"End" Of Targets

The new localism

After nine years of tractor factory misery, the government is going to "abandon" its public service targets. According to Andy Burnham, new Chief Secretary to HM Treasury:

"A bonfire of government targets to ease red tape affecting schools, hospitals and town halls will be ordered tomorrow as part of a sweeping reform of public services."

We've had these bonfires before of course. Back in 1951, the Tories got re-elected on promises to ignite "a bonfire of controls". True, centrist Butskellism then stymied much of that promise, but enough of Attlee's socialist paradise was dismantled to give us the never had it so good affluent fifties.

Same again now?

Dream on.

All Burnham is proposing is to move responsibility for detailed production targets from the central planning commissariate to local bureaucrats:

"Under the system, there will be no more than 30 public service agreements, committing Whitehall departments to use their budgets over the three years to 2010/11 to achieve the government's goals.

The agreements will be monitored using indicators of national and local performance. A few - such as progress towards meeting the pledge to cut maximum hospital waiting times to 18 weeks by the end of 2008 - will remain as nationally set priorities with clear measurable objectives. But most will depend on local decisions by councils, NHS primary care trusts and other service chiefs to set targets reflecting local needs and priorities."

Ah, local needs. Local needs for local people.

The sleight of hand of course is that these so-called local "chiefs" are all in the employ of central government. In most cases local people can't even elect them, let alone control their purse strings.

Local commissars may be assured that any backsliding from those "nationally set priorities" will still be punished by field execution.

Stalinists are incapable of the real reforms we need: school vouchers, competing health insurers, fiscal decentralisation, and directly elected local officials. They all suffer from the same drawback- they remove power from the commissars.

PS For connoisseurs of drawing artificial and meaningless lines under the past, this looks like a cracker. Burnham promises us "a radical break with the past"... "the opening of a new chapter". Somehow, everything will now be magicked better- "You won't have to know any jargon. It should be immediately apparent what the system is trying to do. It will set out a narrative that shows we have responded and evolved. We are not saying: 'That was Tony Blair's system and we are dumping all that.' Not much. Except, of course, the huge dysfunctional PSA targeting system was not dreamed up by Blair at all, but his glowering micro-managing Chancellor and his Father Ted lookalike Chief Sec: aka our new PM and Chancellor.
Still, stand by for that cut and run election.

Happy days.
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