Jan 2008 09

Today the Better Government Initiative, a group of establishment figures with no relation to our campaign, have published their report (PDF) today and have noted the problem of inexperienced political management:

"Ministers are increasingly drawn from a specialist political background with little experience of the management and operation of large organisations, but they are in a position of great influence in relation both to their own Departments and to deliverers of public services. They need appropriate training. Such training should also be available to potential Ministers within the governing party and to members of the Opposition and Select Committees."

It is great that they have acknowledged the problem but their conclusion, that training is needed, is a mistake.  There is a reason why big, private sector, firms wouldn’t dare to hope than an inexperienced candidate can be prepared for the role of chief executive – an analagous role to that of a minister – with training alone.  Managing large organisations is not a skill that has ever been effectively taught through formal training alone.

Beyond that, even if a Minister knows how to do manage large organisations they will also need to know their subject.  Few have an in-depth knowledge of the area in which they’ll be working so can be, at best, informed laymen.  They rarely stay in a department for long so they won’t be able to build up that knowledge over time or build up a close working relationship with their staff.

All these weaknesses make it harder for Ministers to attempt the already close to impossible task of managing big government departments – huge, monopolistic conglomerates.  Training will not improve the situation.  Instead, we need politicians to get out of management and hand services over to professionals – held accountable either by the politicians or, in most cases, the competitive market.

Jan 2008 08

JuniordoctorsThe Telegraph reports a suggestion that the training of doctors should be split off from the NHS:

"Billions of pounds for junior doctors’ training should be taken out of the NHS and given to a new medical education body, an independent inquiry will conclude.

The inquiry into the junior doctor recruitment crisis will recommend moving at least £2.6 billion to a body called NHS Medical Education for England that would oversee training and fund courses, study leave and a proportion of juniors’ salaries."

If healthcare in Britain were delivered by a multitude of competing providers then it might work well to have another set of organisations responsible for assisting in the education of doctors.  You could have a genuine labour market for doctors just as we do for other professions.

However, within the structure of the NHS as it stands separating the educating of doctors from the single organisation responsible for the overwhelming majority of their employment will just weaken the already fragile links between supply and demand for doctors’ labour.  Such a measure would exacerbate the all to common problem of an over or under supply of doctors.

Jan 2008 08

The Telegraph has an excellent leader today describing the absurdities of political management in the NHS:

"There is something faintly absurd in the spectacle of Gordon Brown – who is, after all, a politician, not a medical professional – making detailed recommendations for clinical practice in healthcare.

But in Britain, we have become so accustomed to the concept of a politically driven health system that it no longer seems bizarre to hear such proposals as the deep-cleaning of hospital wards and the prescribing of specific screening procedures being made by the Prime Minister, whose judgments must be no more expert than those of an informed layman."

Our centralised and monopolistic health service does not face the imperative to improve standards and deliver good value that hospitals and insurance funds face in countries like the Netherlands – with its more competitive system.  Customers are not able to abandon the poor service delivered by political management unless they can afford to pay twice – through the tax system and a private channel – for their treatment.

Another thing to note about these interventions is that they are being led not by Alan Johnson but by Gordon Brown.  This is a further centralisation that makes the Prime Minister – and the limited number of priorities that any one man can keep track of – a powerful limitation on the set of issues that politicians can reasonably expect to keep a track of.  Central authorities are unable to keep track of everything that needs doing but are still able to dictate priorities thanks to targets and financial control.  It is easy for them, and by extension the entire system, to neglect important work that isn’t a political priority, like making sure soldiers’ homes are fit for heroes.  Or, put off vital decisions till another day – the late decision to increase nuclear power capacity, for example.

Political management, by ministers with little management experience or subject knowledge, cannot deliver proper standards in public services.  Prime Ministerial management is just about the only way to make things worse.

Jan 2008 08

Stephen_carterStephen Carter, Gordon Brown’s new Principal Special Advisor, may be familiar to assiduous students of TPA campaigns.

Back in November, when we launched the 2007 Public Sector Rich List, Mr Carter came in at Number 32 with a stonking remuneration package of almost £400,000. Having come under fire, he defended himself in the Sunday Times by claiming “I am on the TaxPayers’ Alliance hitlist".

The Carter paranoia complex can only have been further fuelled, then, by the fact that we have been prominent today in criticising his £137,000 salary as Gordon’s latest spin doctor. I would like to take this opportunity to reassure Mr Carter that it’s not a personal vendetta against him per se, and there is a sure fire way of making sure we never have to criticise him again: stop costing the taxpayer so much money.

Jan 2008 07

It’s that time of year again, when we hear of our council tax and other local taxes going up and up.  Yet we’re seeing more and more elected representatives standing up for the taxpayer and committing themselves to fighting against tax increases.  First we reported how Hammersmith and Fulham council are cutting council tax for the second year running.  Now TPA activist Cllr Neil Martin of Wembury Parish Council explains here why he will be voting against his local Parish Precept increase at tonight’s Parish Council meeting:

Neil_martin_2“Currently, I serve as a member of a fairly well off parish council in Devon. Last year, I promised to vote against any rise in our precept and to produce an alternative budget. Although we’ve got few real responsibilities and are at the bottom of the council tax food chain – with the district and county councils, police and fire service all getting in on the act – the only way to demonstrate that services can be provided for a lower cost is to start at the very bottom where people can see things, especially as parish councils are the only tier of local government that is funded wholly by local taxpayers.

However, this isn’t just about high falutin’ principles that I can discard until the next election: it’s a question of efficiency and good budget management.  In common with other parish councils, we’ve got pretty hefty reserves, and we don’t have any major projects planned.  If we were a larger council, questions would be asked – if we were a private company, we’d be giving money back to the shareholders.  We’re in a position to levy a precept of getting on for zero and still have the money to run things for a year: even including an increase in staff costs.

Staffing costs are another issue altogether: here in Devon national pay scales increase costs way beyond comparable jobs locally. This is at a very local level admittedly – I’m not pretending this is a major part of the council tax – but it’s something that will resonate with people in rural areas who wonder why they pay loads and don’t seem to get very much. In a way, we’re lucky that it can even be considered- people in urban areas don’t come close to this kind of relationship with how their money is spent.

So, with families facing rising costs everywhere, and with money in the bank, I will be voting against any precept rise and in favour of a cut.

Cllr. Neil Martin
Wembury Parish Council”

Cllr Martin raises some very good points TPA activists should be asking their district, town and parish councils.  How hefty are their reserves?  Where can savings be made, leading to cuts in the future?  These questions need to be answered so we can hold to account any council that increases taxes.

If you’re an elected councillor, of any party, and you’re making a bold stand against tax hikes, then do get in touch with me so we can publicise your fight for taxpayers and show the depth of support for tax cuts in the country.

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