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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A plan that wasn’t a plan and a promise that wasn’t a promise

Mick Fletcher

If you are thinking of laying bets on winners and losers in the next reshuffle James Heappey, MP for Wells, may be one to watch.  He is desperately loyal, not associated too closely with a current scandal, and, unlike some of his colleagues, can speak his lines clearly.  Most importantly, he can repeat official nonsense […]

Lack of learning from Somerset’s failure

Mick Fletcher

Somerset residents face the prospect of a serious cut in the adult education provision available in the county next year, and substantial staffing reductions in their major adult education provider. Somerset Skills and Learning (SSL) is having to turn hundreds of students away and make teaching staff redundant this summer after failing to win a […]

Vocational exams and educational vandalism

Mick Fletcher
trainee plumbers

Government policy, even when wrong, can usually be understood.  Recent proposals for ‘chain gangs’ of offenders in high vis jackets for example might make no sense in terms of reducing crime but are explicable as an appeal to authoritarian voters.   Expert advice was clear that the privatisation of the probation service was doomed to failure, […]

Dealing with disappointing data – a guide for aspiring autocrats

Mick Fletcher
Carnical models of Putin and Kim Jong-Un

Even the most authoritarian of regimes feel the need to pretend that they enjoy popular support. Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un, for example, routinely claim to have won huge majorities in elections that were quite clearly rigged. In a similar way, UK politicians whose actions show scant respect for democracy, work hard to give the […]

Garden villages – are they as green as they seem?

Mick Fletcher

In August 2018 the government set out proposals for the creation of ‘garden communities’, intended to tackle the chronic shortage of housing in the UK and raise the standard of building development.  The name consciously harks back to the ‘Garden City’ vision of Ebenezer Howard but also reflects one of the stock cliches of property […]

James Heappey MP – an officer but not quite a gentleman

Mick Fletcher
MP James Heappey

I have disagreed with my local MP James Heappey on many issues over the years but never before had occasion to doubt his courage. After all he has seen active service in Afghanistan and Iraq and being on the front line in those areas undoubtedly took guts.  Courage is about more than fighting, however, and […]

Bulging bins and empty shelves – the Brexit dividend

Mick Fletcher
Rubbish in the street

It was all so predictable.  Ending the free movement of UK and EU citizens and making the UK a less welcoming place for EU nationals was always going to lead to labour shortages in key sectors.  Government were warned repeatedly but didn’t listen; or perhaps just didn’t care.   They can’t avoid it now. One of […]

Somerset binmen and Brexit: a story of waste

Mick Fletcher

Somerset residents have been warned by Somerset Waste Partnership that continued staff shortages will mean delays and interruptions to rubbish collection services across the county. The contractor, Suez, is struggling to cope with a lack of staff to drive their bin lorries and has called on people to be patient while they attempt to recruit […]

Lack of action on active travel in Somerset

Mick Fletcher

Somerset County Council (SCC) have contacted us over our article on cycle paths in Somerset. They asked us to add three points giving the perspective of the County Highways Department on some of the key issues raised. We are pleased to set out their comments here in the interests of balance and to quote in […]

Discord not development: Robert Halfon’s recipe for the ‘left behind’

Mick Fletcher
young pupil completing exam paper

If further proof was needed that this administration is more concerned to play politics than to govern the country well, the recent report of the Education Select Committee provides it. The committee chose to tackle an important and urgent issue – the failure of our education system adequately to prepare large numbers of young people […]

Brunel Bridge: “cultural vandalism” in the Cornish countryside

Mick Fletcher
The beautiful Brunel Bridge in COrnwall

In July 2020 and February 2021 we published articles drawing attention to the actions of Highways England Historical Railway Estate (HRE) – a little known body responsible for redundant railway structures. Although operating on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) this organisation appeared to pay scant regard to the priority now accorded to sustainable […]

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 […]