Friday, October 27, 2006

Government By U-Turn

The politico's favourite

No surprise that Alan Johnson has U-turned on admissions policy for single faith schools - although as has been pointed out, this is the fastest U-turn in the history of British politics.

This incompetent government has made the U-turn routine, and we taxpayers have to pick up the pieces. Take the ludicrous 101 "semi-emergency" call number (you know, that scheme for relieving the pressure on the 999 service by giving people a 10p per call alternative for 'when it's less urgent than 999').

Even as the government were proudly pledging in their 2005 election manifesto to "roll it out across the country", plenty of people said it was a daft idea. No matter, the politicos ploughed on.

And what's happened? In Hampshire, one of six areas to trial the hotline, police said it was being jammed up with questions such as: "Can you tell me the times of trains to Brighton?" "I'd like someone to test my smoke alarm." and "Do you know when the next bus leaves for Southampton?" Well, if you're going to charge a premium price, what do you expect?

So guess what- the politicos have decided to abandon the whole thing. Just like that, manifesto pledge or not.

Now clearly that's the right call, but what's it all cost us in the meantime?

Obviously we haven't been told directly, but we do know that Hampshire had to employ 18 more telephonists at a direct cost of £450,000. Times that by 6, factor up for the inevitable overhead costs, and you come to a figure north of £5m. Not to mention the waste of police time etc.

And that of course is just the straight cost to the public purse. What about the woman who phoned the 101 number when she should have phoned 999 because her house really was burning down?

At least this U-turn has come relatively quickly. Some take much longer, allowing costs to rack up catastrophically. Like the U-turn to reintroduce O Levels for brighter kids. That's twenty years too late - an entire generation who've been put through an increasingly useless exam system, all in the name of social engineering.

Yes of course national politicians should correct their mistakes. And the quicker they do it the better. But how much better if they recognised they have no more clue what to do than the rest of us, and didn't get involved in the first place. Almost always, and almost everywhere, customer choice and localism is a far better bet.

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