David Puttnam: Change is progress - except when it happens to us

From a speech by the Labour peer, delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
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Having, over the years, served on the boards of a variety of public institutions, I've come to believe that, only through a continuous reappraisal of their purpose and the degree they can be seen to be addressing the legitimate and changing expectations of the public, can our institutions ensure that they remain relevant to the society they serve.

Having, over the years, served on the boards of a variety of public institutions, I've come to believe that, only through a continuous reappraisal of their purpose and the degree they can be seen to be addressing the legitimate and changing expectations of the public, can our institutions ensure that they remain relevant to the society they serve.

There's something of an "experiential" pattern emerging here: Very early on in my career I found publishing to be arranged principally for the benefit of publishers, not their readers. The advertising world I joined in the late 1950s was, in many cases, blissfully unaware of, and unprepared for, the social upheaval of the Sixties. The film industry of the early Seventies was organised far more for the benefit of those running it than their audience. It's also certainly true to say that "curator capture" typified the museum movement for much of the 20th century.

This had the effect of moving these institutions further and further away from their mid-19th century ambition to "promote the values and education of the whole of the people".

As a guest here in Oxford, I won't go into the painful questions the older and more established universities have recently been forced to ask themselves.

In the case of every one of the industries, sectors and institutions of which I have personal experience, the argument against change has always been built around what I'll call "exceptionalism"! The belief that, whilst change elsewhere may be desirable and even necessary, our industries, our educational and cultural institutions, indeed public life in general - most particularly Parliament - have all in their time seen themselves as something of a "special case" - immune to painful improvement!

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