In a stunning U-turn, Commissar Bollocks today ordered an official enquiry into state supermarket lotteries.
Until now, lotteries have been the Commissariat's preferred method of allocating limited shopper places at popular supermarkets. But in the face of new figures showing four-in-five shoppers are unable to shop in their first-choice supermarket, Commissar B has had a rethink:
"I think shoppers will quite rightly be concerned that lotteries may not be a fair way of allocating places. Of course, where they are a fair way of allocating places, then quite rightly they should be used. We've always been quite clear about this - fair where fair, and unfair where not. Quite rightly."Asked to comment on the fact that many state supermarkets rarely have any stock on the shelves, and that nobody ever wants to shop in them, he said:
"It is my intention to ensure that all state supermarkets are excellent supermarkets. Shoppers quite rightly expect that. But it wouldn't be right to allow shoppers to take advantage of the best supermarkets simply because they're the best supermarkets."
The row over school admissions lotteries is not going away. We've blogged it before of course (eg here), noting how it underlines the hopelessness of attempting to improve school standards in the absence of real customer choice. But now it's spread further afield than Brighton, and more and more parents are getting whacked by it. No wonder Balls has wobbled.
So just imagine what kind of supermarkets we'd have if they were run by the state. Waitrose Kensington would have to take a random selection of shoppers bussed in from sink estates, while the Duchess of Buccleuch would be forced to shop in Walworth Lidl. None of them would be able to take their custom elsewhere, because they'd been allocated their places by the non-negotiable state lottery.
What's that? It's grossly unfair that the Duchess should be able to afford to shop in Waitrose, while the sink shoppers have to make do with Lidl, so we need some state intervention?
Well, even if we accept that, it still doesn't make the case for allocating places by lottery. Redistribute income if you must, but once you start telling people how and where to spend that income you can forget any hope of driving up service standards.
As even the humblest Lidl customer surely knows, customer power really is the only way.
PS We've blogged the job from hell that is state school headteacher many times (eg here). So we were gripped and appalled by this account of one such headteacher's nervous breakdown. As the headline says "Peter Crook was a ‘superhead’ who could turn round even the toughest of schools; until he took a job in one of the government’s flagship academies". A terrible tale of pressure and red tape from above, unruly kids, violent parents, and weak teachers who sue if you dismiss them. Why would anyone want to do that when they could run a nice branch of Waitrose?