cycle-paths in England is glacially slow is that opposition turns up where you might reasonably have expected support. ‘Blocked by the Burdensome Estate’ set out how an agency sponsored by the Department for Transport is still undermining moves to create […]

Somerset wants local government to be local

Mick Fletcher
Leaders of the four regional concils behind Stronger Somerset

Double defeat for Jenrick It’s a double defeat for ‘Honest Bob’ Jenrick.  Firstly, the free vote of Somerset residents that he tried so hard to stop has taken place. Secondly local electors resoundingly rejected the option he so obviously preferred – the ambition of failing Somerset County Council (SCC) to take over the four districts.  […]

A ban on the use of peat…or is it?

Mick Fletcher

News that the government is contemplating a partial ban on the use of peat in horticulture is welcome but needs to be put in context. A government that is serious about tackling climate change would have to take some really tough decisions. To reduce emissions from air travel for example it would have to face […]

Rocket fuel or rocketing debt? The new offer for adult education

Mick Fletcher

The government’s legislative programme announced in the Queen’s speech on 11 May gave particular prominence to the idea of ‘levelling up’, promising “bold new interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunities throughout the UK”.  Central to this vision is the reform of vocational education, described as offering new lifelong learning opportunities for adults. The prime minister […]

Phone masts, freedoms and high finance: a tangled tale

Mick Fletcher

There is often more than one side to a story. Our aim at West Country Bylines is to give a balanced account of issues while avoiding distortion through what is known as ‘false equivalence’. It is a disservice to readers, for example, to give equal weight to the views of medical experts and unqualified anti-vaxxers […]

Somerset’s local democracy in danger from this man

Mick Fletcher

On 3 March we published an article by Theo Butt Philip highlighting the decision of Robert Jenrick to cancel elections to Somerset County Council. You can follow the preview link to the full article below. In essence Jenrick had decided that whether the people of Somerset liked it or not they would move to a […]

The unstoppable march of the masts

Mick Fletcher

Most of us want it both ways.  We are keen, often desperate, to get improved mobile coverage. At the same time, we don’t want our precious landscapes scarred by ugly and alien structures. Reconciling the two will always be tricky. However, a little-known piece of legislation called the Electronic Communications Code (EC code) tips the […]

Virtual unreality and the over-centralised state

Mick Fletcher

It is not the worst decision taken by the current administration, but one that neatly encapsulates the insularity and arrogance of our over-centralised government: the powers that enable local authorities to function safely during the pandemic by holding meetings on-line will lapse on 7 May, and will not be renewed. The reason, to be blunt, […]

Global Britain – a fake ambition

Mick Fletcher
British bulldog with union flag bandana collapsed tired on decking

One of the ways in which the current government remains popular despite clear evidence of corruption and incompetence is by selling comforting illusions to its core supporters.  The idea of ‘Global Britain’ is one such fantasy. It paints a picture of a country that ‘punches above its weight’, is a ‘sovereign equal’ of a trading […]

The royal row and tabloid tyranny

Mick Fletcher

Good drama can hold up a mirror to the world and the real-life drama unfolding around the British royal family certainly does. What it shows reflects very badly on aspects of our culture, particularly the sheer toxicity of much of the tabloid press. Less obviously at the moment, it also has a serious message about […]

Slasher Gav hunts for headlines

Mick Fletcher

It’s certainly dramatic language. Gavin Williamson is on record as planning to “slash” (some sources even say ‘smash’) the taxpayer subsidy for subjects such as media studies. More cautious ministers might have spoken about reducing funding or withdrawing support but that’s not harsh enough for tough guy Gav. After all, this is a man who […]

Censuring students while censoring history

Mick Fletcher
black and white photo, man with finger to lips. secret

You could hardly make it up.  At the same time as government plans to appoint a ‘free speech tsar’ to stop students cancelling controversial speakers it also intends to summon heritage groups to be told by a minister what they can and cannot say about British history. It’s ludicrous but at the same time deeply […]

The Tory MP and a £20bn stealth tax on business

Mick Fletcher

I tend to think of Robert Halfon as a decent sort of chap who just got into bad company and so ended up as the Conservative MP for Harlow. He styles himself as representing the working-class Conservative voter and probably has more genuine sympathy with that group than many of his colleagues, who seem suddenly […]

Beyond the ‘burdensome estate’

Mick Fletcher

Since West Country Bylines published my article Blocked by the ‘burdensome estate‘ people from all over the country have contacted me with similar examples of apparent official vandalism. Despite the Department for Transport (DfT) publishing a cycling and walking plan for England which ostensibly “sets out a vision for a travel revolution”, part of that […]

Smoke, mirrors and the scandal of student debt

Mick Fletcher

Student finance is a difficult subject for progressives.  On the one hand it seems outrageous that our young people should enter adult life burdened by debts of some £40 – £50,000   – the highest level of student debt in the world. On the other hand, fixing the crisis in social care and raising our shamefully […]

The US has foiled a coup, but could we?

Mick Fletcher

Several writers, including West Country Bylines’s Tom Scott and Sadie Parker, have drawn attention to the disturbing parallels between the anti-democratic activities of Trump in the USA and Johnson here. Many, however, are reluctant to accept that Johnson is in effect Britain’s Trump, despite the fact that this dubious accolade was bestowed by none other […]

Gavin must go; but that’s only the start

Mick Fletcher

No part of this government comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic well, and the staggering death toll is the tragic summation of a whole raft of failures. Probably the most expensive of these failures in terms of financial cost and, more importantly, human life, is ‘Test and Trace’ on which the Department of Health has […]

Digital divisions and the Tower of Babel

Mick Fletcher

People often talk of the ‘digital divide’, a gulf that separates those with access to IT and social media from others who lack the means or the understanding to engage with it. Some go further and speak of ‘digital natives’, those who have grown up with new technology and assimilated its ways like a child […]

A ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ – great, until you read the small print

Mick Fletcher

The shameful gap between the soaring rhetoric of policy announcements and the sordid reality of what is implemented has become one of the defining features of this government. The headline examples are of course the ‘oven ready deal’ that took 12 months to get anywhere near the oven, and the ‘world beating’ track and trace […]

What’s next for Somerset Film?

Mick Fletcher

“It was fresh air that kept us sane” said Kathy, reflecting on growing up in the 1940s. Kathy was part of ‘Making Waves’, three days of FM community radio shows created by Bridgwater Senior Citizens’ Forum in 2012. Broadcasting from an empty High Street shop, the Forum’s sometimes provocative but always warm-hearted shows were well […]

MPs should be fixing policy, not potholes

Mick Fletcher

After writing to my local MP, James Heappey, about the threat to food and farming posed by US agricultural interests, I received his standard acknowledgement and holding reply. It contained, as usual, the lines “I receive a large number of emails each day and whilst we do aim to respond in the order that we receive […]

Can a survey really be so bad by accident?

Mick Fletcher

When I was alerted to the fact that the public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) of the House of Commons had produced a survey asking members of the public about priorities for a constitution, democracy and rights commission, I sought it out. Like many, I think there are serious flaws in our democratic processes […]

Will we really be protecting 30 per cent of the land?

Mick Fletcher

My ears pricked up when I heard that the Prime Minister had committed to “protect 30 per cent of the UK’s land by 2030”. The pledge, made at a UN summit on biodiversity, sounds both ambitious and a welcome response to the environmental challenges facing the planet. With Johnson, however, the disappointment is usually in […]

A ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ is fine – but what will students live on?

Mick Fletcher

Let’s give a little credit where it’s due. The ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’,set out by the prime minister on 29 September, is aimed at the right target. It seeks to tackle two linked issues that threaten future prosperity: rising unemployment fuelled by the Covid crisis and the long running UK problem of low productivity. But let’s […]

Questioning capitalism is not extreme

Mick Fletcher

There is something especially hypocritical about this, of all governments, telling schools that they should not use material that could ‘undermine the fundamental British values of democracy [and] the rule of law’ It was, after all, this government that firstly broke the law by seeking to prorogue parliament and then, having been judged guilty, announced […]

Is it really time for T levels?

Mick Fletcher

After the high-profile shambles that has accompanied the A level and BTEC grading this year, the Department for Education (DfE) must be relieved that the next debacle likely to affect the same age group will at least be low profile. Few people seem to have heard that the new T levels (T stands for technical) […]

A walk on the edge – along the Mendip scarp by Westbury Beacon

Mick Fletcher

There are many good walks in the Mendips, but popular sites on top of the plateau can get a little crowded at peak times. I prefer a walk that starts from one of the spring line villages that surround the upland – more challenging, but a more varied terrain, and a walk where the landscape […]

Ash Dieback and the extinction cascade

Mick Fletcher

My children have never seen a full-grown elm tree, once one of the glories of the English countryside. My grandchildren may be the last generation to see an ash tree, a similarly well-loved feature of our current landscape. The Woodland Trust estimate that up to 95 per cent of the two billion ash trees in […]

The ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ get forgotten again

Mick Fletcher

In a speech to the Social Market Foundation on 9 July, Gavin Williamson gave much-needed encouragement to the struggling further education (FE) sector when he said, “From now on, our mantra must be further education, further education, further education.” In a clear bid for support from the new Tory voters in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ […]

Blocked by the ‘burdensome estate’

Mick Fletcher

The Strawberry Line is an ambitious project to provide a safe off-road path for cyclists and others, linking the communities along the southern boundary of the Mendip Hills.   It seeks, as far as possible, to follow the track of the old railway line of that name, famous for the boxes of fruit it hauled to […]