Evan Davis looks at the lessons of the collapse of Carillion for both the left and right, democracy in Hong Kong and publishers using sensitivity editors.
Browse content similar to 16/01/2018. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
It's always risky to hire
the cheapest builder.
It's true of your new kitchen,
and it's true for government
contracts as well.
Is there a lesson there,
after the death of the giant
outsourcing contractor Carillion?
It's quite difficult for ministers
to go to Parliament and say, oh,
we've gone for a more expensive bid
here, because we thought
it was a better bid.
Outsourcing was loved by Labour
in power but Jeremy Corbyn says this
crisis is a sign it has to go -
we'll ask Dame Margaret Hodge
if she thinks it has much future.
And this - Hong Kong
football fans booing
the Chinese National Anthem.
Has Beijing stuck to its promise -
made to us - to respect democracy
after it took back Hong Kong?
After 30 years, I'm not sure
whether the British Government
still remember Hong Kong,
and still remembers the promises
that they have made.
We hear from the new leader
of the backbench Tory Brexiteers
on whether we may be heading
for a squidgy Brexit.
And the rise of the specialist
cultural sensitivity editor.
Publishers are employing people just
to sniff out anything in their books
that someone might find offensive.
Is this new front in the culture
war a modern necessity,
or dangerous censorship?
So, today, the Carillion blame game.
The world has not fallen in, yet,
but the horror of the company
Carillion going bust with we now
know a mere £29 million
in the bank, with so many
contracts in operation,
so many smaller suppliers unpaid,
so much unfunded pension commitment
and so many workers
jobs dependent on it -
all while it has found
the money in the recent past
to handsomely reward its executives
and make big dividend payouts.
The Government knows
the optics don't look good
and has asked for an accelerated
investigation into the actions
of the directors.
Jeremy Corbyn thinks it makes
a bigger point about trying
to contract everything out.
Time to bring it in house, he says.
But for the moment, contracts rule
in the public sector -
from prisons and schools,
you can also see train
franchises as the same thing.
Some private companies make a mint.
Others - as Carillion knows -
operate on dangerously thin margins.
So is it possible for contracting
out to ever work well?
Here's Helen Thomas.
30,000 businesses, hundreds of
millions of pounds owed. Across the
country, companies working on
Carillion's private sector jobs are
wondering what happens when
Government support ends. Then, the
scale of the damage from the
company's dramatic collapse could
become clear. But there are tough
questions starting to be asked in
Westminster. About a third of
government spending goes through
external suppliers. So, has the
Government got a good handle on who
is building roads and hospitals, or
providing crucial public services?
And have passed lessons about the
pitfalls of dealing with private
companies been learned? About £250
billion of government spending goes
through external suppliers,
according to estimates from the
National Audit Office. 136 billion
of that is spending by central
government departments and the NHS.
But the NAO notes that the
Government is no clear figure for
the amount it spends through
commercial relationships. Decisions
about what to outsource and how are
often made within different
departments. One concern is that
there has not been enough central
management of the whole process.
Open book accounting clauses in
contracts give the Government access
to confidential information, that
helps track what is happening to the
taxpayer's pounds. But a survey in
2014 found only 31% of contracts
have open book clauses. For only 19%
of contracts have the Government
received the relevant data and taken
steps to verify it. A 2014 report by
the Public Accounts Committee
recommended open book accounting to
help scrutiny, greater transparency
and better information on contracts
and their performance, focus on
encouraging new and smaller entrance
in to boost competition, investment
in developing Cabinet Office and
departmental expertise, and,
crucially, contingency plans on all
contracts, should a supplier failed.
A follow up by the committee chaired
by Meg Hillier in 2016 called the
pace of change disappointing.
repeatedly the same things, failure
of contract letting, failure of
contract management and companies
that promised more than they can
deliver for the price. Really, there
is still a very long way for
Government to go. The system isn't
working. There are too few large
companies bidding for the contracts.
They get good at bidding, but there
is no guarantee that being good at
bidding is good at running the
But companies in the sector
would agree that change is needed.
Years of austerity and the drive to
cut costs has put the sector under
pressure. This chart shows operating
profit margins for the UK
construction sector. Construction
was the part of Carillion's business
that generated the most losses, and
the largest contractors have been
making lower margins still, argue
industry bodies. AMA research puts
the industry-standard profit margins
at 2% to 3% in construction, and
maybe 3% to 5% in support services.
But the reality is that those remain
a target for some in a sector
littered with profit warnings and
restructurings. One former executive
told me that margins had come under
pressure across all outsourcing
sectors will stop that has happened
as companies have been asked to take
on more risk, and, some contracts
have become impossibly complicated.
A less flexible client, the
Government had also made it harder
to react as problems arose. It is
time, this person said, for a
has been developing an increasingly
sophisticated appreciation that the
lowest bidder is not necessarily the
best. But it is quite difficult for
ministers to go to Parliament and
say, we have gone for a more
expensive bid because we thought it
was a better one, but I think maybe
this instance will liven Parliament
to the need for Government to look
more intelligently and these bids.
With promises of hearings and
inquiries, dealings between the
Government and its biggest suppliers
will soon be getting much more
We did ask the Government to join
us tonight, but there
was nobody available.
But we have our own Newsnight
experts here to make sense of this -
political editor Nick Watt,
business editor Helen Thomas
and our policy editor Chris Cook.
Nick, what are you hearing tonight
about where this is going?
understand that tonight the
Government is planning to extend the
48-hour period in which it will fund
the official receiver to look at
private contractors, what are known
as the private sector counterparties
to Carillion to see whether they
want to basically accept the
termination of contracts, or whether
they want to pay for the ongoing
costs. I am hearing talk in
Whitehall that there have been talks
with the Treasury, they want to be
flexible, it is taking time to go
through these contracts. They want
to give them more time. But this
will not be indefinitely...
won't call it a bailout?
It will not
be the same as the support they are
providing for the official receiver.
This is a contract where the
government battle has no stake, they
are basically helping the receivers.
On other aspects of this whole
thing, where is it going to go now?
It will take time to work out where
the pain is going to come any supply
chain, who is going to lay off
people, and there will be lay-offs,
and who might be taking financial
hits. As we touched on earlier, Greg
Clarke, the Business Secretary, has
called for two investigations, one
into the Carillion accounts, and the
reporting to Europe to the profit
warning in July, and also the
conduct towards its collapse,
including by current and former
directors. We are assuming every
aspect of this will be probed.
Corporate governance in the company,
including pay and board oversight,
and there are various people around
politics today promising to have
people in front of committees and
for them to be pretty fiery. You
know, there will always be this
lingering question of if the
Government should be more aware of
what was going on along the
Carillion business. A rival company,
into serve, launched a legal
challenge in 2014 into the award of
a contract by the minute job
defence, £4 billion. The contract
went to Carillion, and the rival
said that the kids were abnormally
low and could be undeliverable. --
Whitehall insiders will be
having lots of concessions about the
meanings of this. A lot of them will
not be agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn
that it is the end of our
Didn't think it is the
end of outsourcing. That is clear.
The big thing I keep hearing about
his concentration. They bring up how
frustrating it is that the market is
so concentrated with outsourcing.
There are relatively few players of
a scale large enough to take on the
kind of contracts that the
Government likes to deliver. They
also think that things are currently
in hand, they think that pensions
are going to be dealt with by the
pension protection fund, they think
public contracts will be picked up
and be OK. Obviously problems with
the supply chain. This isn't the
sort of Lehman Brothers catastrophe.
The problem for them in the
short-term is, actually, if you look
at the Serco share price, it has
A big rival?
things are easier for them, there is
one fewer bidder in the market.
they seeing big changes to
Not in the
short-term, not under this
government. The big thing worth
remembering is that there are
reasons that people outsource which
are not just about chiselling at the
cost. Do you have the strategic
capacity to do something? The civil
service does not want to have a
senior manager in charge of doing HR
for the people that maintain own
buildings. They are not interested
in that and they cannot foresee
Thanks, all of you,
thank you very much.
Now I'm joined by Dame Margaret
Hodge, the Labour MP who chaired
the Public Accounts Committee
in 2014 when it produced a report
on outsourcing public services
to the private sector.
Do you think the collapse of
Carillion is the sign of a system
working, that a company that perhaps
was not very well run has gone out
of business? That happens. Or is it
a sign of systemic failure?
it is more of a sign of systemic
failure. We looked at this through
four years back, and I don't think
what has changed. According to Meg
Hillier, it hasn't. We found a
number of things, actually what the
Government was doing in trying to
create a market, it was almost
destroying the market because it was
killing off a lot of smaller
suppliers of public services and
allowing these very big oligarch
companies, that were very good at
winning contracts, to run public
services that they were less good
at. We also found there isn't enough
transparency. You can sort this out.
If you want to play in the public
sector market and you are using
taxpayer's money, you ought to be
open. So you shouldn't be able to
hide behind commercial
Marco can say we will make it open?
And they should. When we talked to
four of the big players, they were
willing to do that. The other thing
is the civil service capability. We
all know that it's really isn't
there. It is unrealistic to think we
are going to get rid of outsourcing.
Over half of the service is now
provided by the tax payer, this is
not, you know, tax relief or
benefits, pensions, but the
services, over half of them are
provided by private providers. You
cannot shift back.
Jeremy Corbyn, has used the word
fleecing the public, because the
companies take big profits out of
the delivery of public services. It
honestly doesn't sound like they are
taking very big profits. Carillion
was struggling to survive. Which is
the problem? The margins are
the problem? The margins are or too
There is too much ideology,
money conservatives, there is an
ideology. They believe that the
private sector can deliver more
efficiency. Chris Grayling is
probably the main proponent of this,
and you have seen a disaster in the
probation service. On the left,
there is an ideology that it has to
be the public sector that always
delivers, and that becomes to
produce a lead. We need to think of
the user, the citizen and patient.
It is much easier for me to go and
get my flu jab from Boots. Is that
outsourcing or privatisation? It
works for me as a citizen. We ought
to think about how we can construct
There is a big point
here, outsourcing is linked to the
big economy. They, respect for
companies push something like
cleaning or catering into agencies,
they don't give pensions, they maybe
have shorter contracts with staff.
The map -- gig economy is the
result. You don't think that has
gone too far? The marketisation of
all aspects of life?
I think I do.
We have to make this work, because
there is too much delivered through
private companies. You have to have
the transparency and create a
market. That means a government
backed or changing the way tenders.
If you are a small company, there
was no way you can go to that
expensive process they have to skill
of the civil service and then you
have to to have ethical standards by
behalf on these big companies. That
involves things like making sure
they employ people properly, we
ought to be regulated, codes of
practice and pay taxes, all of that
sort of thing. Don't lie about how
they are delivering the services.
And I think if we did that,
outsourcing could work better. We've
also got to move from the ideology
to apply that bad, public good, and
move to putting the citizen at the
heart of delivering services.
Margaret Hodge, editors, thank you.
Before Britain exited
Hong Kong two decades ago,
it said it would be keeping a close
watch on its former colony
once it was to be in Chinese hands.
We had signed a Joint Declaration
with China, that said for 50
years, the freedoms Hong Kong
enjoyed would be preserved.
John Major said that in the event
of any breach of that
agreement by the Chinese,
Britain would pursue every
legal and other avenue
available to challenge it.
Well, there are some
who look at Hong Kong now,
and observe Chinese restrictions
on democracy and free
speech slowly creeping in.
pro-democracy leaders there -
including Joshua Wong -
are awaiting the outcome
of their final appeal to overturn
prison sentences for their roles
in sparking 2014's massive
Should Britain step into the breach?
Danny Vincent reports
from Hong Kong.
Every day 35,000 people take
the ferry to Kowloon.
And Hong Kongers enjoy
rights unique in China.
Thanks to the terms
of 1997 handover, Beijing
can't interfere in internal matters.
There's even a mini-constitution -
known as the "basic law".
But many worry that
Beijing is dramatically
undermining that agreement, that
democracy activists are being locked
up and that Britain
is looking the other way.
We're on our way to
a new development -
the railway station that will be
the new terminus for a
high speed railway link connecting
Hong Kong to mainland China.
It's raising serious
concerns over Hong
Kong's autonomy, because inside this
station Chinese national law will
apply, not Hong Kong law.
The basic law states
that mainland laws can
not be enforced in Hong Kong.
But when the new
Kowloon rail terminus
opens later this year, Chinese
customs and immigration officials
will operate inside the station,
with powers of search and arrest.
Tanya Chan has long
fought to defend the
She argues this is the clearest
violation yet of the
territory's legal independence.
This is absolutely
the worst precedent,
the worst example so far.
We are actually putting
in the heart of Hong Kong and now
this is the very first time that in
Hong Kong we are going
to apply national law.
against the plan on New Year's Day.
The basic law is a list of rights -
including freedom of
speech, of the press,
freedom to demonstrate.
They fear the plans for the station
are the thin end of the
wedge and Britain is not standing
by its international obligations to
protect their rights.
I'm not sure whether
the British Government still
remembers Hong Kong and still
remembers the promises that they
The British Government definitely
has a role to play and
definitely can make their comments
and raise their concerns.
We are waiting for them.
Three years, ago the "umbrella"
protest brought tens of
thousands on to the streets over
Beijing's control of the candidates
for Hong Kong's leadership.
They were led by
students like Joshua
Wong, but the protests
failed and Beijing still
controls who leads Hong
So the students started their own
party to campaign for
Joshua Wong and fellow activist
Nathan Law believe the
court system is no longer
independent and it's been used
They have both been
imprisoned for public
Now, they're out on bail,
but a hearing tomorrow could put
Joshua back in prison.
And he said he was
when he was last in custody.
As a young prisoner,
I served my prison
sentence inside the highest security
prison in Hong Kong.
At the same time, they even
urged me to take off
all my clothes when I need
to answer the question.
They just treat us...
Like a dog instead of a human.
There are suspicions that Triad
gang members are paid
to intimidate activists.
Joshua says prison inmates
told him that they had been
told to attack
the umbrella movement.
When I was serving the prison
sentence in jail, I met a lot
of inmates who claimed
they had background,
come from the gangster
and they receive money to attack
or physically assault us
during umbrella movement.
Joshua doesn't know who paid them.
The prison authorities deny
mistreatment and we were unable to
speak to prisoners to confirm
the claim of intimidation.
Those who fight
for Hong Kong's legal
independence say they're also
fighting for its cultural identity.
I am meeting someone who may well be
at the heart of the next
Hong Kong football fans have been
booing the Chinese national
anthem when it's
played at home games.
Now, Beijing has told Hong Kong
to criminalise the jeering.
The national anthem is not
representation of Hong Kong...
Jack and hundreds like him
will be breaking the law
if they carry on booing.
Why do football fans boo
the Chinese national anthem?
We don't think that we
are Chinese, we are
The difference is that Hong Kong has
democracy and also we
have the right of speech and right
of demonstration in Hong Kong.
This was at a game
between Hong Kong and
Fans could be imprisoned
for three years.
New laws could be
Critics say this contradicts
the basic law in
terms of freedom of expression,
applying Chinese national law
and applying it retrospectively.
But Jack is defiant.
Can they stop you
disrespecting the Chinese
At West Kowloon Magistrates Court,
nine more activists
face public order charges.
All were key figure
in the umbrella protests.
Tanya Chan, who opposes Chinese law
in the new rail station, is one of
In fact, over 50 democracy
activists and elected
law-makers currently face court
cases that could bar them from
office or see them locked up.
This is just one
hearing in a series of
legal moves against the activists.
Professors, student leaders
and local politicians are all going
through the courts.
And all of them could
face prison time.
This case is seen as
a clear warning to every
level of Hong Kong's democracy camp
- the umbrella movement must
People who lead protests
against Beijing must be prepared to
face jail and, by using the courts,
the tool is the legal system itself.
We are defending our right to have
demonstrations, freedom of
expression and very important
is our right to have our own
choice of government.
But there is substantial
opposition to the democracy
activists in Hong Kong.
here command the largest
number of seats in the
partly-elected local chamber.
Regina Ip is is a strong
supporter of mainland China.
She says those who argue the basic
law is under threat are being
In a free society like
Hong Kong, with a wide
range of different opinions, we have
among our citizenry people who you
might call "fundamentalists"
you know, legal and
who believe in sticking to every
letter of the basic law.
in Hong Kong feel that
the Government and perhaps Beijing
are targeting them and carrying out
somewhat of a political persecution.
What do you say to that?
We have no political
offences in Hong Kong.
If people are charged for disrupting
public order, incitement or
disturbance, that is all based
on common law and common law
principles and the statutory laws
inherited from Britain.
I think these accusations
are totally ungrounded.
Hong Kong's autonomy was enshrined
in the basic law, but the
criminalisation of the umbrella
protesters and others who challenge
Beijing does raise questions about
the rule of law in the territory.
It also raises questions about
Britain's commitment to the people
and the system it once
pledged to protect.
Danny Vincent there.
We did try to speak
to the Chinese Government
and the the British government
about this story, but nobody
was available from either.
The EU has been sounding both tough
and tender as regards Brexit today.
In a speech to the Parliament
today, the President
of the Council Donald Tusk did
the tender bit.
David Davis said if a democracy
cannot change its mind it ceases to
be a democracy. We here on the
continent haven't had a change of
heart. Our hearts are still open to
Forget the idea that we will set our
own fishing quotas. Each state is
piling their own issues into the
negotiations. Nick Watt is back us
with. Why didn't Michel Barnier come
out with that our heart is open.
was Donald Tusk and sometimes you
need to set his words to music. But
what he said was music to the ears
of a small number of Remain
supporters who are seeking to
reverse Brexit. What they need is
Brussels to say, we would like to
have you back and the reason why
they need that is by the time of the
autumn when we will have this deal,
they want the British people to see
two options - the new deal or the
existing membership and they're
talking about ways of defeating
Is this going to happen?
was speaking to a member of the
cabinet who supported Remain, who
said you couldn't see it happening
unless public opinion shifted
dramatically. 60-40 in favour of
Remain, it not really shifting.
One of the most most vocal
supporters of Brexit has been
the Tory backbencher Jacob Rees
He was rewarded for his work in this
area today by being appointed
Chairman of the party's influential
European Research Group -
a sort of internal lobbying grouping
which works to push for a
I spoke to him earlier
and I put it to him that
despite President Tusk's comments
earlier, the EU was preparing to be
pretty tough and uncompromising
for the next round of negotiations
Well, I'm all in favour
of being tough and uncompromising.
I want a proper Brexit.
I want us to leave
the European Union,
heart, soul and mind.
I don't want us to have the sort
of Brexit where, because they've
given us all sorts of baubles,
we have stayed in bits
that deny us freedom.
The key thing is coming up
with the trade negotiation now.
It is so important that we maintain
the flexibility to do deals
with other countries,
that were not so bound
in by the EU's requirements
that we can't get the benefits
of cheaper food, clothing
and footwear, that will flow
from setting up our own trading
So, their being tough may actually
push us into a clearer Brexit.
Could we talk about the transition?
Because the Government is pretty
keen on a transition,
The EU, all signs are,
from the draft negotiating
positions, they're going
to be really tough.
Well, I think the language
is really important.
Is it an implimentation period
which the Government is asking for,
or is it a transition?
If it is an implimentation period,
we've left the EU and we are
implementing the consequences.
That is to say it might take time
to put in new immigration
queues at Heathrow.
And, until that's done,
If it's a transition, we are in fact
still in the European Union.
If they set our fishing quotas,
if new laws coming in from the EU
affect the UK, if the ECJ still has
jurisdiction, it would be untrue
to say we have left.
It would be an extension
of our membership.
If that is what the Government
should want to do, it should do it
under the terms of Article 50 and be
honest about it.
It would be a deceit
to have a transition that kept us
in the EU for two years by default.
And you wouldn't necessarily be
against extending our membership
for two years to get everything
sorted out, but you want
honesty about that if that
is what the plan is?
Because the EU, by the way,
is in no doubt at all,
it is an extension of membership
by another name.
I would be opposed to
extension of membership.
An implimentation period is fine.
A transition period is not.
The Prime Minister,
who I fully support,
has been very careful
to say implementation period...
But you're just using the language
that you know is going to appeal
to you, business just
hears transitional arrangement.
They don't make any distinct at all.
No, it's very important
to focus on the details.
The Prime Minister is a person
of great precision.
She doesn't use language loosely.
And she has invariably
and she has said that we will leave
on the 29th of March 2019,
and I fully support her position.
I wonder how you interpreted
Nigel Farage's comments
on a second referendum.
Because that, again,
was seen by some as a kind of sign
of nervousness on the Brexit side
that it's just slipping
I don't know why Mr Farage
decide to say he wanted
a second referendum.
One of the interesting things
about polling on this
at the moment is that people,
they broadly haven't changed from
where they were in the referendum,
but on the question do you want
another referendum, everyone in this
country is Brenda from Bristol.
There is no appetite
for another referendum.
As it happens, I think
there would be real anger
if there was a second one,
because we're not one
of those smaller EU states,
that when we vote to give the answer
that the EU doesn't like get told
to vote again and again
until we do as we're told,
like good little boys.
Therefore I think,
if there was a second
referendum, you would see
considerable popular discontent.
You're now running the ERG,
the European Reform Group.
This is about 60 Tory MPs,
on the more Brexit side,
the Brexit side, let's say.
Are you going to hold
the Government's feet to the fire,
on all the things we've
been talking about?
The Government's determination
to go for a clear Brexit,
rather than a slightly
messier, softer one?
The ERG is a group of like-minded
members of Parliament and it
provides research to help us
with work on European issues.
I'm very keen to help the Government
achieve the policy that it set out,
and the Prime Minister set out
particularly in the Lancaster House
speech, and encourage a vigorous
implimentation of that policy.
The Government has my personal,
complete support in doing that.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, thanks very much.
Thank you very much.
Pretty well anyone who writes
anything these days knows how easy
it is to be unwittingly -
or wittingly - offensive.
In the era of identity politics,
it's not hard to trigger a reaction
that says you are guilty
of insensitivity to
one group or another.
Now, while some writers
thrive on controversy,
many want to avoid it,
and even if they don't
their publishers might.
So enter the idea of
People employed to look at a book
ahead of publication, to advise
on potential mis-steps within.
As always, the US leads in these
trends and the American press has
become quite pre-occupied
by the debate as to whether
sensitivity readers improve books,
or censor free speech and indulge
a noisy Twitter mob too keen to take
umbrage at anything.
Here's Stephen Smith
on how it works.
# I'm mad about good books
# Can't get my fill...#
Budding authors have always been
told, write about what you know.
That seems particularly canny advice
now, when an imaginative leap
into unfamiliar territory can lend
a writer in trouble for
misrepresentation or stereotyping.
Some readers and critics are alert
to any real or perceived failures
of authenticity in areas including
race, gender and sexuality.
So, publishers and writers
are turning to so-called
who scan texts before publication
on the lookout for any missteps that
might jar or give offence.
One author of books for young adults
told us she used sensitivity readers
when she created characters
with deafness and selective mutism.
I have a friend who is deaf,
and I also knew somebody who was
a British sign language interpreter.
So, they both individually
read it and came back
to me with their notes.
And then we discussed it together.
It was to make sure that
I was representing, in this case,
deafness, as authentically
and truthfully as possible,
to make sure that, for people
who have experience of it,
that they would be able to recognise
the way I was portraying it.
But is there a danger
that writers and readers
could become oversensitive?
That difficult material
will simply be avoided
for fear of giving offence?
And sensitivities vary, of course.
Even just about everyone's favourite
boy wizard managed to upset some
over so-called occult themes
in the Harry Potter books.
Right now, young adult readers
seemed to be more alive to issues
of sensitivity than the general
book buying public.
Yes, I think very much so.
Especially with social media
allowing people to have much more
of a voice than maybe
they would have done before,
and in larger numbers.
I think it's definitely something
that I, as a YA author,
and friends of mine who are YA
authors are very aware of.
# Sitting and reading
# Enjoying the breathing
As more authors take advice
from sensitivity readers,
some bookworms may be
in for a more
But will that really
make for a happy ending?
Joining me now to discuss
is author Laura Moriarty,
who worked with sensitivity readers
on her novel 'American Heart'.
She's in Kansas.
And with me in the studio
is publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove,
who heads up London-based Dialogue
Good evening to you. Laura, you had
a curious experience. You worked
with sensitivity readers, and it was
a book with Muslim themes. And there
was still quite a lot of anger at
your book anyway?
Exactly. As I was
writing the book, I actually
instinctively did it on my own, I
asked a Muslim American friend to
read the book and I asked some
Persian American friends to read the
books. I even sent the manuscript to
a friend of a friend in Iran, and
she sent her thoughts. I wanted to
make sure it was authentic and
accurate, my depictions of Muslims
and Iranians. Once I sold the book
to Harper, they also hired
sensitivity readers to go through
the book again. I think what is
interesting is, for me, I didn't
mind when Harper said they wanted
sensitivity readers to go over it
again. If I think of it as accuracy
readers, if I think about someone
who has an experience that can look
at my work and make sure I am being
accurate and thoughtful about how I
depict groups. That is fine with me.
I think the biggest misperception is
that the writers are forced to take
every suggestion that the
sensitivity reader makes. That
wasn't the case for me.
I just want
to get... Basically, you agreed the
book with the sensitivity readers
and the publisher, then was a lot of
upset. The saviour of the book of
the Muslims was a white woman, and
it was more her story than theirs?
Right, there were people that were
upset, when the description of the
book came out, that the narrator and
the protagonist is a white
non-Muslim girl. She is very bigoted
at the beginning. She has grown up
in the extremely xenophobic United
States. She overcomes her prejudice
by meeting a Muslim.
What did you make of that story, the
book through the sensitivity reader
and then there was outrage?
question overall is why we need
sensitivity writers? Who is writing
the stories? It seems like a
formidable amount of people that
were involved to make sure that
something was correct.
something was correct. If we have
the people employed in the first
place in publishing houses, it seems
like it is from the confidence from
the publishers as where it has gone
wrong. I also question the idea of
anyone being able to write anything
from any perspective, the idea of a
White saviour with a Muslim, that is
There are issues there.
The point is that Muslims would not
have one view on that, would they?
You don't necessarily want the
noisiest or the most offended people
to dictate what is published? Or is
that not where you end up?
Absolutely. We have to remember that
YA publishing is particularly
because the issues are front-loaded.
This is about reading for the next
generation. We absolutely have to
get this right. We have to get the
reading right, we have to get the
writing right. We have to listen to
the voices that are coming through
and complaining. Actually, we have
to to think who is writing our
stories, who are our children going
to be listing to?
Is there a
problem, forget sensitivity readers,
is the problem basically that too
many publishers and writers are
scared of offending people?
think that is very much the case
right now. I think there is an idea
that you could possibly hire enough
sensitivity readers where nobody
would be offended, and that is of
course impossible. With my book, I
had my readers, the publishing house
hired more, and people were still
incredibly offended. As you say,
there are different sensitivities,
even within marginalised
communities. You're never going to
please everybody and make everybody
happy. I think the focus needs to be
an authenticity. I would disagree,
and I think that while I agree that
we would like to see more diversity
in publishing and writers, I don't
think that there should be such
strict limits on who should tell
such stories. I think we can imagine
each other's lives. My first novel
was about a girl growing up on
welfare, and she was white, and
nobody ever asked me anything about
Do you have any worries about
this being a sort of shutting down,
rather than opening up.
rather than opening up.
really want to see us diversity in
publishing, diversity in terms of
characters, and confidence from the
writers. It has to be fair and it
has to be pronounced. We need to
have that in order for the next
Thank you both very much
That's it for tonight.
But following last week's row
when Donald Trump was accused
of favouring immigrants from Norway
over those from Haiti,
people have been asking just
what is it about the liberal
Norwegians that the
President actually likes.
Now a new theory has emerged online,
that Norway is in fact helping
Mr Trump to maintain his most
closely guarded cover-up.
Judge for yourself.
on his Spanish drivetime radio
show in Los Angeles,
has taken to calling Donald J Trump
"The Man of the Toupee".
This was on the front page
of the New York Times.
I don't wear a toupee.
It's my hair!