Depoliticising politics

July 18, 2008 10:28 AM

A very recent TPA report explains how our current crop (using the polite term) of ministers are unfit to run large organisations.  Asking top CEO’s their opinions, it shows how they rate business and management experience as a key factor in being able to run a government service.  In layman’s terms, here are two examples that prove the rule:


Take a fictional service, employing millions of people with a budget into the billions.  Who do you get to run it – a small businessman, running a small company for 20 years but has reached its potential and is unlikely to grow any larger; a top CEO of a FTSE 100 company, or a postman?  Now, bring that scenario into reality.  The large organisation is the NHS.  The government chose a former postman and trade union apparatchik, Alan Johnson, to run it.  And you wonder why there are problems in the NHS?


Here’s another one.  A security company, again with a large organisation, budgets running into the billions and currently operating at maximum capability.  Who do you get to run it?  The choices are a former general, a TA man who works in industry when not in duty, or an academic whose doctorate was in African politics?  Anyone with half a brain would choose either of the options with any military experience.  The government chose Dr John Reid to head up the defence department.


In either scenario, the first two options would have been reasonable.  The report doesn’t demand that doctors be placed in total command of the NHS or that the military take responsibility for political decisions sending our boys to the front line – that is, after all, what politicians are there for.  Yet the minsiters responsible should have some experience in their areas of responsibility.


The problem of service delivery, however, wouldn’t arise if we had successful reform of our services.  If there was no department for education and we decentralised education, allowing education vouchers to permit funding to follow the pupil, schools would be their own policy makers, competing for custom by providing the best education.  In Health, similarly, there would be choice if reform was implemented.  Given the opposition to the government’s proposed super-surgeries, there are clearly differing healthcare models that merit competition.  Would you like a small, family surgery close to you or a super-surgery miles away?  An even more radical idea could stretch to policing.  Which police service would get your custom, one putting police behind desks to fill out paperwork and bureaucracy or one that put police on the beat?  In all of the mentioned areas, there is the model proposed by big government and the one, I believe, that would be proposed by service personnel with frontline experience. 


The structural problems in our current government prevent the taxpayer-focused delivery we are campaigning for.  With a centralised pot of money, government thinks – wrongly on both counts – that it’s the government’s money and that it knows best how to deliver it. 


By reforming, decentralising and allowing taxpayers’ money to follow the taxpayer into competitive services, we would see taxpayers’ making the choices about where their money goes so they have the responsibility of finding – and receiving – the best service.  Undoubtedly taxpayers would opt for the service professionally run and delivered.  If the service fails, they have the option to remove their custom.  With government education, health and – dare I even say it – policing, there is no alternative, the politicians rule and make your decisions.  It’s like Henry Ford’s analogy: “you can have whatever colour car you like, as long as it’s black”.

A very recent TPA report explains how our current crop (using the polite term) of ministers are unfit to run large organisations.  Asking top CEO’s their opinions, it shows how they rate business and management experience as a key factor in being able to run a government service.  In layman’s terms, here are two examples that prove the rule:


Take a fictional service, employing millions of people with a budget into the billions.  Who do you get to run it – a small businessman, running a small company for 20 years but has reached its potential and is unlikely to grow any larger; a top CEO of a FTSE 100 company, or a postman?  Now, bring that scenario into reality.  The large organisation is the NHS.  The government chose a former postman and trade union apparatchik, Alan Johnson, to run it.  And you wonder why there are problems in the NHS?


Here’s another one.  A security company, again with a large organisation, budgets running into the billions and currently operating at maximum capability.  Who do you get to run it?  The choices are a former general, a TA man who works in industry when not in duty, or an academic whose doctorate was in African politics?  Anyone with half a brain would choose either of the options with any military experience.  The government chose Dr John Reid to head up the defence department.


In either scenario, the first two options would have been reasonable.  The report doesn’t demand that doctors be placed in total command of the NHS or that the military take responsibility for political decisions sending our boys to the front line – that is, after all, what politicians are there for.  Yet the minsiters responsible should have some experience in their areas of responsibility.


The problem of service delivery, however, wouldn’t arise if we had successful reform of our services.  If there was no department for education and we decentralised education, allowing education vouchers to permit funding to follow the pupil, schools would be their own policy makers, competing for custom by providing the best education.  In Health, similarly, there would be choice if reform was implemented.  Given the opposition to the government’s proposed super-surgeries, there are clearly differing healthcare models that merit competition.  Would you like a small, family surgery close to you or a super-surgery miles away?  An even more radical idea could stretch to policing.  Which police service would get your custom, one putting police behind desks to fill out paperwork and bureaucracy or one that put police on the beat?  In all of the mentioned areas, there is the model proposed by big government and the one, I believe, that would be proposed by service personnel with frontline experience. 


The structural problems in our current government prevent the taxpayer-focused delivery we are campaigning for.  With a centralised pot of money, government thinks – wrongly on both counts – that it’s the government’s money and that it knows best how to deliver it. 


By reforming, decentralising and allowing taxpayers’ money to follow the taxpayer into competitive services, we would see taxpayers’ making the choices about where their money goes so they have the responsibility of finding – and receiving – the best service.  Undoubtedly taxpayers would opt for the service professionally run and delivered.  If the service fails, they have the option to remove their custom.  With government education, health and – dare I even say it – policing, there is no alternative, the politicians rule and make your decisions.  It’s like Henry Ford’s analogy: “you can have whatever colour car you like, as long as it’s black”.

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