Saturday, December 02, 2006
Free At The Point Of Use
One of the insurmountable obstacles to getting our Welfare State operating efficiently is that, by and large, it's free at the point of use. What that means- as Doc Crippen constantly highlights- is that its users think they can have as much as they like. Whatever it actually costs, and however little they might value or appreciate it.
When you go to Tesco, you have to make sensible choices. You might want to dine exclusively on Tesco's Finest and their offer on Bollinger La Grande Annee (£235.08 with 235 Clubcard points) , but your budget pretty soon guides you back to the Value range.
No wonder that Rod Eddington is suggesting a similar approach to roads. He recommends pricing road use according to whether you want the Finest peak hour journey, or whether you can make do with a mid-morning - or cheaper still, late night - Value journey.
Obviously we must be concerned that our ever lovin' Big Government politicos will simply use road charging as a device to raise yet more tax. But assuming we can make them cut other road taxes commensurately, the idea is attractive. As Eddington says “There is no alternative to road pricing. It is an economic no-brainer.” (even if he does also grind his "more airports" axe as well...)
But if charging is the way for roads- and those politicos all seem pretty keen- why isn't it the way for our other public services? After all, charging for a service will soon show whether people actually want it or not.
Take galleries and museums. Tess and the arts establishment are congratulating themselves that attendances have increased by 30 million since admission charges were abolished five years ago.
Well, what do you know- you make something free at the point of use, and more people use it. What's that supposed to prove?
Meanwhile, it's costing us taxpayers an extra £40m pa for just the 22 institutions directly funded by DCMS (reportedly taking their total subsidy to an astonishing £320m pa- can that be right?). What's more, they're complaining they can't find enough money to fund new purchases. Derrr... guys... go figure.
(For more gallery attendance nonsense see this D'log post).
Eddington's on the right track. And the sooner we get the same thinking into the rest of our public services, the better.
PS One personal social service that's not free at the point of use is hairdressing. And today we hear it's booming, with turnover up to £5bn pa. Interestingly, one of the young Tylers was once asked in an interview to estimate the number of hairdressers in Britain. Now we know: it's 150,000, working in 35,000 salons. The other thing about hairdressers of course is they're not quite a dumb as they're portrayed. I have an axe, inasmuch as one of my grandfathers was a hairdresser, but I especially treasure the riposte delivered to the snooty Lord Stevenson by the excellent Nicky Clarke, hairdresser to the stars. His Lordship was the man who chose Tony's "People's Peers", and explained that he'd picked all the usual suspects because low grade people like hairdressers wouldn't be up to it. Nicky- brought up on a council estate and now the world's top and probably richest hairdresser- let him have it with both barrels. Great stuff.
Posted by Mike D at 11:36 am